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.

17 February 2016

Black-back Bonanza - Chandeleur, Great Lakes and Slaty-backed Gull

I stopped at the Arsenal Road Pond in Willmington, Illinois on Monday (15 February 2016) and was blown away by the gull diversity - 9 species and 2 hybrids, by far my best day of the season:

Chandeleur Gull (putative Kelp x Herring; adult)
Great Lakes Gull (putative Great Black-backed x Herring; adult)
Slaty-backed Gull (adult)
Great Black-backed Gull (2nd cycle)
Lesser Black-backed Gull (4 - 1 adult, 1 third cycle, 2 first cycle)
Herring Gull (800+)
Glaucous Gull (2 - adult, 1st cycle)
Kumlien's Gull (1 - adult)
Thayer's Gull (6 - 4 adults, 2 second cycle)
California Gull (2nd cycle)
Ring-billed Gull (175)

The putative Kelp x Herring hybrid is no other than "Gull Nasty", the Michigan City bird that has frequented the Indiana/Michigan lakefront for the last several winters.

Chandeleur Gull (Kelp x Herring hybrid). 1st time observed in Illinois.

Ken Brock tells me the bird went absent in early January, and now we know it's enjoying some time at the landfill some 70 miles to the southwest in Will County, Illinois. I last saw this individual in New Buffalo, Michigan back in early October.



Also of interest is the continuing adult Slaty-backed Gull that seems to not like showing itself on weekends:

Slaty-backed Gull (adult). 1st Will County, Illinois record.

Most of the pond was iced up with a small stretch of open water near the parking lot, and the Slaty finally came in close enough for these photos:


String-of-pearls on p6-p8. No mirror on p9.

Chandeleur Gull (far left) & Slaty-backed Gull (far right at rest).

The adult Great Lakes Gull (pink legs, thin white tips to the inner primaries) made a brief, but distant, appearance too, and for a brief moment I considered the possibility of a 2nd Slaty-backed Gull. I mentioned on North American Gulls that I pity the novice that shows up here trying to hastefully check off a SBGU - I meant that, literally. The black-backs here, especially when viewed at a distance are lots of "fun" to sort through.

Some lighter stuff:

2nd Cycle Thayer's.
Extreme pale-end Herring Gull (2nd cycle).

14 February 2016

Gull Frolic 2016

Gulls, birders and food. The 15th Annual IOS Gull Frolic was a great time yesterday. Birders from all around Illinois and beyond were in attendance. It was a frigid day, but despite that members were out in full force on the board walk, checking off all of our winter gull species (10 Thayer’s, 3 Iceland, 3 Glaucous, 4 Great Black-backed and 4 Lesser Black-backed Gulls among several hundred Herring Gulls).


Adult Lake Michigan Gull (Thayer's/Kumlien's).


3rd Cycle Thayer's Gull.

2nd Cycle Thayer's Gull.

1st Cycle Thayer's Gull.

Adult Lake Michigan Gull.

Adult Herring & Kumlien's Gulls.

3rd Cycle Type Herring and Thayer's Gulls.


A few snaps from the day:

Lunch in the Main Room.

Illinois Young Birders posing here with the legendary Kenn Kaufman.

Amar Ayyash with one of the Gull Frolic pioneers, David B Johnson.

Museum specimens from Chicago's Field Museum.

Nandu Dubey giving away another of his fine paintings in our raffle. Our lucky
winner was Stephen Wild.
(photo courtesy Anima Bajpai Dubey)

Amar Ayyash, Kenn Kaufman and Joel Greenberg.

A small sample of the 150+ birders in attendance.

The 2017 Gull Frolic will be on February 11th. Mark. Your. Calendars.

09 February 2016

February Franklin's - Lake County Illinois

Every winter a few random Franklin's Gulls are reported in North America, well ahead of schedule in timing and molt. Unsurprisingly, they almost always seem to be adults, presumably individuals with hyper-hormones that are eager to get to the breeding grounds. This winter seems to be an above average season for them, with multiple birds reported in the interior.

On Sunday, visiting Swedish birder Tobias Ljungquist and I had this stunning alternate adult on Lake Michigan in northern Illinois:

Lake County, IL; 07 February 2016.
Tobias spotted the "black-headed" gull which appeared very out of place on the ice with our winter Herrings. This is no where near as exciting as the Kelp Gull recently seen in Los Angeles County, CA or the winter Sabine's all the way north in Newfoundland, but this is MY first February Franklin's here on Lake Michigan.

02 February 2016

Appledore Gulls - Herring x Lesser Black-backed Hybrids

Appledore Gull is the title I've suggested for putative American Herring x Lesser Black-backed hybrids. They appear to be increasing with rapidity and it seems every week I'm being sent photos or someone is posting good candidates of this combination.

There are two individuals that have provided us with some insight: "Green F07" and "Green F02", the offpring of an American Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gull (Green F05) from Appledore Island in Maine.

(Click on each)

Green F07
This is the most well-documented hybrid available to us in North America. Interestingly, this bird has kept mostly yellow legs in 4th basic. It's easy, then, to discredit the notion that adult F1 hybrids should have a blend of dull pink and yellow legs.

Green F02
This bird has been missing in action since 2nd basic. It looks much more like a 2nd cycle Lesser than a Herring (or an intermediate bird for that matter). Both size and the gray upperparts don't scream Herring Gull to my eyes.


Green F05. Banded on Appledore Island after found hybridizing with American Herring Gull.
This individual, known as Pierre, has been documented up and down the Atlantic, spending most of
its winters in the Daytona Beach Shores area. More here.


While in Florida a couple of weeks ago, I found two examples of adults that I feel make good candidates of this hybrid combination. Let's start with the more obvious individual.

BIRD #1











BIRD #2







I base my identifications of these two birds primarily on two points: intermediate upperparts and corrupted leg color. P-molt is better for a LBBG at this time of year. The head/bill on both birds look more like Herring Gull, to me.  

The continuing barrier of little data and few known-age, known-provenance birds makes our identifications tentative. There is no known "hybrid zone" where we can openly observe this mix, and so the range of features in these hybrids is reduced to guesswork and imagination. This presents several critical identification problems for North American observers: 1) Identifying Yellow-legged Gulls with confidence, 2) Confusion with dark-backed "Herrings" and pale-backed "graellsii".

01 February 2016

Monthly Notables January 2016

  • Ivory Gull (1st cycle). St. Louis County, Minnesota. 01 January 2016.
    • 12th State Record. Took a 6 day absence, only to return to Canal Park on 15 January 2016. It was last seen on 24 January appearing weak and on the brink of expiring.
  • Mew Gull (1st cycle). Caddo County, Louisiana. 01 January 2016.
    • 1st State Record.
  • Ivory Gull (1st cycle). Douglas County, Wisconsin. 05 January 2016.
    • Just a few miles from the Duluth bird, this individual was found dead. A partial specimen was given to the Field Museum in Chicago.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Pierce County, Washington. 06 January 2016.
    • Reoccurring/Continuing. 
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult type). Jefferson County, Wisconsin. 07 January 2016.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (3rd cycle type). Walla Walla County, Washington. 08 January 2016.
    • First for eastern Washington.
  • Kelp Gull (adult). Summit County, Ohio. 10 January 2016.
    • Resighted after a ten day absence.
  • Thayer's Gull (adult). Horry County, South Carolina. 11 January 2016.
    • 1st State Record. Adult showing a single mirror on p10 and none on p9.
  • Black-tailed Gull (3rd cycle type). Clinton County, Illinois. 11 January 2016.
    • 2nd State Record.
  • Mew Gull (sub-adult/3rd cycle type). Lorain County, Ohio. 12 January 2016.
  • Ivory Gull (1st cycle). St. Louis County, Minnesota. 12 January 2016.
    • Another addition to the Ivory Gull saga in St. Louis County this month. A 1st cycle was found in a backyard in Ely, MN, being mobbed by crows. It was picked up and looked after by rehabbers and then released shortly after. All this while the Canal Park bird was missing in action. No photos were taken of the Ely bird (some 100 miles north of Duluth) and so whether this is a 3rd Ivory Gull or not is unknown. Three days later the Canal Park bird did reappear. 
  • Iceland Gull (1st cycle). San Diego County, California. 18 January 2016.
  • Mew Gull (1st cycle). Knox County, Maine. 18 January 2016.
  • Vega Herring Gull (adult). Cameron County, Texas. 18 January 2016.
    • 6th (7th?) State Record.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Contra Costa County, California. 19 January 2016.
  • Franklin's Gull (1st cycle). Volusia County, Florida. 19 January 2016.
  • California Gull (1st cycle). Kings County, New York. 19 January 2016
  • Vega Herring Gull (1st cycle). San Mateo County, California. 20 January 2016.
  • Iceland Gull (1st cycle). Brevard County, Florida. 21 January 2016. 
  • Common Gull (adult). Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. 25 January 2016.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Solano County, California. 25 January 2016.
  • Thayer's Gull (2nd cycle). Northampton County, Pennsylvania. 26 January 2016.
  • Black-headed Gull (adult). Vancouver, British Columbia. 26 January 2016.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Will County, Illinois. 26-29 January 2016.
    • This same individual was found some 70 miles to the northeast at Montrose Harbor in Chicago on 30 January 2016. It was observed for about an hour before it flew off to the north, not to be seen again. This is now the 20th gull species seen at this site.
  • Thayer's Gull (adult). Cecil County, Maryland. 27 January 2016.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Milwaukee County, Wisconsin. 30 January 2016.
    • Photo comparisons suggest this is a different adult than the one observed earlier in the month in Johnson Creek, WI and the individual observed in Illinois.
  • Sabine's Gull (1st cycle). St. Vincent's, Newfoundland. 31 January 2016.
    • A rare sighting from land. Exceptionally rare in North America in winter.