The good thing about talking with larophiles is that you can get a quick answer on a bird they feel is obvious. The bad thing about talking with larophiles is that one feels a dope when they all recognize what the bird is immediately and then assume that one is utterly ignorant of all things bird. But, I swallow my pride, for you, dear Seanetters! I posted Jerry’s bird on the North American Gull group on Facebook (members only, though their bar to admission appears so low as to be a simple line painted on the ground), and asked a few other gull-knowledgeable folks. All were in clear agreement that this is a subadult Glaucous Gull.
When corresponding with Jerry about the bird, and in reading the comments on the post from Edward and Diana, Glaucous did seem a strong contender, with Iceland Gull in contention as well. Since I am very good at discerning the difference between shredded up remains of common gull species, but quite terrible at identifying gulls I do not see routinely, I had no useful input on this one.
After posting to North American Gulls on Facebook, I turned to my Sibley guide, where I found one of my favorite lines. This, in regard to the Iceland Gull: “…round head and short bill, creating a gentle expression.” I help with banding Herring Gulls and Great Black-Backed Gulls, and I think my description of the latter would be, “Fierce eye and glowering, blocky head create intimidating expression,” but that is neither here nor there.
Other characteristics of Iceland Gulls of interest: though the youngsters are indeed very pale, particularly in first summer plumage, their bills seem small for their heads as compared with a Glaucous Gull. GLGU also are noted to have a “slight bulge on the forehead” and the head slopes back overall, actually putting me vaguely in mind of the profile of an eider, or some of the scoters. I’m not convinced I can see that in this bird, but I am pretty convinced by the bill characteristics. The bill on an Icelan Gull is shorter and smaller than a GLGU’s. Jerry’s bird appears to have quite a long bill with an extensive area of pink and then a black tip. In Glaucous Gulls, this is consistent with a first year bird. As the birds age, they acquire a light colored iris (and Jerry’s bird appears dark eyed to me) as well as a pink tip to the bill. The coloration of the back and wing looks extremely pale, but it seems that the photo is bleached out overall, likely due that strong Florida light, unlike anything we’re seeing here in New England these days. If the bird looks paler in the picture than it actually was in life, then it could well still be a 1st year.
I must say, I love this rather trippy mashup of various ages of GLGU plus a waterfall and a rainbow. Front and center is a bird looking very like Jerry’s. It does have more brown flecking than Jerry’s, but there, again, I suspect a trick of the light. You can see the dark iris and the all black bill tip here for sure. Just behind this bird, you can also see the other flavor of juvenile GLGU, which is the color of one day old sanded snow, something like a pale HERG youngster. (We are now describing everything in varieties of snow here. By the end of the weekend, we will have accumulated nearly 6′ in my yard).
I am pleased to have learned a good deal about GLGU from this quiz, and will strive to be alert to their presence. I’m headed out for a SEANET walk today. I’m pretty far south to be in a GLGU hotspot, but they are not unheard of, so maybe this will be the day I finally notice one of these guys!