17 July 2014

Lesser Black-backeds Galore: Sheboygan, Wisconsin

On Friday, 11 July 2014, I recorded a "Lake Michigan" personal high count of 20 Lesser Black-backed Gulls on the Sheboygan lakefront - a count I've imagined would only be possible in winter. After spending more than 5 hours between Deland and North Point parks, I was confident that at least twenty individuals were present (16 seen together off the point near the gazebo). The age breakdown was 13 first summers, 5 second summers and 2 third summers - no adults!

Between Deland and North Point. Six Lesser Black-backeds shown in this small group, outnumbering the Herrings
A collection of some of the more photogenic individuals:

The so-called mystery gull from my last post (left) is now showing fairly typical Lesser Black-backed inner primaries. Structurally, it looks perfectly fine for that species, almost exactly matching the darker LBBG on the right.

Also of interest was a very cooperative 1st cycle Great Black-backed, catching approximately 1 fish every 4 minutes (this went on for roughly 25 minutes). Keep in mind that Great Black-backed is one of our most skittish gull species on the Great Lakes.

Great Black-backed (right) seen here with a Lesser Black-backed (left).
I worry about the easy pickings at this site. The dying alewives and shad may be an undetected problem for these birds. Most of the gulls don't eat the dead fish that litter the shoreline, but they readily catch the slowly-dying individuals. One has to wonder if the fish here are carrying Type E botulism. Historically, this bacteria has been responsible for the death of thousands of gulls, terns, cormorants and other water birds on the Great Lakes, and Lake Michigan is no exception. For a great account of this unfortunate phenomenon, I'd recommend reading, "The Dismal State of the Great Lakes", by James Ludwig.

Another highlight of the day was a 1st summer Thayer's Gull (different than the bird Ethan Gyllenhall, Alex Hale and I observed on 08 June):

Well into its 2nd prebasic molt (p1-p5 fully grown, p6 3/4 grown, p7 1/2 grown, p8 dropped, p9-p10 retained 1st basic.
Finally, some open wing shots of the Lesser Black-backeds, displaying an array of primary molt patterns, with the least having only renewed to p3, and some all the way out to p8:

Somewhat puzzling was these two fledgling Herrings, not yet suited for flight, sitting on the lakefront with partial down. I only noticed them coming out of the vegetation when I was already too close for comfort.

They quickly made their way to the water and swam away as one of the presumed parents began circling over my head and threatening an attack. I hit the road after a, good, long afternoon of summer gulling with the juveniles to my back, wondering what the chances of survival will be for these Lake Michigan Herrings.

27 June 2014

Another Mystery Gull

Well perhaps not a mystery gull, this 1st cycle bird from Sheboygan, Wisconsin may be a very pale graellsii Lesser Black-backed, but Ethan Gyllenhall and I were convinced we'd found a hybrid Herring x Lesser Black-backed as we watched it in the field:

1st Cycle LWHG. Sheboygan, WI. 08 June 2014.
It had just as much, if not more, white in the scapulars than most of the similar-aged Herrings. This, along with the notably pale gray tones were unlike any 1st summer LBBG I've seen. The paling bill, which is not completely unheard of in 1st summer LBBGs, also gave us pause. And what's up with the paling eye? I suppose all of this is possible in a one-year old graellsii, but...

Width and pattern of tailband, and renewed rectrices not typical of LBBG.
Pale sliver notch on subterminal portion of the outer web of P3 not typical of LBBG.
A semi-translucent quality to the underside of the primaries and secondaries is odd for LBBG.

This bird somewhat reminds me of the known-age, known-provenance, 2nd cycle LBBG X HERG found by Blair Nikula back in December 2009 in Cape Cod. 

Green F02 is the offspring of the famous Green F05 LBBG that was paired up with an American Herring Gull on Appledore Island. Here it is shown with one of its chicks, Green F07, from a subsequent brood:


There's no doubt that there's an increasing presence of gulls that appear intermediate between LBBG and HERG in the United States. Some remain skeptical of this hybrid combination, but for the time, I see no better explanation. The primary identification challenge is eliminating Yellow-legged Gull (or vice versa, depending on your perspective). I do feel LBBG x HERG is a much more likely explanation, and seeing that this combination has already been documented right under our nose, we may already be at the stage where we're seeing F2 and F3 hybrids and backcrosses with American Herrings.

24 June 2014

Lake Michigan Season High Count of Little Gulls

On Friday, 13 June 2014, I recorded eleven Little Gulls in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. One group held 9 birds in a single flock, while 2 other birds were in view. This sighting constitutes a personal species high-count for me, and is likely the greatest number of Little Gulls recorded on Lake Michigan since the early 1990s.

Here are a few of the more cooperative individuals:

LIGU (1st summer). Manitowoc, WI. 13 June 2014.

A short video of the 9 LIGUs in one flock:

Other weekend highlights included more Lesser Black-backeds (14) and my first June Grerat Black-backeds (5) of the year. All of the LBBGs were 1st/2nd cycles and all of the GBBGs were 1st cycles. The theme of course is sub-adult birds that are presumably spending their summer south of the breeding grounds (or west of the breeding grounds when considering GBBGs?). Also of note was 3 more LIGUs in Sheboygan, for a total of 14 in two days.

Interestingly, we missed GBBG last weekend which would've given us a 9 gull day. Others had a Glaucous Gull on this day in Port Washington, for at least "ten" gull species on the Wisconsin lakefront in June!!

GBBG (1st summer). Two Rivers, WI. 14 June 2014.
LBBG (1st summer) with RBGU (front) and HERG (back). Two Rivers, WI.
GBBG (1st summer) with RBGUs (1st summers). Two Rivers, WI. 14 June 2014.
Two Rivers, WI. North of the rivers. Some 1,200 LWHGs.
1st summer LIGU. Sheboygan, WI. 14 June 2014.
Advanced 2nd summer LBBG. Sheboygan, WI. 14 June 2014. 1 of 3.

1st summer LBBG. Sheboygan, WI. 14 June 2014. Same bird below.

1st summer BOGU with nearly complete hood. Sheboygan, WI.  14 June 2014.

Who says you can't watch gulls in the summer??? :)

11 June 2014

More Wisconsin Gulls - June

The Wisconsin lakefront is quickly becoming my favorite summertime gulling locale. This past weekend, I was joined by both Ethan Gyllenhall and Alex Hale for what turned out to be an 8-species day. We covered Manitowoc, Sheboygan and Port Washington.

Manitowoc provided us with a 1st summer Little Gull with a half-hood. Amazingly, Charles Sontag observed 7 here the day after.

Little Gull (1st cycle). Manitowoc, WI. 08 June 2014.
Sheboygan was absolutely amazing! We enjoyed a fully-hooded 1st summer Little Gull (the bird I reported a couple of weeks prior from Manitowoc, click here for photos of that bird). Other goodies included a 9 Lesser Black-backeds (six 1st cycles, one 2nd cycle, two 3rd cycles). No adult LBBGs were found as is expected in the summer months.

Lesser Black-backed Gull (1st cycle). Sheboygan, WI. 08 June 2014.
Ethan quickly picked out this bleached Thayer's/Kumlien's type off the Municipal Beach that is just north of Deland Park. This stretch of beach holds hundreds of loafing gulls throughout the summer.

Likely a Thayer's Gull (1st cycle). 08 June 2014. Sheboygan, WI. 
Knowing whether this is a Thayer's or Kumlien's is anyones guess, but we did get to see the open wing and the bird showed a contrasting secondary bar, a relatively bold tail band and darker outer webs to the outer primaries:

We finished the day off at Port Washington where we picked up an adult Laughing Gull and a 3rd cycle Lesser Black-backed. We tried chumming this bird but to no avail. It's amazing to see what little interest the Ring-billeds and Herrings show in handouts here - much different than birds found in the inner-city.