Thursday, October 16, 2008

Gulls: Love 'em or leave 'em?

As an inland birder my gull knowledge is limited, which probably accounts at least in part for the way my eyes glaze over when confronted by a large flock of white birds on a beach. To really know your gulls, you need to be on a coast. Even Lake Erie has a good variety of gulls, but here in southern Ohio, we are pretty much limited to our ubiquitous, year-round resident Ring-billeds (alternately called "garbage gulls" or "mall gulls" for their opportunistic feeding habit) and a couple of winter visitors - juvenile Herring Gulls and winter plumaged Bonapartes. So, it is no wonder I have little experience in identifying these guys. Add to that the various plumages (summer, winter, juvenile) and the fact that some of the large gulls take four years to reach adulthood, and you can find me firmly rooted in the old boys' club, as in "No Gulls Allowed."

We only fear what we do not know or understand, so perhaps I need a better perspective on the whole Laridae family. When the word went 'round on the Cincinnati Bird Club web site and the Ohio Birds listserv that two FRANKLIN'S GULLS were cohabitating with the motley ring-billed crew on East Fork Lake's south swimming beach, I thought I would drop in and try for these potential life birds.

In just a few moments of picking through the gulls loafing on the beach, I came across two that looked different. (Pause for the Sesame Street song: "Two of these things are not like the others, two of these things just do not belong...")

Keeping in mind that I have a real ghetto digiscoping set-up (as in, I hand-hold my cheap point-and-shoot digital camera up to the ocular lens of my inexpensive spotting scope, trying to avoid vignetting and hoping my hands don't shake too much), here are your photos of Franklin Gulls.

Kinda cute, no? In breeding plumage, Franklin's Gulls have a black hood like Laughing Gulls and Bonaparte's Gulls, and a rosy bloom on their breast. In winter, they have a gray cheek instead.

the top of Franklin's head

These birds didn't fly, so I couldn't see the white band near the tips of their wings, another distinguishing field mark.

Are YOU talkin' about ME?

Franklin's are small gulls, between the size of Laughing Gulls (16-17") and Bonaperte's (13"). Size is hard to determine in the field, unless you have a known landmark in your binocular or scope view. Luckily, the two Franklin's decided to mingle with the hoi polloi and joined the Ring-billeds. Ring-billeds, by the way, are about 19".

Ring-billed, left and Franklin's, right

Ring-billed gull, center,
flanked by two Franklins

Now, I have seen all 4 species of gulls we can expect in SW Ohio. I can quit!


nina said...

Kathi, these are really good pictures! Not a bad catch for a morning detour!

And the Franklin's are really sweet looking. The grays and browns of those photos look so peaceful.

NCmountainwoman said...

I have mixed feelings about gulls. I love them at the beach, (except when some nut is feeding them a loaf of bread). But I really do not like them in the city. Milwaukee (being on Lake Michigan) had a significant gull problem. So count me as both love them and leave them.

holly-the-person said...

Oh gad, the ubiquitous scavenging beach gulls, the 'sea gulls' (I know there is no such thing!) When the boys were little, we were at Lewes and before I could stop my then-2 year old, he tossed a Cheeto at one. I cringed at the glares directed our way!

Mary said...

Job well done! You have a spotting scope?

Mary C said...

That's quite a size difference between the ring-billed and the Franklin's gulls. BTW, living closer to the coast than you do, and I still cannot differentiate between several species, especially when you take juveniles into consideration. I think it's what I call "laziness" on my part, or lack of interest. ;-)