Thursday, September 23, 2010

Four Lesser Black-backed Gulls-Dafter

Dafter Landfill is the landfill that serves most of the eastern UP of Michigan. It is 15-20 miles from the Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario Landfill as the gull flies. In between these sites are the St. Mary's River and Rapids and the eastern part of Whitefish Bay. This is a great set up for gulls as well as larophiles. Dafter Landfill is very open to visitors as long as you sign in and follow the few common sense rules. A small pond at the entrance is great for photography as the gulls rest here and bathe in the water. It is not unusual to see 5-6 species of gulls on this pond in Novemeber and on Nov.16/2009 I had 7 species of gulls on this pond within about 15 minutes. The down side it is not open on the weekends.

American Herring Gulls lining up for a drink-Dafter Landfill, Nov.16/09

Juvenile Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls at the pond-Dafter Landfill, Nov.16/09

Juvenile Thayer's and Herring Gulls at the pond-Dafter Landfill, Nov.16/09

Bald Eagle pestering the Lariids at the pond- Dafter Landfill,Nov.16/09

I originally planned on heading to Whitefish Point today but the teaming rain discouraged me and the thought of staying in my nice warm car was rather more attractive than braving the point. Given the east wind I really didn't think to much would be happening. Wrong. Scott Schuette the intrepid water bird counter had Sabines and Laughing Gull each of which would have been new birds for my Sault Area List (which is a high priority for me). He subsequently had a adult Lesser Black-backed Gull (I believe only the 3rd WPBO record) and 4 jaegers. Arrrgh!

Well I did have some success at Dafter. After checking the pond I headed up the hill to scan the 1000 plus gulls. I quickly spotted a juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull #1

Not more than a minute later an adult Lesser Black-backed landed about 30 yards from the car.

Adult Lesser Black-backed Gull #1

I assumed this was the adult I had seen on the weekend but when I checked the pictures it was clearly a different individual. Not more than 5 minutes later I noted another adult Lesser Black-backed in with a group of gulls about 100 yards away. I checked and the first bird was still in its original spot.

Adult Lesser Black-backed Gull #2

Not exactly a National Geographic quality shot but clearly a different bird and I wondered if this was actually a worn third year bird about to molt into adult plumage.  I continued to scan the flock and not long after noted another different juvenile Lesser Black-backed.

Juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull #2

The fact that the other juvenile was still in sight not far from the car when I spotted this one made it easy but if you look you will see this bird has a  finer bill and slighter look than the first juvenile (it also doesn't look as wet and soggy as #1). The second bird is likely a female.

Different Adult Lesser Black-backed from last weekend at SSM Landfill

Although 4 Lesser Black-backed Gulls wouldn't be a big deal on the Niagara it is unprecedented in the UP of Michigan (pers. comm. Skye Haas). The adult from the weekend is clearly a different bird. That bird had the white tips worn off the distal primaries and has large white tips on the proximal primaries. Both of todays birds had white tips out to P10 (although the photo of #2 doesn't show it). That makes at least 5 birds around the Sault and maybe a 6th given the WPBO bird (although this bird could be one of the Sault adults).

Well a miniinvasion of Lesser Black-backed Gulls is a good way to start gull season. Hopefully more interesting "dark mantled gulls" to come.
See ya.

Kirk Zufelt

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