Friday, November 16, 2012


If you did not identify this bird in under 3 seconds, you clearly need to study up for gull season. Lake Merced, San Francisco, CA.

Well it's officially gull season here at BB&B...while California birders make blood sacrifices to that Big Gull In The Sky in attempts to get an early fall Little Gull (like most prayers, they usually go unanswered), gull season hasn't started in earnest until now. California's first Lesser Black-backed Gull of the winter has been reported from Alameda County. I did search for the (well-documented) Lesser Black-backed today, but as with most of my recent chase attempts, it ended in failure...but it turned up at a great gull-watching spot (not surprisingly, next to a dump) so I will be back soon. Birders up and down the state can now start their search for Black-tailed, Slaty-backed, Iceland, Black-headed and other species in earnest, and those looking for the state's first Greater Black-backed Gull have another crack at claiming Victory.

Much has been written about gulls...mostly how unpleasant it is to identify them, how people generally aren't very good at it, and even how some birds just can't conclusively be identified. Indeed, whinging about gulls is an atavistic endeavor at best, so I won't go rehashing the same old shit...but that doesn't mean what they say isn't true.'s a hybrid. The small, almost delicate bill points to Glaucous-winged X Herring in my opinion, but Glaucous-winged X Western is a possibility, especially considering the mottled breast and belly. Note the small bill with reddish base, checkered back and light brown primaries...these birds are deceptively similar to Thayer's Gulls, but don't look as neat and usually have paler primaries.

Here's a first-cycle Thayer's Gull for comparison...note the round head, big-eyed look, meager bill, and dark (not black) primaries with pale tips. This was photographed in late winter, young birds usually don't have so much pink on the bill right now. Lake Merritt, Oakland, CA.

Of course, real gull addicts don't want to be seeing straightforward looking birds unless they are extremely rare, so here is another genetic monstrosity...I would tentatively go with Glaucous X Herring Gull hybrid, or perhaps Glaucous X Glaucous-winged. Large, heavy-billed, extremely pale, with a dull (but extensive) pink base to the bill and a lot of white in the primaries. Lake Merritt.

Probably a very pale Glaucous-winged Gull...note the difference in bill shape from the above bird. Some may be tempted to call this a Glaucous, due to whiteness and pink in the bill, but of course they would be Wrong. Lake Merritt.

Ah, a Glaucous Gull. So white. So easy to identify. So rare but regular. What a relief. Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA.

Birders don't hold a grudge against Mew Gulls, since they aren't completely slutty and don't closely resemble other gulls. Lake Merced.


  1. oog. my brain hurts, and Lame-Birder neon sign on my forehead is glowing brightly. Think I'll go bake a pie, and thus get friends through baked goods, not ornithological studliness.

    But, I had to say, I LOVE mew gulls. Love they little pigeon heads. =) (tip of hat to B. Kliban)

    1. Yes, it is difficult to bear the emotional and physical scars of gull-watching, there is no doubt. It teaches patience though, which is something I need more of.

    2. Oh, Lord, yes. I believe it's SUPER good for that, something I also (not coincidentally) suck at. =) But, yes, good to work on. =)

  2. Oh man, my baked goods will never win me any friends, nor will my lack of patience for non-adult gulls. Dammit. Perhaps my close proximity to the land of legal weed will help.

    I hope with the gull season settling in you will have time to do a post on gulls in flight- they douse me in frustration. Or gull poop. Or both.

    1. I do not bake. Maybe I should? It's all about casseroles.

      Gulls in flight eh? That's a good topic...definitely more difficult than perched gulls, and I could probably learn a thing or two about that myself.

      Of course, all you have to know is the phrase "string of pearls" when it comes to gulls in flight and you will sound like a bigshot.