Thursday, August 21, 2014

Black-headed Gull! - 20 Aug 2014

Yesterday afternoon I received an e-mail from Andrew Sturgess. He had photographed an odd gull in Cell 3 at Pt. Mouillee SGA, Monroe Co., MI and wanted an opinion on it. Examination of the photos, which showed the grey-capped, red-billed bird with outer white primaries looked good for Black-headed Gull! A similar bird was seen in Ohio just a few days earlier.

Andrew's photos, which can be seen in the Birding Michigan group on Facebook, showed a gull in flight with outer white wing tips and a red/black slender bill, and grayish cap that wraps around the ears instead of the neck. Possible other gulls could include Laughing Gull and Franklin's Gulls, so I looked them up for reference.

Here's a link to Laughing Gull images in flight. Legs are mostly black, and bright white eye arcs are visible, but most-importantly, the outer primaries are completely black in all stages, so this gull could be eliminated.

Here's a link to Franklin's Gull images in flight. Red/black bill is heavier, but wing primaries are black w/ white-tips, and hood extends down back of head.  This one could be eliminated, as well.

Now check out Black-headed Gull images in flight. Outer primaries are white with black tips and match more closely Andrew's bird. Bill is red/black-tipped and slender. Legs are bright red, and distinguish this bird from Bonaparte's Gulls, which have pink legs and black bills.

I sent Adam Byrne a message to ask his opinion, but Andrew had already contacted him and Caleb Putnam. All agree that it was good for Black-headed Gull. Adam was on his way to Pt. Moo to hopefully make this bird #400 for his Michigan State List.  He succeeded! Congratulations, Adam!

I headed down there this morning to see if the bird could be relocated. Leaving the house at 6 am I headed for the Roberts Rd. entrance and biked out to Cell 3.  The south shoreline was uneventful: the American White Pelicans continue on "Pelican Peninsula" in the SW corner of Cell 3. Seventy birds. The American Avocet was also foraging in the rising waters (dredge pumping continues).

I headed toward the west shoreline and NW corner where the Black-headed Gull was seen last evening. As I set up the scope I noticed peeps on the mudflats at my feet.  I thought one was a Baird's Sandpiper so I took a video of it, knowing that it was still too dark to take any digiscoped photos this early in the morning.  When I got home and reviewed the video, however, I believe I video-recorded a juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper w/ an extra long bill. Wing projection does not extend past the tail, and smooth buffy chest has a white throat.

Adult Lesser Black-backed Gull w/ 1st-cycle Herring Gull
I scoped the gulls in the NW corner, but didn't see the Black-headed Gull. I did see an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull that made for a nice consolation!

I decided to swing the scope toward the north shoreline to see if any shorebirds were about. I spotted a Willet foraging in the shallows!  As I watched it I spotted a single gull along the shoreline, half-way between E and W dikes. Score! Black-headed Gull!

The rising sun was providing enough illumination to verify ID, but I knew I would have better looks from the east side of the Cell, so I biked over to the NE corner.  Unfortunately, it did not put me any closer to the bird, but lighting was now nice, with the bird nicely illuminated by the rising sun. A pair of Red Knots were foraging alongside the bird, so they made a nice threesome.

I spent some time taking videos, making sure to document the gray cap, red bill and legs, and tall, slender profile.

I was hoping to get some wing stretch images to show the outer primaries (P9-P10), which are white w/ black edges/tips.  I was able to grab slow-motion video of it taking off, so I was also able to see the remnants of dark carpal bars, white tail, and molted P7-P8 feathers, which are growing in. Perhaps a 2nd-year non-breeding bird?

I decided to head back to work, as the bird did  not seem to be any more accessible from its location. I would later learn that the Yellow-crowned Night Heron was refound in the NW corner of the Humphries Unit. It was nice to see Sean Bachman and Rick Brigham on the way out. Congratulations, Mr. Sturgess for a great find!

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