I like photographing gulls in the winter because that's when they congregate and allow you to come fairly close, but when I trying to guess their ages I often just throw my hands up. Looking later at my photographs, Howell's and Dunn's Gulls of the Americas comes in handy.
They are quite fearless, taking flight only if they see a raptor in the vicinity. We saw plenty of gulls on our trip, most of them on the far side of frozen Niles Pond sleeping or preening. I took hundreds of photograph, why I am not sure, because checking the images on screen on my camera I could easily see that none were sharp enough to be of any use. Still, hope against hope, the blue sky and the warm sun made the scene look so pretty with the long row of gulls on the blue ice in front of a curtain of buff-colored reeds.
On day 2 when we revisited the site I broke up a muffin saved from breakfast and tossed the pieces on the ice. i am not good at throwing, no further than a couple of feet from the shore. At first nothing happened, then finally a gull flew overhead, saw the bread landed at a cautious distance. A few others followed. Finally a couple of Ring-billed Gulls ventured closer and picked up pieces of the muffin.
It was quite slippery and the gulls kept sliding around on the ice.
Notice the stuffed cheeks
Most of the gulls that we saw were American Herring Gulls (AHG), Ring-billed Gulls (RBG) and Great Black-backed Gulls (GBG). Here are some photos of the AHG and the GBG:
Adult AHG and two immature GBGs
Adult RBG in front and immature GBG in the back
Mixed Group on Niles Pond. Most of these were AHGs of various ages. There are two adult GBG.
I wasn't sure about the ID the gull with the pink legs and the black-tipped bill. Here is a close-up, unfortunately not very sharp:
AHG, probably 2nd winter
The bill seemed to me uncharacteristically small for an AHG. Also the dove-like head and expression did not jive with my image of an AHG. I posted the photo on the iD Forum on birdforum.net. The responses I got confirmed that this was just an immature AHG; hoping for something more interesting was just wishful thinking. Apparently there is quite a range of bill sizes among the immature AHG.
First winter GBG
We also saw an Iceland Gull on Niles Pond but it was too far away for my camera. This past Sunday I drove to Unity Park in Turner's Falls in MA where gulls often congregate near the shore of the CT River. I was fortunate. Among them was a first winter Iceland Gull. We usually see one or two juveniles every winter. Adults rarely travel this far south.
I love that sweet expression - typical for an immature Iceland Gulls.
First winter Iceland Gull in front on the left and a second cycle AHG on the right
These photos are of an immature Glaucous Gull on the breakwater at Gloucester harbor, were taken a couple of years ago. It's a sturdy large gull, larger than an Iceland G, and has a pink bill with a black tip.
I had taken so many photos in RAW format that I ran out of space on my 8 GB card. I went back to my car for a spare 2 GB card which I filledl. When I tried to download the photos at home however I kept getting the question whether I wanted to reformat the card. Bad sign! No photos! I remembered the software I had bought from Seagate for when I had my Seagate hard drive disaster last October. It worked - I got all my photos back! I threw out the card and put another spare one into my gear bag rather than the car where it would be exposed to such variable temperatures.
It's still freezing here! Hope it's less extreme where you are. Happy birding!
Thanks for visiting. I am always thrilled to receive your comments and welcome any corrections or suggestions.
Last weekend's trip to Gloucester and Rockport on Cape Ann was both exhilarating and frustrating, exhilarating because of the knowledgeable and enthusiastic guidance of Bryan Pfeiffer of Vermont Bird Tours, a congenial group of participants and of course the beautiful warm weather, frustrating because the birds were mostly far out at sea, too far to get decent photos of, and the bright sunlight produced harsh shadows, not ideal for photography . Most photos worth keeping were taken on the second day when the sky was slightly overcast. For my next trip to the coast I will have to invest in a scope after all and learn digiscoping.
The Common Eiders were plentiful and fairly close to shore. There was a King Eider but far out and difficult to see even with a scope.
Buffleheads were also easy to see. The males were beautiful with their iridescent head and neck contrasting with the stark white patch across the nape.
A high point where the Harlequin Ducks at Andrew's Point. Here they are perched on a rock enjoying the warm sun rising over the North Atlantic.
They are at home in turbulent water, breeding on fast flowing rivers in the summer and moving to the rocky coasts of North America and Greenland in the winter. Negotiating the surf along a rocky shore they forage in shallow water close to the coastline.
Female Black Scoter
Female Surf Scoter
I believe this is a first winter male Surf Scoter
Male Red-breasted Merganser
American Black Ducks, male with yellow bill and female with gray bill
Male and female Gadwalls
And lastly not a sea duck:
This Peregrine Falcon. perched on top of Cloucester City Hall, has been a regular winter visitor for the past 8 years
We saw several more species, but I am not including them here since I didn't get any photos. I saw the King Eider but not well enough to count it in my life list I added the Surf Scoter and the Red-necked Grebe to my list bringing it up to 293. My next post about the trip to Cape Ann will be all about Gulls. They go through several stages of molt, while they age, making them difficult and challenging to identify, though they are some of my favorite birds to photograph.
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The air was filled with twittering calls one morning a couple of days ago. It was windy and high up in the turbulent air I saw what looked small leaves floating this way and that, until they gathered into an undulating flock and settled on a tree in the wetland next to our house: a flock of Pine Siskins.
Pine Siskins are a nomadic species with a preference for conifer seeds. According to a report on winter finches, the spruce and hemlock crops are supposed to be excellent this year in the Northeast and since spruce seed crop up north in Yukon and Alaska has been average Pine Siskins are expected to show up in good numbers in the Northeast There have a number of recent sightings on the New England bird lists but nothing yet like the irruption in Jan 2009.
I got a couple of photos and, hoping they would come closer, stocked my Nyeer feeder but so far have only seen Goldfinches. This morning, New Year's Day, during a walk up Black Mountain I checked the crowns of red and white pines for cones and found almost none. So, I don't expect to see more Pine Siskins this winter.
I went back into my archive to pull out some photos I had taken during the irruption in early 2009. Back then they overwhelmed my feeders and I was kind of glad when after a few weeks they disappeared. They are a gregarious but pugnacious lot vigorously defending their spot at the feeder. Because of their small beaks they have trouble opening black oil sunflower seeds but will pick up broken pieces left behind by other birds.
The lower bird is probably a "green morph"
I am showing this photo in its original size because it so beautifully illustrates the colors and arrangements of feathers on the back.
To enliven the dull dark days I decided to try my hand at sketching birds from photographs that I took. These are my first efforts. It's fun and teaches me to see the bird's body underneath the feathers. I like to draw fast; an ultra fine gel roller seems to be the perfect tool - no second chances; it has to be right the first time. I added some color with pastels. As you can see I will need a lot of practice.
Turkey, Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser
I wish you all a happy, healthy and productive New Year, and thanks for visiting!