New England Coastal BIrds

New England Coastal BIrds

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Highlights from 2014 and starting 2015 Part 1

                                Gulls, Alcids, Seabirds, (and a little side trip to Costa Rica)!! 

     I have had a great time working on my has been a pleasure posting my reports and sharing some really wonderful birds here. However it became overwhelming. So I took a break from my blog for about a year and concentrated on my work and on my Facebook page. I decide that I wanted to get back to my blog because I missed it, and I also realized, that many of you enjoy looking at my posts judging by the number of views this blog received in a short period of time that I have been doing it. So, I decided to pick it up again, but with a slightly different approach., This time I will keep my reports brief with fewer images....just enough to highlight the birds. The reports will be sporadic, just some of the better days. I will from time to time post more extensive reports, but for now, its about the beautiful birds I have experienced and the beautiful areas where I experienced them.

     2014 was a great year for New England birding! I had set a goal for myself, kind of a birding New Year's resolution (or simply a winter birding goal) to see 100 white-winged Gulls between Dec.1, 2013 through the end of March, 2014 (what I consider the winter Gulling season. My simple rules were that they would all have to be seen in CT, Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts which included Cape Cod only....nothing north of the Cape Cod canal. I ended up fulfilling my goal by seeing and photographing 108 mostly Iceland Gulls. I also wanted to see a few more uncommon and rare species which also highlighted the year!

    On a slight side note, Gulling at the Windsor, CT landfill has now come to a sad end....they closed the landfill. Happy about the environmental impact, but sad because that was a fabulous place to go Gulling which now leaves a big void in the CT wintering Gull areas. And the landfill is where I am starting my new blog reports from.

     The landfill has produced some wonderful species of uncommon and rare Gulls over the last few years that I have been going: Slaty-backed, Thayer's, (possible) Yellow-legged, Lesser Black-backs, and many confusing sub species and hybrids. But what made it so exciting for me was the number of White-winged Gulls that showed up there, often in multiple numbers. Iceland Gulls in a wide range of plumage variations were almost dependable on a daily basis there in January through March, and it was the best place by far to see multiple Glaucous Gulls in a single day.....and that was just fine with me since that has come to be my favorite Gull. This will be my segway into my first report from January 28, 2014 from the Windsor, CT Landfill. On this day I was thrilled because seven 1st cycle Glaucous Gulls made an appearance there which turned out to be the most Glaucous Gulls I have seen together in one day. Also there were five Kumlien's Iceland Gulls (2 adult, 1-2nd cycle and 2-1st cycle) and the continuing Herring Gull x Lesser Black-backed Gull hybrid. If you are a Larophile in CT, that represents a tremendous day!

     The Glaucous Gulls ranged from a small "runty" all white individual to a very dark "giant" and everything in between! "A Day in Connecticut with Glaucous Gulls"-

     The small "runty" white one-

       One of the two large nearly all white Gulls-

      Two more large Glaucous nearly all white and the other medium markings-

      This one was almost as dark as the very dark Glaucous Gull, but not as large, that one was a monster!-

    Large nearly white Gull-

      The same smaller dark Gull-

      The huge dark Glaucous Gull! This bird was was larger than the surrounding Greater Black-backed Gulls!-

            A large nearly all white Gull-

     Medium-sized Glaucous Gull, larger than a Herring Gull, but a little smaller than a Great Black-backed Gull-

      A smaller nearly white Glaucous Gull-

     The two adult Kumlien's Iceland Gulls-

       2nd cycle Iceland Gull. One of my "other" goals that winter was to find a Thayer's Gull at the landfill before it closed for good. Patrick Comins found a 1st cycle Thayer's Gull here a few weeks earlier. It was one of those "hit and run" birds. Many searched for it after he found it, but it came and went, he was the only one to have enjoyed it. When I found this Gull, I thought I found a Thayer's Gull looking at those primaries! The flying shots looked really close.....but in the end, it is "just" a dark Kumlien's Iceland Gull.

       The two 1st cycle Gulls-

     I found this (probable) hybrid Herring Gull z Lesser Black-backed Gull in December, and it stayed here throughout the winter. We saw it just about every day we went there-

     January 30, 2014 Mew Gull, Southbury, CT-   Patrick Comins found a Mew/Common Gull at Mitchell's Farm in Southbury. Mitchell's Farm is located along the Housatonic River below the Shepaug Dam and has been attracting a few thousand (mostly) Ring-billed Gulls. The farmer spreads compost on his fields (mostly pumpkin and old pg food) which attracts the Gulls and they gorge them selves on. This farm proved to be a premier Gulling spot, as many Iceland and Glaucous Gulls, and a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls would be seen her.

     The day after Patrick found the Gull, he invited me to come along so I could have a chance at seeing the Gull. While we were there looking through the thousand-plus Gulls in the River (with many other birders)....Patrick re-found the Gull. Although it was a long view on the back side of the flock, I had my first look at a Mew Gull. Thanks Patrick! Everyone got a brief but good look at the Gull....but soon it was gone! And for two weeks no one saw the Gull again. I found it again two weeks later, and it was sleeping on the ice in the flock. My look was brief, and for most of the time the Gull had its head tucked sleeping, and then, that was it....gone again, the last sighting!

        Two weeks later, the last sighting-

      March 27, 2014- Black-headed Gull x Ring-billed Gull hybrid, Wethersfield Cove, Wethersfield, CT-  
Paul Cianfaglione posted on the CT listserv that he found a Black-headed Gull at Wethersfield Cove. He emailed Patrick and I about something being a little "off" about the Gull. I went up to the Cove in the afternoon, and although there were a thousand Gulls there, I didn't see this Gull anywhere. It was a bitterly cold day and the northwest wind was ripping across that Cove and it was COLD....probably ten below with the wind chill!! I was sitting in my truck (with the heater blasting) talking to Jen who was on her way home from work. I was tossing some dry catfood out the window of my truck hoping that would attract the Gull that I didn't see anywhere in the area. Funny how things Jen was laughing with me about my trying to attract a phantom Gull, I looked down, and there was that black head standing about twenty feet from my truck and open window. As soon as I saw this Gull, it was obvious it wasn't a pure Black-headed Gull......hybrid BLGU x RBGU was very obvious!

These images I took right from my open window in my truck!-

     The Gull flew off with all the other Gulls and returned a few times, wing shots would be very important to help ID this Gull! Lucky for me that I was able to take a few images of this Gull flying with good shots of its open wings. As it turned out, the last time it flew it flew out onto the ice with the other Gulls to roost for the night. Others went the next morning to look a the Gull, but it was gone, and never was seen again. (An interesting side note) it appears that this Gull showed up on Prince Edwards Island about a week later (images taken there seem to show an identical Gull)-

     Interestingly enough, there were no white-winged Gulls here that day, but there were four banded Gulls: two Ring-billed and two Herring Gulls. Three of the four were from Ken Mackenzie's banding program in Massachusetts. The fourth Gull, a Herring Gull, only had a single leg band and I was never able to see the number. One of two Ring-billed Gulls with a patagial tag, this one had a red leg marker-

       This one had a blue leg marker band-

     Herring Gull with bands and green patagial tag-

     I found this interesting Gull later when I was going through my images.....not sure what to make of this. A juvenile Ring-billed Gull with a dark hood.??-

      April 11. 2014- Little Gulls at Southport Beach, Southport, CT.- In western Long Island Sound we are blessed during each springtime with a barnacle larvae bloom. This massive cloud of plankton attracts huge concentrations of hungry Gulls. And among those hungry Gulls are the clouds of migrating Bonaparte's Gulls. And for birders, the presence of Bonaprate's Gulls means Black-headed Gulls and Little Gulls are probably in those flocks. Its a typical recipe......Barnacle bloom, add Bonaparte's Gulls equals Little Gulls!

     Five days earlier, a huge gathering of Bonaparte's Gulls were reported in Stratford feeding on a bloom. Multiple Little Gulls were sighted. I was working hard on my World Competition piece, so I was stuck at my bench trying to get to a point on my piece that I could take a small break. But, unfortunately, not this day! The Bonaparte's and Little Gulls disappeared within only a couple of days! Three days later, more Bonaparte's Gulls were reported at Sherwood Island in Westport. I watched the reports, but no Little Gulls were being seen. Late in the evening on the 10th, I had reached my goal on my competition sculptures. I had been working very hard on this piece trying to complete them before the competition and I was now sitting in a good mind needed a little break! Jen suggested I take a few days off go Gulling!

     Since the Bonaparte's Gulls were showing up in Westport, that's where I was headed. After fighting early morning rush hour Fairfield county traffic, I found myself driving down the entrance road to Sherwood Island SP and I could see flocks of Bonaparte's Gulls flying in to the beach by the western jetty. As I sat there on the beach scanning through the thousand Gulls......I couldn't find one Little Gull! Slowly the Gulls began to leave and head east around the jetty towards Southport. I watched every Gull leave scanning through the departing birds and the remaining birds both in the water and on the beach only a few yards away from Little Gulls! Ten minutes later, all the Gulls left and the beach was empty. Being a fairly perceptive person, I took that as a message to leave Sherwood Island and head over to Southport Beach!

     As I drove around the corner by Southport Beach, there they were......all those Bonaparte's Gulls! The tide was very high, and the water was right up to the road and wall. I gave a quick look over the large concentration of Gulls, and unbelievably before turning the ignition off, there was a 1st winter Little Gull right in front of me about 20 yards out on the right edge of the flock.-

      Before I put my truck keys in my pocket, I took a few shots of this Gull while it swam around the group. In the time it took me to put on my jacket, grab my scope and extra camera batteries and camera cards....the "little" Gull took off. As I was following this Gull in my camera viewfinder, I noticed another Little Gull in the top was an adult!-

     The tide chart read that the tide was now outgoing, and like a signal went off, all the Gulls lifted off and headed out into the Sound. The adult joined the group and I managed to get both of them in the same image. Unfortunately I was looking  directly into the sun, so the images are not great, but you can see the two birds. I reported the two Little Gulls on the CT listserv that they had been present for a few minutes, but had just flown out into the middle of the Sound-

     The dark lined, white-edged, "rounded" wing tips are clearly visible here-

     Way offshore, I could see a huge raft of bloom-feeding Gulls; just out of scope range! Time for coffee! I'll come back later when the tide drops a bit! A couple of hours later, I came back to the beach and timed it perfectly....the Gulls were coming back to the slowly exposing sandbar to roost. I walked out on to the sandbar to get into better position to look at the Gulls with the sun at a better angle. Other birders started arriving and at the tip of one of the groups of Gulls I spotted a 1st winter Little Gull swimming.-

     It soon walked up on to the sand bar and joined the Bonaparte's Gulls. I posted another alert. A short time later, other birders began showing up; Tina Green, Greg Hanisek, Stefan Martin and a few others-

     I was standing at the end of the sand bar closest to the Gulls and pointed out the 1st winter Gull to everyone. We all watched it for a few minutes, and then the whole group of Gulls took off....but only for a few seconds, they came right back. This is something these Gulls do all day long making the Little Gull search frustrating! You have to start looking all over again! Can you find the Little Gull in the below image?-

       Here is a hint!-

    When the Gulls settled (for a minute at least) Tina Green walked out to the end with me and I pointed out the adult Little Gull that was sitting on the water. She just got a good look at it when the Gulls took off again. Tina followed the adult in as it settled in on the sandbar with a large group of Bonaparte's Gulls. You can see the wings of the adult here (center of image) as it settles into the group-

    While the adult settled in for a rest on the sandbar.....another adult was taking a bath in the shallow water right out in front of us!-

     You guessed it.....they took off again. The first adult flew around and landed a short distance away on the water-

     Stefan called out Iceland Gull!-

     Here they go again!!-

     The Gulls settled again on the sand bar. There were still a few Gulls flying around, including this second 1st winter Little Gull-

     A handful of Bonaparte's Gulls were starting to land behind me on the sand bar.I turned around just to take a look, and what a wonderful surprise....two Little Gulls were swimming by. (adult on the left, 1st winter on the right). That made four Little Gulls in this flock (2 adults and 2-1st winter).-

     As usual, they flew off.......

       ......and came right back to the sand bar behind us-

      Beautiful adult Little Gull-

     1st winter-

    Adult landing showing off the dark wing linings and white edged wing-

     1st winter-

     The day ended with at least four (maybe six) Little Gulls in the flock-

     April 12, Little Gulls, Day 2, Southport Beach- Started out slow this morning with only a single Little Gull seen in a small flock of Bonaparte's Gulls on the beach. I got there in the early morning and ran into Denise Jernigan and Buzz Devine and they had already found the adult Little Gull-

   And as usual, they all lifted up, flew around a few times. Like yesterday morning, the whole flock turned south and flew out in the middle of the Sound to feed on the bloom. Time for lunch and a little local birding, I'll come back in a couple of hours.-

     A few hours later I came back and found a huge flock of Bonaparte's Gulls just east of the jetty. The bloom was being pushed towards shore from the southwest wind.-

      I just started searching through the raft with my scope, and I was joined by Patrick Comins and Frank Mantlik-

     On the edge of the flock close to us, Patrick found an adult Little Gull-

     Frank called out, he had another adult Little Gull flying up the group towards us-

     I looked out and right in front of us "right under our noses" a third adult Little Gull.-

      We watched the huge mass of Bonaparte's Gulls for two hours....and they eventually started drifting out farther from shore being carried by the tide. In the end we saw at least four adult Little Gulls maybe five! Ct. had a great week long Little-Gull-a-palooza! The best that I can remember!