25 May 2015

The Colonel Returns - Spring 2015

Well just two days after finding my second ever putative hybrid Laughing x Ring-billed Gull in Tinley Park, Illinois, I found Chicago's reoccuring hybrid at the Calumet Marina on the Illinois/Indiana state line. It made several passes around the pier, flying back and forth from Indiana to Illinois.

Photos confirm that these are two different individuals (some 20 miles apart).

The Tinley Park bird that I found on 22 May 2015:

The Chicago/Hammond hybrid from 24 May 2015:

Compared to the Tinley Park bird, the Chiacgo bird ("The Colonel") has more black on the face as well as a heavier bill. Looking closely at the wingtip pattern, the Chicago bird also has a larger mirror on p10 that spans across both webs of that feather, from edge to edge. The Tinley Park bird has a rounder mirror that's enclosed in black, not reaching the edges of the feather.

I don't know of any other records where two of these putative hybrids have been sighted in any state during the same season let alone the same week. One has to wonder if these two are related, and whether there's a pure Laughing Gull that has taken up permanant residency in one of the lower Lake Michigan Ring-billed colonies. Whatever the case, this is one gorgeous hybrid that steals the show when it flies in!

23 May 2015

Another Putative Laughing x Ring-billed Hybrid From Illinois

A hybrid mix that you don't often hear of is a Laughing/Ring-billed, but they do occur. Chicago has hosted one, presumably, since 2004 - an individual known as "The Colonel" (click here for details on this record).

So I was very surprised when I found what is almost certainly a different LAGU x RBGU yesterday in Tinley Park, Illinois. While scanning the local Ring-billed flock for leg bands, I caught a dark-winged bird with a partial hood out of the corner of my eye. I automatically assumed I had a sub-adult Laughing Gull, but then I began to process the orangy bill and leg color, as well as a faded hood (as opposed to a molting hood) - a pattern always exhibited by this suspected hybrid combination.

Putative Laughing x Ring-billed (adult). Tinley Park, IL. 22 May 2015.

For what it's worth, I've not seen the Chicago bird this season despite having checked 5-6 times since late March.

EDIT: I relocated the Chicago hybrid on 24 May 2015 and photos confirm two different individuals.

18 May 2015

A New May High Count for Great Black-backeds in Indiana

I stopped at the Whiting BP Refinery Beach yesterday, 17 may 2015, hoping to perhaps find a lingering winter gull. I knew there was a good chance of finding a Great Black-backed as I've found one here for the last two Mays, including this banded bird from last year.

Not only did I find "a" GBBG, I found 7 (4 first cycles, 2 second cycles and a third cycle type):

Needless to say I was ecstatic and at one point had all seven birds within a few hundred yards of each other. I made sure to double and triple count, with likely an 8th bird that disappeared and so to err on the side of caution, I've chosen to only document 7.

Thanks to Ken Brock for verifying his records for me, and confirming this is indeed a new May high count for the Hoosier state. I share Ken's suspicion that GBBG may soon become a summer resident here on southern Lake Michigan - at least sub-adult non-breeders.

03 May 2015

Onset of Primary Molt in Lake Michigan Herring Gulls

May is usually the month we begin to notice primary molt in our Herrings and Ring-billeds on southern Lake Michigan. First and second cycles generally precede older conspecifics in their prebasic molts by a month or so.

Roughly half of the 1st and 2nd cycles that I observed yesterday showed 1-3 dropped inner primaries:

Herring Gull (1st summer). P1-P2 dropped and hence the 2nd prebasic molt has commenced. Chicago, IL. 02 May 2015.
Herring Gull (2nd summer). P1-P3 dropped and hence the 3rd prebasic molt has commenced. Chicago, IL. 02 May 2015.

01 May 2015

April 2015 Quiz

It's known that 1st cycle gulls typically show pointed primary tips, while older gulls display more rounded tips to the primaries. Looking at this bird's primaries, it seems they are rounded, but overall the plumage appears to be that of a 1st cycle gull. The caveat here is that the apparent shape of the primary tips can change with the bird's posture, behavior, and even the angle at which we observe these feathers. This is indeed a first cycle gull, but what species?

Proportionally, the body-to-head and body-to-tail size seem to rule out a large species (such as Herring, etc.). The barred tail, brown and white wing coverts, and mostly white neck narrow this down to Ring-billed Gull or Mew Gull. This next photo should help:

Notice how the tips to the primaries appear more pointy now. But much more importantly, notice the pale edging surrounding the primary tips - a very "Mew-like" feature. This neat, white-winger-like edging is rarely as extensive in Ring-billed (see a typical 1st cycle Ring-billed example here). Additionally, the petite bill, domed head, smudgy hind-neck markings, and relatively dark gray 2nd generation scapulars all add up to a 1st cycle Mew Gull. There are several other field marks that help eliminate Ring-billed, but the description I've provided here should suffice. This Mew Gull was photographed in Seattle, Washington in January 2010.

Monthly Notables April 2015

April 2015

  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Manitowoc, Wisconsin. 04 April 2015.
    • This individual was seen on and off for over a month but could not be identified to species until 04 April when the original finder observed it closer to shore.
  • Western Gull (1st cycle). Sierra County, New Mexico. 09 April 2015.
  • Mew Gull (adult). Southport, Connecticut. 10 April 2015.
    • Another presumed Kamchatka Gull (the 4th one on the Atlantic Coast in 6 months). North America's default East Coast subspecies has always been nominate canus. The recent rash of L.c. kamtschatschensis is curious, to say the least. Perhaps it's a good time to reassess historic records where photos and/or specimens are available.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (continuing adult). Tacoma, Washington. Present all of April 2015.
  • Little Gull (1st cycle). Sullivan County, Indiana. 12 April 2015.
    • Now here for at least 23 consecutive weeks!
  • Mew Gull (adult). Milford, Connecticut. 16 April 2015. 
  • Thayer's Gull (1st cycle). West Haven, Connecticut. 19 April 2015.
  • Iceland Gull (adult). Morgan County, Colorado. 20 April 2015.
  • Little Gull (adult). St. John's, Newfoundland. 22 April 2015.
  • Little Gull (adult). Waukegan, Illinois, 25 April 2015.
    • A single adult was viewed flying north on Lake Michigan with a relatively big flight of Bonaparte's (822). This number of Bonaparte's is unusual on the Illinois lakefront at any time of year.
  • Little Gull (158). Oshawa, Ontario. 26 April 2015.
    • A site high count at the famous Oshawa Second Marsh. All birds present were adults with just a single first cycle bird.

20 April 2015

Hammond Kumlien's & Spring Records on Lake Michigan

I try to keep close tabs on the Hammond Marina Kumlien's Gull once we get this late in the season. Yesterday, I found it hanging out on the "No Wake" sign at the harbor mouth - my third sighting of it this month.

It wouldn't be unusual for this bird to continue into the last week of April. On average it seems Kumlien's - in general - linger later into the Spring on southern Lake Michigan than do Thayer's. For what it's worth, here are both the Illinois and Indiana record late dates for this species, respectively: 26 May 2005 and 12 May 1999. There are no June records of this species in either state.

Interestingly, there are later Thayer's records in Illinois (28 May 2008) and Indiana (20 June 1978). The Wisconsin lakefront, having so much more shoreline and being some 300 miles to the north of us when considering the northernmost extreme of the state, occasionally sees these white-wingers into June.

I personally have a Thayer's June record from Sheboygan, Wisconsin and a record late date from 11 July 2014 (Sheboygan, Wisconsin). But still, on average, there seem to be more Kumlien's records on Lake Michigan later in the season than Thayer's.

13 April 2015

2nd Cycle GBBG with Fish & 1st Cycle RBGU with Wide Tailband

Calumet Park. Chicago, IL. 12 April 2015.

Great Black-backeds generally don't allow close approach on Lake Michigan, but this youngster has let its Spring restlessness get the best of it.

I was able to patiently stalk it and eventually shorten the distance between us:

And a nice show was had...

Next up, the tailband on this 1st cycle Ring-billed is impressive, with dark coming all the way up towards the bases of the outer tail feathers:

These bands are variable - some being very narrow while others as thick as what's seen on the bird above (here's a collage I've put together demonstrating this).

Finally, the "pink" Ring-billeds on the lakefront continue to increase. The discoloration of their legs is, again, more evidence that they've been exposed to an external substance (i.e., iron ore dust/powder):

05 April 2015

Adult Kumlien's: Hammond

The longer I watch gulls, the more I'm absolutely convinced that this family of birds exhibits a great deal of site fidelity. Today I observed the adult Kumlien's Gull at Hammond Marina in Indiana (reoccurring since at least 2009). As is usual, the bird came in for a couple of minutes, gave a few long calls and then retreated as the gull flock grew (mostly Ring-billeds with about 10 Herrings and a couple of Great Black-backeds):

Kumlien's Gull (adult). Hammond, IN. 05 Aprl 2015.

I'm always too late when it comes to recording this bird vocalize in time!
Interestingly, an adult Thayer's flew in and tangled with this bird on the water for about 15 seconds, before making as if it was flying in towards me, but circled back and kept on to the northwest towards Chicago. I also observed a 1st and 2nd cycle GBBG today, and that's about it.

Ring-billed Gull (1st cycle). Whiting, IN. 05 April 2015.

Two replaced tail feathers - one adult-like and one less advanced. 
With a good deal of juvenile neck and breast streaking.

02 April 2015

Young Great Black-backeds & More

Some photos from this past Sunday, 29 March 2015 - Lake County, Indiana.

GBBG (1st cycle - photo 1 of 3).

GBBG (1st cycle - photo 2 of 3).

GBBG (1st cycle - photo 3 of 3).

GBBG (1st cycle).

GBBG (2nd cycle - photo 1 of 3).

GBBG (2nd cycle - photo 2 of 3).

GBBG (2nd cycle - photo 3 of 3).

HERG (1st cycle).

HERG (2nd cycle).

HERG (3rd cycle type - photo 1 of 2).

HERG (3rd cycle type - photo 2 of 2).

HERG (3rd cycle type - photo 1 of 2).

HERG (3rd cycle type - photo 2 of 2).

HERG (adult type - with Ring-billed below).

Ring-billed (2nd cycle type).

Ring-billed (2nd cycle type).

Ring-billed (adult, left - 2nd cycle type, right).

"Pink" Ring-billed (adult type).

"Blue" Ring-billed (adult, banded in Chicago, 2007 - photo 1 of 3).

"Blue" Ring-billed (adult, banded in Chicago, 2007 - photo 2 of 3).

"Blue" Ring-billed (adult, banded in Chicago, 2007 - photo 3 of 3).