25 January 2015

Florida's First Banded Lesser Black-backed Gull

Historic! After several years of speculation and wonder, it's finally here. Michael Brothers from the Marine Science Center has stepped up to the plate and has begun a banding project on his local Lesser Black-backeds in east-central Florida. The color/sequence is white lettering on green plastic leg bands, F:###

A few of us shared in the excitement of observing the first ever banded Lesser Black-backed from Florida (Volusia County) yesterday evening:

GREEN F:001. Lesser Black-backed Gull (1st cycle). Daytona Beach Shores, Florida. 24 January 2015.

GREEN F:001 with 1st winter Herring.
GREEN F:001 (right) with larger first winter Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Contact Michael should you re-sight one of these birds or have any questions. Best of luck to him!

24 January 2015

First Cycle Herrings From East-Central Florida

A few first winter Herrings from the last two days. 

The almost all juvenile plumage on this bird got my attention. After sorting through more and more 1st cycle Herrings here, I've realized quite a few appear this neat and show "durable" juvenile plumages. The upperparts are exceptional for this time of year.

Herring Gull (1st cycle). Daytona Beach Shores, FL. 24 Jan 2015.
Same individual above. 
This next bird has also retained most of its juvenile plumage but is sleeker and has an attenuated look to the rear:
Herring Gull (1st cycle). Daytona Beach Shores, FL. 24 Jan 2015.
The tail pattern on this gull is not typical of 1st cycle American Herring, but perhaps within range. Besides being rather thin, there's limited pigmentation coming up the edges of both outer rectrices. The uppertail coverts are sparsely marked in comparison to the average Smithsonianus.

Next up is a pale, beefy individual, also holding on well to its first basic (juvenile) plumage:

Herring Gull (1st cycle). Cocoa, FL. 24 Jan 2015.

Finally, here's a first cycle that has renewed some of its scapulars, but shows a few interesting features:

Herring Gull (1st cycle). Daytona Beach Shores, FL. 24 Jan 2015.
Its jizz is reminiscint of something along the lines of Glaucous-winged or Slaty-backed. The pale edging to the primaries is rather noticeable. I did photograph it in the middle of preening and so the tertials are raised and the secondaries are drooping, as well as the lower belly feathers puffed out - something to consider when judging single photos. The faded and slightly worn greater coverts also superficially resemble what I'd be looking for in a 1st winter Slaty-backed.

There are lots of neat looking 1st winter Herrings to sort through down here. Much variation and difficult to relegate them to one or two plumage aspects...more details later.

23 January 2015

Daytona Beach Shores: Adult Thayer's

Few beaches - if any - top the gull congregation at Daytona Beach Shores in east-central Florida. This evening, we estimated some 60,000 gulls on a stretch of beach less than 2 miles long!

A small fraction of the gull flock on our Gull Fly-in field trip. 22 Jan 2015.
The gulls arrive every afternoon a couple of hours before sunset, having spent most of their day feeding at the local landfills. They eventually fly out to roost past the breakers out at sea. This is strictly a winter affair.

I'd estimate that over 85% of the gulls are Laughing Gulls (the largest winter concentration of this species in all of North America). But among them are decent numbers of Ring-billeds and a bewildering array of every plumage aspect of Herring one could fancy.

Here are a few of my non-Herring highlights from the day:

Kumlien's Gull (1st cycle). 22 Jan 2015.
Thayer's Gull (1st cycle). 22 Jan 2015.
Same individual above.
Great Black-backed Gull (adult type). 22 Jan 2015.
Great Black-backed Gull (1st cycle). 22 Jan 2015.
Lesser Black-backed Gull (2nd cycle). One of roughly 30 LBBGs present. 22 Jan 2015.
Same individual above. Interesting 2nd basic tail pattern with half the rectrices white and the other half typical black.
Lesser Black-backed Gull (2nd cycle). A petite bird with a pale plumage aspect (LAGU bill beneath). 22 Jan 2015.
I was thrilled to bump into Pierre, or "Green F05":

Seen here without a silver aluminum band on its right leg. 22 Jan 2015.
This individual is the most enthralling gull to have ever been followed by North American birders.

Our field trip "began" with us rushing all the arriving participants over to the beach to see the 1st cycle Kumlien's that I found earlier. As I was showing folks the bird - which was giving phenomenal looks - Michael called to tell me he was watching an adult Thayer's found by George Armistead down the beach. We hurried down there and ticked off this unusually rare plumage for Florida:

The whole group waiting for the adult Thayer's to move...about 30 minutes later, it finally gave us a nice profile view.
Only the 2nd (or 3rd?) adult Thayer's ever seen in Florida. 22 Jan 2015.
Pale iris not terribly uncommon in this species. Note the pinkish-purple orbital ring.

Thanks to George for getting us on this bird! A number of Floridians got a state bird out of it...and almost everyone present got their first adult for the state.

18 January 2015

Waukegan: Glaucous, GBBG and Thayer's

Deciding where to go gull-watching is no easy task...

Today, I stationed myself on the northernmost pier at Waukegan Harbor in Lake County, Illinois. The pier is covered in icy-snow which has become slushy with the recent warm-up, and so the surface is not slippery and can be walked on with caution. Unfortunately, the south part of the harbor was sectioned off with no access. I can never understand when or why this part of the harbor will be closed.

Highlights here were a 1st cycle Glaucous and GBBG - species I don't often see in Lake County - as well as 3 Thayer's (2 ad. and a first cycle).

GBBG (1st cycle). Waukegan, IL. 18 Jan 2015. Photo 1 of 2.

Glaucous Gull (1st cycle). Waukegan, IL. 18 Jan 2015. Photo 1 of 2.

Thayer's Gull (1st cycle). Waukegan, IL. 18 Jan 2015. Photo 1 of 4.

Thayer's (left). The upperparts are very murky and muddy, similar to Glaucous-winged. 

Upper neck and nape most likely white due to bleaching and not PA molt.

GBBG (1st cycle) and THGU (1st cycle) among Herrings.
Historically, Waukegan Harbor has produced some very nice records for Illinois and remains one of my favorite sites to watch gulls on the Illinois lakefront. Now if I could just get there more often!!

17 January 2015

Lock & Dam 15: Thayer's, Glaucous and LBBG

I'd been saying for a couple of years that I wanted to spend some time looking for gulls on the Mississippi River. I finally made it out for my first visit to Lock & Dam 15 on Saturday. L&D 15 sits between Rock Island, Illinois and Davenport, Iowa. I was pleased with the set up on the Iowa side of the river and so spent most of my 3+ hours there.

Lock & Dam 15 is famed for being the largest "Roller Dam" in the world.
There were eagles (~25) patrolling the dam, but that didn't seem to bother the gulls at all. I suppose this has much to do with the abundant food in supply for both the gulls and the eagles.

I don't usually hear anyone reporting gulls from here and didn't expect much, but it didn't take long to spot my first Thayer's and things quickly picked up from there:

Adult Thayer's. Davenport, IA. 17 Jan 2015.

First Cycle Thayer's. Davenport, IA. 17 Jan 2015.

Three Thayer's in this frame. Can you find them all?

Adult THGU.

Same individual above.

First cycle Thayer's. Photos 1 of 6.

Adult Glaucous. Photos 1 of  3.

Thayer's Gull (2nd/3rd cycle type). The mostly black bill with yellow tip is unique.

Amazingly, this adult type LBBG is still growing p9 and p10, as well
as its innermost secondaries.
Most of the river near the dam was completely ice free and the temperature was in the low-mid 40s. I'm looking forward to making it back out here before the end of the season.