30 June 2015

June 2015 Quiz

The theme this month is dark-backed species that are worn and molting. The appearance of these birds suggests it's Summer season.

Beginning with the hooded gulls, the 3 in front are all Laughing Gulls (longer, drooping bills, thinner eye crescents and little to no white on the primary tips). Franklin's is typically shorter-legged with body structure that's more compact. There's no reason not to label the 4th hooded gull in the back (facing away) a Laughing Gull either.

Now for the larger two non-hooded species. The medium-sized gull with the heavily streaked head to the right is a Lesser Black-backed Gull. The legs do not appear to be the mustard-yellow that's expected on this species, but this is age-related. Sub-adult Lessers commonly show pinkish leg color and retarded bill patterns, sometimes with extensive black, like this individual. The fine vertical head streaking is also unique to Lesser Black-backed when considering black-backed species in North America.

The larger gull to the left is the largest species we have: Great Black-backed Gull. Its jet-black upperparts, pinkish legs and overall large body size can't be mistaken for much else. Great Black-backeds tend to keep mostly white heads almost year-round in North America.

This photograph was taken in Cape May, New Jersey - 06 August 2012.

Monthly Notables June 2015

June is a good month to find lingering gulls that would have otherwise moved north or offshore. You'll notice most of the highlights for this month are 1-2 year-olds.
  • Black-headed Gull (1st cycle - continuing). New Hanover County, NC. 01 June 2015.
  • Thayer's Gull (2nd cycle ). Marquette County, MI. 04 June 2015.
  • Little Gull (1st cycle). Lake County, IL. 06 June 2015.
  • Glaucous Gull (1st cyclce). Niagara County, NY. 06 June 2015.
  • Black-legged Kittiwake (180 - almost all 1st cycle). Barnstable County, MA. 06 June 2015.
  • Black-headed Gull (1st cycle). St. Paul Island, AK. 07 June 2015.
  • Kamchatka Gull (1st cycle). St. Paul Island, AK. 07 June 2015.
  • Great Black-backed Gull (2nd cycle). Mobile County, AL. 14 June 2015.
    • This individual was sighted on Dauphin Island on three different days. Any black-backed species here should be closely scrutinized and documented with photos.
  • Sabine's Gull (2nd cycle type). Queens County, NY. 18 June 2015.
  • Iceland Gull (1st cycle). Manitowoc County, WI. 19 June 2015.
  • Great Black-backed Gull (1st cycle). Burleigh County, ND. 20 June 2015.
  • Black-headed Gull (1st cycle). Monroe County, MI. 22 June 2015.
    • Presumably the same individual sighted here, on-and-off, in April.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Deewatin County, Nunavut, Canada. 22 June 2015.
  • Black-legged Kittiwake (1st cycles - 4). Pacific County, WA. 22 June 2015.
  • Franklin's Gull (1st cycle type). Humboldt County, CA. 29 June 2015.

28 June 2015

First Juvenile Ring-billeds of 2015 & Banded Adult Herring

Late June is when we begin to see juvenile Ring-billeds here on the far south rim of Lake Michigan. Juvenile Herrings are usually 3-4 weeks behind.

I got out to East Chicago, Indiana yesterday (27 June 2015) to check to see if any of the local RBGUs had fledged. I was rewarded with 5 individuals on the beach with a handful of distant birds adjacent to the colony still being fed by adults.

As is typically the case with these fresh-out-of-the-colony juveniles, the outer primaries are still growing (particularly p7-p10), as are the outer rectrices and bill:

Short stubby bill and outer primaries still have a significant amount of growing to do.
There were also 7-8 Herrings on the beach, including several adults which breed in small numbers in East Chicago. I made the foolish mistake of not scanning their legs for bands, and only when I got home and looked through my photos did I notice this adult with a federal band:

It never fails. This has happened to me several times now...doh! I'll have to make a trip back and work to find this individual again. Here's a flight shot in advance:

And now a couple of first summer Herrings:

P-molt in these 1-year-olds currently averages out to about p5 (roughly half-way done).

20 June 2015

Wisconsin Iceland and Little Gulls & More

Wisconsin, Lake Michigan, lakefront. Summertime. Gulls. 8 species!! Finding a couple of white-wingers, a couple of black-backeds and a couple of hooded gulls on the same day in mid-June is very doable here.

I spent most of Saturday, 19 June 2015, working the gulls from Milwaukee county to Manitwoc County. Mantiwoc was - again - the most rewarding stop: 2 Little Gulls, 1 Kumlien's Gull, 2 Great Black-backeds and 1 Lesser Black-backed. Sheboygan proved to be slow (as it has been all season) with only 2 Lessers. Port Washington gave up a distant first summer Glaucous.

Overall, Bonaparte's and Lesser Black-backed numbers have been somewhat disappointing compared to the last three years. I suppose this is a direct consequence of little to no dying shad along the immediate shore. From a distance, I could see plenty of Caspian Terns finding fish and they seem to catch them almost effortlessly. With that said, the smaller terns (Common and Forster's) are also in short supply.

08 June 2015

Manitowoc Herrings - Early June

I spent time marveling over the Herring Gulls that summer on the Manitowoc lakefront this past weekend. The variation found in sub-adult Herrings never seizes to amaze.

Let's start with this individual with barred upperparts and a lightly marked uppertail pattern:
Manitowoc, WI. 06 June 2015

Whether this tail pattern is within range for American Herring Gulls is still up in the air for many, but I've come to the realization that it's a pattern that's too often found in our HERGs. To continue to suspect that every 1st cycle with a similarly marked tail must be of European or Asian origin is a bit too presumptuous for me. Rather, I'd prefer to widen my accepted range of variability in this taxon's tail and call them American Herrings until proven otherwise. Genetic sampling of these types would be a dream come true. 
Next up: banded gulls. I found 3 banded Herrings this weekend (including an adult type), but unfortunately was only able to record the entire sequence to this 2nd cycle:
Manitowoc, WI. 06 June 2015 Band # 1106-13873
Banded on 24 June 2013. Door County, Wisconsin.
A rather mature bill pattern for a 2-year old.

Finally, of interest is this 3rd cycle type still showing relatively dark eyes:

01 June 2015

Emergence of 2nd Basic Upperwing Coverts in 1st Summer Ring-billed Gulls

Tis the season. Complete prebasic molts are well underway in our gull species. My local Ring-billeds make observing this phenomenon rather easy, and upon close observation, one can actually see the new 2nd generation wing coverts coming out of their sheaths.

Here's a 1st summer bird that is just now acquiring 2nd generation upperwing coverts (after almost exactly one whole year):

A zoomed-in image of the newly emerged median wing coverts:

Below is the entire range of variability in which these birds replace their wing coverts. Keep in mind all of these birds are in the same age cohort (born in the summer of 2014):

First cycle Ring-billeds. Tinley Park, IL. 01 June 2015.

31 May 2015

May 2015 Quiz

There were lots of answers submitted this month, ranging from Herring Gull to Iceland Gull. First things first, age: this is a pretty obvious 1st cycle with nearly complete juvenile plumes.

The pale edging to the primaries, as well as the color of the primaries (brown not blackish) rules out Herring Gull. Although this bird superficially resembles a Thayer's Gull, the drooping secondary skirt, heavier bill and higher eye placement push me towards a Glaucous-winged Gull. The wing coverts on this species are a bit more solidly filled than most similar-aged Thayer's. The scaps and overall plumage aspect also have a muddier look when compared to Thayer's. Of course if there were other species around to compare it to, one would use size and structure to help clue them in.

This Glaucous-winged Gull was photographed in the Seattle, Washington area in January. Some birds, like this individual, take on a very chocolaty plumage, making it appear similar to a Glaucous-winged x Western hybrid (so-called Puget Sound or Olympic Gull). Those birds tend to have more beady eyes, higher eye placement and more bulbous-tipped bills.

Monthly Notables May 2015

May 2015
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Wayne County, Michigan.02 May 2015.
    • Michigan state has earned the "Slaty-backed Crown" of the interior. I can't think of any other state outside of California and Alaska where this species has been recorded with such frequency in the last couple of years.
  • Franklin's Gulls (4 adults). Hawaii County, Hawaii. 03 May 2015.
  • Laughing Gull (adult). San Mateo County, California. 04 May 2015.
  • Thayer's Gull (1st cycle). Valley County, Montana. 04 May 2015.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult - continuing). Pierce County, Washington. 06 May 2015.
  • California Gull (2nd cycle). Point Pelee, Ontario. 12 May 2015.
  • Great Black-backed Gulls (7). Lake County, Indiana. 17 May 2015.
    • May high count for Indiana.
  • Kelp Gull (adult type). San Mateo County, California. 20 May 2015.
    • First state record. Presumably, this same individual was relocated on the Farallon Islands on 24 May 2015.
  • Laughing x Ring-billed Hybrid (adults - 2). Cook County, Illinois. 22, 24 May 2015.
    • Seen two days apart - photos confirm two different individuals. 
  • Franklin's Gull (adult). Kings County, New York. 24 May 2015.
    • Perhaps the most intriguing highlight this month is a video by Issac Grant that documents this adult Franklin's Gull mounting, and copulating with, an adult Laughing Gull.
  • Black-headed Gull (1st cycle). Monroe County, Michigan. 29 May 2015.
  • Laughing Gull (2 adult types). Manitowoc, Wisconsin. 31 May 2015.

Nine Gull Species in May - Wisconsin

For the last two years or so I've been toying with the idea of doing a "Gull Big Day" in the off season, and the Wisconsin, Lake Michigan, lakefront is exactly the place I'd been planning to attempt this. Gull-watching here can be very productive in Spring where a combination of late winter species and hooded species can be seen together.

Last year, I and a few others recorded 8 species in Manitowoc and Sheboygan, Wisconsin without much effort (although I only saw 7 of the 8 species reported by our party). Today, 31 May 2015, I tried to beat 7, making the 3.5 hour trek from Frankfort, IL and starting in Two Rivers, Wisconsin at around 5:00 a.m. I called it quits at 6:15 p.m. in Port Washington after having recorded 9 species:
  1. Ring-billed Gull
  2. Herring Gull
  3. Thayer's Gull (3 - 2 adults, 1 first summer)
  4. Iceland Gull (2 - both first summers)
  5. Great Black-backed Gull (2 - both first summers)
  6. Lesser Black-backed Gull (3 - all first summers)
  7. Bonaparte's Gull
  8. Little Gull (1 - first summer)
  9. Laughing Gull (2 - both adult types)
Not many "glamour" shots below - most are simply doc-photos to help put the day in perspective:

Little Gull (1st cycle ) with Bonaparte's. Manitowoc, WI. 31 May 2015.
Laughing Gulls (adult types). Appeared to be paired up. Courtship gestures observed. Manitowoc, WI. 31 May 2015.
Thayer's Gull (1st cycle). Manitowoc, WI. 31 May 2015. Photo 1 of 3. 
Photo 2 of 3.
Thayer's Gull, lower left. Photo 3 of 3.
Adult Thayer's Gull (left of center in flight) and 1st cycle Thayer's Gull type (in water). Photo 1 of 2.
Interestingly, this adult Thayer's is still holding on to all 10 primaries in late May. Photo 2 of 2.
Iceland Gull (1st cycle). Photo 1 of 3.
Iceland Gull on far left with a Thayer's/Kumlien's type on right - both first summers. Photo 2 of 3.
Iceland Gull in flight. Photo 3 of 3.
Lesser Black-backed Gull (1st summer). Sheboygan, WI. 31 May 2015. Photo 1 of 2.
Photo 2 of 2.
Great Black-backed Gull (1st summer). Manitowoc, WI. 31 May 2015. Photo 1 of 2.
Photo 2 of 2.
Two species I was hoping to encounter today were Franklin's and/or Glaucous. I positively do think that 11 species can be achieved on the Wisconsin lakefront on the perfect day. A bonus 12th species is always possible too - Black-headed, Black-legged Kittiwake, and California Gull all come to mind.   

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!