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Subject:Gull identification and new Great Gray & Hawk Owl photos!
From:Erik Bruhnke <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Erik Bruhnke <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Fri, 4 Feb 2011 11:35:29 -0600

To get back to the confusing gull from a few days ago, the overall consensus
was that this bird is likely a slightly-off 1st cycle Herring Gull. This
herring gull shows the densely-marked (with light coloration) head, with
dark eyes. As I observe gulls more and more, I'm realizing that the eye
color and bill colors vary almost independently at times, relative to the
progress of the gull's molt (shedding feathers). Herring Gulls show dark
eyes until typically their third (at times only second) year of life. Gulls
show such a great amount of variance, and this individual gull is an odd but
beautiful example of that! One of the biggest thing about this gull are that
the wing coverts match up for a 1st-cycle Herring Gull (the coverts are the
"shoulder area, down to the upper belly" portion of the folded wing. Other
than that, this gull shows some "advanced" traits, where although it is of
1st-cycle plumage, it is going through a faster-than-usual molt of the
scapulars (low of the neck/far upper back) feathers, and the yellowish bill
already. The term "retarded" is sometimes used when talking about gulls in
an unusually slow-state of molt, where other feathers linger on, even though
it is of a slightly older age. Something new I read this morning... that the
primaries (outermost portions of the wings) tend to be more pointed on
1st-cycle Herring Gulls and subtly rounded at the tips on 2nd-cycle gulls.
Not sure if this is readily noticeable in the field, but something new that
might be fun to try and pick out while gull-watching. Hope this didn't
overhwelm you or confuse you, but I wanted to share with you, what I've
learned about aging this unique Herring Gull. Thanks to all who gave
feedback on this gull.

Here are the photos of the Herring Gull mentioned earlier. In the first
photo, note the other 1st-cycle Herring Gull, and the amount of variance
within bill color!

Yesterday I visited Sax-Zim Bog from 2:30pm until dark, and although I only
had enough time to go down a few roads, the few birds observed were
spectacular! Our first bird was a sharp-looking Northern Shrike! We pulled
over, as far as I noticed it off in a distant field, and it flew all the way
to the road, hovered no more than 5 feet in front of the car, then decided
to fly and hover nearby... two more times (all before landing). The latter
two hovering acts were no more than 40 feet from the car, but when we first
pulled up, I thought the Shrike was about to fly into the car. Northern
Shrikes are so beautiful, and live such hardy lives... the feeding habits of
a raptor, with the bill of a falcon, and the high-strung/high-metabolism of
a songbird.

We saw a Northern Hawk Owl in the bog, all the time nearby were Black-capped
Chickadees, Downy Woodpeckers and Hairy Woodpeckers calling feverishly, as
they ate seeds and suet. We watched the Northern Hawk Owl for at least 40
minutes, and was in for a big treat... We saw it make several attempts to
swoop from branch to branch as it eyed up potential meals on the ground.
Finally on the third swoop, it stooped down in the snow, and came up with a

Pictures below are in sequence of how we saw the Northern Hawk Owl -
starting with being perched, then triangulating, then flying, then standing
on one foot while eating the rodent with the other foot :-)

Hairy Woodpecker in flight (within distant vicinity of owl):

As we were slowly leaving the bog, we located a gorgeous Great Gray Owl.
Pictures don't do it justice...

Good birdwatching,
Erik Bruhnke
Duluth, MN

NATURALLY AVIAN - Bird photography and guided birdwatching tours

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