Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Introduction and Little Gulls

I'm a 19 year old student at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, MI. I'm currently pursuing a BS degree in Environmental Biology and hope to go on to get a job in wildlife managment or a related field. Basically I want to make a difference for wildlife and birds...

I grew up in southeastern Wisconsin (Burlington, Walworth County) and birded the southern Wisconsin Lake Michigan shoreline extensively from Kenosha up to Doctor's Park in Ozaukee Cty. I would occasioanlly make it up to Manitowoc/Two Rivers and Sheboygan, but not as regularily. I love birding the lakefront in almost any season and prefer a lakewatch to any other type of birding.

I've been here in Grand Rapids carless since early August. I've only been able to go birding off-campus once - Caleb Putnam picked me up on November 10th and we did a lakewatch at both Grand Haven and Holland State Park. We had strong winds out of the west at about 20-25 mph and we were hoping for some rare small gulls like kittiwake, little, or sabine's...

We spent a couple hours at Grand Haven and had some decent numbers of waterfowl:
Tundra Swan - 19, White-winged Scoter - 9, Black Scoter - 1, Dark-winged Scoter - 11, Long-tailed Duck - 1, Red-throated Loon - 1, 4 Common Loons, and 4 unIDed Loons.
We also observed numerous flocks of about 20-30 Bonaparte's Gulls flying south way out over the lake (total of about 140). The only migrant passerines we saw there were 10 Snow Buntings that flew in off the lake.

We continued on to Holland State Park and right away we saw about 15 Bonaparte's Gulls on the water and flying all around the jetty in very close to shore. We started scanning and after about 30 minutes Caleb and I spotted a smaller gull smong a flock of about 30 Bonies that were flying way out over the lake. Eventually the birds flew in and we positivevly IDed the smaller bird as a second winter Little Gull! Neither of us had ever seen this particular plumage of this species before so it was an interesting study of its fieldmarks. The Little Gull landed on the beach about a 1/2 mile down from the pier we were standing on. We worked our way slowly down the beach so we could get some pictures of the bird. It was at this point that some idiot trying to take random pictures of the lake walked out in front of us and scared up the flock of gulls. The Little Gull was now bobbing up and down in 4 foot waves offshore among quite a few Bonies. These obviously aren't ideal digiscoping conditions so Caleb and I were trying our best to get some okay photos of the bird when Caleb saw an adult Little Gull fly through his viewfinder of the second winter Little Gull! We both switched off the second winter Little Gull at this point and watched as the adult Little Gull flew up and down the jetty we had been standing on initially! We both ran back to the jetty to try to get some good shots of the adult Little Gull in flight. By the time we were back on the jetty the Little Gull had moved offshore a little more with a few Bonies. It quickly returned and flew in between the lighthouse at the end of the pier and us. The bird then joined the second winter Little Gull on the water quite a ways from the jetty. We were about to wrap it up and head back when Caleb realized that there were two second winter Little Gulls present! We stayed long enough to get good looks at all three birds as they associated with each other noticebely and noted the differences in the two second winter birds (the second bird had much more extensive black on the underwing than the first bird and was easier to pick out of the bonies from a distance).

We both left amazed at the sight of three Little Gulls among a flock of only about 75 Bonaparte's Gulls. Caleb mentioned that in Michigan the ratio is supposedly about 1 Little Gull in 500 Bonies - and that's if you are lucky. I'd seen two birds at Manitowoc, WI a few summers ago (a first summer bird and an adult) and they were with probably 500+ Bonaparte's Gulls.

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