15 August 2015

Crème de la Crème - My Favorite 20 Gulls

A collection of some of my favorites. Some were picked based on "rareness", some because of the stunning plumage being worn, and some simply because I'm fond of the circumstances involved in taking that photograph. Enjoy!

20. Bonaparte's Gull (1st cycle). Lorain, Ohio. November 2011.

I snapped this photo from the now inaccessible pier at Lorain Harbor where it was feeding with 10,000+ Bonaparte's. This was a fine day of gull-watching that began with a successful Black-tailed Gull chase.

19. Yellow-footed Gulls (adults). Salton Sea, California. August 2010.

Spending a couple of days on the trail with the godfather of California Birding, Guy McCaskie, and observing some 300 Yellow-footed Gulls with him remains my most memorable experience from the Golden State. 

18. Nelson's Gull (adult). Chicago, Illinois. February 2015.

Part Glaucous, part Herring. This is the closest I've been able to get to an adult Nelson's. It was nice enough to allow more than an hour of observation time on the Calumet River. Despite the bone-chilling temperatures on this particular day, I could not walk away from this bird.

17. Franklin's Gull (1st cycle). Carlyle, Illinois. September 2012.

The transequatorial migration of Franklin's, and its two complete molts per year make it one of my favorite species. Here it is in classic seabird pose circling around our boat on Lake Carlyle!

16. Glaucous-winged Gull (2nd cycle). Seattle, Washington. January 2012.

A New Year's Day bird filled many Glaucous-winged hybrids. This day was a big success with the company and guidance of Seattle-area gull guru Mike Donahue. 

15. Heermann's Gull (adult). San Francisco, California. January 2014.

Few Gulls match the unique beauty of an alternate adult Heermann's Gull. Watching this species closely has given me a new found respect for these kleptoparasites!

14. Mew Gull (1st cycle). Marin County, California. January 2014.

The petite bill, long wing extension and plain but beautiful plumage won this bird a spot on the list. 

13. Lesser Black-backed (1st cycle). Daytona Beach Shores, FL. January 2015.

No doubt a forerunner of progress in North American Gulling. Florida's first banded Lesser Black-backed Gull deserves a part in this play. I was fortunate enough to spot this gull during my last visit to Florida.

12. Mew Gull (adult). San Francisco, California. January 2014.

The flawless plumage of this individual and fully spread wings held parallel to the camera makes this one of my favorite photos.

11. Ivory Gull (adult). Quincy, Illinois. January 2015.

Something about the button-black eye gives this bird a cartoonish look. This was a state bird for me and a new "species plumage" to boot. Frankly, it would be blasphemous not to include an Ivory Gull on this list.

10. Black-legged Kittiwake (1st cycle). Chicago, Illinois. March 2011.

An unusual site on lower Lake Michigan, this 1st winter kittiwake was seen at Montrose Harbor in Chicago for a couple of months before becoming noticeably ill. Larry Krutulis and I rescued and transported it, but sadly, there was no good ending.

9. Little Gull (1st cycle). Manitowoc, Wisconsin. May 2014.

You have to appreciate a gull that can hold nice-looking juvenile primaries while taking on a full hood before its 1st birthday. This is the only fully-hooded 1st cycle Little Gull that I've seen to date - not common by any means.

8. Black-headed Gull (adult). Baltimore Co., Maryland. March 2013.

A reoccuring bird that's consistently seen from late Fall through early Spring loafing in a mall parking lot with Ring-billed Gulls. I've had the pleasure of seeing this individual 4-5 times over the last few years during my visits to Maryland.

7. Ross's Gull (adult). Arapahoe County, Colorado. November 2010.

A treacherous chase from Chicago to Denver to have my lifer Ross's Gull put on a short performance for a few minutes and then disappear on us. This bird was a lifer for everyone present (Greg Neise, Bruce Heimer, Chris West and Ethan & Aaron Gyllenhaal).

6. Gray-hooded Gull (adult). Brooklyn, New York. July 2011.

Only the 2nd record for the ABA area, this Gray-hooded Gull was picked for obvious reasons: rare and stunning! An early morning flight out to NY and home before dinner made this twitch most surreal.

5. Chandeleur Gull (adult). Michigan City, Indiana. October 2013.

This reoccurring hybrid - or Gull Nasty - has become very popular with southern Lake Michigan birders. As to whether or not it really is part Kelp and part Herring will probably forever be a mystery - but there really is no better explanation. It's thought that at least 2, and maybe even 3, of these hybrids have frequented our area in the last decade or so. In any case, it was picked for its intriguing presence. 

4. Lesser Black-backed (adult). Daytona Beach Shores, Florida. January 2015.

Without doubt the most followed gull in North American birding. "Pierre" is famous for pairing up with, and successfully nesting with, several American Herring Gulls on Appledore Island off the coast of Maine. Michael Brothers and others have spotted this individual in Daytona Beach Shores, Florida every winter since 2009.

3. Kumlien's Iceland Gull (adult). Hammond, Indiana. January 2013.

Reoccurring gulls are very worthy of making the list and this Kumlien's epitomizes the concept of a bird returning to a favored site year after year. It has been coming back to the same marina in Hammond, Indiana since at least the winter of 2009-2010. Much more interesting, though, is the manner in which it maintains a strict winter territory (unlike any gull I know of). 

2. Laughing x Ring-billed (adult). Gary, Indiana. April 2014.

Known as "The Colonel", this hybrid is believed to be the offspring of a Laughing/Ring-billed pair that was found nesting in a Ring-billed colony on Chicago's far southeast side. It's been coming back to the same area on the Illinois/Indiana state line for at least the last 11 years. 

1. Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Lake County, Illinois. February 2014.

A tough decision, but only a self-found rarity is worthy of being my #1. This Slaty-backed Gull was a nice surprise for visiting Dutch birder Maarten van Kleinwee and myself. It was refound at the same site the next morning, and amazingly, Maarten spotted it later that day 15 miles away at the IOS Gull Frolic. 


  1. The photos are stories behind them are great!

  2. Enjoyed the comments and picks

  3. Nice selection but wait til you find a Mediterranean Gull, now they really are stunners



  4. Thanks guys! Now only if these birds had better voices, they'd be eligible for some awards.