11 January 2020

1st Cycle Vega Gulls

A small set of 1st cycle Vega Herrings from the Pacific Coast of Japan. Chiba Prefecture. December-January. 

Juvenile Scapular patterns are variable, but in general, a much neater and tidier look than American Herring. Most feathers have pale edging throughout, and many lower scaps have what I'm calling a "Native American arrowhead" pattern. There are also diamond and heart-shaped dark centers on many individuals that I've not noted on Smithsonianus.


04 January 2020

Monthly Notables December 2019

  • Ross's Gull (adult). King County, Washington. 01 December 2019.
    • 3rd State Record.
  • Heermann's Gull (adult type). Tarrant County, Texas. 02 December 2019.
    • 5th State Record.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Brant County, Ontario. 06 December 2019.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Niagara County, Ontario. 08 December 2019.
  • Laughing Gull (adult). Sheboygan County, Wisconsin. 06 December 2019.
  • Franklin's Gull (1st cycle). La Vallee-du-Richelieu County, Quebec. 07 December 2019.
  • California Gull (adult). Marion County, Iowa. 08 December 2019.
  • Black-headed Gull (adult). New Hanover County, North Carolina. 08 December 2019.
    • Likely a returning bird for the 4th consecutive winter.
  • Common Gull (adult). Pictou County, Nova Scotia. 08 December 2019.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Niagara County, New York. 18 December 2019.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult & 2nd cycle). Middlesex County, Ontario. 13 December 2019.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Walla Walla County, Washington. 16 December 2019.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Benton County, Washington. 21 December 2019.
  • Laughing Gull (1st cycle). San Mateo County, California. 21 December 2019.
  • Mew Gull (2nd cycle). Dona Ana County, New Mexico. 22 December 2019.
  • California Gull (adult). Middlesex County, New Jersey. 23 December 2019.
  • California Gull (1st cycle). Cameron County, Texas. 25 December 2019.
  • Little Gull (1st cycle). Riverside County, California. 30 December 2019.
  • Heermann's Gull (1st cycle). Palm Beach County, Florida. 31 December 2019.
    • Continuing individual wintering on FL Atlantic coast.

  1. The adult Ross's found on Lake Washington in Seattle appeared to be ill with droopy wings and a lazy gait. After two hours of observation birders witnessed a Bald Eagle fly in and effortlessly take the gull. It was carried to a nearby tree and consumed. Not unlike the story of the adult Ross's Gull from San Mateo County, California a few years ago, these sightings reinforce the belief that ROGUs which make it this far south do not fare well. 
  2. Similar to last winter, southern Ontario hosted 3-4 Slaty-backed Gulls in December. 
  3. Of interest is the 10,000 California Gulls reported in Salt Lake County, Utah in early December. 

03 January 2020

December 2019 Quiz

Age: It appears this is a large four-year gull, and judging by the plumage aspect, we can estimate it is in its 3rd plumage cycle. The adult-like, gray, inner primaries, with broad white tips are sufficient enough to steer us away from 2nd cycle, but the black secondary centers, broad tail band, marked primary coverts and brown cast to the wing coverts assure us this isn't an adult.

Identification: To begin identifying this gull, we should ask which large four-year gull has a pale eye at this age, relatively paler gray upperparts and a proportionately-sized bill. California Gull is ruled out by the pale eye. Ring-billed - a 3 year gull -  may come to mind but this is a larger and more broad-winged bird. Furthermore, 2nd cycle Ring-billeds never show tailbands this wide. Our December bird is a fairly typical Herring Gull, except perhaps for the lack of white in the outer primaries. At this age, Herrings usually show a mirror (or two) on the outer wing, but on rare occasion may not. It is worth mentioning that gray feathers mixed with brown pigments almost always make sub-adults appear darker than typical adults. Add to this an already underexposed image and the result is a bird that appears darker than what we normally associate with American Herring Gull.

Chicago. November.

03 December 2019

Monthly Notables November 2019


  • Franklin's Gull (1st cycle). Monroe County, Florida. 01 November 2019.
  • Black-tailed Gull (adult). San Francisco County, California. 01 November 2019.
    • Continuing from October 2019 on South Farallon Islands.
  • California Gull (2nd cycle). St. Louis County, Minnesota. 03 November 2019.
  • Sabine's Gull (juvenile). Vaudreuil-Soulanges County, Quebec. 05 November 2019.
  • Little Gull (adult). Macon County, Illinois. 06 November 2019.
  • Laughing Gull (1st cycle). Marion County, Indiana. 06 November 2019.
  • California Gull (adult). Galveston County, Texas. 06 November 2019.
  • Black-legged Kittiwake (adult). Taylor County, Texas. 08 November 2019.
    • P9 half grown; P10 just emerging beyond p-coverts.
  • Great Black-backed Gull (adult). Pubelo County, Colorado. 08 November 2019.
    • Believed to be a returning individual for the 26th consecutive winter.
  • Black-legged Kittiwake (juvenile). Larimer County, Colorado. 09 November 2019.
  • Little Gull (adult). Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. 10 November 2019.
  • Black-legged Kittiwake (adult). Clark County, Nevada. 10 November 2019.
  • Kamchatka Gull (adult). Beauce-Sartigan County, Quebec. 04 November 2019.
    • 4th Province Record. This follows a 3rd province record from August 2019.
  • Little Gull (adult). Macon County, Illinois. 06 November 2019.
  • California Gull (adult). Galveston County, Texas. 08 November 2019.
  • Ivory Gull (adult). East Kootenay District, British Columbia. 10 November 2019.
  • Black-legged Kittiwake (juvenile). Cedar County, Nebraska. 16 November 2019.
  • Franklin's Gull (1st cycle). Skagit County, Washington. 08 November 2019.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Brant County, Ontario. 19 November 2019.
  • Black-headed Gull (adult). Cape May County, New Jersey. 19 November 2019.
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull (adult). King County, Washington. 19 November 2019.
  • Heermann's Gull (1st cycle). Miami-Dade County, Florida. 19 November 2019.
    • 1st County Record. Likely the same individual from Brevard County.
  • Franklin's Gull (1st cycle). Norfolk County, Massachusetts. 22 November 2019.
  • Mew Gull (adult). Bristol County, Massachusetts. 22 November 2019.
    • Apparent L.c. brachyrhynchus. 1st County Record.
  • Western Gull (3rd cycle). Nueces County, Texas. 22 November 2019.
    • Suspected to be the same individual found in Port Aransas last October - then a 2nd cycle. 6th State Record, pending acceptance. 
  • Glaucous Gull (1st cycle). Duval County, Florida. 23 November 2019.

November 2020 Quiz

Age: To age this apparent, large, four-year gull, note the pointed tips as well as dark subterminal diamonds to the innermost primaries (1st generation). The primary coverts are nicely ornamented with pale-edged tips. The plumage is crisp and well-patterned with largely dark wing linings. We can safely label our subject a 1st cycle.

Identification: For identification, we will begin by focusing on the bill. This individual has an enormously stout bill which nicely complements a large blocky head. The tail has a thin, weakly patterned tailband with contrasting uppertail coverts. The body is barrel-shaped and appears heavy. The upperparts are peppered black-and-white with some checkering. Important, also, is to make out the overall white ground color to the entire plumage - which is very conspicuous throughout the body. Piecing together a bird this checkered, with such broad wings shouldn't be problematic. Our November gull is a 1st cycle Great Black-backed Gull.

23 people submitted answers this month and all identified this bird correctly!! Thanks for the comments!

March; Lake County, Indiana.

02 November 2019

Monthly Notables October 2019

  • Black-headed Gull (adult type). Juneau County, Alaska. 02 October 2019.
  • Little Gull (juvenile). Cass County, Minnesota. 02 October 2019.
  • Franklin's Gull (1st cycle). Lycoming County, Pennsylvania. 04 October2019.
    • First County Record.
  • Laughing Gull (1st cycle). Montmagny County, Quebec. 05 October 2019.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (3rd cycle type). Grays Harbor County, Washington. 05 October 2019.
  • Great Black-backed Gull (adult). Mobile County, Alabama. 06 October 2019.
  • Thayer's Gull (1st cycle). Fairbanks North Star County, Alaska. 07 October 2019.
  • Great Black-backed Gull (adult). Keith County, Nebraska. 08 October 2019.
  • Ivory Gull (adult). North Slope County, Alaska. 08 October 2019.
  • California Gull (adult). Berrien County, Michigan. 13 October 2019.
  • Sabine's Gull (juvenile). Aleutians West County, Alaska. 13 October 2019.
    • Late record for St. Paul Island, by 11 days.
  • Mew Gull (adult). Washington County, Colorado. 14 October 2019.
  • Black-tailed Gull (2nd/3rd cycle type). Jefferson County, Washington. 17 October 2019.
    • 8th(?) State Record, pending acceptance.
  • Glaucous Gull (1st cycle). Cook County, Illinois. 19 October 2019.
  • Laughing Gull (adult type). Cochrane District, Ontario. 19 October 2019.
  • Black-legged Kittiwake (2nd cycle type). Fairfield County, Connecticut. 19 October 2019.
    • A Review List Species for CT.
  • Glaucous-winged Gull (1st cycle). Salt Lake County, Utah. 21 October 2019.
  • Black-tailed Gull (2nd cycle). La Haute-Cote-Nord County, Quebec. 21 October 2019.
    • An extraordinary plumage likely unrecorded in eastern North America. Most upperparts new (2nd basic?). P1-P5 new, 2nd basic. Outer primaries, secondaries and lesser upperwing coverts old.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Aleutians East County, Alaska. 21 October 2019.
  • Black-tailed Gull (adult). San Francisco County, California. 23 October 2019.
    • 1st Farallon Islands Record.
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull (adult). San Diego County, California. 23 October 2019.
  • California Gull (2nd cycle). Northumberland County, Ontario. 23 October 2019.
  • Laughing Gull (adult type). Sudbury County, Ontario. 24 October 2019.
  • Black-legged Kittiwake (juvenile). Marquette County, Michigan. 24 October 2019.
  • Heermann's Gull (1st cycle). Brevard County, Florida. 25 October 2019.
    • Continuing 1st county record first sighted in August 2019. 
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull (adult). North Okanagan District, B.C. 28 October 2019.
  • Glaucous Gull (1st cycle). San Francisco County, California. 30 October 2019.
  1. The highlight this month was the 3 reports of Black-tailed Gull. The species is always exceptionally rare in the ABA area, making October 2019 a very noteworthy event. Most interesting is the young bird photographed in Quebec with a flock of Ring-billed Gulls. This individual was about 4 months behind schedule in its 2nd prebasic molt. 

01 November 2019

October 2019 Quiz

Age: A rather standard 1st cycle, large gull, with what appears to be all juvenile upperparts.

Identification: Our October Quiz is a good example of why knowing date and location is indispensable information at times. This individual was photographed on the Kenai Peninsula along the Cook Inlet in late August. The most expected taxon here, at this time of year, consists of Herring x Glaucous-winged hybrids (so called Cook Inlet Gulls). Armed with this information, we must eliminate that mix first and foremost.

There are a number of features that we may attribute to Glaucous-winged, such as the plain and paler upper tail, pale edges to the primaries, high eye placement, grayish-brown plumage aspect and fine upperwing covert pattern. Less obvious are the Herring features, consisting of a paling bill base, notched scapular pattern, and perhaps most important, the darker primaries.

Two confusion taxa that may be considered away from this hybrid zone, and/or at a later time in the year, are Thayer's and Glaucous x Herring hybrid.

For Thayer's, we'd generally expect an all-dark bill without the wide base. Also, this individual appears big-bodied with higher than normal eye placement and a shorter primary projection (which admittedly may be due to posture or growing wings). Furthermore, the lesser and median coverts on this bird appear too "busy" with wavy markings that aren't as boldly patterned as is typically found in Thayer's.

As for Glaucous x Herring hybrids, that combination is difficult to rule out structurally. However, plumage aspect on that hybrid is often brighter with a frostier appearance, with more white-centered upperparts, as opposed to the grayish tones seen in some Glaucous-winged x Herrings. Again, location and time of year support a Cook Inlet Gull.

Anchor Point, Alaska. August.