Thursday, 8 March 2018

Thayerish Gull - A Boring but True Story + Mini Rant

Thayer's Gull was recently demoted from full species status by the American Ornithologist Union. I think this was a mistake. The real Thayer's Gull breeding in the western Arctic is surely a different species than the white wing tipped Iceland Gulls breeding in Greenland. The population of Kumlien's Gull breeding in the middle, perhaps larger than the population of either Thayer's or Iceland Gull, is the problem.  I am in the popular camp that the Kumlien's Gull is a population of hybrid Iceland x Thayer's Gulls. I am not a scientist so I am not bothered by DNA or rules of provable species distinctions.  Thayer's Gull and Iceland Gull just feel like different species to me. The Kumlien's Gulls are T'weeners = hybrids.  I can live with that. Just like people in eastern North America deal with Golden-winged Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler and their hybrid forms named Brewster's and Lawrence's Warblers. Two distinct species and some interesting looking hybrids in between

The problem with identifying a bona fide pure blood Thayer's Gull in Newfoundland is that with literally thousands of hybrid Thayer's X Iceland Gull = Kumlien's Gull around there is going to be every gradation of field marks between the two species including some that might be close to identical to a classic Thayer's Gull or Iceland Gull.  I have some personal experience with bona fide Thayer's Gulls on breeding grounds in Pond Inlet, Baffin Island, and in the NWT, especially Inuvik during spring and fall migration. I always got the same feel from these birds being a little more Herring Gull like in build and demeanor.  To my senses they seem more closely related to Herring Gull than Iceland Gull.

My take on seeing a Thayer's Gull in Newfoundland is that it is near impossible to know even if the wingtip pattern meets the criteria for Thayer's. Typically such birds appear like Kumlien's Gull in shape and may have a less than dark eye. Of course some Thayer's are known have palish eyes.  The arguments become impossible and a waste of time because there is no cut off line where you can say this is definitely Thayer's or just a Kumlien's.  

The bird below would pass all the Thayer's wing tip tests.  It seems small headed and has a only half dark iris.  It has the wingtips of a Thayer's but a body of a Kumlien's to my way of thinking.

These photo below are from 5 March 2018 at Quidi Vidi Lake, St. John's, Newfoundland.

Note purplish-red orbital ring typical of both Thayer's and Iceland but different than the yellow-orange of Herring Gull. The iris is heavily speckled and about average for Kumlien's Gull but paler than most Thayer's Gulls.

The dark subterminal band on P10, continuous dark leading web on P9 and the dark mark on P5 are the most important features when deciding on a Thayer's Gull. Having all three key marks on the same bird plus plenty of dark gray on inner webs of P10 and P9 make this a perfect Thayer's Gull wing tip pattern.

MARCH 24 2006
The gull below was watched by Jared Clarke and I at the St. John's dump on 24 March 2006.  The sheer size and strong build of this bird plus the very dark eye scream out Thayer's Gull according my standards which are not perfected or universally accepted by any means. It fed among the Herring Gulls in the garbage unlike the very few Kumlien's Gulls that entered the landfill back in those days and sat back around the fringe rarely actually going into the main feeding area.  The wingtip pattern just makes it into the legal Thayer's range. There was a small dark mark on P5 that is washed out in this slightly over exposed blurry flight shot.   This is one of just two or three gulls in the St. John's area that I had a good feeling was a pure Thayer's Gull after 35 years of gull watching.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

A Late Winter Random Collection of Bird Shots

With no single bird or birding event worthy of a posting on the Blog occurring within the first two months of 2018, I am just proving to readers that I am alive and birding. Here are random semi-interesting photos from the first part of 2018.


Even a microscopic view of a drake Eurasian Wigeon does not disappoint.  

Depending on the angle of light reflecting from the side of the head of a drake American Wigeon you might see green or in rare cases a strong coppery green sheen.

The brown, not gray, base colour to the head of this female wigeon makes it a shoe-in Eurasian.

Harlequin Ducks are locally common winterers in Newfoundland. A strong wind pushed 120 of them around the corner from Cape St. Mary's for shelter at Pt Lance in early January. Unfortunately the sun was at a rough angle for photography but the views in the scope were to die for.

More of those Harlequin Ducks

Normally rare in Newfoundland, prolonged and far reaching westerly winds in late December may have been responsible for a displacement of a few Hooded Mergansers (and Buffleheads) to eastern Newfoundland.

This  drake White-winged Scoter with an identity problem was overwintering with the large and rather tame flock of Greater Scaup at Clarenville for its second year. The WWSC usually feeds 200-1000 meters offshore and is particularly shy of homo sapiens with a Newfoundland accent - thus is  rarely a photography target.

Did not get much in the way of opportunities to photograph Common Eiders so far this winter but there is still six more weeks for that possibility 


It is a half decent cone crop winter throughout the province. Finches have been only moderately common. Common Redpoll has turned into a stickler on the Avalon Peninsula. It wasn't always like this. Now we feel lucky to see them even when routine on the rest of the island. These males were a pleasnt treat.

Pine Grosbeak is your basic Avalon Peninsula finch 365 days a year . Always friendly and welcoming.

The Newfoundland Red Crossbill does indeed have hefty bill.

A White-winged Crossbill in a black spruce is so iconic you can almost smell the spruce sap. Another great winter species especially when they are all adults.


Bohemian Waxwings have been frustratingly local when there are so many dogberries available everywhere for their consumption.  These two were part of an impressive flock of 1000 waxwings. My only encounter of the season.

An unexpected late February influx of Snowy Owls was enjoyed by the photogs. Like icebergs and perfect sunsets my resistances to taking more photos of Snowy Owls fails on a regular  bases.

Great Cormorants reveal the first sign of spring when the show the white flank patch which can be as early as Xmas Day.

A Red-necked Grebe in close to a wharf is rare photography opt that you want to be ready for.

Why did the pheasant cross the road in Renews?  Just to baffle this birder. It was someone's  pet gone wild. Soon to be a good meal for a goshawk.


While I looked through a lot of gulls on Quidi Vidi Lake over the winter I did not come across any megas. The gull above was an oddity with a washed out pattern like a European Herring Gull.

One Common Gull was present very occasionally through the winter in St. John's.. 

The eye of a Kumlien's Gull with a visiting tick/louse.

THE END - still awake

you are getting ... sleepy...... so ... sleepy..

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Bald Eagle on The Run

I break a promise to myself nearly every year. I promise not to take any more pictures of icebergs or Bald Eagles. There are just so many pictures out there of both that there is nearly no novelty left. So why on Sunday past did I take 350 snaps of a Bald Eagle on the ice at Quidi Vidi Lake. Readers familiar with Quidi Vidi Lake birding are already snoring. There was something about this eagle that was hard to resist. The fact that it was an adult and close to the road was factor # 1 but the early morning January light was nice too.  The eagle was feeding on a Herring Gull that had been lying dead on the ice since the day before. It had the carcass all to itself which is unusual. Typically other eagles cruising over White Hills will note an eagle with something worth eating on the lake and join in for their share. This time the only other dinner guest was a single brazen raven. When the eagle took a break after consuming most of the breast meat the raven moved right in. The eagle was having no part of this but instead of flying the 20 meters to chase off the raven it ran over the ice.  Here is the sprint caught on camera.

Aah - a little break and a few belches to let that breast of fresh Herring Gull settle a little before going back to clean up the dinner platter.  But wait what does that black bastard Raven think it is doing moving right in to clean up on the left overs!?

The eagle sprung into action but instead of flying it galloped over to the dinner left behind to chase off the free loader. 

"I didn't think I was going to need my Nikes this morning." 

Look, he is hanging right in there grabbing every last morsel. I'll crush its skull with my talons if it lets me.

What a bother!  I hate being stared at while I eat. 

SOB. This raven has no manners what so ever. It must be a really hungry street urchin or just an A-hole.

I am outta here.

Peace again.  

OK, I had enough. I am full.

Leaving with a doggie bag.