28 December 2016

Banded 1st & 4th Cycle American Herrings

A couple of more known-age, known-origin Herrings to close the 2016 calendar year.

Kane County, Illinois. 22 December 2016.

At the end of its hatch year, this 1st cycle shows complete post-juvenile scapular molt. This appears to be a typical molt state for our Great Lakes Herrings, sometimes taking place by early to mid-September. A single lesser upperwing covert has been adventitiously replaced.

Band number: 1176-41708. Banded as a flightless chick on 19 June 2016. Door County, WI.

In its first "adult" plumage, this 4th cycle (i.e., 4th basic plumage) cooperated for a full band read.
Band number: 1106-27454. Banded as a flightless chick on 25 June 2013. Door County, WI.

The underwing pattern shows extensive black, even for a Great Lakes Herring.

P10 mirror is relatively small and does not extend across the entire outer web. P4 shows a distinct spot on the outer vane, something shown by a minority (< 15%) of the adult type Herrings I see.

The most telling sub-adult-like feature is the marked outer greater primary coverts. We regularly see individuals like this and assume they are young adults. Such an assumption appear to be generally true.

30 November 2016

Monthly Notables November 2016

    • Black-legged Kittiwake (adult). Pueblo County, Colorado. 01 November 2016.
      • Continuing from last week of October.
    • Little Gull (adult). Union County, Indiana. 03 November 2016.
    • Black-headed Gull (adult). Accomack County, Virginia. 05 November 2016.
    • Yellow-legged Gull (adult). St. John's County, Newfoundland. 06 November 2016.
      • Continuing.
    • Thayer's Gull (adult). Nome County, Alaska. 06 November 2016.
      • Late. Very rare. 13th Fall Record for Nome.
    • Black-legged Kittiwake (juvenile). Lake County, Minnesota. 07 November 2016.
    • Laughing Gull (adult type). Mahoning County, Ohio. 07 November 2016.
    • Sabine's Gull (juvenile). Ketchikan Gateway County, Alaska. 09 November 2016.
      • Late. First November record for Ketchikan.
    • Lesser Black-backed Gull (2nd cycle). Portage la Prairie Area Co, Manitoba. 10 November 2016.
      • Continuing from June 2016.
    • Lesser Black-backed Gull (adult). Santa Clara County, California. 10 November 2016.
    • Western Gull (1st cycle). Salt Lake County, Utah. 11 November 2016.
      • Continuing from October 2016.
    • Black-legged Kittiwake (juvenile). Palm Beach County, Florida. 12 November 2016.
    • Ring-billed Gull (adult). Juneau County, Alaska. 13 November 2016.
    • Great Black-backed Gull (adult). Pueblo County, Colorado. 18 November 2016.
      • Believed to be the same returning adult for the 23rd year!
    • Glaucous Gull (juvenile). Power County, Idaho. 19 November 2016.
    • Vega Gull (adult). Santa Clara County, California. 22 November 2016.
      • Photos of a very promising individual with all the correct field marks. No open wing.
    • Slaty-backed Gull (adult type). St.John's County, Newfoundland. 23 November 2016.
    • Little Gull (1st cycle). Ventura County, California. 23 November 2016.
      • 3rd county record. First in 27 years for Ventura County!
    • Sabine's Gull (juvenile). Haines County, Alaska. 23 November 2016.
      • Late.
    • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Pierce County, Washington. 24 November 2016.
      • Reoccurring at this site.
    • Iceland Gull (1st cycle). Salt Lake County, Utah. 24 November 2016.
      • Apparent Kumlien's Gull.
    • Lesser Black-backed Gull (adult). Riverside County, California. 26 November 2016.
    • Slaty-backed Gull (3rd cycle). Metro Vancouver County, British Columbia. 27 November 2016.
    • Black-headed Gull (adult). Butler County, Pennsylvania. 29 November 2016.
      • Presumably returning to this site since 2008.

    Miscellaneous Notes.
    1. Reported early this month was an intriguing 1st cycle bird from Superior, Wisconsin (observed in September). Plumage entirely juvenile. Body size, bill size and structure all seemed perfect for Ring-billed Gull which it was associating with. However, the inner primaries and greater coverts were plain and uniformly dark like a Lesser Black-backed Gull (and this is what the observers initially identified it as). After some discussion on North American Gulls (NAG), the bird was thought to either be a RBGU x LBBG or a melanistic Ring-billed. There is some precendence for the hybrid theory (see photos here of a Spanish bird suspected of this mix). It's important to emphasize that this pairing has never been verified in the wild - no courting or nesting evidence. As for melanistic Ring-billed Gull, melanism in gulls usually expresses itself unevenly and tends to be more blotchy. The Superior gull was "perfectly" pigmented like a fresh juvenile LBBG. The most likely explanation is a juvenile Ring-billed packed with a high dose of melanin. Observers: Robbye Johnson, Thomas Shultz and others. 
    2. A banded adult type Lesser Black-backed Gull was reported on the Mississippi River at Lock & Dam 3 in Goodhue County, Minnesota. The bird was sporting a black field-readable band on its right leg with 3 white characters. It also wore a metal band on its left leg. Unfortunately, the 3 characters on the black band can not be read clearly, but the combination matches none from North America. The only LBBG banding program using a similar field-readable is from the UK. Observer: Alex Franzen.
    3. Continuing the trend of increasing reports, putative Herring x Lesser Black-backeds were reported from several regions this month (Michigan, New York, several from New Foundland and Florida). All reports/photos represent adult birds.
    4. A very interesting adult gull with Taimyr/Mongolian-like attributes was photographed in Alameda County, California on 10 November 2016. The bird does not resemble any taxon or putative hybrid that regularly occurs in North America (photos here). Observer: Noah Arthur.

    November 2016 Quiz

    Age: Pointed primaries, patterned wing coverts and some apparent juvenile scapulars assist in aging this gull as a 1st cycle individual. Most of the lower scapulars are juvenile (=1st basic), but the faint gray upper scapulars are non-juvenile (=formative or 1st alternate).

    Identification: The uniform paleness to this bird suggests a large 4-year white-winger. Our white-wingers are Glaucous, Glaucous-winged, Thayer's and Iceland Gull. The mostly black bill pattern would be inconsistent with Glaucous Gull, especially one that has already renewed some scapulars. The primaries are too pale for a Thayer's Gull. This leaves us with Glaucous-winged and Iceland Gull.

    A few features should immediately jump out at the observer as pro Glaucous-winged: This is a bulgy gull with a short wing projection and a long/strong bill. Iceland Gulls tends to show more petite bills, longer wings, and proportionally larger eyes placed lower on the face.

    This month's quiz bird was identified as a 1st cycle Glaucous-winged Gull. This age group regularly shows variable scapular molt early in its hatch year. The molt can be absent to extensive. The bill pattern also varies from all-dark to paling around the base. Interestingly, some hatch year Glaucous-winged Gulls show this "mismatched" whitish head against a darker body. Whether this is due to bleaching, an early molt restricted to the head/neck, or just natural variation isn't clear.

    January. San Mateo County, California.

    24 November 2016

    Putative Chandeleur Gull, California and Thiceland Gull

    Michigan City, Indiana. 20 November 2016.

    Chandeleur Gull

    Sunday was my first genuine attempt at finding large gulls this season. Southern Lake Michigan's putative Kelp x Herring Gull (Chandeleur Gull) was holding to its regular post at Michigan City.

    Always a late prebasic molt, p-molt is only about 1/2 way completed. The mirror on p10 is still relatively small (as it has been for years) with a squarish shape.

    Mantle color tending toward Kelp, being a couple of shades paler than the primary tips. The head is blocky and the bill is hefty - similar to many Kelps.
    I've now committed this bird's distinct voice to memory and this is how I was alerted to its presence. The long call doesn't sound like Herring Gull at all. Back in 2014 I also found this bird via its long call. After listening to multiple Kelp recordings, I've concluded that the voice is about as close of a match as one could expect for a bird that presumably has mixed genes.

    The assumption here is that this individual associates with Herrings, and likely breeds (or attempts to breed) in Herring colonies. This also implies that it probably summers to our north (as opposed to our south), moving in with the first big waves of Herring Gulls that arrive on Lake Michigan in the Fall.

    The underside to the flight feathers is dark gray (not black), and the legs are variably greenish-gray with very faint hints of pink, particularly around the webbing of the feet.

    California Gull

    Moving on, a continuing adult California Gull also brightened up the day. It's believed this bird has been in the area since late August.

    The upperparts are darker than most CAGUs I've seen in these parts, but the bill is longer and "stronger" than average. I'm not sure how useful it is to try to assign these out-of-range birds to a specific subspecies. Interestingly, California Gulls banded as chicks in the Great Basin - presumably nominate californicus - have been recorded in the Lake Michigan region.

    Thiceland Gull

    No Lake Michigan day of gulling would be complete without a "tweener". At rest on the water the bird looked like it was going to be a Thayer's Gull:


    Take a look at it in flight...

    The wingtips looked paler than expected, and the markings were limited to the outer webs.

    Fine, we'll call it a Kumlien's or whatever suits your fancy...

    01 November 2016

    Monthly Notables October 2016

    • Glaucous Gull (2nd cycle type). Essex County, Ontario. 04 October 2016.
      • Continuing since at least July!
    • California Gull (2nd cycle). New Haven County, Connecticut. 04 October 2016.
    • Great Black-backed Gull (juvenile). Galveston County, Texas. 07 October 2016.
      • Only the second time this species has been recorded in Texas in October.
    • Chandeleur Gull (adult). Mobile County, Alabama. 08 October 2016.
      • Tending toward Kelp. Associating with Herrings on Pelican Island.
    • Chandeleur Gull (adult). LaPorte County, Indiana. 09 October 2016.
      • Reoccurring southern Lake Michigan hybrid.
    • Mew Gull (1st cycle). Nome County, Alaska. 09 October 2016.
      • Apparent Kamchatka Gull in Gambell.
    • Black-legged Kittiwake (2nd cycle type). Johnson County, Iowa. 10 October 2016.
    • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Pierce County, Washington. 12 October 2016.
      • Continuing. This individual now a regular in the Gog Le-Hi-Te Wetlands area.
    • Iceland Gull (adult). Salt Lake County, Utah. 13 October 2016.
      • Kumlien's. First October record and earliest Fall arrival for Utah. Previous to this the earliest arrival was 04 November 2008.
    • Black-headed Gull (presumed adult type). Marion County, Kansas. 15 October 2016.
      • Photos of a red-billed bird were very promising but bird was not relocated.
    • California Gull (3rd cycle type). Rock Island County, Illinois. 18 October 2016. 
      • Recorded on the Mississippi River, moving between Illinois and Iowa.
    • Yellow-legged Gull (adult). St. John's County, Newfoundland. 21 October 2016.
      • The only location in all of North America where the species is expected.
    • Western Gull (2nd cycle). Morgan County, Colorado. 21 October 2016
      • Banded. Likely the same individual first found in Washington County in June. 
    • Little Gull (1st cycle). Oklahoma County, Oklahoma. 22 October 2016.
    • Black-legged Kittiwake (juvenile). Clark County, Nevada. 23 October 2016.
      • Less than 10 records for the entire state.
    • California Gull (adult). LaPorte County, Indiana. 24 October 2016.
      • In the area since late August.
    • Black-legged Kittiwake (juvenile). Ralls County, Missouri. 26 October 2016.
    • Little Gull (adult). Lake County, Indiana. 29 October 2016.
    • Black-legged Kittiwake (juvenile). Cook County, Illinois. 30 October 2016.

    Miscellaneous Notes
    1. Lesser Black-backed numbers begin to build in coastal Florida in October. On 17 October 2016, Michael Brothers observed F:003 in Volusia County, FL. This individual, banded on 20 March 2015 in the same county, is more evidence that Florida's growing LBBG population exhibits some winter site fidelity.
    2. Putative Chandeleur Gulls (Kelp x Herring hybrids) have not vanished from the earth. October has become the month that these hybrids are reported with more frequency, especially on the Gulf Coast. Two were recorded this month (Indiana and Alabama) with a third candidate in Texas (Galveston County; 12 Oct 2016). Note that roughly 30 hybrid types were found back on the islands in the breeding season of 2015. I do wonder why more pure Kelp Gulls are not being reported in the ABA area. Perhaps some are being overlooked as large Lesser Black-backs, or, most are programmed to "winter" south of the equator.

    31 October 2016

    October 2016 Quiz

    Age: The adult-like gray scapulars down the middle of the back and lightly marked uppertail coverts immediately suggest a 2nd cycle type. Also, the solid black tertials with relatively wide white edges support a bird not in its 1st plumage cycle.

    Identification: The largely uniform brown wings and dark gray central scapulars point to a dark-backed species. The checkered lesser and median coverts are suggestive of Lesser Black-backed Gull. The lightly barred/marbled region in the tail feathers (specifically the partition between the black tail band and white uppertail coverts) also resembles LBBG, and that's what this month's quiz bird was identified as.

    Berrien County, Michigan. September.

    Here's a more detailed photo of this rather "large" Lesser:

    10 October 2016

    Possible 1st Cycle Herring x Lesser Black-backed Gull

    I'll begin this post by reiterating - as I always do - that I'd much rather leave confusing young gulls unidentified than assign a hybrid label to them. There is no sense in jumping to conclusions when there are no data to support them.

    With that said, here's a bird I first thought may be a 1st cycle Lesser, then decided it was okay for a 1st cycle Herring, and then started scratching my head the longer I looked at it.

    Structurally, the rear looks very little like an American Herring and much more like a Lesser. The sparsely marked vent area is also unusual.  
    The, longer, solid outer median and lesser coverts also resemble Lesser Black-backed, more than American Herring.
    "This is NOT a pure American Herring" were my thoughts after seeing the undertail.
    The white vent is not something I've encountered with juvenile American Herrings. But now see the open wing...
    The uppertail contrasts greatly with the rest of the body, but most disturbing is the strong contrast to the pale inner primaries (only seen well in brighter lighting).
    In this slightly underexposed image, it looks long-winged, shows less of an inner primary window, and the tail almost looks like it was trying to go for a banded look but failed miserably. 
    If this is an American Herring Gull or Lesser Black-backed Gull, then I have to admit that I don't yet know these species well. It sure doesn't feel right for either taxon. On the other hand, it does look intermediate in many ways. Another one for the mystery file.

    Juvenile Lesser - Little Pretty

    I'm up to my 5th juvenile LBBG so far this season. This one really hit the mark with stunning outer tail feathers showing spectacular barring:

    New Buffalo, Michigan. 07 October 2016.

    The breast often looks more coarsely marked than American Herring.

    Head/neck streaking finer and less marked than in American Herring counterparts. The undertail is with a white base and a neater pattern. The vent area has significantly less markings than American Herring.

    Comparisons, now, with an American Herring Gull:

    09 October 2016

    Michigan City & New Buffalo - 07 October 2016

    Just a few miscellaneous notes on birds seen on Friday.

    Herring with virtually no mirror on p10 (still growing). P4 with small speck on outer web and marked p-coverts/alula suggest a 4th cycle type. Michigan City, IN. 07 October 2016.

    Same individual above. A mostly adult-like bird near finishing prebasic molt.
    Another adult type with a large p10 mirror showing several white "spots" on the underside of the primary. P-9 with a weak thayeri pattern. Michigan City, IN. 07 October 2016.
    Adult type Herrings. Left bird already in nonbreeding condition while the bird on the right has bright legs and bill. The most natural explanation for this is hormonal variance. 
    Sub-adult Herring with the often-seen black ink spot on the tertials. Also of interest on this bird is subtle hints of wavy barring on the neck/breast. Although this is most commonly seen on Glaucous-winged Gull, Herrings too can show it.
    1st cycle Herring with ~90% of scapulars 2nd generation. Rare is to see a few (inner) upperwing coverts replaced already (likely PA1). Bill is beginning to pale. Also of interest on this bird is a paling forehead, an attribute often found in similar-aged California Gulls.
    2nd cycle Herring Gull. A very obvious marbling to the greater coverts and tertials, unlike in 1st cycle birds. The primary tips are rounded (and still growing - see next image).

    A still largely marked tailband, with reduced markings on the upper rump. The inner primaries are more silvery than is seen on 1st generation primaries. The axillaries are mostly white as expected at this age.
    1st cycle with ~100% of scapulars replaced. Somewhat unusual is a few wing coverts (median and greater) have been renewed. This usually doesn't take place with the majority of hatch year herrings that I encounter. A better angle of this in the photo below..

    6th Cycle American Herring Gull

    A short visit to New Buffalo on Friday, 07 October 2016, yielded this cooperative adult that allowed a full band read:

    #1106-19489. Banded as a flightless chick in Egg Harbor, Wisconsin on 15 June 2011.

    The bill is relatively small for Herring, suggesting a female type. 

    Although the black w-band on p-5 (right wing) is typical, the white tongue tip is not.
    Primaries out to p7 fully grown.

    P8 almost fully grown, p9 about 1/3 grown and p10 just coming out beyond the wrist.
    Outermost and innermost secondaries growing. Most secondaries still tucked under greater coverts.

    There was a 2nd banded HERG too but a hopeless chance of capturing the entire sequence:

    Dirty band in need of replacement. The condition of this band doesn't neccessarily imply the bird is old. It could just be this individual has been exposed to lots of "sticky" stuff.

    01 October 2016

    Monthly Notables September 2016

    • Sabine's Gull (adult type). Charlotte County, New Brunswick 02 September 2016.
      • Continuing adult from late August, molting into basic plumage.
    • Laughing Gull (2nd cycle type). Santa Barbara County, California. 02 September 2016.
      • Continued from August.
    • Little Gull (juvenile). Douglas County, Colorado. 03 September 2016.
      • Stunning bird with 75%+ juvenile scapulars. Photos.
    • Little Gull (juvenile). Polk County, Iowa. 03 September 2016.
    • Black-legged Kittiwake (juvenile). Virginia Beach County, Virginia. 03 September 2016.
    • Sabine's Gull (juvenile). Marathon County, Wisconsin. 07 September 2016.
    • Sabine's Gull (juvenile). Jackson County, Missouri. 07 September 2016.
    • Lesser Black-backed Gull (3rd cycle type). Coconino County, Arizona. 08 September 2016.
    • Little Gull (juvenile). San Mateo County, California. 11 September 2016.
    • Franklin's Gull (1st cycle). La Mitis County, Quebec. 12 September 2016.
    • Lesser Black-backed Gull (adult type). Imperial County, California. 14 September 2016.
    • Western Gull (2nd cycle). Washington County, Colorado. 16 September 2016.
      • Continuing banded bird from Farallon Islands. Now in complete 2nd basic garb.
    • Western Gull (juvenile). Salt Lake County, Utah. 13 September 2016. Photos.
    • Glaucous Gull (2nd cycle type). Essex County, Ontario. 16 September 2016.
    • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Pierce County, Washington. 20 September 2016.
    • California Gull (adult). Berrien County, Michigan. 21 September 2016.
    • Laughing Gull (adult type). Morgan County, Colorado. 27 September 2016.
    • Thayer's Gull (juvenile). Grand Forks County, North Dakota. 28 September 2016.
      • A tad early. Still growing outer primaries. Photos.
    • California Gull (2nd cycle). New Haven County, Connecticut. 29 September 2016.
      • Possibly "the" 1st cycle bird seen back in April 2016 - a 1st state record then. Photos

    Miscellaneous Notes

    • Juvenile Sabine's Gulls made an above-average appearance throughout the western Great Lakes region this month. A handful of adults were recorded as well - not something that occurs annually! 
    • Western Gull is now being reported with more frequency in the interior west. This movement away from the Pacific coast is augmented by the relative increase at the Salton Sea (a high count of 8 this month) and other inland bodies of water. The species is certainly on my radar and I feel it's only a matter of time before one strays to the Great Plains and east to the Mississippi River Valley.

    September 2016 Quiz

    The September bird appears to be a large 4-year gull. The trickiest part about this month's quiz - in my opinion - is correctly aging our gull. At first glance it looks like a 1st cycle, but a more careful look should reveal a 2nd cycle type. 

    It's difficult to be sure what the true primary projection length is because those feathers are raised. But the projection does look suspiciously short, indicating the outer primaries are still growing. The tips are rounded which favors a 2nd cycle type over a 1st cycle. The newer, gray, central scapular feathers do resemble a 1st cycle type as they show dark marks along the shafts and some barring.

    But scapular patterns are highly variable in large gulls and they can often betray a bird's true age. The wing coverts, on the other hand, are a bit more reliable when aging. Notice the obvious marbling pattern to the greater coverts and distal tertial edges. This is more typical of a 2nd cycle gull. Also notice in this images the rounded tips to the outermost primaries.

    But what species? The bird is not very large or bulky. The relatively small and straight bill call to mind species such as California Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull.  

    The paling iris and pink legs should immediately dismiss thoughts of a California Gull, and the relatively light gray scapulars raise doubts about this being a Lesser Black-backed Gull. I identified this month's bird as a retarded 2nd cycle type Herring Gull, photographed in Northern Illinois. January.