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.