Sunday, January 24, 2016

Traditional Whitewings

They can't all be Ivory Gulls.

White-winged gulls so far have been the main yearbird targets that have come through.  Neither snowy owls nor finches seem to have any significant presence in SW Michigan this winter but I've had reasonable luck with the gulls.

This first winter Thayer's Gull was at New Buffalo.

There's a couple first winter Herring Gulls taking off beneath the Thayer's
Note the big difference in intensity of the tail band.  First winter Herring Gulls moult a good number of body feathers and you can see how they have whiter rumps and a few scattered gray feathers in the mantle whereas the Thayer's is pretty much in juvenile plumage still.

Wing-on note the contrasting brown secondary bar that's about concolorous with the tail.

It'd be nice if this next bird was also a first year for the blog's sake, but given that I missed Kumlien's Gull last year I was more than happy to see an adult.
 It pretty much has the exact wing pattern that Sibley shows.  I'm not sure if the eye was truly dark or if that's a combo of dark feathers, a quartering away angle, and so-so at best focus.

Unlike all of the above species, Glaucous Gull has a much more stereotyped appearance.

Three age classes of Great Black-backed Gull to leave you with

I'm pretty sure my next post won't focus on black and white birds.  It may be a little ways off though...

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A few raptors

It's another one of those times of year, winter and weather kind of limit the ability to get out and get decent photos.

A few swings of south county have not yet produced a western falcon or buteo, but this kestrel was in nice light.

It's an adult male based on the blue wings.

Pics of this eagle were limited by heat waves coming out of the car on a bitterly cold afternoon
It's probably a 3rd winter bird based on the all dark body, mostly dark wings, and muddy head with an eyestripe.  The whiteness of the tail changes considerably with the bird's posture.

Finally a redtail, which was actually from the CBC, but I never managed to work it into a post

Friday, January 15, 2016

Farewell to the Ivory

Last post.  And not much else to say, let's leave it at Top 10.

A zoomed in phone-scoped shot, because everyone wants to see an all white bird wearing flecks of salmon.
Maybe next time tuna would be better.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Flight of the Ivory Gull

Which is appropriate since my understanding is that the bird is gone (but may have re-appeared in someone's yard having been driven to earth by ravens before getting rescued by the homeowner and subsequently released by a rehabber).

Evolution wise, my understanding is that Ivory Gulls split off the main gull branch not long after the jaegers/skua group diverged from the gulls.  I thought the bird in flight was reminiscent of a jaeger or maybe a peregrine as it would usually have fairly shallow but stiff wingbeats that allowed it to accelerate a lot quicker than gulls.  Whether that's what one would expect based on the evolutionary lineage I'm not sure.

Here's a couple more distant montages that I think gives a person some sense of the wingbeat cadence

This next one is larger than most of the jpgs but I think an Ivory gull deserves it.

A few more looks...

Monday, January 11, 2016

Introducing Stumpy!

It's Gull-nasty's long-lost (and better looking cousin)...

You may remember the bird on the left.
 The right-most bird is interesting too, it's a white-wing, but which one?
 The flight feathers are obviously too light to be a Herring and the smallish bill eliminates Glaucous, leaving Thayers or Iceland.
While first winter Herring gulls will frequently have bicolored bills to at least some degree, neither of the mentioned white-wings will at that age; this bird is second winter.  The bird has a decent amount of brown in the folded primaries (and note that the ends that would have been the darkest are heavily abraded) which would be a somewhat pro-Thayer's feature.  It's overall fairly pale though.

A Thayer's Gull should also show a secondaries that are basically the darkest part of the upperwing.  This bird has a hint of brown at the base of the secondaries that was difficult to appreciate in the field, probably not enough for a Thayer's

Here's the bird against the Duluth skyline...

I wish the Ivory Gull had come past in this light.

The locals feel this bird (named for the bulbous growth/scarring on one of the feet) is an integrade between Thayer's and Iceland given that the bird does seem fairly intermediate between the two.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Gyrfalcons are big

You know a bird is cool when you'll drive past a Gyrfalcon for it.  Ivory Gull was in that category, but after spending a few hours blazing through 1500+ pics of it a retreat was in order back to a little industrial island on the Wisconsin side of the river where eBird had revealed a Gyrfalcon to be hanging out.

The Ivory Gull made us wait 90 seconds; this bird was herding a flock of pigeons as we drove up before it settled back atop a grain (?) elevator.

It was pretty distant, but through the scope (or a photo crop) the malar stripe (with essentially no contrasting helmet), long neck, long tail, and relatively plain coloring of a first year gray morph gyr were revealed.
  A crow flew by after a bit which I thought might take a pass at it; apparently it knew better.  It just kept going.  The pigeon flock flew by and the bird sallied out.

Its wingbeats cut fairly deep as it accelerated.
 It really beat from the shoulder with less bend in the wing than a Peregrine.

 I'm not sure what it flew out after initially but it essentially made a beeline right for us, looking down at us as it approached, revealing pale flight feathers with contrasting wing linings.
 before banking back off towards its perch.
The broad wing bases and long tail really gave it a heavy look.

If you want to see a crazy good pic of this bird, this eBird checklist will elicit praise/envy.  In looking for that link I see that there's since been a pic and a video posted of an adult gray morph on this checklist from about a quarter mile away from where our bird was.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Ivory Gull enters the salmon squabble

As I mentioned yesterday, an enterprising birder had brought a salmon filet which the gulls were most interested in.
The bird gave up considerable size and bulk to the HERG and for the most part had to cede the salmon to them when the HERG got up the courage to brave that circle of dangerous looking birders.  The IVGU was a lot tamer and less concerned about the people for whatever reason.

It would sidle up to steal a nibble here and there, occasionally slipping on the ice...

 or darting in when the bickering escalated into a full-blown battle royale.
 As a Glaucous Gull you probably shouldn't be getting owned by a Herring.  Just sayin'.

Eventually the mix of Herring (with a few Thayer's and Kumlien's-ish birds) got up their courage and started dominating the hand-out.

Though after awhile it got pulled down closer to those oh-so-scary birders allowing the bolder Ivory to have less competition. 

At times it would sneak in low to the ground to grab a small bill-full, very much adopting the posture of a jackal at a lion kill on the National Geo specials we all grew up with.

Oops, too close.

 If I'd noticed in the field that the HERG actually yanked a feather out I might have tried to recover the feather.

Once bitten, twice shy.


Monday, January 4, 2016

Ivory is the coolest shade of white

I think I've invested more time and effort in seeing an Ivory Gull than any other bird I've chased (which may say a lot about the relative amount of chasing I do).  About 10 years ago there was a bird for a week in the Pelee area.  I spent a weekend there starting the first night it wasn't seen.  Last year there was a bird in the St Louis area for about a week; again it was gone by the time I went after it. 

On New Years Day 2016 a bird appeared in Duluth.  This time we were there at daybreak on day 3 of its visit yesterday.  The bird made us make all of about 90 seconds before it appeared in the predawn overcast.
 It's a first winter bird with smudgy black markings in the face, and terminal black pips on most of the flight feathers.

It's hard to explain how intensely white the bird was with pics taken before the sun is up or through the clouds.  Just about all gulls are white below, but this bird was noticeably whiter than the surrounding Herrings.  The white upperparts obviously contributed as well.  Aside from the throat on a White-throated Mountain-gem I can't think when I've seen a brighter white.

The bird swirled and circled about in front of us along the pier where yesterday some people had left some salmon for it.
 It zeroed in pretty quickly on an offering left out for it on this morning as well.
The bird was bigger than I expected though is obviously considerably smaller than a Herring.
I thought it was proportionately shorter legged than the Herrings, but some of that may be due to more extensive feathering of the upper leg.  I took somewhere between 1500 and 2000 images of it (and a few other species in the area), I'll have more pics up in the next few days.