28 October 2013

Lake Michigan Pelagic: California & Thayer's Gulls

Fourteen birders from Illinois went on a Lake Michigan pelagic trip on Sunday, October 27th 2014.

The "Many Times II". Sunrise at Burnham Harbor. Chicago, IL.
We were expecting a good variety of waterfowl, loons, grebes and some of the more pelagic species such as jaegers, phalaropes or a kittiwake. It seemed we were a day too late as the winds had shifted from northwest the evening before to southwest overnight. The Miller Beach lakewatch in Indiana had an excellent watch the day before (all 3 scoter species, a jaeger sp., 2 Sabine's, 1 Little, 2 Red Phalaropes and record numbers of Gadwall and 2 Red-necked Grebes). You'd think some of those goodies would've been grounded by the shift in winds.

The highlight of our trip came at about 10:00 a.m. when I spotted a darker gull in the wake of the boat. It appeared smaller than the surrounding Herrings and more refined. I quickly checked off the bill pattern and eye color and immediately settled for California Gull. I waited for it to extend its legs, saw that they were yellow and called out "CALIFORNIA GULL".

California Gull (adult). Chicago, IL. 27 October 2013.

Everyone was able to get excellent looks as it continued to make passes behind the boat. Total observation time was between 8-10 minutes. It was a lifer for some people and a state bird for several, including a very long-time Illinois birder who had just mentioned this to me before the boat ride.

We also had 6 Thayer's Gulls (3 adults, one 2nd cycle, two 1st cycles). This was an interesting experience in that we're just starting to see THGUs on land, suggesting to me that many more Thayer's than we're aware of may be arriving earlier in the Fall. Are many of these early arrivals spending their time on the lake right now?

Thayer's Gull (1st cycle). Chicago, IL. 27 October 2013.
As expected, Ring-billeds followed us out of the harbor for a couple of miles and then the gull flock began to transition to more Herrings as we got about 4 miles out. Our Herring Gull count was ~ 300 but my feeling is that we had closer to 450. The only other gull of note was a Lesser Black-backed Gull (1st cycle) and a group of about 10 Bonaparte's. This after a record count of 48 Franklin's for me yesterday, along with 183 Bonaparte's from shore at Calumet Park.

A big thanks to Geoff Williamson for organizing the trip. It was a fun day for sure!
For more details on this trip and a complete species list, see: http://goo.gl/VjMprF