30 April 2018

Monthly Notables April 2018

  • California Gull (1st cycle). Volusia County, Florida. 06 April 2018.
    • Apparently the same individual seen here in February 2018.
  • Black-headed Gull (adult). New Hanover County, North Carolina. 08 April 2018.
  • Little Gull (adult). Sangamon County, Illinois. 11 April 2018.
  • Common Gull (adult). Barnstable County, Massachusetts. 14 April 2018.
  • Mew Gull (adult). Norfolk County, Massachusetts. 15 April 2018.
    • 1st county record. Perhaps the first well-documented brachyrhynchus for the state.
  • Common Gull (adult). Norfolk County, Massachusetts. 15 Aril 2018.
    • Blue leg band, 747, on left leg, originating from Iceland. This individual was seen on the same stretch of beach with the Mew Gull above. See here. Not to be confused with the metal-banded Common Gull also originating from Iceland.
  • Mew Gull (adult). Schenectady County, New York. 15 April 2018.
    • Apparent 1st county record.
  • Great Black-backed Gull (1st cycle). Burleigh County, North Dakota. 17 April 2018.
  • Little Gull (adult). Ingham County, Michigan. 18 April 2018.
  • Mew Gull (1st cycle). Scott County, Iowa. 18 April 2018.
  • Black-headed Gull (adult). Warren County, Pennsylvania. 19 April 2018.
  • Mew Gull (adult). Keith County, Nebraska. 21 April 2018.
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull (2nd cycle). San Mateo County, California. 24 April 2018.
    • Distinct bird with missing left foot.
  • Black-legged Kittiwake (1st cycle). Cameron Parish, Louisiana. 24 April 2018.
  • Franklin's Gull (adult). Robert Cliché County, Quebec. 27 April 2018.
  • Ivory Gull (adult). Nome County, Alaska. 28 April 2018.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (2nd cycle). Camrose-Lloydminister County, Alberta. 29 April 2018.
  • Little Gull (adult). Sullivan County, New Hampshire. 30 April 2018.

April 2018 Quiz

Age: The gray back and proximal wing coverts suggest an adult bird, but which species?

Identification: Note that Bonaparte's is easily ruled out due to the white trailing edge. Black-legged Kittiwake would be a good guess, but the pattern on the upperwings and primaries contradicts its age. That is, only a young Black-legged Kittiwake would show the white triangle seen here, but it would be coupled with a black carpal bar. Also, traces of a black tailband would be present if it were the more common kittiwake.

From the looks of it, this appears to be a "smaller" gull, mostly recalling Sabine's Gull. But there are some small, subtle, features on this bird that nail the identification: Notice the white sliver on the outer scapulars on the right wing. Zooming in, there is a thin white partition between the scaps and upperwing coverts. This is not found in any Sabine's Gull, but is found in Swallow Tailed-Gull. And. And. And...last, but not least...adult Sabine's have black-ish legs - not the relatively bright pink legs seen in the photo above. 

I think we can be sure that if we ever saw our April Quiz bird, head included, we'd have no trouble agreeing on Swallow-tailed Gull.

Swallow-tailed Gull. Everett, Washington. 02 September 2017.

29 April 2018

Race Point Beach

I spent last weekend at Race Point Beach on the far north tip of the Cape Cod peninsula. I've never been disappointed visiting this site. Gulls abound here and the diversity of species is some of the best I've experienced. This year, it seemed I was a tad late for large numbers of winter gulls and a tad early for spring migrants, but still, 10 species on Saturday speaks to the magnitude of this stretch of beach.

The highlights of my 10 species list include Black-headed (adult), Black-legged Kittiwake (1st cycle) and Glaucous (3rd cycle type). I estimated between 20-30 Kumlien's Gulls of all ages. 1st cycles were mostly ragged and as pale as one could expect for late April. Also of note was a single thayeri type.

This Glaucous easily matched most of the Great Black-backeds in size. 
1st cycle Iceland Gull with 1st cycle Great Black-backed, and Herrings. 

Lots of bleached 1st cycle Icelands were lingering

Most of the 600+ Laughing Gulls present were adults, but here's a 2nd cycle type. Note the incomplete hood and black tertial markings. Spread wing below.

The black alula and primary coverts readily age this bird as a sub-adult.

It's breeding season and the gulls are busy at work...

Bonaparte's were streaming by all day working the offshore Atlantic Right Whale buffets.

Another highlight is this banded 1st cycle Herring Gull.

This sighting reinforces the belief that there is a regular exchange between NF Herrings and those of the NE United States, particularly from Maine and Massachusetts. An important question that may be worth investigating is whether or not this exchange is a function of age. Do younger birds winter farther south, and stay to the south in their formative years? Are adults more likely to "return" to the north Atlantic - particularly to breed - when the become of age?

31 March 2018

Monthly Notables March 2018

  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). San Mateo County, California. 01 March 2018.
  • Mew Gull (adult). Kings County, New York. 02 March 2018.
  • Thayer's Gull (adult). Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia. 03 March 2018.
    • Continuing from previous month. 
  • Black-legged Kittiwake (1st cycle). Douglas County, Kansas. 04 March 2018.
    • Continuing from previous month. 
  • Laughing Gull (1st cycle). Mohave County, Arizona. 04 March 2018.
    • Continuing from January 2018.
  • Black-tailed Gull (adult). Del Norte County, California. 05 March 2018.
    • Continuing from previous month.
  • Kumlien's Gull (1st cycle). Harrison County, Mississippi. 07 March 2018.
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull (adult). San Diego County, California. 08 March 2018.
  • California Gull (adult). Cuyahoga County, Ohio. 08 March 2018.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (3rd cycle). Pierce County, Washington. 09 March 2018.
  • Mew Gull (adult). Plymouth County, Massachusetts. 09 March 2018.
  • Mew Gull (adult). Lancaster County, Nebraska. 11 March 2018.
  • Mew Gull (adult). Mohave County, Arizona. 11 March 2018.
  • Black-legged Kittiwake (1st cycle). Chatham County, Georgia. 14 March 2018.
  • Black-legged Kittiwake (1st cycle). Plaquemines County, Louisiana. 16 March 2018.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (2nd cycle). Santa Clara County, California. 17 March 2018.
  • Black-headed Gull (adult). Baltimore County, Maryland. 17 March 2018.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (2nd cycle). Monterey County, California. 18 March 2018.
  • Sabine's Gull (adult). Los Angeles County, California. 23 March 2018.
  • Sabine's Gull (adult). Marion County, Oregon. 25 March 2018.
  • Kamchatka Gull (adult). Digby County, Nova Scotia. 25 March 2018.
    • Continuing from previous month. 
  • Great Black-backed Gull (adult). Mobile County, Alabama. 28 March 2018.
  • Franklin's Gull (1st cycle). Union County, Pennsylvania. 31 March 2018.

Miscellaneous Notes
  1. An assembly of Heermann's Gulls (~100) appear to be preparing for nesting in Seaside, California.

March 2018 Quiz

AGE: The rounded primary tips, plain and muted pattern to the wing coverts, along with the gray mantle feathers can be combined to age this individual as a 2nd cycle. A pale eye is revealed when zooming in closely and this readily points away from a 1st cycle.

IDENTIFICATION: There are several features on this large gull that suggest a white-winger. Notice the "venetian blind" effect on the outer primaries. In particular, the outer webs and inner webs show a consistent dark, then pale, pattern. The appearance of the upperwing is plain and uniform with what could be described as a velvety feel. The cold blue mantle feathers are neat and tidy, fading into the upperparts with little effort.

So which white-winger is this? Thayer's Gull immediately comes to mind, but why not a Herring Gull? Herrings are much more contrasty at this age and typically show messier upperparts that are more splotchy. Also, a Herring Gull should show darker primaries and tail band - black if you will. Also, the all-black bill isn't unusual for this age in Thayer's, but it would be unusual for a Herring in its 2nd plumage cycle.

Here's a typical 2nd cycle Herring Gull for comparison:

The bi-colored bill and darker inner webs to the outer primaries point away from thayeri. 

Our March Quiz bird is indeed a 2nd cycle Thayer's Gull, photographed in Port Washington, Wisconsin. February 2018.

01 March 2018

Another Cali Gull & Laughing!

I made one last trip to Port Washington yesterday, hoping to relocate the adult Slaty-backed Gull - no luck! I was joined by Wisconsin birder Ted Keyel for most of the day where we observed gobs of Iceland and Glaucous Gulls. Not a minute went by where we didn't have a white-winger zipping past us or perched in sight. The gizzard shad die-off was yet in full swing!

1st cycle Glaucous and Iceland Gull. Port Washington, WI.

As a consolation for having missed this particular SBGU thrice this season, a 3rd cycle type California Gull - my first for Ozaukee County - and an adult Laughing Gull helped repair spirits. 

3rd cycle California Gull. The long bill, dark eye and heavily marked hindneck are distinctive.

Adult Laughing Gull. This individual walked within a few feet from us. The reward for patience!

A well-marked Iceland Gull with pale eyes.

Adult Iceland with dusky eyes and primary pattern that is noticeably slaty black.

Presumed Kumlien's Iceland Gull with just a hint of dark outer vanes on p9 and p10. A stunner!

2nd cycle Thayer's Iceland Gull. Inicidentally, this is the March Quiz Bird.

A different perspective of the same individual pictured above. The wing linings are in great condition for late winter.

Eight species of gull was good enough for me, and Ted's company was most edifying. I believe our final count was ~10 Great Black-backeds, ~4 Lesser Black-backeds, ~2500 Herrings, and ~600 Ring-billed Gulls. Lake Michigan at its finest!

Monthly Notables February 2018


  • Black-headed Gull (adult). Brevard County, Florida. 02 February 2018.
    • Continued from previous month.
  • Black-legged Kittiwake (1st cycle). Coffey County, Kansas. 03 February 2018.

  • Slaty-backed Gull (2nd cycle). Monterey County, California. 05 February 2018.

  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Onondaga County, New York. 06 February 2018.
    • Same individual found in Oswego County in January 2018.

  • Mew Gull (1st cycle). Tarrant County, Texas. 08 February 2018.

  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Benton County, Washington. 11 February 2018.

  • Black-tailed Gull (adult). Del Norte County, California. 11 February 2018.

  • Thayer's Iceland Gull (adult). Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia. 14 February 2018.

  • Franklin's Gull (adult). Los Angeles County, California. 15 February 2018.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult type). Seneca County, New York. 16 February 2018.

    • 2nd County Record. Same individual from Onondaga and Oswego County.

  • Slaty-backed Gull (3rd cycle). Middlesex County, Massachusetts. 16 February 2018.

  • California Gull (1st cycle). Volusia County, Florida. 16 February 2018.

  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Columbia County, Oregon. 18 February 2018.
    • Showing a peculiar orange color to the legs, and especially on the bill.

  • Common Gull (adult). Essex County, Massachusetts. 19 February 2018.
    • Same banded adult with silver band from last year. Banded in Iceland 2013.

  • Kamchatka Gull (adult). Digby County, Nova Scotia. 19 February 2018.
    • Presumably a returning bird, first detected last winter.

  • Little Gull (2nd cycle type). Barren County, Kentucky. 20 February 2018.

  • California Gull (2nd cycle). Kleberg County, Texas. 22 February 2018.

  • Slaty-backed Gull (3rd cycle). Kennebec County, Maine. 23 February 2018.
    • Apparently the same individual that was found in Massachusetts the week before.
    • 2nd State Record. Incidentally, the first state record was also from this site.

  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Ozaukee County, Wisconsin. 24 February 2018.
    • On-and-off from January. 

  • Laughing Gull (adult). Ozaukee County, Wisconsin. 27 February 2018.

  • California Gull (3rd cycle). Ozaukee County, Wisconsin. 28 February 2018.

  • Great Black-backed Gull (adult). Pubelo County, Colorado. 28 February 2018.
    • Believed to be the same adult returning for the 24th winter.


The theme in February was Slaty-backed Gulls. Multiple adults, two 3rd cycle types and a 2nd cycle type were seen and photographed in the lower 48. This continues to beg the obvious question: how many 1st cycle birds are being overlooked?!

The increase in Kamchatka Gulls between Nova Scotia and Massachusetts might be contributed to several returning birds. Nonetheless, this novelty is curious to say the least and it'll be interesting to see where we go from here.