Monday, December 2, 2013

Gull Watching in a Parking Lot

This is part two of the Phoenician Kingbird Expedition.  After the Bill Williams National Wildlife Refuge, Gordon, Mark, and I followed that visit up with searching through Lake Havasu at it's many different lookouts, parks, and viewpoints.  We were on the search more more Scoters, Loons, Boobies, and Gulls.  Or anything else we were possibly going to get lucky with.  We immediately headed to Pittsburgh Point at Site Six at Lake Havasu, due to the fact that a few Black Scoters had been seen there.  Within a few minutes, we spied two female Black Scoters.  It was a year bird for me and only my second Black Scoter sighting for Arizona.  They were in a sea of American Coots, and because it was windy, they were sometimes hard to see because of the heavy waves.

Every now and then, she showed very well, and then would go down with the waves and out of sight.

After the Black Scoters, we headed to Windsor Beach State Park at Lake Havasu.  Mark knew of a parking lot where several hundred gulls loaf and sit right in the parking lot.  Before we went over to the gulls, we looked down the massive Havasu along the buoy lines, and were able to pick out the continuing Brown Booby off in the distance.  I already made a trip here several months ago to see the Brown Booby.  That time, he flew right by us and stayed close by for amazing views.  This time, he stayed distant and didn't leave the buoy in the duration of time that we were there.  From there, we went to search for the gulls, in which Mark said there would be a Herring Gull in the mix, which was another good year bird hopeful.  As we approached the lot, the big gull flock was loafing in the parking lot.  This Ring-billed Gull was the grouch of the Lake Havasu gull bunch.  It was evident none of the others wanted to be around him, and he kept to himself along the shoreline.  

Ring-billed Gull

Back in the lot, it was almost like a Gull reunion.  The Kingbirds decided to join, and also hope for seeing the Herring Gull.  As we pulled up, we didn't see any Herring Gulls, but this young California Gull really stood out.

California Gull

The Gulls were everywhere, and we even drove around them in a circle, and they didn't care at all.  After awhile, they got a few handouts.  That will open the eye of every Gull in the flock.

When we started to not see the Herring Gulls, we then started to throw food out to the gulls.  It got quite the stir going, and many gulls from the lake even started to fly in.  I then noticed what I thought was a Herring Gull out of the corner of my eye.  

I said, "Here it is!" and no sooner than a few seconds later I noticed the pattern seemed off for a Herring Gull.  I said, "Wait, is that a Thayer's Gull?!"  As we looked at the Gull, it really looked like a Thayer's Gull in all respects.  Mark has had plenty of experience with Thayer's Gulls, and he thought it was for sure a Thayer's Gull.  As we looked at the bird, it didn't seem all that right for a Thayer's Gull to me for some reason, but I was hoping it was one, because Thayer's is a life bird for me.  

Thayer's Gull?

Mark then went on an impressive rampage about the field marks of a young Thayer's Gull.  And everything Mark said, really matched the bird.  Mark then got out of the car and said, "See, I'll show you these field marks in flight too".  As Mark thought it would fly only a few feet as the other gulls were, it did the opposite and flew way out in the California direction of Lake Havasu.  On it's way, it almost crashed into an old truck.

The Gull was gone almost as quick as it showed up!  As I then reviewed pictures and looked on my guides for Thayer's Gull field marks, the issue that seemed weird about this bird quickly came to my attention.  The bill was too big for a Thayer's Gull!  Other than that, it clearly matched Thayer's Gulls in all respects.  Our heads were spinning and I then read that Thayer's Gulls are hard to distinguish from hybrids of other large gulls.  I then thought it was a Glaucous-winged and Herring Gull hybrid, which seemed like the best match for our bird based on plumage, bill size, and a few pictures I looked at online.  I called it as that hybrid, but I was still hoping for that little chance that it was a Thayer's Gull.  When we got home from the Expedition, I emailed several gull experts, and Kurt Radamaker and Paul Lehman agreed with me that this bird is indeed a Herring X Glaucous-winged Gull Hybrid.  Even though I wanted it to be my first Thayer's Gull, it's still an interesting and rare find for Arizona, and it always helps to learn more about gulls!  Other than that large bill, this gull in it's plumage is perfect for a young Thayer's Gull.

Herring X Glaucous-winged Gull Hybrid

We then headed north along Havasu to search along more viewpoints.  There wasn't much else other than this Common Loon.  Loons are always fun to see!

On our way back, we made one more stop at Windsor Beach to see if anything changed in the gull flock.  Mark spied two very large young gulls, and they were clearly our Herring Gulls!  They were awesome to see, and really made the Ring-billed Gull look like a weenie.  

Herring Gulls

The Herring Gulls were clearly the king of the lot at Windsor!

Our last stop of the day wasn't a good stop for gulls or other waterbirds, but it was for the reputation of the Phoenician Kingbird.  The stop was at Rotary Park, and there were a million Ring-billed Gulls around, but nothing else.  We did see this guy trying to impress his lady friends by skipping rocks in the lake.  He wasn't having any success, and it was rather funny to watch.  Not one skip for Kip.  As we were on a path 60 or so feet behind the guy and his lady friends, Mark said to himself and us, "I'll show you how to skip a rock".  Mark then grabbed a large rock and chucked it out on the water just ten feet to the left of the guy and his friends, still 60 feet away from the water and the people.  The rock skipped five times perfectly on the lake and covered a good distance.  Kip seemed to have a confused look on his face on where this magic rock came from, but I was too busy laughing to really tell.  I guess that's the way Phoenician Kingbirds are.  All laughing aside, our December 1st, 2013 trip to Havasu was a great one.  Two Boobies, 3 Scoters, a Nutting's Flycatcher, Barrow's Goldeneyes, Herring Gulls, and a crazy Glaucous-winged X Herring Gull hybrid in one day is one excellent day of birding in Arizona!!!  I hope a Thayer's finds my way in the near future!

1 comment:

  1. Great birds, great times and a heck of a lot of fun! (Of course I learned more about birds as I always do on these excursions!)