Friday, December 9, 2011

Gull Watching: Intro

As autumn quickly becomes winter, it's time to start watching gulls.  Rare gulls have been turning up across the country including a Black-tailed Gull in Ohio and Slaty-backed Gull in New York.  Recent reports from back in PA, NJ, and NY have me craving gulls here in CA.  I've been going out every so often to try to learn more about gull ID.  I am no expert, and many of the gulls that I see are never completely identified.  I used to be way overconfident about gull ID, but the more I watch gulls, the more I realize that there are so many bird out there that don't match the guides; hybrids are common and variation within species seems almost infinite.  Yet the more I watch, the more watching I want to do.

One of the great parts about living in Bolinas, CA is that the lagoon is only eight or so minutes away, and especially at low tide, all the main pacific gull species can be found.  I've seen California, Ring-billed, Mew, Herring, Western, and Glaucous-winged Gulls here, and many birds that looked good for Thayer's but never had a positive ID.  Nearby, in Petaluma, I've had a few of them, but I still have lots to learn about IDing gulls.  I have decided to write a short post every day for the next week or so showing a few photos of one species per day.  Again, I am no expert when it comes to gulls, but I accept the fact that I cannot ID every gull that comes my way, and am willing to work with that.  For most large, white-headed gulls I prefer to use structure first to ID, and then plumage/coloration, but there are obviously some exceptions here.  I won't even come close to showing every age, plumage or possible species, but I will share a few photos of some expected winter gulls in the lower 48.

For now, enjoy these photos of some gulls I have taken.  Look at the photos, and try to figure out what it is you are looking at.  If there are multiple birds in a photo, are they all the same species or mixed species? What species do you see?  What field marks do you see, even if you can't ID the bird downright?  Flip through your field guides, and see what you can learn and figure out.  Or perhaps you don't need a field guide to identify these birds.  That is fine, too.  I will post about the species in each photo tomorrow.
Feb. 2005, Berkley, CA [Photo by Lukas Musher]
Feb. 2011, Pelagic off of Lewes, DE [Photo by Lukas Musher]
Feb. 2011, Pelagic out of Lewes, DE [Photo by Lukas Musher]
Feb. 2011, Pelagic out of Lewes, DE [Photo by Lukas Musher]
Feb. 2011, Pelagic out of Lewes, DE [Photo by Lukas Musher]
Feb. 2011, Pelagic out of Lewes, DE [Photo by Lukas Musher]
Nov. 2011, Lake Merit, Oakland, CA [Photo by Lukas Musher]

By Luke Musher

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