01 January 2019

Monthly Notables December 2018


  • Ross's Gull (adult). Rockingham County, New Hampshire. 01 December 2018.
    • Seen off-shore on a pelagic trip.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Nipissing County, Ontario. 01 December 2018. 
    • Continuing from November.
  • Mew Gull (adult). Kings County, NY. 03 December 2018
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull (adult). Contra Costa County, California. 06 December 2018.
    • First County Record.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Brant County, Ontario. 11 December 2018.
  • Bonaparte's Gull (1st cycle). Hawaii County, Hawaii. 12 December 2018.
  • Black-legged Kittiwake (juvenile). Monroe County, Florida. 12 December 2018.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Brant County, Ontario. 12 December 2018.
    • A second adult discovered with the bird from the previous day.
  • Laughing Gull (1st cycle). Del Norte County, California. 12 December 2018.
  • Bonaparte's Gull (adult). Valdez-Cordova County, Alaska. 14 December 2018.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Larimer County, Colorado. 14 December 2018.
    • 3rd State Record. First County Record.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Wayne County, Michigan. 15 December 2018.
  • California Gull (adult). Bay County, Michigan. 22 December 2018.
    • First County Record.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (3rd cycle). San Mateo County, California. 23 December 2018.
  • Black-headed Gull (adult). San Bernardino County, California. 23 December 2018.
    • First County Record. 
  • Black-legged Kittiwake (juvenile). Maricopa County, Arizona. 25 December 2018.
  • Thayer's Gull (adult). North Hampton County, Virginia. 26 December 2018.
  • Heermann's Gull (adult). Valley County, Montana. 29 December 2018.

  1. A first for the Great Lakes region were 2 Slaty-backed Gulls discovered feeding at the same site in Brantford, Ontario. Both birds were adults. 12 December 2018. Photograph comparisons show both birds are different than the Nipissing County individual continuing into December from November, making it 3 adult Slaty-backed Gulls in Ontario at once.  

31 December 2018

December 2018 Quiz

Age: The dark carpal bar across the upperwing coverts, and apparent full tail band point to a 1st cycle gull.

Identification: The overall wingtip pattern and carpal bar point to a small tern-like gull (so-called sternine gull). There are only two species in North America that show a complete black trailing edge from the body out to the outermost primary: Black-headed Gull and Bonaparte's Gull. Seeing the bill would've been helpful as the two typically show different bill patterns. But there's something much more obvious that we can use here. Black-headed has considerably more black on the under-primaries, as seen here. The light gray/white pattern on the under primaries on our December Quiz bird are spot on for a 1st cycle Bonaparte's Gull.

Cuyahoga County, Ohio. November. 

28 December 2018

Field Museum Musings - Kodak Gray Scales and Such

A few notes from a visit to Chicago's Field Museum last week.

I'm currently working on a project that requires quite a bit of data collection from both live birds and museum specimens. One component to this data is measuring gray tones. Now a standard for measuring gray colors on the upperparts of gulls, the Kodak Gray Scale has steps 1-19, with 1 essentially being white and 19 black. My objective with measuring these gray tones is to compare them to current values given in the literature. In particular, I would like to verify (or contradict) what has been recorded by previous workers. 

The two specimens below are Western Gulls. The left bird is the paler, northern, race: L.o. occidentalis. The right specimen is the darker, southern, race: L.o. wymani. One challenge is to come up with an "average" for what is seen on the upper mantle (lighter) versus the mid to lower scapulars (usually darker). The other challenge is determining whether there are two noticeable generations of feathers. Newer feathers will generally appear darker (in adults) and older feathers should have suffered from some fading, and hence paler.

For the specimen on the left, I averaged it to be a KGS value of 8.5
For the specimen on the right, I averaged it to be a KGS value of 10

Another long-term project of mine is evaluating Iceland Gull specimens collected from the presumed ranges of the various subspecies during the breeding season. Just for fun, here's a spread of dark-end thayeri, to pale kumlieni. At some point, I'll find some time to post on my progress in this endeavor.

And like most of my visits to any gull collection, I usually find myself distracted by all the toys. Pictured below is a 1st cycle male Great Black-backed Gull (New Brunswick, November) and a 1st cycle male Little Gull (India, September).

A special thanks to Ben Marks for allowing access to the gulls here, again! The staff from the bird division at the Field Museum is an incredible resource.

27 December 2018

Kenosha & Racine Wisconsin - Glaucous x Herrings

A collection of Iceland Gulls from last weekend, with a putative Glaucous x Herring at the end. 
Kenosha & Racine Counties. Wisconsin. 23 December 2018.

1st Cycle Thayer's Gull. 1 of 3.

2 of 3.

3 of 3.

2nd Cycle Thayer's Gull. 

2nd Cycle K-T Iceland Gull.

2nd Cycle Thayer's Gull. 

3rd Cycle type Thayer's Gull.

3rd Cycle type Thayer's Gull.

Adult Thayer's Gull. 

Adult Thayer's Gull.

Adult Thayer's Gull.

Adult Thayer's Gull.

Adult Thayer's Gull (left of center with Herring Gulls). 

1st Cycle Kumlien's Gull. 1 of 4. 

2 of 4.

3 of 4.

4 of 4. 

3rd Cycle type. Kumlien's Gull. 1 of 3. 

2 of 3.

3 of 3. 

Adult Kumlien's Gull. 

Adult K-T Iceland Gull. 

2nd Cycle, Putative, Glaucous x Herring (right of center). 1 of 6.

2 of 6. 

3 of 6.

4 of 6.

5 of 6.

6 of 6.

...perhaps you noticed my favoring photos of birds facing to the left. Cheers!

26 December 2018

Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University

A few notable specimens from an impromptu visit to the Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University, last week.  The museum is the oldest in the New World, boasting the 8th largest ornithology collection in the world, and 5th largest associated with a university. One of the highlights of my visit was looking over the Kumlien's-Thayer's specimens. Here's an adult type from Ellesmere Island, collected on 19 August 1934 (sex unknown). Skins from Ellesmere Island - presumably from the core of thayeri's range - have been difficult for me to find in the collections I've visited in the last few years.

p8-p10 retained (4th basic?), p7 dropped, p6 growing, p5 almost fully grown. 

The molt here is rather typical for a large gull in mid-August in the northern hemisphere. For what it's worth, the thayeri I see here on Lake Michigan in late October to early November are still molting/growing p9-p10 upon arrival, exhibiting molt migration.
The pigment on p8-p10 on this individual is somewhat extensive and pale. I'm writing this off as a adult type showing some seasonal fading/bleaching. Perhaps some of it is a collections artifact? Further, the p5-p6 subterminal bands were just a hint paler than I was expecting for a Thayer's taken from Ellesmere.

Next up is a presumed nominate fuscus, Lesser Black-backed Gull, from northern Egypt. Most interesting is the size of the p10 mirror (~48mm). This measurement seems to exceed ranges given in the literature. I'd appreciate some comments on this bird.

Lesser Black-backed Gull. 

Same LBBG (left) with Peruvian Kelp Gull (right). 

A special thanks to Jason Weckstein for showing me some of the gulls here!

25 December 2018

Bucks County Pennsylvania CBC

For the last 5 years or so I've had the "Bucks County" CBC on my "to-do" list, intrigued by the thousands of Herrings seen at the Tullytown Landfill. On Saturday, 15 December 2018, I joined George Armistead and Jason Weckstein for a jaw-dropping day at the dump, estimating some 35,000 Herring Gulls for the day.

Tally: 4 Glaucous, 8 Iceland, 25 Lessers, 450 Greats, 600 Ring-billeds, ~35,000 Herring Gulls.

1st Cycle Glaucous with Adult Great Black-backed.

Putative, adult, Lesser Black-backed x Herring Gull. 1 of 6 seen on this day.

Adult Lesser (center) flanked by twin Herring Gulls. 

1st Cycle Great Black-backed Gull, with Adult Herring Gulls.

Yes, in my zone...gull patrol is not for everyone.

01 December 2018

Land of the Rising Sun - Upcoming Japan Tour

Friends, I'm super excited to be leading a winter tour to Japan in December 2019 into January 2020. This remarkable island has to be the most alluring land mass in all of Asia. A wide range of ecosystems and climatic zones make for amazing bird diversity, and the spectacles of large bird congregations, at such close range, will make this a memorable and unforgettable experience!

I'm currently enlisting people to join me on this trip - please reach out if you or someone you know have any interest. Read for yourself what breathtaking birds we'll spend time watching, as we travel to the Land of the Rising Sun!

Click on URL: