10 February 2017

Florida Herrings and Such - Not-Nelson's, Possible Vega

I've been away working on a couple of projects for the last few months. Add to that gull talks, field trips and festivals, and this has left me with little time to update with photos and posts this season. But a fine nudge from my good friend Chris Kundl is all I needed to put out some fodder for the fans.

Let's start with this putative American Herring x Glaucous Gull (I think I'll start calling these Not-Nelson's until we can decide on a more fitting colloquial name - a name that does this hybrid some historical justice).

Volusia County, Florida. 29 January 2017.

This 1st cycle bird isn't sporting the typical bicolored bill that we associate with Not-Nelson's. If we've learned anything from known-age, known-origin Viking Gulls (European Herring x Glaucous hybrids), bill patterns run the gamut from all black to classic Glaucous.

 This was a beefy bird, showing a short wing projection and strong bill.

Unlike the many bleached and faded 1st cycle HERGs we see down there, this individual was genuinely pale with white-winger influence.

Next up, a 1st cycle with Vega-like features:

Frosty and checkered wing coverts with pale vent and barred undertail coverts. This was a sexy bird that didn't surprise when it opened its wings.

  We chose to leave it unidentified for now, knowing well this may be an extreme Smith, but Yuto Tanaka assures us this would be called a Vega in his hometown Noshiro. Studying it in profile next to other 1st cycle Herrings, Michael Brothers and I, along with our other trip leaders agreed there was a foreign feel to it. I was lucky enough to get these open wing shots.

Why so many of these strongly checkered, frosty and often pale-looking Herrings, in east-central Florida is beyond me. A good number of these birds (perhaps 1/3) show remarkably similar tail patterns to vegae/argentatus. For someone who sees thousands of Herrings in the Lake Michigan region, I can't say I've seen more than 3-4 similar to this (early fall birds). On the other hand, I can easily find a handful under a good day's work when I'm down in FL. Michael and I both agree there is an interesting subgroup here that needs more attention (more on this later). Keep in mind there are Vega and European Herring records that have been vetted from this same county. With a little more observer effort and field work, we will eventually do 1 of 3 things:

1) Find some known-origin birds that can help pad our conjectures.
2) Widen our current limits for what we call smithsonianus.
3) Twiddle our thumbs and enrage certain dastards from Buffalo, New York. Right.

Some lighter "Stuff"

Typical 1st cycle Smiths with similar-aged Lesser. Brevard County Landfill. 26 January 2017.

Glaucous is always nice, especially in Florida. Volusia County. 28 January 2017.

A photo opportunity that's tough to come by in North America in January - both FRGU and LAGU:

Michael and his group get all the credit for this one. While some of us headed north to find John Kendall's Iceland Gull, we got a call about this 2nd cycle type Franklin's tucked in with the some 10,000 Laughing Gulls on the beach. Half of us turned back, and half of us kept on for the ICGU.
There were more adult Laughings sporting alternate hoods this year than any January I could remember. This made our search for the Franklin's more fun.

Adult Lesser still growing out p10 in late January - not an uncommon p-molt pattern for adults down here in the winter.

Bill and body size comparable to this 3rd cycle type Herring.

1st cycle Lesser with an odd-white lower scapular (2nd generation?).

"Chocolate" 1st cycle Smith with similar-aged Great.

Herrings and a Great Black-backed with a honkin' bill. In the big scheme of things, bill size does matter. Mouth size, not so much.