Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Cumberland Shrike + Black-headed Gull

[This Black-headed Gull was at the end of Miami Avenue in the Villas this morning. Note the extensive black visible under the far wing, the easiest way to separate Black-headed from Bonaparte's at a distance. Click to enlarge.]

Karen Johnson reports that her husband Brian had a shrike, probably Northern Shrike, at the Natural Lands Trust's Peek Preserve this morning, near the building (right along the Maurice River.) That's a good bird in south Jersey!

The interesting thing about the Black-headed Gull this morning was that it was not with any Bonaparte's Gulls.

In preparation for this weekend's rescheduled gull workshop (still a few spots open) I've been looking through a lot of gull pictures. One fun learning was that I assumed of the hundreds of gull pictures I've taken over the past couple years, surely I would have images of the common gull species in all their various plumages, but not so Great Black-backed - I only had adults and first cycle birds.

Part of that is simple math - adults and first cycles are what you see most of, because that's what there are most of! Like all wildlife, gulls die, and they start dying their first year. The next year's cohort, now second cycle, will have fewer members in it than in did the first year, and the following year (third cycle) there will be fewer still. Once a gull is an adult, it stays that way, so you've got all the adult Great-black Backeds that are 4, 5, 6, 7 and upwards years old still out there. Hence, mostly adults and first winters.

Another thing I've noticed is that, of the gulls, Great Black-backeds seem to be the shyest. Sure, you see piles of them, but how often do you see them at close range? I must not, since if any gull flies by at close range, I'm probably taking its picture. A few of us were talking about this the other day, and Michael O'Brien observed that in general larger animals are shyer than small ones.

[Who needs fancy rare gulls? This is the lovely creature I was really stalking this morning, a third cycle Great Black-backed Gull, center with Herring Gulls and a 4th or later cycle in the background with wings spread. It even had adventitious molt going on in the left wing. . . perhaps TMI for some birders, but among the many reasons to study gull is that it can help you gain a better understanding of molt in general.]

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