Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Thurs Birding

Last Thurs, I spent the entire day out birding.   

I started out with a chilly sunrise and birded my way across Richland, Sauk, Columbia and Dane Counties.  I flew down County JJ to check the status of the shorebird ponds. Still frozen, but ought to be good in the next few weeks.  Bakken's Pond was mostly frozen but held a Hooded Merganser along with the Canada Geese. 

I then turned west to Arena boat landing where all of my previous visits and hours of searching through a seemingly dead area finally paid off. As I drove in, a single RED CROSSBILL flew over the road!  I finally nailed my Iowa County Nemesis bird!  Then I hopped it over to Sauk City where the VFW park had a small raft of Bufflehead.  

The town of Lodi had a flock of Gulls waaay out on the ice and a small number in close to the road. It was here that I managed to pick out a slightly smaller looking Herring Gull that had a brownish streaked hood.  The Herring Gull next to it had a pure white head.  Then the bird lifted it's wings. Almost no black on the underside of the primaries!!!  Thayer's Gull right? 
I'm not so sure. Despite the fact that the Primaries leaned the ID heavily towards Thayer's, they also provided some points to the contrary.  They were just as jet black on the upper side as the Herring Gull next to it. Definitely inconsistent for Thayer's.  The bird also had a perfect YELLOW eye. Exactly the same color as the Herring Gull next to it.  The legs didn't seem to be much pinker and the mantle was pretty much the same color as the Herring Gull. So was it a Thayer's?  I think not. However, it was not a Herring Gull either. I have arrived at the conclusion that it must have been either a Thayer's or Iceland X Herring Gull.  Therefore not countable on my life list. There goes another of the countless Thayer's that I've proved were not actually Thayer's.  To this day, the only gull I have observed to have no black on it's primaries has been Glaucous.  My challenge to you is to show me a Thayer's Gull (not photos but an actual bird I can observe) and prove that it's a pure Thayer's Gull.  I will bet that 80% of the time, I can find inconsistencies with a Thayer's ID, therefore proving that the bird is not a Thayer's Gull.  I sincerely wish that the AOU would just save all of us a lot of trouble and lump the bird back in with Herring Gull like they did the first time around.  It would also save me a lot of trouble proving that the "Thayer's" I'm looking at is actually something else. 

People seem to take the Thayer's ID for granted. Personally, I think it's much harder than anyone thinks and I certainly wouldn't take the word of anyone except the country's top birders that the bird they're looking at is a Thayer's.  There's just too much variation in gulls in general for the ID to be called "easy." 

Anyway, then I headed out to Whalen Grade where I picked up a Trumpeter Swan. Then I took a spin through Columbia County to check out Harvey Rd and Goose Pond. Nothing. All frozen and empty.  
Fish Camp Park on Lake Kegonsa held what I had been looking for all day. Around 50 Greater White-fronted Geese stood out on the ice!  Also had 3 beautiful Mute Swans and a whole slew of Ducks.  

After attending a concert in Madison, I headed home. Not a bad day. 63 species including my long sought for White-fronted Geese.  They were there. Just hiding farther downriver than I'd been looking. 

Happy Birding! 


Brendan F. said...

Any photos of the gull?

I'm still looking for a THGU down here in NY. Actually, I have yet to see anything that shares characterisitcs of Herring and Icelands yet.

Squid said...

Lol, 1 in 10 Thayer's has a white or yellowish eye. Just so you know. Also I think you'd have a hard time convincing west coasters (BC) that the bird they're looking at isn't a Thayer's (considering it's one of the most common gull species out there in winter). Just go out to Victoria or somewhere similar in November or December - you'll see plenty of Thayer's Gulls.

Chris W said...

No photos Brendan, I observed the gull for a total of about 5 mins and then it vanished.

David, that may be true, but every "Thayer's" I've seen has had some problem with a key field mark. What I'm saying here is that the ID is much more difficult than most people think and take for granted. Out of all the Thayer's Gulls reports, I would be willing to bet that a certain percentage of them are unidentifiable birds.
I have yet to see or hear of a completely reliable field mark for Thayer's.