31 March 2018

Monthly Notables March 2018

  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). San Mateo County, California. 01 March 2018.
  • Mew Gull (adult). Kings County, New York. 02 March 2018.
  • Thayer's Gull (adult). Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia. 03 March 2018.
    • Continuing from previous month. 
  • Black-legged Kittiwake (1st cycle). Douglas County, Kansas. 04 March 2018.
    • Continuing from previous month. 
  • Laughing Gull (1st cycle). Mohave County, Arizona. 04 March 2018.
    • Continuing from January 2018.
  • Black-tailed Gull (adult). Del Norte County, California. 05 March 2018.
    • Continuing from previous month.
  • Kumlien's Gull (1st cycle). Harrison County, Mississippi. 07 March 2018.
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull (adult). San Diego County, California. 08 March 2018.
  • California Gull (adult). Cuyahoga County, Ohio. 08 March 2018.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (3rd cycle). Pierce County, Washington. 09 March 2018.
  • Mew Gull (adult). Plymouth County, Massachusetts. 09 March 2018.
  • Mew Gull (adult). Lancaster County, Nebraska. 11 March 2018.
  • Mew Gull (adult). Mohave County, Arizona. 11 March 2018.
  • Black-legged Kittiwake (1st cycle). Chatham County, Georgia. 14 March 2018.
  • Black-legged Kittiwake (1st cycle). Plaquemines County, Louisiana. 16 March 2018.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (2nd cycle). Santa Clara County, California. 17 March 2018.
  • Black-headed Gull (adult). Baltimore County, Maryland. 17 March 2018.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (2nd cycle). Monterey County, California. 18 March 2018.
  • Sabine's Gull (adult). Los Angeles County, California. 23 March 2018.
  • Sabine's Gull (adult). Marion County, Oregon. 25 March 2018.
  • Kamchatka Gull (adult). Digby County, Nova Scotia. 25 March 2018.
    • Continuing from previous month. 
  • Great Black-backed Gull (adult). Mobile County, Alabama. 28 March 2018.
  • Franklin's Gull (1st cycle). Union County, Pennsylvania. 31 March 2018.

Miscellaneous Notes
  1. An assembly of Heermann's Gulls (~100) appear to be preparing for nesting in Seaside, California.

March 2018 Quiz

AGE: The rounded primary tips, plain and muted pattern to the wing coverts, along with the gray mantle feathers can be combined to age this individual as a 2nd cycle. A pale eye is revealed when zooming in closely and this readily points away from a 1st cycle.

IDENTIFICATION: There are several features on this large gull that suggest a white-winger. Notice the "venetian blind" effect on the outer primaries. In particular, the outer webs and inner webs show a consistent dark, then pale, pattern. The appearance of the upperwing is plain and uniform with what could be described as a velvety feel. The cold blue mantle feathers are neat and tidy, fading into the upperparts with little effort.

So which white-winger is this? Thayer's Gull immediately comes to mind, but why not a Herring Gull? Herrings are much more contrasty at this age and typically show messier upperparts that are more splotchy. Also, a Herring Gull should show darker primaries and tail band - black if you will. Also, the all-black bill isn't unusual for this age in Thayer's, but it would be unusual for a Herring in its 2nd plumage cycle.

Here's a typical 2nd cycle Herring Gull for comparison:

The bi-colored bill and darker inner webs to the outer primaries point away from thayeri. 

Our March Quiz bird is indeed a 2nd cycle Thayer's Gull, photographed in Port Washington, Wisconsin. February 2018.

01 March 2018

Another Cali Gull & Laughing!

I made one last trip to Port Washington yesterday, hoping to relocate the adult Slaty-backed Gull - no luck! I was joined by Wisconsin birder Ted Keyel for most of the day where we observed gobs of Iceland and Glaucous Gulls. Not a minute went by where we didn't have a white-winger zipping past us or perched in sight. The gizzard shad die-off was yet in full swing!

1st cycle Glaucous and Iceland Gull. Port Washington, WI.

As a consolation for having missed this particular SBGU thrice this season, a 3rd cycle type California Gull - my first for Ozaukee County - and an adult Laughing Gull helped repair spirits. 

3rd cycle California Gull. The long bill, dark eye and heavily marked hindneck are distinctive.

Adult Laughing Gull. This individual walked within a few feet from us. The reward for patience!

A well-marked Iceland Gull with pale eyes.

Adult Iceland with dusky eyes and primary pattern that is noticeably slaty black.

Presumed Kumlien's Iceland Gull with just a hint of dark outer vanes on p9 and p10. A stunner!

2nd cycle Thayer's Iceland Gull. Inicidentally, this is the March Quiz Bird.

A different perspective of the same individual pictured above. The wing linings are in great condition for late winter.

Eight species of gull was good enough for me, and Ted's company was most edifying. I believe our final count was ~10 Great Black-backeds, ~4 Lesser Black-backeds, ~2500 Herrings, and ~600 Ring-billed Gulls. Lake Michigan at its finest!

Monthly Notables February 2018


  • Black-headed Gull (adult). Brevard County, Florida. 02 February 2018.
    • Continued from previous month.
  • Black-legged Kittiwake (1st cycle). Coffey County, Kansas. 03 February 2018.

  • Slaty-backed Gull (2nd cycle). Monterey County, California. 05 February 2018.

  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Onondaga County, New York. 06 February 2018.
    • Same individual found in Oswego County in January 2018.

  • Mew Gull (1st cycle). Tarrant County, Texas. 08 February 2018.

  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Benton County, Washington. 11 February 2018.

  • Black-tailed Gull (adult). Del Norte County, California. 11 February 2018.

  • Thayer's Iceland Gull (adult). Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia. 14 February 2018.

  • Franklin's Gull (adult). Los Angeles County, California. 15 February 2018.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult type). Seneca County, New York. 16 February 2018.

    • 2nd County Record. Same individual from Onondaga and Oswego County.

  • Slaty-backed Gull (3rd cycle). Middlesex County, Massachusetts. 16 February 2018.

  • California Gull (1st cycle). Volusia County, Florida. 16 February 2018.

  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Columbia County, Oregon. 18 February 2018.
    • Showing a peculiar orange color to the legs, and especially on the bill.

  • Common Gull (adult). Essex County, Massachusetts. 19 February 2018.
    • Same banded adult with silver band from last year. Banded in Iceland 2013.

  • Kamchatka Gull (adult). Digby County, Nova Scotia. 19 February 2018.
    • Presumably a returning bird, first detected last winter.

  • Little Gull (2nd cycle type). Barren County, Kentucky. 20 February 2018.

  • California Gull (2nd cycle). Kleberg County, Texas. 22 February 2018.

  • Slaty-backed Gull (3rd cycle). Kennebec County, Maine. 23 February 2018.
    • Apparently the same individual that was found in Massachusetts the week before.
    • 2nd State Record. Incidentally, the first state record was also from this site.

  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Ozaukee County, Wisconsin. 24 February 2018.
    • On-and-off from January. 

  • Laughing Gull (adult). Ozaukee County, Wisconsin. 27 February 2018.

  • California Gull (3rd cycle). Ozaukee County, Wisconsin. 28 February 2018.

  • Great Black-backed Gull (adult). Pubelo County, Colorado. 28 February 2018.
    • Believed to be the same adult returning for the 24th winter.


The theme in February was Slaty-backed Gulls. Multiple adults, two 3rd cycle types and a 2nd cycle type were seen and photographed in the lower 48. This continues to beg the obvious question: how many 1st cycle birds are being overlooked?!

The increase in Kamchatka Gulls between Nova Scotia and Massachusetts might be contributed to several returning birds. Nonetheless, this novelty is curious to say the least and it'll be interesting to see where we go from here. 

28 February 2018

February 2018 Quiz

AGE: The brown wing coverts and black tailband point to a small-ish 1st cycle gull.

IDENTIFICATION: This 1st cycle gull already shows all-gray upper scapulars and gray on the inner median covert. The gray is relatively dark - darker than, say, Bonaparte's. The smudging around the neck and breast recall Franklin's and Laughing Gull. The black bill and black legs are not only species-specific, they're seasonal characteristics in this species. The bill is rather heavy and the outlines of the eye crescents are relatively thin. On Franklin's, the bill appears shorter and thinner, and the head typically keeps a quasi-hood toward the back of the head. Inscribed in this hood are usually much more bolder eye crescents. These marks, along with messy underwing coverts, and black coming all the way out to the outer edges of the outer tail feather, all point directly to a 1st cycle Laughing Gull.

Brevard County, Florida. January.

18 February 2018

IOS Gull Frolic 2018

The 17th Annual Illinois Ornithological Society Gull Frolic was held on Saturday, 17 February 2018, at the Winthrop Harbor Yacht Club in Lake County.

Over 150 participants attended along with a number of local bird clubs and organizations. Our guest speaker, Jennifer Brumfield, absolutely rocked and pumped birders with a ton of inspiration!

IOS Vice President Ted Wolff greeting the group before Jen's talk.

Donnie Dann receiving a recognition award from IOS President Matthew Cvetas.

We enjoyed mid-30s most of the day with very little wind - perfect weather when compared to last year's 50F that left us with no ice and no gulls.

A selection of gulls, terns and jaegers displayed by Doug Stotz with the Field Museum.

We had a fun assortment of Iceland Gulls, and also checked off our "other" winter gulls.

Lake Erie meets Lake Michigan.
Left to Right: Amar Ayyash, Chuck Slusarczyk Jr, Jen Brumfield

Enough gulls to busy the crowd!

I must say with this being our first winter where thayeri is lumped with the other Iceland Gulls, there wasn't mass confusion some people predicted there might be. Dark birds were called Thayer's and pale birds were called Kumlien's (as we've done for some years). Confusing birds weren't labeled, but rather explained as "points" on the cline. Here's my list:

16 x Iceland Gulls
  • 11 thayeri (7 adults, 2 first cycle, 2 second cycle)
  • 4 kumlieni (3 adults, 1 sub-adult)
  • 1 thayeri-kumlieni (3rd cycle type)
1 x Glaucous Gull (adult)
1 x Great Black-backed Gull (2nd cycle)
3 x Lesser Black-backed Gulls (adult, 2 third cycles)
550 x Herring Gulls (including a stunning leucistic adult)
18 x Ring-billed Gulls (only 1 first cycle noted)


Adult 1

Adult 2

Adult 3

Adult 4

Adult 5

Adult 6. I observed this distinctive bird at the
Lake County Fairgrounds the day before. See below.

Some damage to the right wing with p8 ripped off.

Adult 6 seen at LCF, Friday, 16 Feb 2018.

2nd cycle Thayer's. Flight shot below.

Somewhat pale but bleaching and fading has set in.

One of two 1st cycle Thayer's. Same individual below.

1st cycle Thayer's (left) and Herring Gull (right).
Chuck Slusarczyk Jr shared a photo of a Thayer's that brought the total up to 7 adults. Incidentally, this was the same adult with broken p6 band that I observed at the Lake County Fairgrounds on Friday, 16 February 2018. In fact, 3 of the 5 Iceland Gulls from my Friday LCF visit were in attendance at the Gull Frolic. A 30 mile roundtrip flight!

Adult #7 Same bird above.


Adult 1. Early Morning bird.

Same individual above.

Adult 2. Mid-day Bird.

Same bird above.

Adult 3. Late-day bird. Stunner!

An adult type Kumlien's with a pale eye and mascara.
Perhaps best aged as a sub-adult.

Same bird above. Brown wash to p-coverts and dirty alula.

An intermediate thayeri-kumlieni 3rd cycle type. 

Other Stuff

3rd cycle Lesser Black-backed with missing p9/10 on right wing.

Adult Glaucous with same Lesser above.

1st cycle Ring-billed Gull.

An apparent leucistic adult Herring Gull only
seen by the early morning crowd.

 2nd cycle Great Black-backed with Herrings. 

Adult Thayer's, Adult Glaucous and 3rd cycle Lesser Black-backed with a group of Herrings.

Ten of us stuck it out until about 4:30 pm, at which time the snow coming down on our optics made viewing difficult. The roads were becoming increasingly messy and so we called it quits while we were ahead. Happy smiles all around.

Thanks to all who attended. See you next year!!


11 February 2018

Port Washington Iceland Gull Bonanza

Rebecca Sher from Sheboygan County Audubon got in touch last weekend to tell me about the growing number of gulls in Port Washington. We decided a gull day was in order and quickly put together another winter workshop.

Roughly 1/4 of the congregation with what appeared to be thousands more outside of the harbor.

We held the indoor segment at the local library, which to my surprise, attracted around 40 participants. We then headed out to the harbor where we found upward of 5000 gulls feeding on large quantities of gizzard shad.

Adult type Herring Gull with breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

Icelands for Everyone

We found an impressive assortment of Iceland Gulls. Going through my photos, I can make out 27 distinct individuals (14 thayeri, 11 kumlieni, 2 thayeri-kumlieni). More impressive was the variety of intermediate ages, especially 2nd and 3rd cycles.

1st cycle Thayer's

1st cycle Thayer's-Kumlien's type. Pure speculation :)

1st cycle Thayer's type. 

2nd cycle Thayer's type.

1st cycle Kumlien's. 

Same bird above. A frayed and worn bird with what may have been a stress bar across the tail. 

A pale 2nd cycle Thayer's type.

3rd cycle Kumlien's

A large, dark, Thayer's (back) with a smaller and slightly paler adult Thayer's (front).

Adult Thayer's-Kumlien's type with pale wingtip.

Adult Kumlien's with zero pigment on wingtip. The gray upperparts werejust a smidgen paler than Herring, but nowhere near as pale as a Glaucous.

Presumably as pale as Kumlien's gets, but more study needed. 

Same bird above.
And as the light began to fade, we got bombarded with another wave of adult Kumlien's:

Same bird as above. P6 with pale and incomplete band.
A medium-marked Kumlien's with weird subterminal band on P9. See below.

Same bird above. 

A paler adult than the one above. And cuter. 

We also had ~12 Glaucous Gulls with about half adults and half 1st/2nd cycle types.

Adult Glaucous with Herrings scheming...

1st cycle Glaucous Gull hoping to become a postcard.
We had ~ 8 Great Black-backeds and zero luck turning one into "the" Slaty-backed Gull. Lesser Black-backeds were MIA with only 3 birds found (adult and two 1st cycles).

The Wisconsin lakefront is a vast playground filled with great gulls waiting to be found and enjoyed by birders. A big thanks to Rebecca and Sheboygan County Audubon Society for hosting another great outing!