01 March 2015

First Day of March: Glaucous & Great Black-backeds

I worked a few sections of the Calumet River in Chicago today (01 March 2015). 12 GBBGs and 5 Glaucous Gulls made up for the lack of Thayer's (1), Kumlien's (0) and LBBGs (0). I'm thinking some of our gulls must have moved on, likely to some of the dams and open rivers to the south.

Great Black-backed Gull (1st cycle).
Great Black-backed Gull (1st cycle). A rather dark bird holding on well to its juvenile neck, breast and flank feathers.
Two 1st cycle GBBGs and a 2nd cycle GBBG (back right). Did you notice the Glaucous Gull back there?
I ended up doing very little photographing and decided to spend a good chunk of time recording Herring calls (which are now becoming more and more vocal as the hours of daylight lengthen). In the process, I was pleased to get ~25 seconds of a 1st and 2nd cycle Glaucous both calling, in tandem, with a 1st cycle Great Black-backed. Glaucous Gulls - despite their bigger size - sound surprisingly similar to Herring Gulls. Great Black-backeds are in a class of their own.

Glaucous Gull (2nd cycle).
Glaucous Gull (1st cycle). Outer primaries worn and bleached (see below).

Inner primaries show brown markings that are consistent with the rest of the plumage.
The Outer primaries appear bleached and more worn.
This image is unquestionably underexposed  (to help capture the GLGUs). The snow also does a good job of tricking the camera's metering system which in turn makes the Herring Gull look extra dark - no it's not a Vega Gull :).
The 2nd cycle Glaucous on the right would not stop bullying everything around it - except for one large, presumably male, GBBG.
Herring Notes:

This 2nd cycle type is sporting a few adult-like rectrices. My guess is somewhere along the line, a few feathers were ripped out and then readily replaced. Tail and flight feathers are commonly tugged at during fights with congeners.

Herring Gull (2nd cycle type).
Next up is a 2nd cycle showing uniformly colored upperparts:

Herring Gull (2nd cycle).
Here it is in flight with a 1st cycle Great Black-backed:

If the inner primaries were any darker, you might start to suspect a LBBG.
Adult type Herring Gull. Shows little white mirror on p9 and small black spot on outer edge of p4.
I imagine this wingtip pattern is age-related and likely represents a young adult. 
Herring Gull (3rd cycle type).
Herring Gull (2nd cycle type). The contrasty upperparts make for a really neat-looking seabird...

28 February 2015

February 2015 Quiz

Pointed primary tips with relatively crisp and checkered upperwing coverts readily age this bird as a first cycle. It's obviously bigger than the medium sized Ring-billeds in the background, so the default large white-headed gull to begin with would be American Herring. This taxon has a range that's more widespread than any other North American gull. It would behoove anyone with a serious interest in gull identification to become intimately familiar with Herrings.

The majority of participants nailed this month's quiz, but a fair number of participants - perhaps unsurprisingly - answered Thayer's Gull. The overall pale and uniform coffee-color to the upperparts, and pale-tipped primaries do bear a superficial resemblence to Thayer's.

It's not, however, uncommon for 1st cycle Herrings to show pale chevrons on the tips of the outer primaries. When Herrings do show this pattern, the pale color is typically restricted to the very tips of the primaries and not as encompassing as in Thayer's (which shows pale edges coming up towards the sides of the primaries - here's an example).

Other features that favor a 1st cycle Herring Gull is the paling bill base and smokey gray upper mantle. Although this aspect isn't unheard of with Thayer's, it's much more common with Herrings.

Monthly Notables February 2015

February 2015
  1. Black-legged Kittiwake (1st cycle). Mohave County, Arizona. 01 February 2015 (under 20 state records).
  2. Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Santa Clara County, California. 03 February 2015.
  3. Iceland Gull (1st cycle). Rutherford County, Tennessee. 03 February 2015 (6th state record).
  4. Slaty-backed Gull (adult type). Cook County, Illinois. 07 February 2015 (6th/7th state record).
  5. Mew Gull (2nd cycle type). Brooklyn, New York. 09 February 2015 (5th state records).*
  6. Vega Gull (adult type). Brownsville, Texas. 21 February 2015 (5th state record).**
  7. Great Black-backed Gull (1st cycle). Tulsa, Oklahoma. 25 February 2015 (under 10 state records).
* Apparent North American "Mew" or Short-billed Gull (L.c. brachyrhynchus).
**Regarded as a subspecies of Herring Gull, L.a.vegae, by the AOU. 

22 February 2015

Calumet River: 3rd Cycle Kumlien's & Adult Glaucous

I spent a few hours on the Calumet River in southeast Chicago this morning. I again failed to relocate the adult type Slaty-backed from a couple of weeks ago. The quick and distant glimpses that I got of it on 12 Feb 2015 were bittersweet, but I'm still hopeful that I'll get some full-frame shots before the end of winter.

We managed to see all of our winter gulls today: Thayer's (4), Kumlien's (1), Glaucous (2), Lesser Black-backed (1), and Great Black-backed (6). These were hard-earned birds in biting-cold conditions: ~20F with a 10-15 mph north wind directed at our faces. Birders who joined me for part of my 3.5 hour session were Andy Sigler, Greg Neise, Wes Serafin, Sue Friscia, and Dave Gruver.

As usual, I'll start with my favorite bird of the day:

Kumlien's Gull (3rd cycle type). Chicago, IL. 22 Feb 2015. Photo 1 of 4.
2 of 4
3 of 4
4 of 4
Next up was a purty 1st cycle Thayer's/Kumlien's type, tending towards Thayer's:

Thayer's Gull (1st cycle). Chicago, IL. 22 Feb 2015. Photo 1 of 3.
Showing a fault bar across the subterminal portion of the rectrices. 2 of 3.
3 of 3

This adult Thayer's cooperated nicely:

Thayer's Gull (adult). Chicago, IL. 22 Feb 2015. Photo 1 of 3.
2 of 3
3 of 3

Adult Glaucous Gulls are never dull...

Glaucous Gull (adult). Chicago, IL. 22 Feb 2015.
Some black-backeds...

Great Black-backed (2nd cycle). Chicago, IL. 22 Feb 2015. Photo 1 of 3.
2 of 3
3 of 3
Great Black-backed Gull (adult). Chicago, IL 22 Feb 2015. Photo 1 of 2.
2 of 2
Lesser Black-backed Gull (adult). Chicago, IL. 22 Feb 2015. Photo 1 of 3.
2 of 3
3 of 3
A sub-adult Bald Eagle was moving overhead just as Greg and Andy arrived...

It's typical for all of the gulls to flush when an eagle comes down the river, and they do! But for a second time in my life, I've now seen another Herring Gull tangle with a Bald Eagle. Today, a 2nd cycle type ascended high into the sky as it tailed a young Bald Eagle and continued to quickly fly at it and escort it higher and higher away. The eagle never pursued the Herring and continued on...I found this behavior to be very interesting.

Speaking of interesting Herrings, here's a gorgeous 3rd cycle type that has retained a good amount of black on the bill:

Herring Gull (3rd cycle type). Chicago, IL. 22 Feb 2015. Photo 1 of 4.
2 of 4
3 of 4
4 of 4
Overall, a pretty productive day despite our freezing digits and runny noses...

 Winter is passing...but nowhere near vanishing!

19 February 2015

Just Another First Cycle Herring

I photographed this 1st cycle Herring at Gull Frolic 2015, first pointed out by the observant eyes of Noah Arthur.

Herring Gull (1st cycle). Winthrop Harbor, IL. 14 Feb 2015.
There are some features that make this bird interesting - or more interesting than many 1st winter Herrings. The all white head (bleached or alternate feathers?), all black bill and the sparsely marked bases to the outer rectrices were enough to give us pause.

But I'm convinced that everything on this individual is within range for Smithsonianus, having seen thousands of 1st cycles that in one way or another match all the "parts" that make up this bird. It's not unheard of for 1st winter Smiths to have an all black bill. It's not unheard of for 1st winter Smiths to have an all-white head, and it's not unheard of for 1st winter Smiths to show a similar tail pattern (albeit approaching an old-world feel...click here for a table of variable Smith tails).

Herring Gull is a variable beast, and when I look at birds like this I don't get a "wow-this-is-really-different" impression. The burden of proof for why this "can't" be an American Herring is high, and anyone who thinks of it otherwise would probably benefit from watching more Herrings in the field.

16 February 2015

LCF: 3rd Cycle THGU & Banded 2nd Cycle HERG

Lots of gulls over the Countryside Landfill in Lake County, Illinois today, but none in the parking lot when I arrived. It took a lot of work to finally get a sizable group to put down at the Lake County Fairgrounds (proper). Between 10:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. we tallied 6 Thayer's Gulls (5 ad., 1 3rd cycle), 3 Kumlien's Gulls (ads.) and 1 Great Black-backed Gull (1st cycle). I also spotted a banded 2nd cycle Herring that I was able to record.

Thayer's Gull (3rd cycle). Lake County, IL. 16 Feb 2015.

Thayer's Gull (3rd cycle). Lake County, IL. 16 Feb 2015.

Thayer's Gull (3rd cycle with similar aged Herring). Lake County, IL. 16 Feb 2015.

Adult Thayer's Gull with all-white tip to p10 and no mirror on p9. Lake County, IL. 25 Feb 2015.

Adult Thayer's Gull with all-white tip to p10 and no mirror on p9. Lake County, IL. 25 Feb 2015.

Adult Thayer's Gull with all-white tip to p10 and no mirror on p9. Lake County, IL. 25 Feb 2015.

An intermediate adult Thayer's/Kumlien's Gull. Lake County, IL. 16 Feb 2015.

One of the smallest and shortest-legged adult Ring-billeds I've seen. Lake County, IL. 16 Feb 2015. 

Here's another Herring that one might easily mis-age without an open wing (open wing below). 

Herring Gull (2nd cycle type). Lake County, IL. 16 Feb 2015.

Banded Herring Gull (2nd cycle). Lake County, IL. 16 Feb 2015. Band # 1106-27102