31 December 2013

Chicago Lakefront CBC - Christmas Day

It's said that the Chicago Lakefront CBC is the ONLY count in the ABA area that is still held on the actual day of its namesake - Christmas Day. For the second year in a row, I joined Joel Greenberg and company, starting at the Museum of Science and Industry and working our way north to the Museum Campus near Belmont Harbor.

The best variety of gulls was at La Rabida Hospital where Ethan and Aaron Gyllenhall picked out distant Great Black-backed, Glaucous and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. These birds were leaving the water intake crib offshore early in the morning and flying south towards the Calumet Park/Hammond Marina area. We also had an adult-type LBBG fly in close over the harbor.

Expectations were high for the Museum Campus, but the gulls didn't oblige as there was only a small pocket of open water, and perhaps too many birders and tourists standing around for them to be comfortable. We did, though, check-off a much needed daybird: Thayer's Gull.

Thayer's Gull. Chicago, IL. 25 Dec 2013.

29 December 2013

Michigan City Glaucous & Thayer's

A brief stop at Michigan City Harbor produced two white-wingers and a wannabe Slaty:

Glaucous Gull (2nd cycle). Michigan City, Indiana. 23 Dec 2013.
Thayer's Gull (adult). Michigan City, Indiana. 23 Dec 2013.
All black bill in 2nd cycle, piercing yellow eye and u-shaped tail-band superficially resemble Slaty-backed.
The gray scapulars were awfully pale, suggesting the bird is most likely an odd Herring-type.

23 December 2013

Black-legged Kittiwake: Marseille's Dam

A first winter Black-legged Kittiwake was found by John and Cindy McKee in LaSalle County, Illinois on Saturday. I went out to see it yesterday afternoon and got much better looks than I was expecting.

Black-legged Kittwake (1st cycle). Marseilles, Illinois; 22 December 2013.
The bird never showed any interest in bread, but came right in and landed some 50 ft away from me. A few minutes later, it proceeded to walk within 15 feet of where I was standing.

My only experience with a BLKI coming in this close was with a bird that was ill back in 2010 and ended up dying the day after we rescued it. This individual reminded me a lot of that bird. My suspicion was that the LaSalle County bird was either emaciated or just not too keen on surviving. Birders searched for it today (23 Dec 2013), without success.

20 December 2013

Hammond Thayer's: 18 Dec 2013

A quick stop at Hammond Marina produced 2 adult type Thayer's, 1 Glaucous and 1 Great Black-backed among some 80 Herring Gulls.

Today was a big reminder of how terrible photographing gulls on water could be on bright sunny days. As is often the case, there's either too much light or not enough!

Thayer's Gull (adult type with paler iris). Hammond, IN. 18 Dec 2013.
Thayer's Gull (adult with darker iris and more streaked head). Hammond, IN. 18 Dec 2013.
Same individual above - may be an individual seen at Calumet Park in Chicago earlier in the afternoon.

I missed my target bird here (a reoccurring Kumlien's adult), but was rewarded with an adult type Glaucous and Great Black-backed. Notice the outer primary and central secondary molt on the GBBG. Could this be an indication of a more long-distant migrant?

18 December 2013

Whiting Gulls: Kumlien's/Thayer's, GBBG Hybrid and Glaucous

I spent a few hours at the BP Refinery in Whiting, Indiana on Saturday. Highlights included a good count of 13 Great Black-backeds, an adult type Glaucous, a presumed GBBG x Herring and a Kumlien's/Thayer's type.

Clearly a shade paler than the pure GBBGs, the dark-backed gull (front-right) seen here is likely a GBBG with some pale-backed genes. Whether this is Herring or Glaucous influence (the two most likely mixes) is not clear. 
Four of thirteen GBBGs on Whiting Beach. Whiting, IN is one of the best sites to see Great Black-backeds on southern Lake Michigan. The birds are very skittish here, but can be found on the east side of the beach in relatively good numbers.
First cycle Great Black-backed.
Adult type Glaucous Gull (still growing outer primaries and central secondaries).
Adult Bonaparte's Gull. It's getting a bit late for Bonnies on Lake Michigan, but there are still a few filtering through.
My favorite bird of the day, I couldn't decide whether I wanted to call this a Thayer's or dark Kumlien's/Thayer's intergrade.
The wingtip pattern is fine for Thayer's (and that's probably what it will be logged as), but the pigmenation to the wingtips was a bit more slaty than I like. In particular, the outer web to P10  (which I expect to be dark) was wahed out and dark gray:

But as is always the case, at different angles, the bird appeared darker (especially from behind):


A Good Story: Rescued 1st Cycle Herring Resighted

I photographed this 1st cycle Herring Gull in Berrien County, Michigan on 07 December 2013:

Federal Band #: 1056-91109
I thought it was odd that it had its band on its left leg, and so I made sure to get its federal band number. Turns out, the bird was rescued by the Wisconsin Humane Society and looked after at the Wildlife Rehabilitiaon Center in Miwaukee. Here's the full story, sent to me by manager Scott Diehl, who also banded the bird:

Hello, Amar.
Thank you for sending the link to your photos of the banded gull. We wildlife rehabilitators always like to hear about how our former patients are doing, especially if it is good news!
The story on this particular bird was that on June 30th, 2013, as a fledgling, it had fallen into a large, fenced-in window-well or air shaft on a commercial building here in Milwaukee, WI. The bird was evidently hatched on the roof of the building. The fencing around the window well was 6'-high and topped with barbed-wire, so our rescue volunteer, Mary, had to squeeze under the fence to rescue the young gull. The gull would have surely died in a couple of days if not rescued.
We did not have access to try putting the gull back on the roof in the hope that its parents would resume care for it. So, we brought it to our wildlife hospital here in Milwaukee and cared for it for 22 days. For about 2 weeks before release it was housed in an outdoor flight cage with other young gulls so it could build up muscle strength and endurance.

Again, thank you for taking the time to share your images of your enconter with this bird with us.
1st cycle American Herring. Found in Beerien County, Michigan. 07 December 2013.
Many factors are involved in nest-site selection (nearby food source, saftey from predators, etc.), but gulls, and birds in general, commonly nest in places that jeporadize their young once it's time to fledge. What an awesome thing, when humans step in and give wildlife a hand. I have much respect and admiration for those people who do this work.

16 December 2013

Three Banded 1st Cycle Herrings: Great Lakes Types

On 07 December 2013, I found 3 first cycle Herrings with federal leg bands in New Buffalo, Michigan (Berrien County). I spent about 4 hours with them on the beach until I got each and every one of their 9 digits.

Two of the birds were evidently banded in Door County, Wisconsin this past June, while the 3rd bird was from Milwaukee County, Wisconsin (banded on the left leg).

Gull #1: 1106-13848 (banded in Door County, Wisconsin, near Sister Bay; 24 June 2013).

Gull #2: 1106-27465 (banded in Door County, Wisconsin, on NE Jack Island; 25 June 2013).

Bird #3: 1056-91109 (banded in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin; 30 June 2013).

 Bird #1 & 2 together:

Bird #2 & 3 together:

All three of these individuals represent my idea of typical 1st winter American Herrings of, local, Great Lakes origins. They show moderate to extensive juvenile scapular replacement with light to moderate wear to the tertials and upperwing coverts. Overall, they have a messy appearance with portions of their underparts and heads showing some bleaching.

This is much different than the so-called "Northern" birds that retain most of their juvenile plumage into the winter. They typically have a much more uniform (brown?) look to them and are somewhat reminiscent of Thayer's. Here's one photographed with date just "5" days earlier (02 Dec):

Whether these neater looking birds are truly from a population that originates from latitudes farther north is not entirely understood. Banding efforts should help unravel this mystery with time. Just how far north, or how much into the interior of Canada these birds come from remains to be learned. My hope is that more birds are banded, and larger color bands are used to help increase the visibility of their leg bands.

09 December 2013

Lake County Fairgrounds: 3rd Cycle Glaucous

There's always an element of suspesne when going out to watch gulls. One never knows what species, or more specifically, what plumage, they're going to find.

I've been seeing lots of Thayer's and Lesser Black-backeds lately and so it was nice to get on this Glaucous Gull on Sunday:

Glaucous Gull (3rd cycle). Lake County, IL. 08 Dec 2013.
I went back and forth as to whether it may be a 2nd cycle, but when it took off, the adult-like inner primaries, with wide white tips, sealed the deal for ageing this bird:

Other highlights for the day included this adult Thayer's:

And this 3rd cycle type and 2nd cycle type Lesser Black-backed, respectively:

But perhaps most intriguing were these "white-winged" adult Herrings:

Unlike the Northeastern United States and Newfoundland/Labrador, American Herring Gulls on the Great Lakes and the Western United States typically show a limited amount of white on the outer primaries. On average, the so-called "Great Lakes" birds show a single mirror (on P10) and smaller white apicals, and tend to average smaller body proportions. But it's open season in the winter, with a mix of all sort of Herring Gulls.

Seeing birds with this much white in the wingtips in my area (Illinois) may invite confusion with Thayer's. But note the staring pale-yellow eye, and the yellow-orange orbital ring. Thayer's shows a pinkish orbital.

Ross's Gull: Lake Red Rock

On Sunday, 01 December 2013, Iowa birder Aaaron Brees found an adult Ross's Gull at Lake Red Rock in Marion County, Iowa. Being only 4.5 hours away, I was able to sneak away to see it. I was accompanied by Bob Fisher and Indiana birder John Kendall.

When we arrived, a few birders were lined up and thought they had the bird in the scope, but weren't sure. I asked if I could take a peek in their scope, and it took 2 seconds for me to confirm they had the bird: "Yep, that's the Ross's!".

Ross's Gull (basic adult). Marion County, Iowa. 04 Dec 3013.

The pink suffision on this species is so consistent and striking. In fact, the species' binomial, Rhodostethia rosea, describes this characteristic.

We chummed and got a couple of hundred Ring-billeds very close to shore, but the ROGU wanted nothing to do with all of the commotion. My theory is that chumming may in fact be counterproductive at times, discouraging the bird from coming close.

We eventually lost the bird and then went to the west side of the lake to look for a 1st cycle LIGU that was being seen earlier in the week. Me missed the LIGU, but refound the ROGU from the Elk Rock boat launch. It was a great exercise watching this bird flying at a distance, with great side-by-side comparisons to the Bonaparte's.

Nothing like a Ross's Gull to get winter gull season in full speed. It's worth noting that this is the 3rd occurence of this species at Lake Red Rock (4th state record). If I've done my homework correctly, no other single site has recorded more Ross's Gulls in the lower 48 states - that's good gull trivia!! What's so special about an inland lake (Iowa's largest) in the middle of a corn desert? Lots of riverways and small lakes are probably part of the reason these rarities get funneled in to these "larger" lakes. Who knows.

01 December 2013

1st, 2nd and 3rd Cycle Thayer's: Last Day of November

The theme this weekend was Thayer's. Thayer's, Thayer's and more Thayer's. I noted at least 12 individuals between North Point Marina, Lake County Fairgrounds and nearby Independence Grove on Saturday, 30 November 2013. Of note was my first 2nd cycle and first 3rd cycle of the season. Keep in mind that I don't often knowingly see 3rd cycle Thayer's so this was indeed a treat.

First cycle Thayer's Gull. Lake County Fairgrounds. Lake County, IL.

Second Cycle Thayer's Gull. Lake County Fairgrounds. Lake County, IL.

Third Cycle Thayer's Gull. Independence Grove. Lake County, IL.