Sunday, March 29, 2009

unidentified first-cycle gull

UPDATE 4/2/09:
I've received quite a bit of input on this bird from gull-watchers with experience with both European Herring and Vega Gulls. Most feel that this bird would fit in with a flock of "Old World" Herring Gulls if it were seen on the other side of either ocean. However since we aren't sure what smithsonianus is capable of, no one (including myself) is willing to put a name on this bird. Maybe time will tell, but for now it remains unidentified.

In the photos below I have illustrated some of the pro-"Old World" features of this bird:

While birding Milford Pt a few days ago, this bird was among the several thousand gulls present.

More photos, and their original sizes, click HERE.

If anybody has thoughts on it, please let me know.

- NB

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Thayer's Gull???

While at Milford Pt today John Oshlick and I had brief looks at an unidentified, faded first-cycle gull showing many characteristics of Thayer's Gull. I first spotted the bird slowly flying along the shore into the stiff breeze and immediately thought we had a Thayer's Gull. Easily visible were underwings like that of a white-winged gull, a perfect 'venitian blind' pattern on the primaries, a dark secondary bar, and a solid brown tail band except for pale bases to the outer rectrices. Absolutely classic-looking for Thayer's.

The bird then landed on the water with a few young Herrings. The folded primaries were chocolate-brown with neat pale finges, tertials were a bit paler and solid-centered, and the bill was black. Still looked great for Thayer's at this point.

But a couple things appeared a bit off. First, the bird was the same size as the adjacent Herrings, not discernably smaller (or larger) anyway. Structurally, it had a very "rangey" feel for a Thayer's, particularly the head/bill combo. The head was only slightly more rounded than a typical HEGU, and the bill was quite long (although a bit slimmer than nearby Herrings). The birds I have recently been comfortable calling Thayer's have averaged much more Iceland Gull-like in structure, not quite this Herring-like. I'm not so concerned about the size, given the great variability in large gull size. It's more the structure that bothers me. Is this within range of Thayer's?

It should be noted that the upperparts were quite faded and somewhat worn, as expected in mid-March, so I was not able to judge the age of the scapulars in our brief encounter.

So what is it?

So many field marks are good for Thayer's, but something feels a bit off to me. If not a Thayer's, what sort of hybrid or aberrant individual would show this suite of characters?

I would love to hear opinions on this one. Please leave a comment below, or email me directly if you'd like.

No first-cycle HEGUs present had a completely black bill like this.

Right bird.

First seen in flight, we had fine looks at the primary pattern. Outer webs were dark and inner webs pale, creating the oft-discussed 'venetian blind' look. I would think that a bird with Herring Gull blood would show a more HEGU-like pattern.

Sometimes digibinning isn't so successful...

I think the fading of this bird complicates its identification. Immature gulls at this time of year can be so faded and/or worn that feather-by-feather analysis becomes more difficult.

For anyone interested in looking for this bird, it was first seen along the back side of the "Piping Plover spit" and then flew out to the large sandbar in the middle of the river mouth. Thousands of gulls were present around the mouth of the river, on both the Milford and Stratford sides. There wasn't much movement offshore while I was there. Who knows what else was out there in the masses.

Also present:

adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, lower left

just a portion of the thousands of gulls present (this flock was 98% Ring-billed)

One of two drake "Eurasian" Green-winged Teal in the marsh.

- Nick

Friday, March 20, 2009

"Common" MEW GULL, West Haven

A brief tour of the West Haven/Woodmont shoreline in search of gulls was extended for several hours after finding this adult "Common" Mew Gull (L. c. canus, the European form) at Bradley Point in West Haven, CT. I was primarily in search of Little Gull today, planning on getting home for the start of the 12:30 NCAA basketball games. A stop at the beach/flats at Bradley Point didn't reveal any Boneys, but there were plenty of Ring-bills. Five minutes into the scan I was lucky enough to encounter this bird while it had its bill out. At times it was very cooperative, while preening and showing its bill. For extended periods, though, it would tuck away to sleep, at which time it was nearly impossible to pick out among the Ringers if you didn't know it was there. The bird's mantle was a touch darker than RBGU, but not by much, so it could easily be overlooked while at rest.

Dark iris, slim bill with a faint subterminal markings on a rounded head, slightly darker upperparts than adjacent RBGUs.

Large mirrors on p10 and p9. P8 is extensively black with no mirror. P4 without black markings.

Nice profile shot between two Ringers.

Rather clean white head, with some dark speckling present on the forehead.

Preening bird, with its left wing raised.

The Common Gull is the only sitting bird with its body facing right. Note the slightly smaller size and darker mantle.

Well this one felt good. We were due in CT. I think the last (only?) one was in the 70s. This should constitute the first photographed record for CT and the first one identified to subspecies. 

 PS - Not bad for my least favorite time of year :) 

 - Nick

Sunday, March 15, 2009

My least favorite time of year

The weather is warming, winter is nearly over...but the birding can be downright boring!

Let's take a quick walk through the local birding calendar: May speaks for itself. June is a prime rarity month (especially coastally). July and August are exciting shorebirding months. September and October combine passerines, raptors, and the later shorbs. November is another fantastic rarity month. December brings CBCs, and the first winter rarities are discovered, some of which spend the entire season. January and February can be spent scouring the gulls at the local landfill (I miss it already...). And then there's March/April....

Many of you will likely disagree with me on this, but my motivation to go birding takes a serious hit in March and early April. The rare gulls are thinning in number, winter finches disappear, and boreal rarities such as hawk-owls and gyrfalcons won't be found this late in the season.

There are some highlights though. Bonaparte's Gulls are arriving and should be forming larger flocks as the month progresses. They always bring the possibility of Black-headed, Little, or even Ross's Gull with them. And then we have the waterfowl migration, during which ponds and marshes are filled with several species including the Redheads and "Common" Teals recently seen in CT.

But as far as true rarities are concerned.....yawn :)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Greylag Goose in CT

On Feb 22, 2009 Greg Hanisek found a wild-type Greylag Goose in Wallingford, CT. The Wallingford area farm fields and reservoirs have been a haven for Greenland geese over the years (including several Canadas banded in Greenland, several Greenland Greater White-fronted Geese, and Barnacle Goose).

Several aspects of this sighting are intriguing, hinting that we should take a close look at this bird and the possibilty that it may be a wild occurence. Here are some photos.

- NB

Greenish Siskin

During Monday's snowstorm, a small group of 6 Pine Siskins visited the feeder along with a few goldfinches. One of the birds was very yellow-green overall and stuck out from the others. The yellow undertail coverts first caught my eye. Closer scrutiny revealed a weak yellow wash through the underparts and auriculars, a yellow-green rump, and a green coloration to the upperparts. While not nearly as striking as some green siskins recently photographed by others, this individual was still obvious while looking between snowflakes. It was actually very similar in color intensity and pattern to Scott Kruitbosch's backyard siskin from the same day in Stratford.

I tried digiscoping from inside the house with little success. Here are the only few photos that came out:

Top-right bird. Click for larger images. Here you can just barely make out the yellow UTCs, variable yellow wash on the underparts and auriculars, and the greenish upperparts.

The upperparts were uniformly green-brown with the exception of the centermost scapulars.

- Nick