01 October 2018

Putative Chandeleur Gull - Back Again

Since at least Fall of 2006, this putative Kelp x Herring hybrid (Chandeleur Gull) is back again for another winter! I spent about an hour of quality time with it early Sunday morning on the beach in Michigan City.

I must admit the photos are underexposed, and the early morning glow gives a darker sheen to the upperparts.

It still shows black markings on all of the visible primaries. Notice the small, squared, mirror on p10 and the relatively late primary molt for this time of year. By mid-winter, there will be fine dark streaks to the head and neck, sparsely scattered throughout. Leg color will also dullen and start to show a sickly grayish color.

30 September 2018

Monthly Notables September 2018


  • Laughing Gull (juvenile). Marion County, Iowa. 03 September 2018.
    • An immaculately fresh juvenile.
  • Little Gull (juvenile). Lake County, Indiana. 03 September 2018.
  • Black-legged Kittiwake (juvenile). Ozaukee County, Wisconsin. 07 September 2018.
  • Black-headed Gull (1st cycle). Suffolk County, Massachusetts. 07 September 2018.
  • Little Gull (juvenile). Cook County, Illinois. 10 September 2018.
  • Great Black-backed Gull (adult type). Keith County, Nebraska. 12 September 2018.
  • Black-legged Kittiwake (adult). Gallatin County, Montana. 12 September 2018.
    • A rarely-seen adult bird. Only the 7th for the state and earliest fall record by two months.
  • Little Gull (juvenile). Washington County, Colorado. 13 September 2018.
  • Sabine's Gull (juvenile). Marion County, West Virginia. 14 September 2018.
    • Only the 4th state record.
  • Black-tailed Gull (3rd cycle type). Powell River District, British Columbia. 13 September 2018.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Pierce County, Washington. 14 September 2018.
    • Likely the same adult returning here since 2013.
  • Glaucous Gull (2nd cycle). St. John's County, Newfoundland. 15 September 2018.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult type). Metro Vancouver District, British Columbia. 16 September 2018.
  • California Gull (adult). Lorain County, Ohio. 13 September 2018.
  • Heermann's Gull (2nd cycle type). Pima County, Arizona. 18 September 2018.
  • Mew Gull (adult). Larimer County, Colorado. 19 September 2018.
  • Franklin's Gull (adult). Halifax County, Nova Scotia. 19 September 2018.
  • Black-headed Gull (1st cycle). District of Columbia. 22 September 2018.
    • First record for Washington DC since 1989.
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull (3rd cycle type). Wasco County, Oregon. 24 September 2018.
    • First county record.
  • Black-legged Kittiwake (adult type). Peace River District, British Columbia. 24 September 2018.
  • Laughing Gull (2nd cycle). Randolph County, Missouri. 26 September 2018.

September 2018 Quiz

Age: This rather small and compact gull displays a full tailband and brown-washed wing coverts. We can feel safe aging it as a 1st cycle. Of course extended views would be desired to better age our gull.

Identification: There's no question that this is a hooded species. Of note is the solid-patterned upperwing (right wing). It lacks a carpal bar, eliminating species such as Bonaparte's, Little and Black-headed. The bold eye crescents and semi-hooded appearance scream Franklin's Gull. Also supportive of Franklin's (over Laughing Gull) is the clean white wing linings and hind neck. If we zoom in, the tailband on Franklin's almost never reaches the outermost edge of the outer tail feathers, as is the case here.

This 1st cycle Franklin's Gull was photographed in Chicago, Illinois. October.

25 September 2018

Little & Ross's Gulls - Back to Bills

At first glance it's easy to agree that Little and Ross's Gulls appear to have some shared derived traits, especially in juvenile plumage. However, these two are each placed in their own, montoypic, genera by the AOU. Little Gull is a hooded (or masked gull) and shows unique osteological features. Ross's is without a hood and has been under Rhodostethia for as long as anyone can remember. Little was placed in Larus for over 100 years until recently, and is now Hydrocoloeus.

I thought of this post last night while talking to someone about the tern-like bill of Bonaparte's. One question after another and we were soon talking about Ross's and Little. Ross's Gull has the smallest and daintiest bill of any gull species. Proportionally, then, we might say Little Gull's bill isn't so little. Check it out:

1st Cycle Female Little Gull (top) and 1st Cycle Male Ross's Gull (bottom).  
 Los Angeles Natural History Museum. Photo Amar Ayyash

Although males average bigger bills than female conspecifics, this male ROGU still comes up short. Here are the numbers: Male/Female ROGU average bill size 19.6/19.2 mm; Male/Female LIGU average bill size 23.2/22.9 mm (Olsen & Larsson 2003).

24 September 2018

Rounded Primary Tips on 1st Cycle Gulls

We often point out (no pun intended) that 1st cycle gulls come equipped with pointed primary tips. In my experience, this age-related characteristic is more reliable on resting birds. And even then, it's not apparent in all individuals.

In flight, the shape of the primary tips is often a function of several variables - mainly behavior.

Take for instance these two hatch year Herring Gulls, and consider the shape of their outermost primaries.

Notice the pointed, saw-toothed, shape of the primary tips on the first bird. This is quite typical in this age group. The second bird shows blunt-shaped and rounded primary tips. How could this be? Are we to throw away the usefulness of this criterion to help age 1st cycle gulls? Not at all. Just as with most field marks, we will always find exceptions. Another reminder to always use a suite of characters and never put too much stock in one single feature. The overall pristine wing coverts and immaculate flight feathers all favor a 1st cycle.

Okay, your turn. How would you age this Herring Gull?

The bicolored bill and pale eye are dead giveaways in this case. The rounded primary tips are but support for what is obviously a 2nd cycle type individual. This bird shows a rather retarded pattern, overall, with wing coverts and an uppertail pattern that look much like a 1st cycle.

A takeaway from this last photo should be, how would one age this Herring if it had a dark eye, or an all dark bill? What plumage features might we use? I'll follow up with a post on this very same aging question soon. Thanks for making it this far, and Happy Fall!

10 September 2018

Kelp Gulls at the John Ball Zoo

I spent last weekend on gull patrol in the Holland, Michigan region, but not without taking a short detour to the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids. Why the John Ball Zoo? It is the last AZA Zoo in North America that has Kelp Gulls in its collection, making this a must visit destination for any gull enthusiast.

Male Kelp Gull - "Sunny".
Upon my arrival I met with David Blasziewicz who has been at the zoo for 22 years. David was a wealth of information and shared with me everything I wanted to know about these birds.

The remaining Kelps - two individuals, Sunny and Max - were actually collected in the wild as eggs on the South Shetland Islands of Antarctica, hatched in San Diego, and eventually made their way to JBZ. They are now 35 years old, which almost surely is the longevity record for KEGUs in captivity.

Female Kelp Gull - "Maxine"

I was able to learn through David that the zoo has the birds on a North American photo schedule. The hours of light the birds receive is controlled by a computer, made to mirror what naturally occurs at this latitude. Thus, their molt schedules are on par with local birds in the wild. I asked David if any of the Kelps they've had at the zoo have ever escaped or successfully nested: No to both inquiries.

Here, Sunny is asserting his dominance, breaking out in a long call as he did every 10 minutes or so.

It's inevitable that these birds will eventually perish (from natural causes) and the zoo will in all likelihood not be replacing them. That's unfortunate seeing that this is the most widespread gull species in the southern hemisphere.

A very special thank you to David for taking the time to meet with me and tell me all about these special birds!

01 September 2018

Monthly Notables August 2018


  • Lesser Black-backed Gull (2nd cycle). San Luis Obispo County, California. 03 August 2018.
  • Franklin's Gull (1st summer type). Fairfax County, Virginia. 04 August 2018.
  • Laughing Gull (adult). Lunenberg County, Nova Scotia. 04 August 2018.
  • Laughing Gull (juvenile). Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. 04 August 2018.
  • Sabine's Gull (adult type). Sarasota County, Florida. 11 August 2018.
    • The observer has had 3 Sabine's at this site in 14 months. 
  • Great Black-backed Gull (adult). Sweetwater County, Wyoming. 13 August 2018.
    • Possibly the same individual seen here last August.
  • Mew Gull (2nd cycle). Arapahoe County, Colorado. 13 August 2018.
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull (adult). Mendocino County, California. 14 August 2018.
    • Apparently the 3rd LBBG seen in California this summer. 
  • Black-legged Kittiwake (juvenile). Hamilton County, Ontario. 20 August 2018.
  • Common Gull (adult). St. John's County, Newfoundland & Labrador. 24 August 2018.
  • Herring Gull (3rd cycle type). San Francisco County, California. 25 August 2018.

Miscellaneous Notes:
  • On 01 August 2018, Jean-Guy Beaulieu found and photographed a banded 1st summer Black-legged Kittiwake in Les Escoumins, Quebec. After doing a little investigating, I received a reply from a French biologist who claimed the bird - apparently the first banded French kittiwake to be found on mainland America. More here.

August 2018 Quiz

Age: Focusing on the two individuals with heads upright, we can be fairly confident these are adult, large white-headed gulls (LWHG).

Identification: The black-backed gull should be the easier to identify from this duo. Given its relative size, we should readily dismiss Great Black-backed Gull. This appears to be a slim and long-winged gull. The red gonys spot is enlarged and the bill itself is relatively straight with virtually no expansion at the gonys. The streaking on the face is made up of thin, pencil-like, streaks. All of these features make this yellow-eyed critter a Lesser Black-backed Gull  

The noticeably larger gull to the left with paler gray upperparts is superficially similar to a Herring, but it isn't one. Notice the black on the primaries is not a jet black like the other gulls in the photo. That, along with the extensive white on the primaries should convince us we may have something other than a Herring in view. The darkish eye and greenish tinge to the bill match up nicely with Thayer's Iceland Gull, as does the extent of pigment on the primaries.

Our August Quiz photo is indeed of a Thayer's Gull (left) and Lesser Black-backed Gull (right).
Chicago, Illinois. January.

25 August 2018

Extreme Uppertail Pattern in 1st Cycle California Gulls

Although there is some variation in their plumage aspects and upperpart patterns, 1st cycle California Gulls can usually be pegged down by their darker inner primaries, bicolored bill and relatively small and slender body size (when compared to other large white-headed gulls).

A typical hatch-year individual with bicolored bill, relatively long wing extension and moderate post-juvenile scapular molt. 

San Mateo County, CA. 12 September 2014.

But what about their uppertail pattern? Tail patterns often reveal helpful clues when identifying large 1st cycle gulls. This post was spurred by a hatch year California Gull photographed by Paul Hurtado outside of Reno earlier this month.

Let's first look at tailband patterns that we can expect to see on the majority of young California Gulls.

Typical Tail Patterns

Ordinarily, a rather dark tailband is visible with little barring, recalling American Herring Gull. White tips are usually present when the feathers are fresh before soon being diminished by wear. The uppertail coverts show lancelot patterning with barring up the center of the tail. The uppertail coverts will often have a noticeable bright white ground color that contrasts sharply with the flight feathers. 

San Mateo County, CA. September. 

Berrien County, MI. October. 

Grays Harbor County, WA. August.  Courtesy Nick Dean

Atypical Tail Patterns

Consider this bird posted by Paul Hurtado on North American Gulls:

Washoe County, Nevada. August. Courtesy Paul Hurtrado.

At first glance, the thin tailband and contrasting white uppertail coverts look like something we'd find on a Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Same individual above. 

What makes the Nevada bird a little more challenging to identify is that it has yet to take on the classic bicolored bill pattern, but I think we could agree that the sum of its other parts suggest California Gull, as does the time and location.

The exceedingly white ground color to the uppertail coverts, with perhaps some bright lighting and premature wear at play, could be found in some birds.

Oregon. August. Copyright Greg Gillson. 

Note the white tips to the rectrices and paling white forehead on this Oregon bird. Also found in many hatch year California Gulls is the propensity for the lesser & median coverts to have pale edges and centers that far outdo the darker pigments. The wing coverts take on a frosted appearance here. The uppertail coverts are largely white.

Reeves County, Texas. December. Courtesy Adam Wood.

It was difficult for me to find an example of a California Gull with a tailband similar to Paul's, but this individual from Texas comes close.

Note the frosty median coverts found in some birds. The thin tailband appearance is exacerbated here by the rectrices being completely spread. Overall, however, this isn't a typical tailband pattern on 1st cycle California Gull.

Same individual above. 
Most, if not all, large gull species will now and then present a plumage oddity that doesn't conform to what we're accustomed to seeing. First cycle California Gulls are fairly distinctive in their range and with a little practice, they seldom present identification problems. Documenting the exceptions to the rule not only improve field identification skills for future use, but also helps reinforce limits for what is typical and what is not.

20 August 2018

Banded Black-legged Kittiwake in Quebec Hails from France

On 01 August 2018, Jean-Guy Beaulieu found and photographed a banded 1st summer Black-legged Kittiwake in Les Escoumins, Quebec. I happened on his photo a few days later while looking through eBird data.

1st Summer Black-legged Kittiwake sporting a distinctive leg band combination.
St. Lawrence River in Baie des Escoumins. Courtesy Jean-Guy Beaulieu.

Having never seen a photo of a kittiwake with color bands before, I began to suspect there might be a good story behind this bird. I posted an inquiry on North American Gulls and received zero replies. A couple of weeks later Craig Taylor and Maarten Van Kleinwee directed me to a couple of sites/conctacts that may be of help. I did a little more investigating and eventually received a reply from French biologist Jean-Yves Monnat. Yes. France! Monnat replied back with:

That bird is one of "ours".

V/W/métal - V/R/B (Paris FX25562)

Born : 2017 (12/06 ± 3d.) in pointe du Raz colony (Plogoff, Finistère, Brittany, France : 48°02N - 04°43W)
First flight : 24/07/2017
Last seen on its nest : 03/08/2017
Emancipation period : 11 days

A lot of our birds are captured on western coast of Greenland. Very (very !) few on Newfounland. This sighting is the first one on the mainland of America (our study started in 1979, 40 years ago).
Thanks a lot for that interesting information. JY.

So there you have it - at about 14 months old, this bird is now on the other side of the Atlantic hanging out with a large group of ~800 Black-legged Kittiwakes! Which begs a question that hadn't really occurred to be before this: What degree of gene flow exists between European and North American kittiwakes? Will this bird return to its natal colony or will it now make Canada its new home? Questions like these can only be answered with such bird-banding studies and GPS tracking.

Congratulations to Jean-Guy on a great find. I'm told the bird was relocated at the same site on 14 August 2018. A special thanks to Craig and Maarten for directing me in the right direction.

31 July 2018

Monthly Notables July 2018


  • Black-legged Kittiwake (1st cycle). San Mateo County, California. 02 July 2018.
  • Laughing Gull (1st summer). Clay County, Iowa. 03 July 2018.
    • 1st County Record.
  • Bonaparte's Gull (1st summer). Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. 09 July 2018.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (4th cycle type). Inuvik County, NW Territories. 09 July 2018.
  • Mew Gull (1st summer). San Luis Obispo County, California. 10 July 2018.
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull (1st summer). San Mateo County, California. 12 July 2018.
    • Possible first local summer record.
  • Franklin's Gull (1st summer). Newport County, Rhode Island. 16 July 2018.
    • 13th State Record.
  • Glaucous Gull (1st summer). Suffolk County, New York. 17 July 2018.
  • Mew Gull (2nd summer type). Humboldt County, California. 19 July 2018.
  • Sabine's Gull (2 first summer individuals). St. John's County, Newfoundland. 19 July 2018.
  • Laughing Gull (adult). Lambton County, Ontario. 21 July 2018.
  • Iceland Gull (1st summer). Chatham-Kent County, Ontario. 22 July 2018.
  • Glaucous Gull (adult). Monroe County, New York. 23 July 2018.
  • Glaucous-winged Gull (1st summer). Kiholo Bay, Hawaii. 23 July 2018.
    •  Continuing from June. 
  • Iceland Gull (3rd summer). Yukon County, Yukon Territory. 26 July 2018.
    • Putative Kumlien's Iceland Gull. 
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull (2nd summer). Portage la Prairie County, Manitoba. 27 July 2018.
  • Glaucous Gull (adult). Niagara County, New York. 27 July 2018.
    • Apparently the same out-of-season adult seen in Monroe County on 23 July 2018.
  • Franklin's Gull (adult type). St. John's County, Newfoundland. 28 July 2018.
  • Glaucous-winged Gull (4th cycle type). San Diego County, California. 28 July 2018.
  • Great Black-backed Gull (2nd summer). Oliver County, South Dakota. 29 July 2018.
  • Laughing Gull (adult). Ventura County, California. 31 July 2018.

  • Some promising news with respect to Heermann's Gulls in the state of California. Local birders and conservationists Joanna & Byron Chin documented two separate nesting sites with perhaps up to 11 young successfully fledged in Seaside. Efforts are underway to build and maintain a small man-made island on Roberts Lake. This island will replace the old sunken island that the colony used in the past. Check out this inspiring video by Byron where a drone is used to survey the lake: https://www.facebook.com/SeasideHEEGs/videos/500183813749205/
  • A small Iceland Gull colony of approximately 150 birds was discovered on 17 July 2018 in northern Quebec along the Hudson Strait. The observer who reported the birds, Alexandre Anctil, made the sighting overhead from a helicopter. The adults - rearing young - are described as pale and gray-winged, not dark-winged. Alexandre explained to me that from a distance, he thought the gulls would be the more expected Glaucous Gull. This colony is one of the largest of its kind to be found at such a southern latitude (61.682593N 71.767582O). The age breakdown is estimated to be 100 adults and approximately 50 chicks. 

July 2018 Quiz

Age: The medley of old and new mottled upperparts, along with retained, pointed, outer primaries give the impression of 1st summer gulls. Indeed all three of our July Quiz birds are roughly 1 year of age (now in their 2nd prebasic molts).

Identification: We'll begin with the darkest individual on the far left. The lightly barred undertail coverts and significantly solid dark upperparts suggest a black-backed gull. The defined striations along the nape and neck are found in Lesser Black-backed Gull, and the size and structure agree with that species.

Next, the lighter individual on the far right shows a mixture of pale grays to the new scapulars. These feathers are light enough to steer us away from a dark-backed gull. The heavily marked undertail coverts and body structure fit Herring Gull, and there is little doubt it is any other large pale gull.

The trickiest of our group is the center bird in the back. At first glance one may pass it off as another young messy summer Herring Gull. However, the delicate bill and small rounded head give it a more graceful expression. There are hints of a pale uppertail and pale underside to the left wing (compare this to the darker underside of the Herring Gull's right wing). The smaller and more compact size is also noteworthy. The center gull was identified as a 1st summer Thayer's Iceland Gull. An open wing to seal the deal:

The underside to the primaries are genuinely pale and not strictly due to fading and bleaching.

Our July 2018 Quiz was taken in Sheboygan County, Wisconsin on Lake Michigan. 23 June 2018.

30 July 2018

Juvenile American Herrings - Late July

Photos taken on 29 JULY 2018 

A set of 10 juvenile American Herrings Gulls from Lake Michigan (Milwaukee, Wisconsin). Herring Gulls nest throughout the downtown area here on rooftops, along riverbanks and undisturbed outcrops along the lake.

Of particular interest is the variation found in the greater covert patterns. See for instance the lightly marked and checkered pattern on individual #2 & #5 versus the heavily blotted pattern of individual #4 & #6.










7th Cycle Great Lakes Herring Gull

Below are images of another known-age, known-origin, American Herring Gull that I found in Milwaukee, Wisconsin over the weekend. It's undergoing its 7th prebasic molt.

Federal Band #: 1106-19241. Banded as pullus on 15 June 2011 in Egg Harbor, Wisconsin (Door County).

Most interesting about this bird is that it shows a p9 mirror on what is presumably a 6th generation primary. Two mirrors on Great Lakes Herrings is, in my estimate, found in only 10-15% of adults, at best.

01 July 2018

Monthly Notables June 2018

  • Franklin's Gull (adult). St. John's County, Newfoundland. 03 June 2018. 
  • Heermann's Gull (1st summer). Pima County, Arizona. 05 June 2018.
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull (3rd summer). Portage la Prairie County, Manitoba. 07 June 2018.
  • Herring Gull (1st summer). Eddy County, New Mexico. 08 June 2018.
  • Mew Gull (2nd cycle). Rimouski-Neigette County, Quebec. 09 June 2018.
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull (2nd cycle). Kitsap County, Washington. 13 June 2018.
  • Franklin's Gull (1st summer). Somerset County, Pennsylvania. 15 June 2018.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (2nd summer). Inuvik County, Northwest Territories. 16 June 2018.
  • Franklin's Gull (adult). San Mateo County, California. 18 June 2018.
  • Laughing Gull (1st summer). Alger County, Michigan. 22 June 2018.
  • Ring-billed Gull (2nd summer). Keewatin County, Nunavut. 22 June 2018.
  • Thayer's Gull (1st summer). Sheboygan County, Wisconsin. 23 June 2018.
  • Mew Gull (1st summer). Los Angeles County, California. 24 June 2018.
  • Laughing Gull (adult, 2 second cycle types). Berrien County, Michigan. 28 June 2018.
    • The 3 individuals seen together may constitute a state high count for a single site.
  • Great Black-backed Gull (1st summer). Berrien County, Michigan. 26 June 2018.

30 June 2018

June 2018 Quiz

Age: At first glance this appears to be an adult, or an adult-type, large white-headed gull. The light gray tips to the median coverts are reason enough to suspect this is a sub-adult bird.

Identification: This month's quiz bird is dark-backed with rich yellow legs. There aren't many species that meet this criteria in North America. Lesser Black-backed Gull, California Gull and Yellow-footed Gull should all be considered.

I will dismiss California Gull on the count of it being a noticeably paler species than what is seen here. On the palest end, California Gull scores a 5 on the Kodak Gray Scale, and a 7.5 on the darkest end. The palest Lesser Black-backed Gull (subspecies graellsii) scores a 9 on the Kodak Gray Scale, and a 13 on the darkest end (nominate fuscus - unrecorded in North America). Yellow-footed Gull (monotypic) ranges 9-10.5.

We are left with Lesser Black-backed and Yellow-footed Gull. The bill on our bird is thick all throughout and shows a noticeable bulbous tip. This seems much better for the Mexican species. Zooming in we note a darkish iris and yellow orbital. Adult type, and even many sub-adult Lessers, show eyes that are considerably paler than this. Lesser Black-backed also sports a reddish orbital ring.

Our quiz bird is indeed a Yellow-footed Gull photographed at the Salton Sea in Imperial County, California. September. 

01 June 2018

Monthly Notables May 2018

  • Slaty-backed Gull (2nd cycle). Camrose-Llyodminister County, Alberta. 02 May 2018.
    • Continuing from April 2018.
  • Glaucous Gull (1st cycle). San Mateo County, California. 02 May 2018.
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull (adult). Natrona County, Wyoming. 03 May 2018.
  • Little Gull (adult). St. Louis County, Minnesota. 04 May 2018.
    • 2 adults seen in the area on 12 May 2018.
  • Iceland Gull (1st cycle). Harrison County, Mississippi. 08 May 2018.
  • Herring Gull (1st cycle). Mohave County, Arizona. 09 May 2018.
  • Great Black-backed Gull (1st cycle). Burleigh County, North Dakota. 12 May 2018.
  • Iceland Gull (1st cycle). Cook County, Illinois. 12 May 2018.
  • Black-headed Gull (adult). Aleutians West County, Alaska. 12 May 2018.
  • Franklin's Gull (adult). Saint Paul Island, Alaska. 16 May 2018.
    • Apparent 6th record for the island.
  • Glaucous-winged Gull (adult). Fort Smith County, Northwest Territories. 18 May 2018.
    • 2nd record for the Yellowknife area. 
  • Franklin's Gull (1st cycle). Transylvania County, Pennsylvania. 18 May 2018.
  • Franklin's Gull (adult). Anchorage County, Alaska. 19 May 2018.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (adult). Kodiak Island County, Alaska. 20 May 2018. 
  • Ross's Gull (adult). Kusilvak County, Alaska. 24 May 2018.
  • Heermann's Gull (adult). Yuma County, Arizona. 25 May 2018.
  • Laughing Gull (adult). St. Louis County, Minnesota. 26 May 2018.
  • Common Gull (adult). Avalon Peninsula. Newfoundland. 26 May 2018.
    • Found in a Ring-billed Gull colony. No evidence of nesting. 


An apparent 1st cycle Laughing x Ring-billed Gull was photographed in by Janice Soos Farral in Lucas County, Ohio in early May. Photos here.

2. The dark-winged 1st cycle Ring-billed Gull photographed in Lansing, Michigan in early April 2018 was apparently spotted in Berrien County, Michigan on 09 May 2018. This individual may clarify the juvenile Ring-billed observed in Wisconsin Point a couple of years ago, suspected of being a Ring-billed x Lesser Black-backed Gull. Previous to this, solid dark wings as such have only been reported in small, hooded, gulls in North America.

3. Back in March of 2018, Pennsylvania Game Commission biologists fitted 9 adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls with satellite transmitters. As of 21 May 2018, two individuals had made it to southwest Greenland, and 5 others were to the far northeast between the Bay of Fundy, Northern Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Copyright Pennsylvania Game Commission.

31 May 2018

May 2018 Quiz

Age:  A known-age bird, this individual was banded in Door County, Wisconsin as a nestling. The overall appearance suggests a 1st cycle and the pointed primary tips reinforce this.

Identification: In some ways, a 1st cycle California Gull may approach what we see here, but that species tends to have a longer and more tubular bill. The bill on our quiz bird is stout and widens at the base. Depending on the time of year, we'd expect a more sharply demarcated bill pattern for California. At this age, California Gull has a longer-wing appearance with an attenuated feel to the rear. The silvery 2nd generation scapulars are suspiciously similar to many Herrings at this age, and of course, that's what this individual is. Structurally, it looks fine for a Herring Gull. The solid brown wing coverts are a result of the feather edges fraying, which eliminates much of the pale edging we'd see soon after fledging.

This individual was rescued by the Wisconsin Humane Society after being trapped in a deep windowsill between buildings. Luckily, it was soon released where it then made its way over to Berrien County, Michigan. It was banded as a chick on 24 June 2013. I photographed it in southwest Michigan on 07 December 2013.

29 May 2018

1st Cycle Laughing x Ring-billed Gull - Ohio

Here's a neat 1st cycle photographed by Janice Farral in early May 2018:

Lucas County, Ohio. 

The aspiring hood, leg color and bill pattern make this a great candidate for Laughing x Ring-billed Gull, tending toward the latter. Interestingly, not too far to the east in Lorain, Ohio, observers recorded an adult Laughing Gull being courted by an adult Ring-billed Gull last Spring. A putative hybrid was also seen in Lorain last year.

30 April 2018

Monthly Notables April 2018

  • California Gull (1st cycle). Volusia County, Florida. 06 April 2018.
    • Apparently the same individual seen here in February 2018.
  • Black-headed Gull (adult). New Hanover County, North Carolina. 08 April 2018.
  • Little Gull (adult). Sangamon County, Illinois. 11 April 2018.
  • Common Gull (adult). Barnstable County, Massachusetts. 14 April 2018.
  • Mew Gull (adult). Norfolk County, Massachusetts. 15 April 2018.
    • 1st county record. Perhaps the first well-documented brachyrhynchus for the state.
  • Common Gull (adult). Norfolk County, Massachusetts. 15 Aril 2018.
    • Blue leg band, 747, on left leg, originating from Iceland. This individual was seen on the same stretch of beach with the Mew Gull above. See here. Not to be confused with the metal-banded Common Gull also originating from Iceland.
  • Mew Gull (adult). Schenectady County, New York. 15 April 2018.
    • Apparent 1st county record.
  • Great Black-backed Gull (1st cycle). Burleigh County, North Dakota. 17 April 2018.
  • Little Gull (adult). Ingham County, Michigan. 18 April 2018.
  • Mew Gull (1st cycle). Scott County, Iowa. 18 April 2018.
  • Black-headed Gull (adult). Warren County, Pennsylvania. 19 April 2018.
  • Mew Gull (adult). Keith County, Nebraska. 21 April 2018.
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull (2nd cycle). San Mateo County, California. 24 April 2018.
    • Distinct bird with missing left foot.
  • Black-legged Kittiwake (1st cycle). Cameron Parish, Louisiana. 24 April 2018.
  • Franklin's Gull (adult). Robert Cliché County, Quebec. 27 April 2018.
  • Ivory Gull (adult). Nome County, Alaska. 28 April 2018.
  • Slaty-backed Gull (2nd cycle). Camrose-Lloydminister County, Alberta. 29 April 2018.
  • Little Gull (adult). Sullivan County, New Hampshire. 30 April 2018.

April 2018 Quiz

Age: The gray back and proximal wing coverts suggest an adult bird, but which species?

Identification: Note that Bonaparte's is easily ruled out due to the white trailing edge. Black-legged Kittiwake would be a good guess, but the pattern on the upperwings and primaries contradicts its age. That is, only a young Black-legged Kittiwake would show the white triangle seen here, but it would be coupled with a black carpal bar. Also, traces of a black tailband would be present if it were the more common kittiwake.

From the looks of it, this appears to be a "smaller" gull, mostly recalling Sabine's Gull. But there are some small, subtle, features on this bird that nail the identification: Notice the white sliver on the outer scapulars on the right wing. Zooming in, there is a thin white partition between the scaps and upperwing coverts. This is not found in any Sabine's Gull, but is found in Swallow Tailed-Gull. And. And. And...last, but not least...adult Sabine's have black-ish legs - not the relatively bright pink legs seen in the photo above. 

I think we can be sure that if we ever saw our April Quiz bird, head included, we'd have no trouble agreeing on Swallow-tailed Gull.

Swallow-tailed Gull. Everett, Washington. 02 September 2017.

29 April 2018

Race Point Beach

I spent last weekend at Race Point Beach on the far north tip of the Cape Cod peninsula. I've never been disappointed visiting this site. Gulls abound here and the diversity of species is some of the best I've experienced. This year, it seemed I was a tad late for large numbers of winter gulls and a tad early for spring migrants, but still, 10 species on Saturday speaks to the magnitude of this stretch of beach.

The highlights of my 10 species list include Black-headed (adult), Black-legged Kittiwake (1st cycle) and Glaucous (3rd cycle type). I estimated between 20-30 Kumlien's Gulls of all ages. 1st cycles were mostly ragged and as pale as one could expect for late April. Also of note was a single thayeri type.

This Glaucous easily matched most of the Great Black-backeds in size. 
1st cycle Iceland Gull with 1st cycle Great Black-backed, and Herrings. 

Lots of bleached 1st cycle Icelands were lingering

Most of the 600+ Laughing Gulls present were adults, but here's a 2nd cycle type. Note the incomplete hood and black tertial markings. Spread wing below.

The black alula and primary coverts readily age this bird as a sub-adult.

It's breeding season and the gulls are busy at work...

Bonaparte's were streaming by all day working the offshore Atlantic Right Whale buffets.

Another highlight is this banded 1st cycle Herring Gull.

This sighting reinforces the belief that there is a regular exchange between NF Herrings and those of the NE United States, particularly from Maine and Massachusetts. An important question that may be worth investigating is whether or not this exchange is a function of age. Do younger birds winter farther south, and stay to the south in their formative years? Are adults more likely to "return" to the north Atlantic - particularly to breed - when the become of age?