New England Coastal BIrds

New England Coastal BIrds

Friday, March 1, 2013

Part 7- "White Wings and Yellow Legs?"

     Part 7- Day 14, Friday, February 15, Windsor Landfill, Windsor, CT- With the increasing Gull numbers along the shoreline, I decided it would be a good time to head up to the landfill. I hadn't seen many reports from the landfill lately, so this might be a good time to go. Maybe a few winter species would be hanging out with the hundreds and hundreds of mostly Herring and handfuls of Greater Black-backed Gulls.

     I arrived at the station office at 8:00 am and after getting permission at the front gate, I was soon parked along the dirt road in the landfill. It was cold outside with a strong northerly wind blowing across the open space of the landfill. The temperature was hovering around twenty degrees. With the north wind adding the windchill, it was cold! My biggest surprise was the lesser amount of snow covering the ground. Since I live near the shoreline, we usually experience the opposite and tally less snow than inland. But it looks like the Hartford area received much less snow than we did. As I opened my truck door, a single Kildeer ran by on the road.....

     ......followed by two more.

     There were only a few hundred Gulls there, most clustered in small scattered groups like this small gathering of Greater Black-backed Gulls-

     When the first truck came down the dirt road, the Gulls scattered and heading over to more prime Real Estate near where the truck was unloading. I scanned hard through the flocks, but nothing stood out-

     I walked up on one of the large burms near the unloading area, and started panning through the gathered Gulls. In the flock of these impatient Gulls, a spotted a blue bill with a black tip which was visible in between the other Gulls on the outer side of the flock. It was a 2nd cycle Kumlien's Gull (center)-

     This Gull had a few dark paint stains on its lower lores, making this an important identifying mark, especially if additional similar type Gulls were also at the landfill today.-

     As usual, the Gulls moved around the area often, and this Kumlien's Gull was seen many times as it circled around......

     ......flew up the hill.....

     .....and landed again.-

     Another Gull I am always looking for are the Herring Gulls with the long p10 mirror. These Gulls are stated to be from Newfoundland, and show up later in winter. Here are two Newfoundland Herring Gulls-

     While sorting through the mass of flying Gulls, another pair of Killdeer flew into the landfill-

     Another Newfoundland Herring Gull (center)-

     1st cycle Herring Gull (left) and Greater Black-backed Gull (right)-

     There were quite a few Sparrows flying around, including many Tree Sparrows-

     Another 2nd cycle Kumliens?-

     No, you can see the black ink spots on its right lower lores-

      Its easy to pick out here-

     It eventually landed below the burm where I was standing.....

     .....and ate a little snow-

     This was a larger Kumlien's Iceland Gull. You can see the size as compared to these Greater Black-backed Gulls-

     It was a little later in the morning and the Gull numbers increased. Little by little Gulls began trickling in from the all directions including from over the hill coming from the Rainbow Reservoir. I looked down the road and two people were walking and looking at every gull in the area. It was Patrick Comins and Jan Collins.-

     They soon joined me on top of the burm. The number of Gulls continued to increase reaching nearly a thousand. We looked hard but so far we only had the one Kumlien's Gull and several Newfoundland Herring Gulls.-

    As another truck emptied its load, the Gulls engulfed the area making us look even harder through the tangled mass of swarming Gulls-

    Patrick spotted a single 3rd cycle Lesser Black-backed Gull which was leaving the landfill to the northwest.-

     One of two Red-tailed Hawks perched along the peripheral of the landfill-

      While we were standing there discussing the Gulls in front of us, Patrick spotted a Gull in his binoculars flying right towards us. He said this is a  "significant Gull" and he asked me to make sure I get pictures of it....

     .....which I did!-

     The Gull was large, the same size as a Herring Gull. Even with my minimal experience and skills with large early cycle Gulls, I knew this Gull was special! Patrick said " I believe this is a Yellow-legged Gull"! -

     You can see by this profile shot, that this Gull is different. My first reaction was that this bird reminded me of a large pale Lesser Black-backed Gull. My explanation to my response was to demonstrate that this Gull did not look like a Herring Gull in all of its features mostly body shape and confirmation.-

     Good head me this is not the head of a 2nd cycle Herring Gull!-

     The bird started walking and feeding only a few yards in front of us. Feeding and nervous Gulls will compress their feathers which is a normal reaction, just as fluffing their feathers when they are aggressive to appear larger. This Gull seemed quite long-legged regardless of the feeding posture-

      It was later discussed by others that this may be a Herring x Lesser Black-backed hybrid. But this Gull in this flying pose shows something really different and unique.-

     For those who might want to study this bird and try and identify it, here are a few good diagnostic flying shots-

     This Gull was present all morning and we spotted it several times-

    When this Gull stepped into the water, some of the gray dried mud washed off and you can clearly see the pale ochre yellow color (not pink) developing.-

     This is the last time I saw this Gull today. It eventually flew up by my truck and landed only a few feet away from me. Note- The discussion regarding the ID of this Gull will go on for some time. I am sure Patrick believes that this is a Yellow-legged Gull, just as I do. I study birds by their overall form and composition. I am not a scientist or Ornithologist, who have the scientific experience to render a decision. But, I have nearly forty years experience of understanding and reading a birds anatomy and form. To me this Gull is individually different. I am certainly not qualified to identify it, but do consider it a very probable Yellow-legged Gull.

     Here are two features to condsider- the feet show a pale hint of yellow-

     And the emerging gray scapulars and wing coverts are medium gray in color: too dark for Herring Gull, and too light for Lesser Black-backed Gull. They are somewhere in the middle in color-

      Back to Gulling.- Two more Newfoundland Herring Gulls-


     One of the few Ring-billed Gulls at the landfill-

     The Gulls were on the move again-

     The same 2nd cycle Kumlien's Gull? Even though this Gull shows mud spattering, the wing covert markings look similar-

     The Gull takes off giving a good opportunity to examine the primaries-

     The outer four primaries are darker with the same large p10 mirrors-

       The bird does have the dark spots on the right side lower lores.....


    The bill and bill tip colors match-

       Patrick and Jan walk up to scope the other Gulls in the area. Some of the roosting Gulls from the snow covered hill take off and swarm around the landfill-

     Part of the flock break away and fly directly towards me on the burm-

     In the middle of the flock on the back side, I spot a set of white-wings (center rear).....

     .....and when I look closely at the Gull with the white wings, it is an adult Kumlien's Gull. But I also notice a second set of white-wings to the left of that adult; a 2nd cycle Kumlien's Gull (below left)-

     The adult flies off to the left while the 2nd cycle Gull flies directly at me.


     I thought this Gull was the same 2nd cycle Gull that we had seen all morning. But this Gull did not have the muddy spatter all over it. This was a second 2nd cycle Kumlien's. I followed the Gull as it rejoined the other Gulls flying around the landfill. I lost it and the adult in the large mass of flying Gulls.

     Many of the Gulls flew out of the area towards the east and north, and the remaining Gulls flew back to the snow covered hill where Patrick and Jan were walking towards. (Notice the Newfoundland Herring Gull-bottom center). I thought (and hoped) that the two new Kumlien's Gulls would be sitting on the hill with the other Gulls. But there was the possibility that they flew out of the area.-

     I joined Jan and Patrick by the hill and they were scoping through all the Gulls, ( most certainly looking for that probable Yellow-legged Gull)! I mentioned the two new Iceland Gulls when Patrick said that he had found a 1st cycle Lesser Black-backed Gull. It was on top of the hill in the middle of the flock-

     Good side by side comparison of the Lesser Black-backed (left) and Greater Black-backed (right)-

     It was a fabulous morning at the landfill with two Lesser Black-backed Gulls, three Kumlien's Icleand Gulls, numerous Newfoundland Herring Gulls, and a very probable Yellow-legged Gull.

Note- at this point (early April) the identity of this Gull is still undecided. Other than a very probable 2nd cycle Yellow-legged Gull, many think hybrid Herring x Lesser Black-backed and some just believe it to be a basic Smithsonianus Herring Gull. We may never know.

                              Part 7, Day 15- "Eagles along the Lower CT River" continues......

                                            Click on "Older Posts" below right-