06 June 2017

Bonaparte's Are Fast - Peregrine's Are Faster!

We often see Peregrine Falcons buzzing flocks of gulls and then half-heartedly aborting and changing their intent for reasons unknown to us. Yesterday while wedged between two large boulders on the Manitowoc lakefront, I patiently sat for almost 3 hours admiring a few Little Gulls in a sizable feeding flock of 500+ Bonaparte's Gulls. Suddenly, ALL of the birds took to the air and headed east over the lake in unison. The birds moved with such urgency that I knew the only predator that can elicit such fear is a Peregrine Falcon. Not wanting to be discovered, I remained still and didn't raise my gaze. A few seconds later the falcon zipped right past me, some 75 feet out, and snatched a 1st cycle bird in midair as it tried to gain altitude. I had a fleeting thought it might be a Little Gull, but that wasn't the case.

This one-year old Bonaparte's was a couple of seconds too slow.

01 June 2017

Monthly Notables May 2017

  • Black-tailed Gull (adult). Kitimat-Stikine County, British Columbia. 04 May 2017.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (3rd cycle). Lambton County, Ontario. 06 May 2017.
    • This individual, presumably seen on the Thunder Bay CBC in January 2017, then in Muskegon, Michigan in April 2017, was resighted just outside of Sarnia, Ontario near the St. Clair River.
  • Black-headed Gul (1st cycle). Erie County, Ohio. 10 May 2017.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Chippewa County, Michigan. 19 May 2017.
  • Black-tailed Gull (2nd cycle type). San Francisco County, California. 23 May 2017.
  • Ivory Gull (adult).  Bonavista/Trinity-Clarenville County, NF & Labrador. 23 May 2017.

May 2017 Quiz

Age: All 3 birds are in high molt, with a mixture of old and new upperparts. The visible primaries on the rightmost and leftmost birds appear to be 1st generation (note the primaries on the center bird aren't visible). Thus, it's safe to say these large white-headed gulls are roughly 1 year of age.

Identification: Both individuals with bi-colored bills look like typical 1st summer Herrings - size and structure rule out smaller species such as Ring-billed, and the thick bills and heavy chests seem to rule out California Gull. The left bird - with a mostly black bill and attenuated look to the rear - is different.

Here's a slightly underexposed image of this individual:

The upperparts are genuinely dark with dark centers. Note the bill is relatively long, but straight, ending with a slight droop. The striated neck markings, and dark stippled tips to the new wing coverts, recall Lesser Black-backed Gull, and that's what this month's gull was identified as.

This first summer Lesser was photographed in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. June.

29 May 2017

First Basic Outer Tail Feathers on Bonaparte's Gulls

A quick note on 1st cycle Bonaparte's and their tail bands. Specifically, what is the pattern on the outer rectrix (R6)? Does the blackish band extend onto the outermost feathers? Seems like a simple question.

In their account on "juveniles", Olsen & Larsson describe T6 (=R6) as being white with white tips. But in the "first summer" account, they imply the outer tail feather does have black markings. This is somewhat confusing and should be clarified.

First cycle Bonaparte's Gull. R6 apparently white. The tail band on this individual doesn't extend onto the outermost tail feathers. Cleveland, Ohio. November.

Howell & Dunn, however, note that some pigment is found on the outer tail feathers, but limited to the inner webs.

As described in Gulls of the Americas, this individual shows some black on both outer tail feathers, but the pigment is limited to the inner web. Evanston, Illinois. April.

Looking through tens of 1st cycles in my photo collections, I mostly agree with Howell & Dunn, that on average, when there is black on the outer tail feathers (which is rather common), the black is generally limited to the inner web. But not always. Some individuals clearly show pigment beyond the feather shaft.

First cycle Bonaparte's Gull with pigment on R6. The pigment crosses over the feather shaft and onto the outer web on the left R6. New Buffalo, Michigan. September.

Interestingly, when viewing the ventral side of the tail on those individuals with pigment on R6, it usually appears there's more pigment from below than above. This, I suspect, is mainly because the inner webs of the outermost tail feathers are more visible when viewed from underneath. From above, the outer webs are more exposed.

Left R6 shows a substantial amount of pigment. Manitowoc, Wisconsin. May.
Although the pigment spills onto the outer web of R6, it doesn't reach the outermost edge of the feather. Chicago, Illinois. November.

As I've found with 1st basic Franklin's, Black-legged Kittiwakes, Little and Laughing Gull, the pigment on the outermost tail feather appears to be more variable than generally thought. I suspect the same might hold for other species such as Sabine's and Black-headed Gull.

27 May 2017

Wisconsin May Run

Late spring through early summer often brings good gull diversity on the Wisconsin, Lake Michigan lakefront. Here, I can often find a few straggling northern species along with hooded migrants. Last Sunday was a great demonstration of this phenomenon with 10 species between Port Washington, Sheboygan and Manitowoc. Couple this with hundreds of sub-adult Herrings in high molt and the hours spent here are well worth any gull-watcher's time and effort.

The highlight for me was this hyper-melanistic 1st cycle Bonaparte's. I've seen 5 or 6 of these now, with this bird being the most cooperative. Although they're reported annually, these types are rare enough to make one do a double-take.

Possibly a 1st alternate Franklin's where all primaries are renewed
in the first plumage cycle (via PA1).

First cycle Lesser Black-backed (1st summer).

Second cycle Lesser Black-backed Gull (1st summer).
Inner-primary molt signals PB2 has commenced.

Second cycle Great Black-backed Gull (1st summer).

Putative 2nd cycle Glaucous x Herring (1st summer). Photo 1 of 2.

Putative Glaucous x Herring. Photo 2 of 2.

Second cycle Thayer's Iceland Gull (1st summer). Photo 1 of 2.

2nd cycle Thayer's Gull with what appears to be a similar-aged Herring Gull.
Of interest is what appear to be adult-like tips to the 2nd generation (?) primaries coming
in on the Herring. Whether or not the Herring is a 1st summer bird is uncertain. Nonetheless,
I do have suspicions that 2nd basic primaries on some of our Herrings can appear adult-like.

1st summer Kumlien's Iceland Gull. Primary molt has likely begun
but no open wing was observed.

This 1st summer Glaucous Gull tried to go unnoticed but it's difficult to that when you tower over
everything around you. First summer Lesser Black-backed in the background

06 May 2017

Monthly Notables April 2017

  • Ivory Gull (adult). Nome County, Alaska. 01 April 2017.
  • Great Black-backed Gull (1st cycle). Larimer County, Colorado. 01 April 2017.
    • Continued from March 2017.
  • Black-headed Gull (1st cycle). Glynn County, Georgia. 04 April 2017.
  • Laughing Gull (1st cycle). Monterey County, California. 05 April 2017.
  • Sabine's Gull (adult type). Yolo County, California. 07 April 2017.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Clatsop County, Oregon. 08 April 2017.
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull (adult). Monterey County, California. 11 April 2017.
    • 4th County record. 
  • Laughing Gull (adult type). Lincoln County, Oregon. 11 April 2017.
    • 4th State Record.
  • Franklin's Gull (adult). Kings County, Nova Scotia. 14 April 2017.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (3rd cycle type). Muskegon County, Michigan. 19 April 2017.
    • Michigan's 3rd April record of Slaty-backed Gull. A photo from the Thunder Bay CBC in early January (2017) suggests this may be the same individual, found some 400 miles to the southeast.
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull (adult type). Socorro County, New Mexico. 29 April 2017.

  1. Worthy of mention is what appears to have been a "surge" in Lesser Black-backed Gull sightings on the Central California coast this past season. Interestingly, this was also the case for Oregon where there were 3 coastal sightings (previous to this the state only had one coastal record).

29 April 2017

April 2017 Quiz

Age: Rounded primary tips, gray scapulars and plain upperwing coverts all point to a 2nd cycle type large white-headed gull.

Identification: The pattern on the outer primaries - a so-called venetian blind effect - suggest a white-winged gull. The contrasting dark-brown outer webs with light-brown inner webs on the 5 outer primaries are reminiscent of Iceland Gull. The bill has retained much black with a pinched-base look, something we often find in Thayer's, and that's what the April Quiz bird was identified as.

2nd cycle Thayer's Iceland Gull. Milwaukee, Wisconsin. February 2017.

01 April 2017

Monthly Notables March 2017

  • Common Gull (adult). Rockingham County, New Hampshire. 01 March 2017.
  • Laughing Gull (adult). Lorain County, Ohio. 02 March 2017.
    • Pair-bonding behavior observed with adult Ring-billed all throughout the month.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). San Mateo County, California. 02 March 2017.
    • Continuing from February.
  • Yellow-legged Gull (adult). 03 March 2017.
    • Presumed atlantis. Continuing.
  • Ivory Gull (1st cycle). Essex County, Ontario. 03 March 2017.
    • Found in Flint, Michigan a week later.
  • Little Gull (1st cycle). Berrien County, Michigan. 03 March 2017.
    • A single bird continued for several weeks - not associating with other small gulls.
  • Ivory Gull (1st cycle). Flint Michigan. 09 March 2017.
    • Seen everyday through 13 March 2017 and then found dead late that morning. The specimen was delivered to the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor).
  • Black-legged Kittiwake (1st cycle). Berrien County, Michigan. 10 March 2017.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Benton County, Washington. 12 March 2017.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). St. John's County, Newfoundland. 17 March 2017.
  • Kamchatka Gull (adult). Fairfield County, Connecticut. 20 March 2017.
  • Black-headed Gull (adult). Sangamon County, Illinois. 23 March 2017.
    • First county record.
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull (1st cycle). Monterey County, California. 24 March 2017.
    • Originally found in January 2017 with complete juvenile plumage, this presumed Heuglin's Gull (L.f. heuglini), was later sighted at the same location with ~80% post-juvenile scapulars. Possible 1st record of this taxon in the lower 48 states.
  • Great Black-backed Gull (1st cycle). Loveland County, Colorado. 26 March 2017.
  • Common Gull (adult). Barnstable County, Massachusetts. 26 March 2017.
  • Mew Gull (adult). Richmond County, New York. 29 March 2017.

Monthly Notes

  • An adult type Laughing x Ring-billed hybrid was found in Lorain, Ohio on 06 March 2017. This while a pure adult Laughing Gull was hanging out in this same harbor with a large contingent of Ring-billed Gulls. This seems to now be an established phenomenon on the Great Lakes, where the occasional adult Laughing Gull is found with Ring-billeds, and shortly after, a putative hybrid is detected in the following year(s).
  • An overdue proposal to lump Thayer's and Iceland Gull has been submitted to the AOS Classification Committee (Proposal Set 2017-C).

31 March 2017

March 2017 Quiz

Age: An apparent 1st cycle gull with checkered upperparts and juvenile-like flight feathers.

Identification: The pale uppertail coverts with thin, black, tailband immediately point away from Herring Gull (and most other North American large gulls). The secondaries and outer primaries are strikingly dark, a pattern that's expected on both Lesser and Great Black-backed Gull. The wing is broad, and the overall peppered aspect to the wing coverts looks better for Great Black-backed. Structurally, the bill - peeking under the left wing - and the long thick legs add up to a GBBG.

Here's a better look at the March 2017 quiz bird.

1st cycle Great Black-backed Gull. Whiting, Indiana. March.

22 March 2017

Lake County Iceland Gulls - Last Day of Winter 2017

On Sunday, Greg Neise, Adam Sell and I worked the large gulls at North Point Marina for nearly 6 hours. Here's a collection of some of the Kumlien's & Thayer's Iceland Gulls we found.

Lake County, Illinois. Sunday, 19 March 2017.

The contrasting gray slivers on the outer webs of p8-p9 are hardly noticeably with brighter light. See next image.

No doubt this bird wouldn't get a second look in nominate glaucoides' winter range.

At this angle, the lighting projects a Kumlien's left wing and a Thayer's right wing. Perhaps more important than any other factor when identifying adults in this complex, is lighting!

The open bill gives this individual a very large-headed appearance. If it was summer in Anchorage, it would be identified as a Cook Inlet Gull.

13 March 2017

First Cycle Herring with Band-tail

The title of the post says it all. Here's another 1st cycle Herring with white base color to the uppertail coverts and a thinner, more pronounced, tail band than a typical smithsonianus.

Lake County, Illinois. 10 March 2017.

What would this bird be called in Japan?

With a vegae/argentatus tail band, the undertail coverts are sparsely patterned with thin markings. 

Not surprising, this isn't a chocolate-brown Smith. Like many vegae, it shows silvery 2nd generation scapulars with a faint pattern to the wing coverts.

A different view of the uppertail (sorry for the chopped off wing)...

No known-origin American Herring has revealed such a 1st basic tail pattern, yet!

Kenosha Iceland Gulls

Some Thayer's and Kumlien's from late last week.
10 March 2017. Kenosha County, Wisconsin.