I figure when most people see a gull they see just a gull, or perhaps a rat with wings swirling around in the sky.

Over the past few years, Keith Carlson, a bird enthusiast from Lewiston, has seen nine different species of gulls at the Asotin County Landfill.

There’s an abundance of California gulls and herring gulls, while others — like an immature glaucous gull or a lesser black-backed gull — are quite rare.

In the case of the lesser black-backed gull, it was first seen in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley in May 2002. Carlson noted its appearance caused quite a stir in the birding community, enough for ornithophiles from the coast to drive east to take a gander at this rare species of gull.

Some bird enthusiasts, although they can identify a specific species of gull, describe it as a mystery how the bird found its way to the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley.

“I think the occasional rare gull we get here got lost en route to the coast from the Arctic and either follows the Columbia/Snake rivers by mistake or falls in with a group of other gulls,” Carlson said in an email.

The gulls stay for the winter months, then head back to their breeding grounds up north later in the spring.

This time of year, their vacation home seems to be the Asotin County Landfill.

On Thursday alone, Carlson estimated seeing between 300 and 400 gulls swirling overhead as workers at the landfill went about their duties.

Seeing that many birds could easily trigger a Hitchcockian image from his famous 1963 horror flick “The Birds.” Contrary to being frightened, I thought the number of birds and their movements in the sky felt surreal.

It was a win-win: Most of the gulls found treasures among the bags of Asotin County’s waste, while Keith — my informal bird guide — and I were in awe of the normality to the chaos happening in front of his binoculars and my camera lenses.

Carlson noted that the Asotin County Landfill has always been amenable to gull lovers who want to enjoy the spectacle, as long as they stay away from the daily operations of the dump.

There’s no need to disrupt the business of the scavengers of the sky or the management of waste.

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Caster is the Tribune's photo editor and may be contacted at pcaster@lmtribune.com.

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