Archive for the ‘Gulls’ Category

Brooklyn Smash ‘n Grab

March 20, 2017

View of Manhattan from the Brooklyn Army Terminal Pier.

19th March
While Ingrid took care of some chores, I took the opportunity to explore some of the suburban areas of Park Slope and environs, notably the piers south of the apartment. With some guidance from local experts Sean Sime and Shane Blodgett, I scoped out a few spots. (CLICK IMAGES FOR HI-RES FILES)

It was overcast and threatening snow/rain shower, but despite the leaden sky, the moisture held off. Arriving at the Veterans Memorial Pier, I noticed a few distant gulls wheeling around on the water off the Owls Head Treatment Plant. With no access viewing was tough, but a pallid first-cycle Iceland Gull stood out in the haze. After a while, I walked back to the car and was surprised to see a full-hooded, adult Black-headed Gull sat on the railing next to the security booth! Nice.

Adult Black-headed Gull, Veterans Memorial Pier, Brooklyn

The bird soon flew down on to the pier to loaf with some Ring-billed Gulls, and the Iceland Gull did a close fly-by attracted to a person flinging bread on to the pier. A quick check of the Brooklyn Army Terminal failed to find the Mew Gull (brachyrhyncus) seen there by Shane Blodgett over a month ago.

First-cycle Iceland Gull

20th March
With Ingrid and Indra off to the store, I sneaked off for another quick excursion. A quick check of the Brooklyn Army Pier produced nothing different from yesterday. Stopping off in Prospect Park on the way back to the apartment, was lucky in that the juv male Goshawk was sat in one of the tall trees by the feeders. great looks, but backlighting made for some tough images. The bird soon did a fly-by, and I was able to grab some half-decent flight shots, albeit heavily cropped.

Juv Goshawk, Prospect Park, Brooklyn. Relatively small, I assume it’s a male based on size.

The relatively small size and lack of a really bold supercilium could lend itself to being mistaken for a Cooper’s Hawk. Nice broad wings and long-hand and heavily streaked underparts that extend all the way down the underparts, specifically being marked on the undertail coverts are good pro-Gos features.

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An Arctic Blast (from the past)

January 29, 2017
Adult (or 2nd-w) Ross'S Gull, Filey Brigg, North Yorkshire, England 1983 (Dave Burns).

Adult (or 2nd-w) Ross’s Gull, Filey Brigg, North Yorkshire, England 1983 (Dave Burns).

Inspired by the Ross’s Gull currently causing panic in upstate New York, here’s a bit about why this particular species embodies all there is about seeing something magical.

When I was young, long before my teens, the only bird magazine anyone could get over the counter in the UK was the Encyclopedia of Birds; essentially a month-by-month collectable fieldguide, rather than an attractive coffee-table magazine. Each month, the column written by well-known British ornithologist John Gooders was always a treat to read, and a refreshing intro to the trite fieldguide text which followed. To a young impressionable mind, his column always conjured up evocative images of birds and birdwatching both in the UK and abroad.

One particular story always sticks in my mind.

In one particular column, Gooders wrote of the day he had declined a trip to accompany some friends to see an Ivory Gull at Tyneside in the north-east of England. He explained how he had regretted not joining them on that trip after they made an unexpected discovery. They had failed to see the Ivory Gull, but while searching through the endless flocks of gulls, they had found an even rarer and much more mythical species – a Ross’s Gull. Back in the 70s, this gull from the desolate Arctic was much sought after by the British twitching fraternity. Ross’s Gull, as well as other charismatic Arctic species, have always held a special appeal for birders because their occurrences in the UK are less predictable than vagrants from European or Siberian latitudes.

Ross’s Gull was discovered and named after the Arctic and Antarctic explorer, Admiral Sir James Ross. For many years, the breeding grounds of this mysterious gull remained unknown. They were finally discovered nesting in the Kolyma River area in north-eastern Siberia.

Ross’s Gulls however, were a Will-O-the-Wisp, an almost surreal phantom that remained the ultimate prize among the high Arctic denizens that reached our shores.

From the moment I read his story, I longed for the day when I would see a Ross’s Gull; However, being eleven years old, that day seemed all too far away.

Fast forward three years. One February day in 1983, while out birding at my local reservoir, I met another young ‘local-patcher’ named Barry Worsick. We talked, and, after exchanging phone numbers, he invited me out on a car trip the next time “something good” turned up. By sheer coincidence, the phone rang that very same night. Barry’s voice on the other end hinted that “something good” had turned up. He asked, “Do you wanna go see a Ross’s Gull at Filey Brigg tomorrow?” Did I want to go and see a Ross’s Gull at Filey Brigg?! Does the Pope go to mass?!!

My mum agreed to cough up my part of the petrol money which at nearly $4 a gallon puts excessive birding out of reach of the average, destitute fourteen-year-old British lister.

She didn’t seem too worried that I was going to be picked up by a carload of adult men she had never met – at two in the morning – and taken to a place she never knew existed to see a bird she had never heard of. I guess things were different back then!

The night was restless; the excitement of chasing a bird I had only dreamed of was not conducive to sleep. At 4am, a beep of the horn announced my ride was here and I was bundled into the backseat of driver Chris Fogg’s, Datsun Cherry. With Barry in front, I was sandwiched in between Dave “Jacko” Jackson and John Gilligan. I was regaled by tales of recent birds they had seen I had never heard of; Little Bunting at Heswall, Green Heron at Thorngumblad, Little Whimbrel at Sker Point and the infamous “Felixstowe” Stint. As we journeyed through the rolling hills of the Yorkshire Dales in the early hours of 17th February 1983, the collective enthusiasm was heady and pervasive. I didn’t know it then,  but I would spend many enjoyable years travelling with these guys! We arrived at the site just before sunrise. In the pre-dawn gloom, suspicious looking figures were milling about and searching around in their cars for tripods and telescopes. It seemed to me to be an almost clandestine operation. Anywhere else, at an hour that Wee Willie Winkie would eschew, these suspicious looking figures would undoubtedly have had their collars felt by the long arm of the law.

Filey Brigg is a steep, rocky promontory jutting out a half-mile into the North Sea. This area has long been popular with birders for migrants and the rocks below are a favorite high-tide roost for gulls, terns and shorebirds.

Looking down from the top of the Brigg out over Filey Bay, I saw that a veritable football crowd had assembled down on the rocks. I had never seen so many tripods and telescopes! Having executed the steep descent to the base of the Brigg, we skirted over the slippery rocks to take up our position strung out in a line along the water’s edge. Considering the amount of people present it was deathly quiet – the tension of anticipation was thick.

Adult (or 2nd-w) Ross'S Gull, Filey Brigg, North Yorkshire, England 1983 (Dave Bickerton).

Adult (or 2nd-w) Ross’s Gull, Filey Brigg, North Yorkshire, England 1983 (Dave Bickerton).

Suddenly, to my left came a muffled, but excited shout, “There it is!!”

A tremor of panic swept through the crowd; the dead came to life, people slipped, tripods clattered to the ground and people gravitated towards the source of the outburst.

“Where? Where? Where is it? For God’s sake, someone give directions, !*&!!@*56!! DIRECTIONS!!”, screamed one birder.

“O.K! See those gulls out there…”

“ Gulls, there are bloody hundreds of gulls out there, which ones?!”

“ Alright, forget that then.. Umm! See the yacht club in the distance, its flying left, just…going.. past..it ..now!”

“Got it!, Got it!! Got it!!! What a crippler!”

Obscured by the line of birders enjoying the bird to my left, I just caught a glimpse of a wedge-shaped tail vanishing into the early morning mist and was overcome by panic and frustration. Then someone proclaimed, “Here it comes again!”

This time I was ready and quickly got on the bird as it approached. It was so close that I could hardly keep my bins steady as a mixture of relief and elation washed over me. At last, here it was – my first Ross’s Gull. It was a small, dainty gull, with pointy, tern-like wings and that characteristic, cuneate shaped tail. For the next glorious hour, the Ross’s Gull paraded up and down the long line of admirers. An adult in winter plumage, it was a text-book individual. The black, stubby bill and subtle, pink flush on the underparts stood out well against the cold, grey February sky. As it flew in our direction, the birder who was standing next to me, pulled out a stale piece of bread and deftly flicked it out over the water. Simultaneously, the Ross’s Gull (which was no more than arms reach away) dropped and alighted on the water right in front of me! As it picked at the morsel of food, I couldn’t help feeling ashamed; surely this bird-among-birds deserved to be feeding on the equivalent of caviar rather than a day-old piece of Warburton’s Toastie!

Fully satisfied, we left the bird in peace and explored the rest of the Brigg.

Although their appearances in the UK have increased since the late 80s, Ross’s Gulls remain highly prized. I have seen three other Ross’s Gulls since; in 1988, a bald-looking first-winter lingered on a river estuary on the south-coast of England; in 1991, a pink-flushed adult lingered on the wind-lashed coast at Fleetwood, Lancashire; and in 2008 while visiting my folks, I connected with a spring bird at Lytham, again in Lancashire.

First-winter Ross's Gull, Devon, March 1988 (Julian Hough). First-winter's are hard to come by, so along with Paul Derbyshire and a few other stalwarts we trekked the 5 hours down to Devon to see this beast and despite horrible weather managed good looks.

First-winter Ross’s Gull, Devon, March 1988. First winters are hard to come by, so along with Paul Derbyshire and a few other stalwarts we trekked the 5 hours down to Devon to see this beast and despite horrible weather, managed good looks. It remains the only first-year I have seen.

My then wife Dawn at Fliey Brigg - host to my first ever twitch. On a trip back to the UK in the late 90s we payed homage to "the Brigg". I still have fond memories of the gull.

My then wife Dawn at Filey Brigg – host to my first ever twitch. On a trip back to the UK in the late 90s we paid homage to “the Brigg”.

Adult (or 2nd-w) Ross'S Gull, Lytham-St-Anne's, Lancashire, England May 2008 (Julian Hough). It became evident that this bird was not well and unfortunately was found dead two days after I saw it.

Adult (or 2nd-w) Ross’s Gull, Lytham-St-Anne’s, Lancashire, England May 2008 (Julian Hough). It became evident that this bird was not well and unfortunately was found dead two days after I saw it.

Strange to think that, as a teenager I could never have predicted such an occurrence so close to my childhood home. That the unthinkable can happen is a testament to the excitement of birding. Even today, when a Ross’s Gull is sighted, it brings back all of the fond memories of that exciting day, and of the acquaintances that were forged. Every time I am fortunate enough to connect with a Ross’s Gull, John Gooders’ story always comes to mind.

I hope that by now he has seen many Ross’s Gulls. If not, perhaps he could gain some solace in knowing that I am seeing them, in part, through his eyes.

 

 

Going to California….again!

October 3, 2016

Nick and I birded some spots around Madison and Guilford and saw little of note, except for a cool-looking adult hybrid Little Blue x Tricolored Heron in boulder pond at Hammo.

A cool hybrid Little Blue x Tricolored Heron showing well at Hammonassett. One of originally two birds that turned up as juveniles.

Returning home, I checked the local boat ramp looking for gulls, knowing Nick had refound the spring’s California Gull at Sandy Point a few days prior – we assumed it had long gone, but it had obviously been loitering in the area. A collection of gulls sheltering from the NE wind and high tide included a fresh juv Lesser Black-backed, but no sign of any California.

A fresh juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull sheltering from the inclement weather

I had to leave to do some errands, and while driving down the beach about 1/2 mile away, I noticed a lone gull sitting on the beach. “Ello!” I recognized the bird straight away and pulled on to the kerb to find the California Gull resting on the beach. I got out and grabbed a couple of shots, but the bird was rather skittish. It was now scrappy-looking and undergoing its complete molt into 2nd-basic plumage. Surprising to see the bird still around, but great to see it again locally. I checked again the next day but was surprised to relocate it back at the boat ramp where it had been foraging in the spring.

2nd-cycle California Gull, Sandy Point, West Haven.

 

2nd-cycle California Gull, Sandy point, West Haven.

Californication 2016

April 9, 2016
First-cycle California Gull, West Haven, CT, April 2016 (Julian Hough)

First-cycle California Gull, West Haven, CT, April 2016 (Julian Hough)

After it had gone missing for a week, I bumped into the California Gull still visiting the boatramp. It remained fairly regular giving great views and photo-opps.

I met Brooklyn birding acquaintance Sean Sime and his wife Sarah down there today (9th) to see if I could nail it down for them as they passed through on their way from Rhode Island. It was quiet when I arrived with few gulls – it was not looking good! Alex and I started to throw some bread and within a few minutes Sean picked up the bird flying around. Mark Szantyr arrived at that moment and we all had ridiculous views as usual. (Click for larger images)

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California Dreamin’

March 30, 2016
First-cycle California Gull, West Haven, CT 3/24 (Julian Hough). Without direct comparison, some of the structural features are not clearly evident. The small size, intermediate between Ring-billed and Herring Gull, with disproportionately longer wings, short, narrow tail and shorter legs were quite obvious. The glaucous-like bill pattern was similar to other 2nd -cycle Herring Gulls but the darker grey mantle feathers coming in and dark greater covert panel were typical California. In flat light the pale, anemic legs were grey-green toned on the shins, another feature charactersitic of CAGU.

First-cycle California Gull, West Haven, CT 3/24 (Julian Hough). Without direct comparison with other gulls, some of the structural features are not clearly evident. The smaller size, intermediate between Ring-billed and Herring Gull, with disproportionately longer wings, short, narrow tail and shorter legs were quite obvious in the field. The glaucous-like bill pattern was similar to other 2nd -cycle Herring Gulls but the darker grey mantle feathers coming in and dark greater covert panel were typical California. In flat light, the pale, anemic legs were grey-green toned on the shins, another feature characteristic of CAGU.

Act #1

Well, as if Eurasian Common Gull and (Short-billed) Mew Gull at Hammo wasn’t enough, Stefan Martin, while looking for both these birds the day after I saw them,  photographed a first-cycle bird on the beach at Meig’s point which he identified as a California Gull!!

A long-awaited state first, this was a bird on several peoples’ radar for a long time – a real birder’s bird! The identification is compounded by the vast array of Herring Gull mimics, which makes picking out a California Gull not for the faint of heart – it is a bird that would be easily overlooked by many birders, so Stefan receives big kudos for this one!

Thankfully the bird remained faithful to the beach and boulder pool area at Meig’s point, showing well and  allowing many people to catch up with it before it disappeared by Wednesday.

Act #2

On my way home from work on 24th March, Nick Bonomo and I were discussing on the phone what other new gulls were lurking in the sound – still to be found. He was out checking the local areas. Sitting in the Yale University Gym, New Haven,  I was just about to work-out when I get a call from him, “I’m at the West Haven Boat Ramp – I have the California Gull here!”

This boat ramp is on the west side of New Haven harbor, close to my home and a spot I check regularly, one I had planned to check in the morning! It is 20 miles west of Hammonasset, so Nick’s re-finding was amazing-even better when it was right next to the house.

Leave gym. Get bins and camera. Arrive at boat ramp. See California Gull sitting nonchalantly on the beach. It is dusk, so light isn’t great but Nick, myself and Tony Amato enjoy great views of this bird. Who’d have thunk!

First-cycle California Gull, West Haven, CT 3/24 (Julian Hough). The long, rakish wings are not as evident in this shot, but in flight the longish, spiky bill, relatively narrow tail and Long-tailed Jaeger-like shape to the undercarriage were classic California. The best feature on this image is the nice dark primaries, lacking any pale inner window, dark trailing edge and a second dark bar formed by extensively dark greater coverts, is a must-have for any putative California. The dark tail and heavily barred rump is very Herring Gull-like, but the thin white outerweb to the tail and pale terminal tips are subtle differences from Herring Gull.

First-cycle California Gull, West Haven, CT 3/24 (Julian Hough). The long, rakish wings are not as evident in this shot, but in flight the longish, spiky bill, relatively narrow tail and Long-tailed Jaeger-like shape to the undercarriage were classic California. The best features on this image : the nice dark primaries, lacking any pale inner window; dark trailing edge; and a second dark bar formed by extensively dark greater coverts – all ‘must-haves” for any putative California. The dark tail and heavily barred rump is very Herring Gull-like, but the thin white outerweb to the tail and pale terminal tips are subtly different.

Postscript: the most interesting part of all this, is from photographs, it appears that this is the same bird that was seen, and photographed, by a single observer in Gravesend Bay, Brooklyn in January 2016, before being refound across the sound in CT at Hammonasset and then in New Haven in March 2016.

Two Rabbits – One Hat!

March 29, 2016

Short-billed (Mew) Gull, Hammonasset SP, CT 20th March 2016 (Julian Hough). Note very narrow bill, nicotine-stained blotchiness extending from crown around in a shawl onto the upperbreast. Very extensive grey tongues P8-7 with broad white subterminal "spots". Broad trailing edge.

Short-billed (Mew) Gull, Hammonasset SP, CT 20th March 2016 (Julian Hough). Note very narrow bill, nicotine-stained blotchiness extending from crown around in a shawl onto the upperbreast. Very extensive grey tongues P8-7 with broad white subterminal “spots”. Broad trailing edge very striking! (Click on images for hi-res version)

Sunday March 20th saw me leisurely sipping my fourth cup of java in Park Slope, Brooklyn, contemplating getting Alex and myself together to leave when my phone rang. It was Nick Bonomo, calmly informing me with news that he had found (another) Common Gull in CT, at Hamonassett State Park.

“I know you need it for CT, so wanted to let you know..but..it’s not in view right now”. Appreciative of the personal shout-out about a state Nemesis bird, it kick-started our exit strategy.

We were on the road by 11:30 and had got onto the Brooklyn Bridge when I get another call from NB..”Hey..I am pretty sure there’s two Mew-type Gulls here and the one I just refound in the flock is a !@#### Short-billed!!”.

AAARRGGGHHHHH!!!!

The first documented state record of the west coast race brachyrhyncus, which, if the current treatise on the complex by Adriaens and Gibbins 2016  is anything to go by, may be split in the near future.

Motherfather! Well done Mr. Bonomo – a two-fer!!

It seems that every weekend I am in Brooklyn, someone finds a rare bird in CT. This has necessitated a frantic, white-knuckle, cannonball-type run from the ‘burbs of the Big Apple to the tax-hiked landscape of Connecticut.

Thankfully, I blasted out of Brooklyn and up I-95 into CT not encountering any traffic at all. A mere two hours after leaving Brooklyn, including a quick pit-stop in New Haven, to grab the scope and camera, I Tokyo-drifted into the Meigs Point parking lot at 1:32pm!

I ran down and joined some familiar faces that were overseeing an expansive flock of gulls. The problem was that most were all jibber-jabbering away and not really focused on the prizes at hand. Damn them..I expected to look in one scope and see a brachyrhyncus, and then move on to the next scope and see a canus.

Panicked and fuelled by adrenaline and in full twitch mode, I was ready to commit some GBH at any second, when John Oshlik mercifully said “I’ve got the Short-billed in my scope”.  BOOM…Mew Gull #1!

Note slightly darker mantle, long wings with broad white tertial crescent at rest.Short-billed (Mew) Gull, Hammonasset SP, CT 20th March 2016 (Julian Hough).
Note slightly darker mantle, long wings with broad white tertial crescent at rest

The bird showed briefly on the water then quickly took flight, showing a whopping broad trailing edge to the wing and obvious white subterminal “spots” which gave the bird a much different wing pattern than nominate Canus. The bird circled around and alighted on the stone jetty.

Short-billed (Mew) Gull, Hammonasset SP, CT 20th March 2016 (Julian Hough).

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Within minutes, the bird belonging to the nominate Eurasian race, canus , was found bathing in the water in the lee of the rocks, showing a much cleaner head and a staring, black eye. BOOM…Mew Gull #2!

Holy crap!

With both birds safely under the belt I settled in to take a good look at the canus, noticing the much whiter-headed, dark-eyed look and, in flight, the narrower trailing edge (especially on the inner primaries) and darker areas on P8 lacking extensive grey tongues and with black extending 3/4 up the feather shafts.

_MG_9515 copyCommon Gull, nominate canus, Little Lever, UK, February 2008 (Julian Hough). Note dark subterminal mark to bill, P8 largely dark with no extensive grey “tongue”. Relatively narrow trailing edge, especially on the inner primaries. This individual has a dark, blackish eye in the field.

Growing up in the UK, canus was a North American tick, but a species I was familiar with, but the brachyrhyncus was the main prize. It had been lost for a while in the swirling melee, but thankfully I locked into it as it flew back in to join the plankton-feeding flock in front of us, giving great, prolonged looks. It subsequently took flight, passing reasonably close in front of us giving a decent photo-opp. Excellent stuff.

For a personal account of a great find by Nick, check out his blog here;http://www.shorebirder.com/2016/03/two-gulls-one-flock.html

Franklin’s Fall-out November 2015

November 21, 2015

Having just returned from Texas where Franklin’s Gulls were moving in big numbers, the strong storm bringing strong winds into the north-east seemed conducive to bringing some Franklin’s Gulls. Nick Bonomo and I had mused over this, and with some birds in the mid-west, hopes were high. An east-coast Franklin’s Gull had been a nemesis bird for me ever since I had lived in the US. I had seen two close to my house in the UK, but missed the last two records in CT in 1998 and 1999. It was a bird that I had sought for more than a decade. Then Nick actually went out and did the unthinkable – actually finding a one-day wonder with Frank Gallo http://www.shorebirder.com/2015/11/franklins-gull-in-ct.html

Although gripped into oblivion, this hopeful herald carried with it optimism of more birds.

Keeping close contact with Tom Reed in Cape May, it was obvious on Nov 13 a huge influx of Franklin’s Gulls was happening in the mid-Atlantic region. See here for a more thorough analysis of the event: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/news/frgu2015/

With only five previous CT records, at least 30+ occurred in two days!

I expected these birds to reorient themselves quickly and with Nick confirming a deliberate westerly movement of the CT birds, tardy birders would likely struggle to find them. Due to work, I couldn’t be out that morning, but checking local gull spots came up blank. Combined with the only lingering flock of ten departing before I could get there, beads of sweat began to form on my brow. As I pulled into Oyster River, a well-known resting flock for gulls (host of CT’s only Ross’s and Kamchatka Gulls), a cursory scan with bins revealed two first-cycle Franklin’s Gull. !!@@###### BOOM!

I drove over and managed a few shots in nice light. I called Nick who was nearby and he came over and we were able to watch these crippling birds for a couple of hours. We babysat them for Dave Tripp who finally arrived after dipping them nearby. He kindly bought the celebratory brews at the local bar – we were able to sit drinking a beer at sunset with the birds visible in the background. Amazing stuff!

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First-winter Franklin’s Gull

Gulls Gone Wild!

April 20, 2015

17th-19th April – West Haven, CT (click images for larger view)

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First-cycle Thayer’s Gull, West Haven, CT 19th April

After Nick Bonomo refound the adult Kamchatka Gull at Oyster River on the West Haven, Milford border, (first found in Southport, CT by Mayn Hipp and Mike Warner a week previously), Oyster River had been given a good going over by a few locals, mainly because it was a great loafing spot for gulls and hosted CT’s only Ross’s Gull in the 80s.

The birds are frequently disturbed here by Joe Public and when flushed, frustratingly often fly off into the sound and despite checking the area, the Kamchatka Gull had not been seen since. Nick and I did find a surprisingly late Snowy Owl along the same stretch of coast. Later that night, amazingly enough, Keith Mueller, birding the same spot an hour before Nick refound the Kamchatka, had unwittingly photographed another Mew Gull while taking shots of Bonaparte’s Gulls. The images appear to show the Eurasian race of Mew Gull, known as Common Gull.

On Friday 17th, I had left work early for a Dentist appt. Deciding to head down to Oyster River on spec, I was just leaving New Haven, when Nick called to tell me Keith had relocated the Kamchatka Gull back at Oyster River. Panicking, I set off only to hit rush hour traffic. Halfway there I got a call that the bird was flushed by a clammer and was not on view. AAARRRGGGHHHH!!! Relief came when Keith called back and said he had it out on the flats. A mad sprint later and the bird showed excellent roosting on the flats.

Adult Kamchatka Gull, Oyster River, CT

Adult Kamchatka Gull, Oyster River, CT

I spent Sunday afternoon 19th April birding, but  there was no sign of the Kamchatka Gull or any other gulls for that matter. Taking my usual route back to the house, I stopped at the West Haven boat ramp, as I often do to check out any gulls. There were few birds in evidence but I did spot a first-cycle Iceland Gull on the water.

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_P9A4672After shooting it for some time, I left. As I was reversing back, I caught a glimpse of a bird landing below the dock, but the metal barricade obscured everything but the underside of the wingtip. It looked surprisingly silvery, but didn’t strike me as Iceland. My spidey sense was tingling, so I stopped the car, got my bins and peered over the barrier to find a first-cycle Thayer’s Gull staring back at me. Holy !!!@@$$$$.

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Doing a double-take, I checked off the short primaries with nice silvery fringes, brown, pale-tipped tail and overall bleached, cafe-au-lait plumage. Structurally it was all thayeri with short legs, a slight pot-belly and a disproportionately small, but pear-shaped head. The bill was mostly dark, just beginning to get some flesh-color at the base. Thayer’s retain their juvenile mantle feathers until later in the winter and upperparts seemed to be all worn first generation feathers, again supportive of Thayer’s Gull.

_P9A4882In flight, coffee-coloured (not blackish, or dark brown) tail, secondary bar and outer webs to the outer primaries all screamed..RESULT!!

_P9A4778Nice pale underside to primaries, here the light showing through illuminating the “venetian blind” effect on the primaries.

_P9A4845Note color of primaries and tertial centres being rather uniform and not contrastingly darker as some of the similar, bleached Herring Gulls nearby. What a cracking bird! I’ve always dreamed of finding something like a Mew Gull or a Franklin’s Gull here, but Thayer’s was not really on my radar.

A fantastic few days of birding on my local beaches!

_P9A4254Snowy Owl, Bradley Point, West Haven..a nice consolation for missing the Kamchatka Gull on the first evening.

Not seeing the kumlieni for the hyperboreus- an id. put to rest

December 24, 2013

A first-year white-winged gull turned up last year at Long Beach, Stratford, CT It was well photographed and identified by various observers as a Glaucous Gull, then perhaps a hybrid. However, the pix show a bird that fits with kumlieni, albeit a very big one! I had mentioned my opinion at the time, but the bird continued to be discussed ad nauseum with some observers believing the bird to possibly be a hybrid, an opinion I was at odds with since there didn’t seem to be any hybrid characters. Although it returned this winter, it was still reported as a Glaucous Gull despite it having dark-washed primaries, a feature never shown by hyperboreus.

After a careful analysis of the photos, I concluded the pro-Glaucous features to be:

  • It was big!

The pro-kumlieni features to be:

  • It didn’t look like a Glaucous Gull!

Thankfully, it returned this winter in it’s second-winter plumage sporting the expected dusky webs to the outer primaries diagnostic of kumlieni. The bird’s large size was apparent, but not outside the range of kumlieni and I think many observers got too hung up on size and didn’t really assess the bird’s plumage features which, as shown are perfectly kumlieni.

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Note the rather slim body and pointed wings and proportionately large eye. The solid, dusky tail and dusky outer webs to the outer primaries are diagnostic of kumlieni. The large mirror on P10 is visible in the enlarged version._MG_5424

23rd February – Possible Slaty-backed Gull (?), Hartford County, CT

February 23, 2013

A small band of CT birders visited the Windsor landfill to look for a couple of potentially “good” gulls. Although gull numbers were low, there was a nice 2nd-cycle Kumlien’s Gull and the putative Slaty-backed “thingy” amongst them. Found initially by local birder Mark Szantyr, it had attracted attention during the week. Although Nick and I looked at it, we seemed suitably not bowled over since it seemed duller and more Herring Gull-like in certain lights and poses. However, there were definitely some good Slaty-backed traits, but the identification issue is clouded by the unfamiliarity with this taxon, especially in this plumage. When reviewing the images later, Nick and I became a little more convinced about it looking more Slaty-backed-like than initially thought. In some pictures, there seems to be a hint of a “string of pearls” on the inner primaries and are those rear scapulars good for Slaty-backed?. Comments welcome either way. All photos by moi…

_MG_7494 _MG_7464 _MG_7458 _MG_7440 _MG_7404 _MG_7402 _MG_7499 _MG_7487 _MG_7453 _MG_7446 _MG_7417 _MG_7451

Peter Adriaens, a Belgian birder whose opinion I respect on identification matters, especially gulls commented as follows:
My impression was and still is that this bird’s plumage looks very similar to 1c Slaty-backed indeed, and it may well be one. 
     The simple pattern of tertials and wing coverts looks good, the latter also being very pale. White edges to the tertials, all the way to the greater coverts.
The pattern of the primaries seems ok: pale tongues outwards to P9, and the inner primaries have fairly dull bases and whitish distal area.
    In many birds, the bases are a bit darker brown (almost matching the colour of the outer primaries),
and the contrast with the whitish distal area more pronounced, but it is certainly still within variation. 
The uppertail coverts lack the strongly barred pattern of smithsonianus, and look good for Slaty-backed. 
Bill looks a bit stouter than in average smithsonianus.
 
However, there are a few issues that need to be addressed:
– The tail shows rather striking dark barring on the outer webs of the outermost tail feathers, right up to the very base.
This is odd for 1c Slaty-backed; they usually have an all-dark tail. Some birds have pale bases to outer tail feathers, but these are usually only poorly marked
or even completely unmarked. In fact, the only bird I could find among my photos that closely matched this kind of tail pattern is one that showed mixed characters
of both Slaty-backed and Vega Gull… I have (temporarily) uploaded some images of Slaty-backed Gulls with some degree of dense dark barring on outer tail feathers here:
http://users.telenet.be/peteradriaens/slaty/
As you can see, they approach the pattern seen in the Connecticut bird, but the latter is more extreme still, and a step further toward the tail pattern commonly seen in smithsonianus.
– Pattern of wingcoverts: Especially in late winter, 1c Slaty-backed Gulls often have (very) pale greater coverts that contrast with darker and more strongly pattern median and lesser coverts.
In the Connecticut bird, it is the lesser coverts that are palest, even paler than the greater coverts. I could find no birds matching this ‘reverse’ pattern among my pictures.
– Shape: Many Slaty-backed Gulls show typically big, “inflated” body with angular, goose-like vent and short wing projection. Some are slimmer and more elongated though, as you can see in the link to my webspace. So, on the one hand, I think the body shape of the Connecticut bird is within variation, but on the other hand it could have been more convincingly different from American HG.
– Leg colour: The vast majority of 1c Slaty-backed Gulls show bright pink legs, often with dark shins. The leg colour of the Connecticut bird seems a bit paler, and not too different from AHGU (?)
Furthermore, the undertail coverts of the Connecticut bird look rather extensively barred. They are usually more liberally spotted in 1c Slaty-backed, but there are birds with more of a barred pattern (inviting confusion with AHGU).
 
All in all, I feel the Connecticut bird may be a variant Slaty-backed Gull; it certainly looks so similar that it would be worrying if it is something else entirely!
However, it does not look entirely typical, and I am unable to exclude something like a Slaty-backed x Vega Gull hybrid, or perhaps even a very unusual smithsonianus with certainty.
There may also be Glaucous-winged x AHGU hybrids to worry about, reinforcing the importance of the tail and wing covert pattern.”
 
Hopefully this is helpful in some way…

Peter

Several other experienced birders have weighed in but overall, such a beast out of context, with anomalous plumage for both SBGU and AMHEGU, seems destined for the “in limbo” bin.  An interesting bird that, if nothing else, has been a primer for what to look for on putative first-cycle SBGUs.