31 May 2015

May 2015 Quiz

There were lots of answers submitted this month, ranging from Herring Gull to Iceland Gull. First things first, age: this is a pretty obvious 1st cycle with nearly complete juvenile plumes.

The pale edging to the primaries, as well as the color of the primaries (brown not blackish) rules out Herring Gull. Although this bird superficially resembles a Thayer's Gull, the drooping secondary skirt, heavier bill and higher eye placement push me towards a Glaucous-winged Gull. The wing coverts on this species are a bit more solidly filled than most similar-aged Thayer's. The scaps and overall plumage aspect also have a muddier look when compared to Thayer's. Of course if there were other species around to compare it to, one would use size and structure to help clue them in.

This Glaucous-winged Gull was photographed in the Seattle, Washington area in January. Some birds, like this individual, take on a very chocolaty plumage, making it appear similar to a Glaucous-winged x Western hybrid (so-called Puget Sound or Olympic Gull). Those birds tend to have more beady eyes, higher eye placement and more bulbous-tipped bills.

Monthly Notables May 2015

May 2015
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Wayne County, Michigan.02 May 2015.
    • Michigan state has earned the "Slaty-backed Crown" of the interior. I can't think of any other state outside of California and Alaska where this species has been recorded with such frequency in the last couple of years.
  • Franklin's Gulls (4 adults). Hawaii County, Hawaii. 03 May 2015.
  • Laughing Gull (adult). San Mateo County, California. 04 May 2015.
  • Thayer's Gull (1st cycle). Valley County, Montana. 04 May 2015.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult - continuing). Pierce County, Washington. 06 May 2015.
  • California Gull (2nd cycle). Point Pelee, Ontario. 12 May 2015.
  • Great Black-backed Gulls (7). Lake County, Indiana. 17 May 2015.
    • May high count for Indiana.
  • Kelp Gull (adult type). San Mateo County, California. 20 May 2015.
    • First state record. Presumably, this same individual was relocated on the Farallon Islands on 24 May 2015.
  • Laughing x Ring-billed Hybrid (adults - 2). Cook County, Illinois. 22, 24 May 2015.
    • Seen two days apart - photos confirm two different individuals. 
  • Franklin's Gull (adult). Kings County, New York. 24 May 2015.
    • Perhaps the most intriguing highlight this month is a video by Issac Grant that documents this adult Franklin's Gull mounting, and copulating with, an adult Laughing Gull.
  • Black-headed Gull (1st cycle). Monroe County, Michigan. 29 May 2015.
  • Laughing Gull (2 adult types). Manitowoc, Wisconsin. 31 May 2015.

Nine Gull Species in May - Wisconsin

For the last two years or so I've been toying with the idea of doing a "Gull Big Day" in the off season, and the Wisconsin, Lake Michigan, lakefront is exactly the place I'd been planning to attempt this. Gull-watching here can be very productive in Spring where a combination of late winter species and hooded species can be seen together.

Last year, I and a few others recorded 8 species in Manitowoc and Sheboygan, Wisconsin without much effort (although I only saw 7 of the 8 species reported by our party). Today, 31 May 2015, I tried to beat 7, making the 3.5 hour trek from Frankfort, IL and starting in Two Rivers, Wisconsin at around 5:00 a.m. I called it quits at 6:15 p.m. in Port Washington after having recorded 9 species:
  1. Ring-billed Gull
  2. Herring Gull
  3. Thayer's Gull (3 - 2 adults, 1 first summer)
  4. Iceland Gull (2 - both first summers)
  5. Great Black-backed Gull (2 - both first summers)
  6. Lesser Black-backed Gull (3 - all first summers)
  7. Bonaparte's Gull
  8. Little Gull (1 - first summer)
  9. Laughing Gull (2 - both adult types)
Not many "glamour" shots below - most are simply doc-photos to help put the day in perspective:

Little Gull (1st cycle ) with Bonaparte's. Manitowoc, WI. 31 May 2015.
Laughing Gulls (adult types). Appeared to be paired up. Courtship gestures observed. Manitowoc, WI. 31 May 2015.
Thayer's Gull (1st cycle). Manitowoc, WI. 31 May 2015. Photo 1 of 3. 
Photo 2 of 3.
Thayer's Gull, lower left. Photo 3 of 3.
Adult Thayer's Gull (left of center in flight) and 1st cycle Thayer's Gull type (in water). Photo 1 of 2.
Interestingly, this adult Thayer's is still holding on to all 10 primaries in late May. Photo 2 of 2.
Iceland Gull (1st cycle). Photo 1 of 3.
Iceland Gull on far left with a Thayer's/Kumlien's type on right - both first summers. Photo 2 of 3.
Iceland Gull in flight. Photo 3 of 3.
Lesser Black-backed Gull (1st summer). Sheboygan, WI. 31 May 2015. Photo 1 of 2.
Photo 2 of 2.
Great Black-backed Gull (1st summer). Manitowoc, WI. 31 May 2015. Photo 1 of 2.
Photo 2 of 2.
Two species I was hoping to encounter today were Franklin's and/or Glaucous. I positively do think that 11 species can be achieved on the Wisconsin lakefront on the perfect day. A bonus 12th species is always possible too - Black-headed, Black-legged Kittiwake, and California Gull all come to mind.   

25 May 2015

The Colonel Returns - Spring 2015

Well just two days after finding my second ever putative hybrid Laughing x Ring-billed Gull in Tinley Park, Illinois, I found Chicago's reoccuring hybrid at the Calumet Marina on the Illinois/Indiana state line. It made several passes around the pier, flying back and forth from Indiana to Illinois.

Photos confirm that these are two different individuals (some 20 miles apart).

The Tinley Park bird that I found on 22 May 2015:

The Chicago/Hammond hybrid from 24 May 2015:

Compared to the Tinley Park bird, the Chiacgo bird ("The Colonel") has more black on the face as well as a heavier bill. Looking closely at the wingtip pattern, the Chicago bird also has a larger mirror on p10 that spans across both webs of that feather, from edge to edge. The Tinley Park bird has a rounder mirror that's enclosed in black, not reaching the edges of the feather.

I don't know of any other records where two of these putative hybrids have been sighted in any state during the same season let alone the same week. One has to wonder if these two are related, and whether there's a pure Laughing Gull that has taken up permanant residency in one of the lower Lake Michigan Ring-billed colonies. Whatever the case, this is one gorgeous hybrid that steals the show when it flies in!

23 May 2015

Another Putative Laughing x Ring-billed Hybrid From Illinois

A hybrid mix that you don't often hear of is a Laughing/Ring-billed, but they do occur. Chicago has hosted one, presumably, since 2004 - an individual known as "The Colonel" (click here for details on this record).

So I was very surprised when I found what is almost certainly a different LAGU x RBGU yesterday in Tinley Park, Illinois. While scanning the local Ring-billed flock for leg bands, I caught a dark-winged bird with a partial hood out of the corner of my eye. I automatically assumed I had a sub-adult Laughing Gull, but then I began to process the orangy bill and leg color, as well as a faded hood (as opposed to a molting hood) - a pattern always exhibited by this suspected hybrid combination.

Putative Laughing x Ring-billed (adult). Tinley Park, IL. 22 May 2015.

For what it's worth, I've not seen the Chicago bird this season despite having checked 5-6 times since late March.

EDIT: I relocated the Chicago hybrid on 24 May 2015 and photos confirm two different individuals.

18 May 2015

A New May High Count for Great Black-backeds in Indiana

I stopped at the Whiting BP Refinery Beach yesterday, 17 may 2015, hoping to perhaps find a lingering winter gull. I knew there was a good chance of finding a Great Black-backed as I've found one here for the last two Mays, including this banded bird from last year.

Not only did I find "a" GBBG, I found 7 (4 first cycles, 2 second cycles and a third cycle type):

Needless to say I was ecstatic and at one point had all seven birds within a few hundred yards of each other. I made sure to double and triple count, with likely an 8th bird that disappeared and so to err on the side of caution, I've chosen to only document 7.

Thanks to Ken Brock for verifying his records for me, and confirming this is indeed a new May high count for the Hoosier state. I share Ken's suspicion that GBBG may soon become a summer resident here on southern Lake Michigan - at least sub-adult non-breeders.

03 May 2015

Onset of Primary Molt in Lake Michigan Herring Gulls

May is usually the month we begin to notice primary molt in our Herrings and Ring-billeds on southern Lake Michigan. First and second cycles generally precede older conspecifics in their prebasic molts by a month or so.

Roughly half of the 1st and 2nd cycles that I observed yesterday showed 1-3 dropped inner primaries:

Herring Gull (1st summer). P1-P2 dropped and hence the 2nd prebasic molt has commenced. Chicago, IL. 02 May 2015.
Herring Gull (2nd summer). P1-P3 dropped and hence the 3rd prebasic molt has commenced. Chicago, IL. 02 May 2015.

01 May 2015

April 2015 Quiz

It's known that 1st cycle gulls typically show pointed primary tips, while older gulls display more rounded tips to the primaries. Looking at this bird's primaries, it seems they are rounded, but overall the plumage appears to be that of a 1st cycle gull. The caveat here is that the apparent shape of the primary tips can change with the bird's posture, behavior, and even the angle at which we observe these feathers. This is indeed a first cycle gull, but what species?

Proportionally, the body-to-head and body-to-tail size seem to rule out a large species (such as Herring, etc.). The barred tail, brown and white wing coverts, and mostly white neck narrow this down to Ring-billed Gull or Mew Gull. This next photo should help:

Notice how the tips to the primaries appear more pointy now. But much more importantly, notice the pale edging surrounding the primary tips - a very "Mew-like" feature. This neat, white-winger-like edging is rarely as extensive in Ring-billed (see a typical 1st cycle Ring-billed example here). Additionally, the petite bill, domed head, smudgy hind-neck markings, and relatively dark gray 2nd generation scapulars all add up to a 1st cycle Mew Gull. There are several other field marks that help eliminate Ring-billed, but the description I've provided here should suffice. This Mew Gull was photographed in Seattle, Washington in January 2010.

Monthly Notables April 2015

April 2015

  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Manitowoc, Wisconsin. 04 April 2015.
    • This individual was seen on and off for over a month but could not be identified to species until 04 April when the original finder observed it closer to shore.
  • Western Gull (1st cycle). Sierra County, New Mexico. 09 April 2015.
  • Mew Gull (adult). Southport, Connecticut. 10 April 2015.
    • Another presumed Kamchatka Gull (the 4th one on the Atlantic Coast in 6 months). North America's default East Coast subspecies has always been nominate canus. The recent rash of L.c. kamtschatschensis is curious, to say the least. Perhaps it's a good time to reassess historic records where photos and/or specimens are available.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (continuing adult). Tacoma, Washington. Present all of April 2015.
  • Little Gull (1st cycle). Sullivan County, Indiana. 12 April 2015.
    • Now here for at least 23 consecutive weeks!
  • Mew Gull (adult). Milford, Connecticut. 16 April 2015. 
  • Thayer's Gull (1st cycle). West Haven, Connecticut. 19 April 2015.
  • Iceland Gull (adult). Morgan County, Colorado. 20 April 2015.
  • Little Gull (adult). St. John's, Newfoundland. 22 April 2015.
  • Little Gull (adult). Waukegan, Illinois, 25 April 2015.
    • A single adult was viewed flying north on Lake Michigan with a relatively big flight of Bonaparte's (822). This number of Bonaparte's is unusual on the Illinois lakefront at any time of year.
  • Little Gull (158). Oshawa, Ontario. 26 April 2015.
    • A site high count at the famous Oshawa Second Marsh. All birds present were adults with just a single first cycle bird.