20 January 2013

Michigan City 1st Cycle Kumlien's & Thayer's

Sometimes you just get lucky without much effort! That's exactly what happened today when I stepped on the beach at Michigan City Harbor in Indiana. I had been itching for a 1st cycle Kumlien's Iceland Gull for a while as I hadn't seen one on Lake Michigan for this winter:

1st cycle Kumlien's Iceland Gull; Michigan City, IN. 20 Jan 2013.
The tertial centers on this bird are rather solid and darker than usual, but everything else suggest a textbook individual:

I also had this 1st cycle Thayer's that showed rather pale flight feathers and tailband:

1st cycle Thayer's Gull; Michigan City, IN. 20 Jan 2013.

Now both of these 1st winter white-wingers together:

Many other winter gulls were coming and going, some giving good looks like this petite adult Lesser Black-backed:

Adult LBBG; Michigan City, IN. 20 Jan 2013.

Off to the next winter gull site...

13 January 2013

North Point Marina Gull Session

I birded North Point Marina today (13 January 2013) with Fran Morel and Matthew Winks. We got started at about 10:00 am and finished up a good day's gulling around 3:00 pm. We were joined for parts of the day by Al Stokie, Bob Erickson, Beau Schaefer, Nolan Lameka, Bob Hughes and Karen Mansfield.

Luckily, the forecasted snow/rain/sleet did not develop during any part of our birding. The wind was relatively calm with mostly cloudy skies, making for good viewing conditions.

Here are the day's finds:
3 Lesser Black-backeds (2 adults, 1 second cycle)
4 Glaucous Gulls (3 adults, 1 first cycle)
2 Kumlien's Iceland Gulls (both adults)
8 Thayer's Gulls (6 adults, 1 second cycle, 1 first cycle)
1 Kumlien's/Thayer's intermediate type (adult)
1 Putative Nelson's Gull (adult)

2nd Cycle Thayer's Gull. Lake County, IL; 13 January 2013.


 At one point, all 3 adult GLGUs were standing out in the open in one view.

The "six" adult Thayer's count is a very liberal estimate.

The presumed adult Nelson's (Glaucous x Herring) was pointed out by Bob Hughes. The bird was Glaucous size with an extensive amount of white in the primaries. The underside to P10 was white and the upperparts were a shade paler than the surrounding HERGs.

Not unexpected, "zero" Great Black-backeds were sighted. It still amazes me how selective this predatory species is on Lake Michigan. For what it's worth, 41 GBBGs were seen at Two Creeks in Manitowoc, Wisconsin on Tuesday (08 January 2013). This is a new high count record for the state of Wisconsin.

First Cycle LWHG with Slaty-like Features

With the increasing number of adult Slaty-backed Gulls being sighted in the lower 48 states in recent years, one would think that more and more 1st cycle birds should be found as well. Don't young birds have a greater propensity for vagrating? Just as in most other gull species, the shortage of reports in "rare" 1st cycle gulls is in all likelihood due to observer bias. As I type this, there are no accepted records of first cycle Slaty-backeds anywhere outside of California, Texas and of course, Alaska. I've also been informed of an accepted record in Mississippi that I'm currently inquiring about. And so this post is an attempt at me sticking my neck out.

Lake County, Illinois; 02 December 2012.

My first impression was that of a heavy-set bird with a blocky head. It stood with its chest almost vertical most of the time, and the neck seemed long (without any apparent threats that would arouse it). The legs seemed short with a sagging appearance to the lower belly. The overall pale coffee-brown plumage seemed too neat for a Herring and the broad pale edges to the tertials and pale chevrons on the folded primaries reinforce that. The dark gray bars on the centers of the upper scapulars are also noteworthy. The plain greater coverts also fit very well with 1st cycle Slaty-backed.

Body size was no bigger or smaller than a Herring, but the jizz was of a more stocky bird - a bird that could bench-press twice as much as your average HERG.

The primaries show an elegant "venetian blind" pattern like Thayer's. The outer webs to the inner primaries show some contrast with the inner webs, and the subterminal tips to these feathers are dark.

In the photo above, a pseudo-string-of-pearls, that's found in adults, is mimicked (especially on the left wing). The upper tail shows a whitish barrier between the upper rump and the tail band. The secondaries have pale tips and the entire secondary bar contrasts with the greater coverts.

This photo reinforces the two-toned pattern on the primaries.

The silvery underside to the primaries and secondaries is also a feature that is not found on our Herrings. Note the goose-like structure of this bird's body and what look like shorter legs. 
As expected, there were mixed feelings about this bird's identity after I circulated the photos (including to 3 birders from Japan who have extensive experience with this species). Some birders thought it was without question a Slaty, whereas others felt there wasn't a single feature that completely contradicts SBGU, but there are enough oddities that make ruling out a hybrid difficult.
  • The bill base has paled relatively early in the season. 1st CY SBGUs tend to keep a rather solid dark bill into late winter/early spring.

  • The inner primaries are somewhat pale and show too much contrast with the outers. 1st CY SBGUs show dull inner primaries that gradually pale from outers to inners.

  • The wing projection seems longer than expected. 1st CY SBGUs have a stubby appearance from the rear.

  • The leg color lacks a deep pink color. Although variable, a majority of 1st CY SBGUs show pinker leg coloration.

  • The lesser and median upperwing coverts look just as washed out as the greaters. In Slaty, the greater coverts appear plain and the tracts above have some checkering/barring.  
And so this individual shall remain in the "unresolved" file. If I had to make an equally reasonable guess, I would pick American Herring x Glaucous. It's my hope that vigilant birders will continue to critically question these large Thayer's-like individuals that are clearly outside the range of American Herring Gull.

12 January 2013

Kumlien's Gulls on Lake Ontario

Greg Neise and I recently visited a few parks on Lake Ontario where we observed and photographed a nice mix of Kumlien's Iceland Gulls. This session was part of a 5 day trip that we embarked on to enjoy some gulls on the Great Lakes, including the Niagara River and Lake Erie.

Toronto, Ontario; 27 December 2012.

2nd cycle Kumlien's.
Same individual above.
2nd cycle Kumlien's.
Same as individual above.
3rd cycle Kumlien's.
3rd cycle Kumlien's.
Same individual above.
3rd cycle Kumlien's.
Same individual above.
Same individual above.
Adult Kumlien's.
Adult Kumlien's.
Adult Kumlien's.
Adult Kumlien's.
Adult Kumlien's.
Same individual above.
Same individual above.
Adult Kumlien's.
Same individual above.
Adult Kumlien's.
A big thanks to Jean Iron for her advice. We had ~15 individuals at Ashbridges Bay and about that many at Bluffer's Park. Ironically, we missed first cycle Kumlien's, but later picked up that age on the Niagara River.

09 January 2013

California & Thayer's Gull on the Niagara River

Greg Neise and I recently spent a day birding with Jim Pawlicki on the American side of the Niagara River. It was a fun day of watching gulls, including this gorgeous adult California Gull:

CAGU. Devil's Hole SP, NY; 28 December 2012.
We also got great looks at this individual:

This bird's identity had been questioned by several observers, causing brief confusion. This was mainly because it was observed at a distance in flight, giving the impression of a Slaty-backed.

In its childish, drunkin' state.
Seen from behind, with a 1st cycle Herring Gull (facing the observer).
We finally came to the consensus that this is a juvenile Thayer's Gull, a good bird for the Niagara region.
There was also this NE American Herring:

The extensive white tip to P10 thayeri-like pattern on P9 is suggestive of the so-called Newfoundland population.
And a couple more Kumlien's:

Adult Kumlien's Gull with Herrings.
2nd cycle Kumlien's Gull.
And some miscellaneous shots:

American Herring Summit!
A "pink" Ring-billed with extra bright bare parts.
GBBG (left), LBBG (right).
Jim introduced us to his local passerines that come right in to the sound of his whistle:

Greg releasing his powers into this Tufted Titmouse.
The Robert Moses Hydroelectric Power Station. This is part of what attracts so many gulls!
And finally, this young Red-tailed came right for my head with its landing gear (talons) extended:

Evidently, it thought my trooper hat was a rabbit or squirrel. If it wasn't for Jim's last second warning and me flinching, it probably would've put a "little" scratch on me. Now mind you, our bodies were concealed behind a brick wall and all this bird can see from the other side of the river was our heads. Here's the famous hat: