20 September 2016

New Buffalo Lesser Black-backeds

A brief visit to New Buffalo, Michigan last week yielded a nice count of 8-9 Lessers. Juveniles - as per usual - have arrived in mid-September.

Juvenile LBBG. Berrien County, Michigan. 15 September 2016. 

Same individual (right) seen here with a banded hatch year Herring.
My second juvenile Lesser on the day.

17 September 2016

Gray Gulls at Brookfield Zoo

Brookfield Zoo in Cook County, Illinois houses about a dozen Gray Gulls (Leucophaeus modestus). The birds are in a reliably large enclosure with a dozen or so Inca Terns and a contingent of Humboldt penguins. Having never seen the species before - which requires a trip to the western coast of South America (from central Peru down to Chile) - I was happy to spend a couple of hours observing these birds.

Flight feather molt similar to many of our northern hemisphere gulls in September.

The species reminds me most of Laughing Gull, especially bill size and proportions (but perhaps with a slightly larger body). The voice is unlike any gulls I know but the quality is nasally.

In a recent interview I did with Birding magazine, I commented that Mediterranean Gull or Gray Gull would be the next ABA gull for our area. My prediction is that Gray Gull will occur first with recent records creeping into Central America. There is a disputed account from Louisiana (December 1987) of a bird that may or may not have been that species (interestingly, a melanistic Laughing Gull wasn't clearly eliminated - a photo can be found here).

16 September 2016

18th & 9th Cycle Herrings From E of Chambers Island, Wisconsin

I found 4 banded Herrings on Thursday, 15 September 2016, here on southern Lake Michigan.

Here are the two that obliged, providing full readings:

Adult 0966-44575. Banded as a chick on 17 June 1999, East of Chambers Island, WI.

Adult 1106-08886. Banded as a chick on 17 June 2008, East of Chambers Island, WI.

Unfortunately, the bird of most interest to me - a hatch year - evaded me and took off before I can get to work on it. 

Juvenile Herring with federal band on right leg. Pictured with juvenile LBBG.

An adult type, likely from northern Michigan also got away with 3 missing digits (1146-02***). So 4 banded birds, with a 50% success rate at recording the entire band number. Yes, frustrating at times, but well worth the effort to me. Those banders that insist on not using large, color, field-readable bands must know that so many more data points would be obtained in much less time and effort. I'll leave it at that.

01 September 2016

Monthly Notables August 2016

  • California Gull (2nd summer type). Mason County, Illinois. 01 August 2016.
  • Laughing Gull (juvenile). Lancaster County, Nebraska. 01 August 2016.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Pierce County, Washington. 01 August 2016.
    • Continuing.
  • Western Gull (2nd cycle). Washington County, Colorado. 01 August 2016. 
    • Continuing from previous month. Banded on Farallon Islands in the summer of 2015.
  • Herring Gull (1st summer). Imperial County, California. 05 August 2016.
    • Continuing from July.
  • Mew Gull (2nd summer type). Larimer County, Colorado. 05 August 2016.
    • Unprecedented. A total of 3 individuals found in the state this month (see below).
  • Black-headed Gull (adult type). Lyon County, Minnesota. 08 August 2016.
  • Great Black-backed Gull (adult). Harrison County, Mississippi. 11 August 2016.
  • Mew Gull (2nd summer type). Larimer County, Colorado. 11 August 2016.
    • Individual #2.
  • Laughing Gull (adult). Grays Harbor County, Washington. 12 August 2016.
  • Glaucous Gull (2nd summer type). Chatham-Kent County, Ontario. 14 August 2016.
  • Mew Gull (2nd cycle type). Loveland County, Colorado. 16 August 2016.
    • Individual #3.
  • Little Gull (adult type). Ottawa County, Michigan. 12 August 2016.
  • Franklin's Gull (juvenile). La Haute-Côte-Nord County, Quebec. 19 August 2016.
  • Mew Gull (juvenile). Grant County, Washington. 20 August 2016.
  • Laughing Gull (adult). Haldimand County, Ontario. 27 August 2016.
  • Sabine's Gull (juvenile). Beauharnois-Salaberry County, Quebec. 28 August 2016.
  • Mew Gull (juvenile). San Mateo County, California. 28 August 2016.
  • California Gull (adult). LaPorte County, Indiana. 31 August 2016.
    • First August record for the state.

Miscellaneous Notes 
  • Heermann's Gull produced another poor breeding crop this season. Very small numbers of juveniles were reported from Baja California as well as the California Pacific Coast. 
  • An adult type California Gull from Colorado was found with one pale eye. Although we don't think of this species as ever showing pale irides, it has been recorded. Considerations of Ring-billed x California or Herring x California hybrids are not unfounded as those hybrids have been reported (primarily in the Great Basin). The August bird was a typical CAGU, minus the pale left eye. 
  • An interesting adult type from Ipswich, Massachusetts (Essex County) - first thought to be a canus taxon, then canus x delewarensis - may have been an abnormal Ring-billed Gull missing most of the black subterminal ring on the bill, coupled with dark eyes. Size, gray upperpart coloration, leg color, and primary pattern agreed with Ring-billed Gull. 07 August 2016. See North American Gulls on Facebook for photos.
  • Laughing x Ring-billed Gull (adult). Back again since at least 2004, this apparent F1 hybrid is seen sporadically in the summer months on southern Lake Michigan. 21 August 2016. Cook County, Illinois  & Lake County, Indiana.
  • Several Mew Gulls were detected this month in a number of western states. Close observation and data from the last few years suggests some young birds begin moving south sooner than previously thought.

August 2016 Quiz

Lesser Black-backed Gull. Brevard County, Florida. January.

This month's quiz bird has a relatively fresh set of feathers, undoubtedly in its first plumage cycle. Structurally, it appears long-winged and this is a helpful clue that may be used with some experience.

The very plain, blackish, secondaries as well as the dark greater primary coverts and outer greater secondary coverts give the impression of a black-backed species. There's also a straight, all-black, bill with a contrasting white head. These field marks are consistent with 1st cycle Lesser Black-backed Gull - an age group that often goes overlooked by many on this continent.

Several quiz participants were stumped by the apparent inner primary "window" and felt this looked better for Herring Gull. Although we don't usually associate pale inner primaries with Lessers, it's not unusual for the species to show this. Note that a much more faint window is visible on the right wing and this is simply an effect caused by the primaries on the left wing being more spread, and hence the pale inner vanes are almost completely exposed, showing the palest portions of those feathers. The window dissipates quickly depending on the bird's behavior or the angle the observer is viewing from (see here for another example).

Another point that was raised as evidence for American Herring is the wide tail band. The tail band is wide, and even wider toward the outer rectrices. Admittedly, most Lessers have thinner tail bands. But note the solid, white, base color to the uppertail coverts. In Herring, the uppertail coverts tend to be more concolorous with the rest of the upperparts, and at the very least, more barring is visible (like so, scroll down for a spread tail).

This month's quiz bird was designed to show two features on LBBG that our popular bird field guides don't necessarily discuss. Paler inner primaries and wider tail bands don't necessarily rule out Lesser Black-backed Gull.

22 August 2016

The Colonel Lives

The Colonel. That's the name we've given to the presumed hybrid Laughing x Ring-billed Gull that has frequented the Illinois/Indiana lakefront since at least 2004. After having searched for this bird a number of times this year, I finally tracked it down yesterday at Calumet Park in Chicago.

Putative Laughing x Ring-billed hybrid (adult). Chicago, Illinois. 21 August 2016.
It flew in from the old power plant property in Hammond, Indiana, landed on the pier after getting a bit comfortable, and then flew back whence it came from.

P10 mirror rules out pure Laughing Gull.

So how are we really sure this is a hybrid with Laughing and Ring-billed genes? We're not and probably never can be without genetic data, but the phenotype matches that mixture of parents well (more here). The working theory behind this bird is that back in 2002 - when a Laughing Gull successfully nested with a Ring-billed in the Lake Calumet colony in Chicago - hybrids were produced, and shortly after some "weird" Laughing Gulls started appearing near a Kentucky Fried Chicken on the Chicago/Hammond city limits. The KFC connection is where we get the name "Colonel" from. Incidentally, that breeding occurrence was the first state nesting record of a Laughing Gull in Illinois. Given those circumstances, and the appearance of this bird, I don't think it's a stretch to assume this hybrid candidacy.

Upperparts darker than a typical Ring-billed, and the build of the body is slighter. The bare parts are intermediate.

The pink blush to the white breast may be an external colorant from the slag piles in East Chicago.
It's always tougher spotting this bird in basic plumage, and I imagine it goes overlooked by some observers in the winter season. Here's what it looks like in fresh, alternate plumage:
Chicago, Illinois. April. 2014.

I have to admit that this is one of my favorite individual gulls of all time, now at least 13 years of age. It pains me to think that one year it'll just stop showing up...So. Is. Life.

11 August 2016

Juvenile Ring-billed Gulls

A small collection of hatch year Ring-bileds. Northern Illinois. Early August.

Ottawa County Michigan

Last week I spent a couple of days checking sites in Ottawa County, Michigan, mainly centered around Holland State Park. I was particularly interested in what Herring numbers were like and if any lingering "northern" gulls were to be found.

I stumbled on a couple of GBBGs (2nd and 4th summer type), 1 LBBG (1st summer) and, surprisingly, only 4 juvenile Herrings from some 275 individuals.

The single mirror on p10 and absence of a p9 mirror suggests a younger bird. The brownish greater primary coverts also point away from a definitive adult.

4th Summer Type GBBG. 

My only Lesser Black-backed Gull, a species that I thought I'd see more of on the west-central Michigan lakefront:

There was no shortage of 1st summer Herrings, including this individual retaining an all-black bill:

P1-P7 fully grown, P8 half grown, P9 dropped, P10 old. S1-S2 renewed, as well as most inner/mid secondaries. 03 August 2016.

Another 1st summer type with S1-S3, P1-P8 fully grown as well as all rectrices. The bi-colored bill is a much more expected look.

01 August 2016

Monthly Notables July 2016


  • Franklin's Gull (adult). Rimouski-Neigette County, Quebec. 01 July 2016.
  • Herring Gull (4th cycle type). San Diego County, California. 02 July 2016.
  • Great Lakes Gull (adult type). Delta County, Michigan. 05 July 2016.
    • Putative Herring x Great Black-backed Gull, tending toward GBBG. Presumably reoccurring in the region since at least 2012. Noteworthy is that not many Great Lakes hybrids are seen/reported in the summer months. Initially reported as a Slaty-backed Gull.
  • Franklin's Gull (adult). Essex County, Massachusetts. 07 July 2016.
  • Laughing Gull (1st summer). Capital County, British Columbia. 08 July 2016.
  • Glaucous Gull (2nd summer type). Essex County, Ontario. 08 July 2016. 
  • Lesser Black-back Gull (1st summer). Cook County, Illinois. 11 July 2016.
  • Little Gull (adult type). Fulton County, Illinois. 12 July 2016.
  • Western Gull (adult type). Alamosa County, Colorado. 14 July 2016.
    • Continuing from June 2016.
  • Laughing Gull (2nd cycle type). Kiowa County, Colorado. 16 July 2016.
  • California Gull (2nd summer type). Kenai Peninsula County, Alaska. 17 July 2016.
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull (1st summer). Glaveston County, Texas. 18 July 2016.
  • Western Gull (2nd summer). Washington County, Colorado. 18 July 2016.
    • Continuing from June 2016.
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull (1st & 2nd summer). Washington County, Colorado. 18 July 2016.
    • Now with 2-3 birds summering in the state annually. 
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull (1st summer). Portage La Prairie, Manitoba. 21 July 2016.
    • Continuing from June 2016.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Pierce County, Washington. 21 July 2016.
    • Possibly summering. Presumed to be a reoccurring individual from the last several winters.
  • Mew Gull (1st summer). Humboldt County, California. 27 July 2016. 


  • A pair of Bonaparte's Gulls was documented nesting in far northeast Maine. Incubating was observed, but the nest failed. The site (undisclosed) is beyond the southeast terminus of the species' known breeding range. Bonaparte's aren't known to breed anywhere in the lower 48 states.
  • Up to 15 Black-legged Kittiwakes are summering in Barnstable County, MA. Although not as spectacular as last July, Cape Cod remains the farthest south this species summers - anywhere in the world! All of the MA birds are 1st summer individuals.
  • At least 2 juvenile Sabine's Gulls were seen on a pelagic trip in San Mateo County, CA on 16 July 2016. I was unable to find an earlier date for juvenile SAGU this far south in North America.
  • Indiana reported a record high of Bonaparte's for July (and the summer season in general): 133 - all but 2 adults - migrating on Lake Michigan. 30 July 2016. 

July 2016 Quiz

Berrien County, Michigan. 08 November 2015.


The immaculate, fresh, plumage is all juvenile (i.e., 1st basic). The pale edges to the upperparts and pointed primary tips reinforce the fact that these are all 1st generation feathers.


I don't blame those folks who identified this month's bird as a young Thayer's Gull - indeed, there may be some thayeri that match this. But this isn't a Thayer's.

I identified this month's quiz bird as a juvenile American Herring Gull. The bill seems petite and shorter than usual, although that's likely because it's still growing. Notice how the base of the lower mandible is paling - a subtle hint that this may not be a Thayer's as that species does a better job of keeping a black bill at this age than other large gulls (but it's not terribly uncommon for a 1st cycle Thayer's to show a paling bill, especially late in the winter season before departing north). In Thayer's, the outer primaries are typically paler than the "almost black" appearance seen here, and the edges to those primaries are paler - often more so than the quiz bird. Also, most juvenile Thayer's will show tertials that are a smidgen paler than this.

Here's a more typical appearance for a similar-aged Thayer's Gull:

LaPorte County, Indiana. 27 November 2014.
Note that the outer primaries are more brown (compare with the black bill), with paler proximal edges. The upperwing coverts, too, look more marbled and frosted than in most juvenile Herrings.

The reader will note that the plumage aspect seen on our Herring Gull is one that soon becomes uncommon as December approaches, and certainly so later in the season. We do, however, see some American Herrings that retain this fresh plumage aspect later in the winter, and it's believed these birds - with more durable juvenile plumages - have likely originated from more northern latitudes. Here's one such bird found all the way south in Florida in late January:

Brevard County, Florida. 25 January 2016.
Structurally, the bird is plump and the head is large and blocky, complemented by a heavy bill. The primaries are dark - darker than the bill. Not much about this bird suggests Thayer's Gull.

My purpose in selecting a fresh juvenile Herring for this month's quiz is two-fold: To point out just how immaculate some juvenile American Herrings can look in their hatch year, and two, to emphasize the importance of how a date can greatly aid in the identification process. Without a date, it's difficult to gain any appreciation for seasonal factors such as molt and wear.