09 October 2017

Los Angeles Natural History Museum

Late last month I paid an overdue visit to the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles. Like a child in a candy shop, I lost myself with a 100 or so trays of both hooded and large white-headed gulls - mainly New World taxa, with a sprinkle of Western Palearctic species.

Here I had the pleasure of finally meeting one of California's birding & ornithology treasures, Kimball Garrett. Kimball has been with the museum since the late 1970s and currently serves as the ornithology collections manager.

The first specimen he was keen to point out to me is California's first record of Red-legged Kittiwake. This male was found emaciated several miles inland in Anaheim, California on 28 February 1996 (Orange County). Like most other records of RLKI that make it to land in the Pacific Northwest, it died shortly after being picked up by rehabbers.

The dark neck shawl is expected in basic plumage. However, the black ink-spot near the alula may be age-related.

While on the subject of kittiwakes, any larophile will appreciate a bird's eye view of both Rissa species, side-by-side. 

Both adult females, the Red-legged was collected on St. George's in July of 1978. The Black-legged Kittiwake is labled as pollicaris, collected in Alaska the same month.

Red-legged Kittiwake has a noticeably shorter bill, upperparts that are a shade darker and a shorter tail.

With the recent Swallow-tailed Gull episode in Washington state, I felt compelled to study the 15 or so specimens housed in the collection. The size difference between both of these fork-tailed gulls is astonishing. Never really having paid much attention to Swallow-tailed Gull's size when reading about them, I passively imagined it to be similar in size to Xema sabini. I should've known better with Sabine's only being 3-4" larger than Little Gull.

Both males, the Swallow-tailed was a fatigued bird collected on the Galapagos in February 1957. The Sabine's is a June bird from Alaska. 

One can appreciate the forked tails from this angle. Note the white-fringed outer scapulars shown by Creagrus furcatus, a feature not shared with sabini. 

Keeping with my tradition when visiting any gull collection, this duo is one I never pass up...

First cycle Little (fm) and Ross's Gull (m). The Little Gull is from Imperial County California; February 1994. It was accompanying an adult and another 1st cycle individual for several days, but was found dead shortly after. The Ross's Gull was collected in Alaska. October.

Moving on to a few large white-headed gulls, an adult female Common Gull (L.c canus) from Denmark (March), with an adult female Mew Gull (L.c.brachyrhynchus) from California ( January).

Although the upperpart coloration isn't appreciably different in this image, the bill thickness is.

This trio of black-backs is intimidating. All females, from left to right: Kelp Gull (Argentina), Great Black-backed Gull (New Brunswick) and Yellow-footed Gull (California). The Kelp is indeed darkest, the Yellow-footed can't be identified without more information and the Great Black-backed is unmistakable.

White-wingers. The jewels of the large white-headed gulls! I was taken aback by how small and svelt this Glaucous Gull is (left). Yes, the bird on the left is a female barrovianus. This is the smallest race, Larus hyperboreous barrovianus, with trinomial associated with Barrow, Alaska. 

Can you guess what species is on the right?
Top: Male Glaucous-winged Gull (Alaska). Bottom: Female Glaucous Gull (Alaska). The black smudging on the bill of the Glaucous is not unexpected for a September juvenile.
An unsexed Thayer's Iceland Gull on top for comparison. Alaska. October. 

Thayer's (?sex), Glaucous (female), Glaucous-winged (male). 

Classic Iceland bill on the Thayer's (left), but the Glaucous bill (center) could easily be confused in this photo - a good lesson when discussing Glaucous Gulls in the Pacific Northwest. 

The same male Glaucous-winged (top), female barrovianus Glaucous (middle) and a first cycle male Western Gull (bottom). Interestingly, the male Glaucous-winged shows a significantly larger and more bulbous-tipped bill than the male Western. The Glaucous-winged, in short, is a male beast!

Amar Ayyash & Kimball Garrett. NHMLA. September 2017.
The rest of my time looking through the collection was devoted to examining Glaucous-winged hybrids (both putative Glaucous-winged x Herrings and Glaucous-winged x Westerns). I'll be visiting British Columbia later this year and hope to put together a post specifically on these hybrids. More on that later. Best regards!

A special thanks to Kimball for his hospitality and sharing his insights on some of the specimens!