January 21, 2012

I Can't Feel My Fingers

I heard an emphatic sigh.  Though my dad would never say it out loud, my first-born senses could hear him scream...

 "Seriously, Adam!  I can't feel my fingers."

Though my dad's sentiment regarding the temperature was understood, I couldn't help but smirk.  We had been outside now for 2 hours, temperatures hovering in the mid-teens.  No, we weren't shoveling snow or doing other work that adds to the amelioration of mankind.  We were gulling, or going 12 rounds with Tyson, depending on who you ask.

We heard the call of a rare bird, a Mew Gull.  This is a diminutive gull seen only in our country, regularly that is, in the Pacific NW and Alaska, wintering along the western coast.  Not the Great Lakes.  It's basically an innocent looking, small gull, most closely resembling our fan-favorite Ring-billed Gull or another rarity, the California Gull.  It is smaller in most regards compared to it's doppelgangers.  The head is rounded, almost dove-like, and the bill looks comically small, sometimes tapering near the end.

  The bird was originally seen by Beau Schaefer  last weekend, and I had re-found the bird early in the next week, to the joy of a few birders.  Since then, the weather has been pretty nasty, and I knew most of the Illinois birding community was itching to know if the bird would reappear this weekend amongst the 1,000+ gulls that call North Point Marina home.

The first text came around 9:30 AM.  The gull had been re-found at the mouth of the harbor.  My dad and I were out the door for what we thought was going to be a "gimmie" state lifer for my dad and an excuse to look at gulls for me.  We were the second ones to arrive. I fumbled with the scope and rushed out towards the back of the yacht that gives an excellent views of the harbor and gulls.

"Did you get my last text, Adam?" Ethan asked from a distance, taking his eyes off the flock.



The bird had left the ice.  It was there for 2 HOURS before we arrived, looking innocent (and darker mantled) than the Herring Gulls around, until it was informed that other birders might want a look.

Now, I wasn't bummed.  I had seen the gull.  And what I saw before me now seemed like the best way to spend a frigid morning.  Some call it 12 rounds with Tyson, others a trip to the dentist.  But for a few birder's, and I believe many more can easily be converted, it is a comfortable afternoon in the church of Laridae.    Out on the churning ice was easily 1,000+ gulls.  The harbor proper held at least 400, but out on the lake was what seemed to be a never ending flock of gulls on the ice.

The Gyllenhaal family had been there all morning and worked up quite a list with 8 gull species for the morning, including the now absent Mew Gull.   I was pumped to start scanning, hoping to match that number and for the Mew to return.

Not 5 minutes into scanning and the Hoary Redpoll of 1st cycle gulls appeared.

This "Kumlien's" Iceland Gull only makes appearances during the winter months here in Chicago and it is always a treat to see them.  The Kumlien's is smaller than the Herring Gull and also stands out because of it's uniform frosty (hoary?) brown appearance.  1st cycle Herring Gulls would show obvious black primaries, darker secondaries, and a larger bill with a flatter, less rounded head.  (see next photo)

Other gulls were now flying back in from the dump, and hopes were high that the Mew Gull would reappear.  Other birders were showing up, too, including the likes of one my Big Day friends, Jeff Skrentny.  Many wanted/needed this Mew Gull for the state.

The bird was still deciding not to show, but a much larger cousin did.

The Glaucous Gull is one of my favorites.  They dwarf the other gulls around them and they know it.  These abominable snow-gulls usually spend the day terrorizing their larid pals around them, especially when food is involved.  This is another first cycle bird, and we didn't find Glaucous Gulls of any other age.  This is another exceptional bird that we usually only see in the winter months.  We were blessed today to see more than one, including these two that decided to act civil.

If size isn't enough to nail the identification of these 1st cycle birds, their bi-colored bills and pure white plumage really stands out.  

More birders were pouring in, and more were being disappointed that the Mew Gull was probably munching garbage.  

I heard that sigh again.  I knew my time with Laridae was coming to a close.  My dad, though he loves birding, has yet to drink the gulling kool-aide.  I smirked and went for my "last cast" of a scan.  

The gull never showed.

Truthfully...I couldn't feel my fingers, either. 

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