24 May 2016

Little Gulls & Whaaa....

Manitowoc, Wisconsin scored big this past weekend. Charles Sontag & Mark Hodgson happened on an alternate White-winged Tern on Saturday, 21 May 2016 - only the 2nd record for the Western Great Lakes. Coincidentally, the first record also came from Wisconsin (Jefferson County; 05 July 1873. Ludwig Kumlien).

Bruce Heimer and I made the 3-hour jaunt for this one. It didn't take much to convince me as I bird this site multiple times in the Spring/Summer.

Here's my lousy photo of the tern:

WHITE-WINGED TERN. 22 MAY 2016
And of course a few Littles:

1st Cycle Little Gull rebuking a similar-aged Bonaparte's Gull.
Most of the LIGUs found here are 1st summer birds. An apparent adult was reported moments before we arrived. We never did see it, but photos confirm at least 5 LIGUs were present this past weekend, including a 1st cycle with an almost full hood, decked out with pink blush throughout.

Is there a LIGU in this photo...?

Of course there is...
This one here was hawking insects over the impoundment for a few moments:



Beside hawking insects over the lake, the birds are here feeding mainly on dying alewives. Here's a glimpse of a small segment of the group flushing:


It's nice to see these diminutive, tern-like, gulls with their smaller cousins. Their feeding preferences, fight patterns and breeding habitats are much more alike when compared to those of the larger gulls.

22 May 2016

Prebasic Molts in 1st Cycle Ring-billed Gulls

1st cycle Ring-billed Gulls typically begin their prebasic molt in mid-May. The molt is initiated, or at least detected, by the dropping/replacement of the innermost primaries.

Typical mid-May Ring-billed Gull (second calendar year).
The 3 innermost primaries have dropped. Tinley Park, IL. 21 May 2016.
1st Summer Ring-billed with obvious molt gap where the secondaries & primaries meet.
 The innermost primary and outermost secondary have emerged.
Tinley Park, Illinois. 07 May 2016.

This individual has dropped a few secondaries and a couple of primaries:

P1-P2 new. P7 appears 2nd generation. Tinley Park, IL. 21 May 2016.
Interestingly, p7 on the left wing is 2nd generation. This feather has an odd-shaped tip that's emarginated. It's also a bit worn. It very likely replaced an accidentally dropped juvenile primary (as opposed to being part of the current primary molt). Note p7 on the right wing is still juvenile (1st basic).

Same individual above. Both P1-P2 new. P7 old. 
Most adults haven't begun dropping/replacing primaries or rectrices yet (i.e., the prebasic molt). They begin molting almost an entire month (or two) later than 1st cycles. The demands of courting, pairing up and nesting are taxing enough and hence molt is delayed.

03 May 2016

Birder Beware - Bleached Pigments

It's Spring. Large white-headed gulls have been wearing their juvenile flight feathers for nearly an entire 12 months. By now, many are showing primaries that are worn, faded, and yes, bleached.

1st Cycle Ring-billed Gulls. Cook County, Illinois. 01 May 2016.
The individual to the left is showing typical, dark primaries that appear to be in very good condition. The bird to the right has primaries (and tertials) that have a light brown coloration. These feathers appear diluted in color because of bleaching. Both birds are the same age, except the individual to the left hasn't suffered the effects of bleaching.



Birders should keep this in mind especially when assessing white-wingers (i.e., Thayer's and Kumlien's in particular) and suspected hybrids. A bleached Thayer's in California at this time of year may tempt one to call it a Kumlien's. Similarly, a dark Kumlien's in Toronto may be suspected of being a bleached Thayer's, and so on and so forth.

The implication here is that some birds may not be safely identifiable at this time of year only because of this ambiguity of "true" pigment.

01 May 2016

Monthly Notables April 2016

  • California Gull (1st cycle). New Haven County, Connecticut. 01 April 2016.
    • Continuing first state record, last reported on 16 April.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Pierce County, Washington. 05 April 2016.
    • Continuing on rooftop.
  • Little Gull (1st cycle). San Diego County, California. 07 April 2016.
  • Common Gull (2nd cycle). La Côte-de-Gaspé County, Quebec. 09 April 2016.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Forteau, Labrador. 11 April 2016.
    • First record for Labrador.
  • Black-legged Kittiwake (1st cycle). Emmet County, Michigan. 12 April 2016.
  • Little Gull (adult). St. John's County, Newfoundland. 17 April 2016.
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull (adult). Clallam County, Washington. 22 April 2016.
  • Little Gull (1st cycle). Lake County, Illinois. 23 April 2016.
  • Thayer's Gull (adults - 8). Toronto County, Ontario. 23 April 2016.
    • A new one-day high count for the Greater Toronto Area. 
  • Ross's Gull (1st cycle). Lenawee County, Michigan. 23 April 2016.
    • Probable. Upperwing pattern could fit 1st cycle Little Gull or even an odd Black-legged Kittiwake. Most promising is what appears to be a wedged-shaped tail.
  • Little Gull (adult). Riverside County, California. 23 April 2016.
  • Kelp Gull (adult). San Francisco County, California. 26 April 2016.
    • The absence of a p10 mirror suggests this is a reoccurring individual first discovered in San Mateo County in April of 2015.
  • Iceland Gull (24). Toronto County, Ontario. 30 April 2016.
    • A new one-day high count for the Greater Toronto Area. Various ages. Recorded by Owen Strickland (the same observer who recorded the Thayer's high count for this area on 23 April 2016).

30 April 2016

April 2016 Quiz




Age: A number of features on this individual point towards a 2nd cycle gull. This includes the rounded primary tips, the mixture of gray-brown feathers on the upperparts, the marbled greater coverts and white-tipped tertials - all these combined assure us this isn't a 1st cycle gull.


So which North American species look like this in their 2nd plumage cycle? Herring Gull immediately comes to mind, but the bill is awfully thin (and straight) for that species. The gray on the upperparts also looks suspiciously dark for Herring. The dark iris paired with an obvious post-ocular line, noticeable downward gape, thick brown neck-boa and bluish tibia are all diagnostic of no other than a California Gull.


This month's quiz bird was photographed in September, San Mateo County, California.

31 March 2016

Monthly Notables March 2016

  • Thayer's Gull (adult). St. John's, Newfoundland. 01 March 2016.
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull (3rd cycle). Humboldt County, California. 02 March 2016.
    • Presumably a reoccurring individual returning for the 3rd consecutive winter - photographed in 1st, 2nd and now 3rd basic.
  •  Kelp Gull (adult). Summit County, Ohio. 06 March 2016.
    • Continuing from December 2015. Seen sporadically on random days.
  • Common Gull (adult). St. John's, Newfoundland. 06 March 2016.
    • 2 wintering adults - nominate canus.
  • Common Gull (adult). Barnstable County, Massachusetts. 13 March 2016.
    • Possible 2nd adult occurred here on 26 March 2016 showing darker wingtip pattern.
  • Little Gull (1st cycle). Mason County, Illinois. 13 March 2016.
    • Two 1st cycle birds seen together here on 25 March 2016.
  • Common Gull (adult). Digby County, Nova Scotia. 13 March 2016.
    • Apparent Kamchatka Gull. Another individual adding to the "explosion" of records in the northeast part of the continent in the last 2 years.
  • Ivory Gull (1st cycle). Rimouski-Neigette County, Quebec. 17 March 2016.
    • A flyby bird.
  • Mew Gull (adult). New Haven County, Connecticut. 20 March 2016.
    • 1st state occurrence of an apparent American Short-billed (brachyrhynchus).
  • Common Gull (adult). New Haven County, Connecticut. 20 March 2016.
    • Nominate canus seen together with the Short-billed Gull noted above.
  • California Gull (1st cycle). New Haven County, Connecticut. 21 March 2016.
    • 1st State Record.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (2nd cycle). Kodiak Island County, Alaska. 22 March 2016.
  • Sabine's Gull (adult). Lincoln County, Oregon. 23 March 2016.
  • Heermann's Gull (2nd cycle). Galveston County, Texas. 25 March 2016.
    • 4th State Record.
  • Franklin's Gull (3). Volusia County, Florida. 28 March 2016.
    • 1st winter birds. P-molt out to p3 in one individual with nearly all wing coverts and rectrices replaced.

March 2016 Quiz


The pointed primary tips help age this individual as a 1st cycle. The short, thin legs, and apparent small bill suggest a female type, large white-headed gull. California Gull is ruled out by the all black bill. The darker upperparts look much like a 2nd cycle Lesser Black-baked, but this bird is in its first plumage cycle. In addition, the pale tips to the greater coverts and paler upper scapulars and mantle feathers are wrong for that species. This month's quiz bird is a 1st cycle Herring Gull, photographed in Will County, Illinois on 15 February 2016.

04 March 2016

2nd Cycle Herring & Thayer's

For most birders Herring Gull is the "benchmark" large gull species that we first begin to familiarize ourselves with (or at least attempt to get familiar with). For some, looking through flocks of Herring Gulls can be agonizing (whether it be a lack of excitement or being overwhelmed by an array of plumages). For others, the exercise of looking through a flock of Herrings is the only way to ensure they won't miss a rarity. And then you have some observers (myself included) that look through these variable beasts for sheer recreation. In any case, knowing Herring Gull is indispensable.

Ultimately, many of our identifications are reinforced by comparisons - comparisons among species in the field. These comparisons solidify for us the differences between Species A, Species B and so on and so forth. 

Consider these two below:


The bird on the left is a fairly typical 2nd cycle Herring Gull. To the experienced birder that has looked through enough Herrings, the bird on the right is different. It has softer brown primaries with faint pale edges. The underside to the left wing is noticeably pale. The wing coverts and tertials have an overall icy-marbling appearance. The head is rounded, and the bill - which has retained smudges of black along the cutting edge - is thinner towards its base. 

The bird on the right is a fairly typical 2nd cycle Thayer's Gull. Here's this beauty in flight:

Thayer's Gull (2nd Cycle). Will County, Illinois. 15 February 2016.

01 March 2016

Monthly Notables February 2016

  • Yellow-legged gull (adult). Franklin County, Massachusetts. 01 February 2016.
    • Probable. Appledore Gull not safely eliminated. No vocalization. The "Turner's Falls" bird generated much debate this month with many European observers suggesting it was indistinguishable from nominate michahellis. An ongoing identification conundrum in North America. Recorded vocalizations should be a priority with these types.  
  • Thayer's Gull (1st cycle). Brevard County, Florida. 01 February 2016.
  • Thayer's Gull (adult). Cecil County, Maryland. 01 February 2016.
  • Black-headed Gull (adult). Snohomish County, Washington. 01 February 2016.
    • Appears to be a different individual than the Vancouver bird from last month. It's thought that there were almost certainly 2 different individuals here.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Will County, Illinois. 01 February 2016.
    • Continuing from January.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Jefferson County, Wisconsin. 01 February 2016.
    • Continuing from January.
  • Common Gull (adult). Halifax County, Nova Scotia. 03 February 2016.
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull (adult & 1st cycle). Placer County, California. 03 February 2016.
  • Kelp Gull (adult). Los Angels County, California. 03 January 2016.
    • 4th occurence for California. Appears to be the same individual first discovered in Half Moon Bay (San Mateo County) in May 2015, showing no p10 mirror.
  • Glaucous-winged Gull (1st cycle). Salt Lake County, Utah. 04 February 2016.
  • Kelp Gull (adult). Summit County, Ohio. 06 February 2016.
    • The same adult seen here in December 2015 has resurfaced after going absent in January.
  • Black-headed Gull (adult). Metro Vancouver County, British Columbia. 06 February 2016.
  • Glaucous Gull (1st cycle). Ralegih NC. 06 Feb 2016.
  • Franklin's Gull (adult). Lake County, Illinois. 07 February 2016.
    • Alternate plumage.
  • Thayer's Gull (adult). Cape May County, New Jersey. 07 February 2016.
  • Glaucous Gull (1st cycle). Jefferson County, Louisiana. 07 February 2016.
  • Sabine's Gull (1st cycle). St. John's, Newfoundland. 01-08 February 2016.
    • Continued from January.
  • Black-legged Kittiwake (1st cycle). St. Louis County, Minnesota. 10 February 2016.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult type). Benton County, Washington. 13 February 2016.
  • Great Black-backed Gull (3rd cycle type). Mobile County, Alabama. 13 February 2016.
  • Kumlien's Iceland Gull (1st cycle). Victoria, British Columbia. 14 February 2016.
  • Ivory Gull (1st cycle). Bayfield County, Wisconsin. 17 February 2016.
    • Photographed in a backyard on a trampoline. Later reported stealing bait in fishermen huts.
  • California Gull (2nd cycle). Volusia County, Florida. 17 February 2016.
    • First record of this age group in the state.
  • Little Gull (adults/1st cycles). Bruce County, Ontario. 18 February 2016.
    • 6 individuals on the shores of Lake Huron.
  • Yellow-legged Gull (adult). St. John's, Newfoundland. 18 February 2016.
  • California Gull (2nd cycle). Brevard County, Florida. 19 February 2016.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Porter County, Indiana. 20 February 2016.
    • 1st county record. A weekend roamer. This adult is the same individual first discovered in Willmington, Illinois on 26 January. It was found at Montrose Harbor in Chicago on a Saturday morning in late January, returned to Willmington for a few more weeks (where it was feeding at a landfill), and then discovered in Burns Harbor, Indiana on 20 February. The bird traveled at least 60 miles in a little less than 2 hours. It's movements appeared to be motivated by two factors: hours of operation at the landfill and the absence of ice at the pond it was using to rest on.
  • California Gull (2nd cycle). Lake County, Illinois. 22 February 2016.
  • Mew Gull (1st cycle). Knox County, Maine. 01-28 February 2016.
    • Continued all month. American Short-billed.

Noteworthy this month is the number of putative GBBG x HERG hybrids reported throughout the Great Lakes region (over 20 individuals in the northeast). Almost all reports and photos are of adults (not surprising as we don't feel comfortable assigning younger birds). Still, there is no clear understanding where these hybrids originate, although the majority seem to be found wintering on the Great Lakes.   

February 2016 Quiz

It's clear we have a hooded gull in what looks like definitive adult plumage. The partial hood suggests the bird is in basic plumage (as opposed to alternate).

The upperparts are relatively dark, helping us narrow down our choices to Sabine's, Franklin's or Laughing Gull. The longer legs could help rule out Sabine's as this a short-legged species that often resembles a shorebird when viewed on land at a distance.

The semi-hood looks similar to the what one may see on a Franklin's in the non-breeding season. However, Laughing Gull can also show this half-hood (depending on how much of the hood has molted in - or out). Further, the white apicals on the primaries may tempt one to call this a Franklin's, but adult Laughings often show white tips to the primaries (especially in late fall/early winter when the feathers are renewed).



The narrow eye crescents, long legs and long wing projection all help identify our quiz bird as a Laughing Gull. Seeing the relatively thick bill with flat, sharply sloped tip, makes the identification much, much easier.

This adult was photographed in Volusia County, Florida on 24 January 2016.