01 March 2019

Monthly Notables February 2019

  • Black-tailed Gull (adult type). Volusia County, Florida. 01 February 2019.
  • Glaucous-winged Gull (1st cycle). Pueblo County, Colorado. 01 February 2019.
  • Franklin's Gull (adult). Lake County, Illinois. 04 February 2019.
  • California Gull (adult). Marshall County, Kentucky. 08 February 2019.
  • Franklin's Gull (adult). Elkhart County, Indiana. 08 February 2019.
  • Thayer's Gull (1st cycle). St. John's County, Newfoundland & Labrador. 09 February 2019.
  • Thayer's Gull (adult). Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia. 09 February 2019.
  • Glaucous-winged Gull (1st cycle). Arapahoe County, Colorado. 09 February 2019.
  • Little Gull (adult). Clark County, Ohio. 10 February 2019.
  • Bonaparte's Gull (1st cycle). Valdez-Cordova County, Alaska. 12 February 2019.
  • Black-headed Gull (adult). Riverside County, California. 17 February 2019.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Stanislaus County, California. 18 February 2019.
    • 1st County Record.
  • Western Gull (1st cycle). Dallas County, Texas. 21 February 2019.
    • 6th State Record. 1st County Record.
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull (2nd cycle). Shasta County, California. 22 February 2019.
  • California Gull (1st cycle). Skagway-Hoonah-Angoon County, Alaska. 22 February 2019.
  • Thayer's Gull (3rd cycle). Nantucket County, Massachusetts. 23 February 2019.
  • Little Gull (adult). Clinton County, Illinois. 24 February 2019.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (2nd cycle). San Joaquin County, California. 24 February 2019.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (3rd cycle type). Skagway-Hoonah-Angon County, AK. 24 February 2019.
  • European Herring Gull (adult). Volusia County, Florida. 26 February 2019.
  • Laughing Gull (adult). Licking County, Ohio. 27 February 2019.

Miscellaneous Notes:
  1. In proper form, Michael Brothers started off the month by finding a 1st state record Black-tailed Gull in Daytona Beach Shores. This one-day wonder fills a void for the species in the entire southeast region.
  2.  An apparent new North American high count of 817 Lesser Black-backed Gulls was recorded by Devich Farbotnik on 24 February 2019 at Lake Nockamixon. Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Incidentally, two individuals were wearing satellite transmitters, believed to be those installed by the Pennsylvania Game Commission in March of 2018.

28 February 2019

February 2019 Quiz

Age: Aging this individual is difficult given this limited view to the upperwing. We have what appears to be a hooded gull based on the post-ocular spot. On one hand it appears to have a dark trailing edge to the secondaries, suggesting a 1st cycle, but also shows two distinct mirrors on p9-p10. What appears to be an all-white tail is more indicative of a bird beyond its 1st plumage cycle.

Identification: This month's quiz elicited some interesting responses, ranging from Bonaparte's, Little, Black-headed, Gray-hooded and even Brown-hooded Gull. Only 4 people (out of 38) had the correct ID: Gray-hooded Gull. We can easily dismiss Bonaparte's as that species doesn't show a dark underwing. Little Gull is shorter-winged and lacks the relatively large maroon bill seen here - nor does it show mirrors per se. Black-headed Gull comes close to this, especially the dark underwing, but that species also lacks mirrors on the outer primaries, and instead, shows a distinct white wedge on the outermost primaries. Brown-hooded comes to mind. A 1st cycle Brown hooded has a mirror-band that typically shows three mirrors that are larger and more elongated than our quiz bird. If this were an adult Brown-hooded - which it is not - the outer primary tips would be completely white from underneath. The only reasonable choice left is Gray-hooded. The broad, smokey-gray to black pattern on the underwing, two reasonably-sized mirrors embedded in a black wingtip, maroon bill and what looks like traces of a faded gray hood help pin this identification.

This species has only been recorded in North America twice - once in Florida and once in New York.
Our February bird was photographed in November in coastal Peru. The upperwing reveals a distinct wingtip pattern exhibited by this species, as well as the darker secondaries seen on adult types.

01 February 2019

Monthly Notables January 2019

  • Glaucous-winged Gull (adult). Larimer County, Colorado. 01 January 2019.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (2nd cycle). Monterey County, California. 01 January 2019.
  • Black-legged Kittiwake (adult). Will County, Illinois. 01 January 2019.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Wayne County, Michigan. 03 January 2019.
    • Continuing from previous month.
  • Black-headed Gull (adult). Riverside County, California. 03 January 2019.
  • Common Gull (adult). Essex County, Massachusetts. 05 January 2019.
    • Continuing bird with metal band on right leg. 
  • Kamchatka Gull (adult). Essex County, Massachusetts. 05 January 2019.
  • Kamchatka Gull (subadult). Fairfield County, Connecticut. 08 January 2019.
  • Ivory Gull (1st cycle). North Dame Bay-Lewisporte County, NL. 09 January 2019.
  • Great Black-backed Gull (adult). Daggett County, Utah. 13 January 2019.
  • Vega Gull (adult type). Volusia County, Florida. 14 January 2019.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Stark County, Ohio. 15 January 2019.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Essex County, Ontario. 16 January 2019.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). St. John's County, Newfoundland. 17 January 2019.
  • Slaty-bcked Gull (adult). Shelburne County, Nova Scotia. 21 January 2019.
    • 2nd Province Record.
  • California Gull (adult type). Cape Breton County, Nova Scotia. 27 January 2019.
    • 2nd Province Record. Only the 3rd for Atlantic Canada.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (4th cycle type). Monterey County, California. 29 January 2019.

Miscellaneous Notes:
  1. Certainly the most exciting news this month is the Slaty-backed Gull discovered by Kent Miller in Stark County, Ohio. The setting for this sighting was nearly identical to the state's first Kelp Gull found at the same landfill four years ago. A long overdue bird for the Buckeye state.
  2. The banded Icelandic Common Gull that is now returning to MA, was found with an apparent Kamchatka Gull in Essex County. Observer Suzanne Sullivan reported both birds seen together. To make matters most interesting, the Kamchatka Gull shows a p8 mirror (limited to the inner web).
  3. With advanced digital photography now a common fixture in birding, quality photos of individual gulls are becoming increasingly revealing. The 2nd cycle type Black-legged Kittiwake observed in Will County, Illinois early in the month, was observed and photographed in St. Clair County, Michigan 8 days later (a distance of ~300 miles). Also, Ohio's 1st Slaty-backed Gull proved to be one of the adults seen in Brant County, Ontario a month earlier, traveling a short distance of 170 miles, likely straight across Lake Erie. 

January 2019 Quiz

Age: The plumage aspect looks typical of an adult-type, large white-headed gull. The outer two primaries, p9-p10, are growing out, with all flight feathers newly molted. This signals the end of a definitive adult prebasic molt. Assuming this individual was observed in the northern hemisphere, the time of year is likely late-summer to early fall.

Identification: The gray upperparts appear too pale for any black-backed, but also suspiciously darker than our pale, silvery gray species (Ring-billed, Iceland and Herring). Looking closely at the legs, we find this is a yellow-legged species. Possibilities are Mew, Ring-billed and California Gull. The black-to-red bill pattern and apparent dark eye are nearly diagnostic here, eliminating the former two. The well-marked primary pattern, forming an extensive black triangle to the wingtip is strongly suggestive of California Gull, which is what this individual is.

Imperial County, California. September.

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.