Monday, March 14, 2011

Search For A Kelp Gull

March 13-14, 2011

Richard Stevens:

March 13

We headed back to Denver and planned on quick stops at Prewitt Reservoir (Logan/Washington) and Jackson Reservoir (Morgan).

When we arrived at Prewitt Reservoir, the number of gulls overwhelmed us. There had to be 1000 gulls. Quite strange with the lack of gulls at Jumbo Reservoir and Jackson Reservoir last week.

We had looks at a strange Gull from about 25 feet. Among the gulls was a very black backed gull. Darker than a Lesser Black-backed Gull should be, darker than a Great Black-backed Gull.

The head was very clean white. Lesser Black-backed Gulls usually have much streaking in the winter. The unstreaked head and pale legs were what caught our attention. Lesser Black-backed Gulls have mostly yellow legs. Great Black-backed Gulls pale pinkish legs. If this was, a Great Black-backed Gull was quite small.

It appeared just a bit bigger than a nearby California Gull. The California Gull had a lighter mantle, yellow legs and streaked head. This bird was not a California Gull. The mantle was way too dark.

My thought was a Kelp Gull. I remembered from previous Kelp Gull sightings (personally only four) that the primaries are shorter on a Kelp Gull than Lesser Black-backed Gull. That appeared to be the case, however, how does one decide for sure when there is no comparison around?

It had to be a Kelp Gull. When it flew, I thought there was a small dark smudge on the tail (but could not be sure).

Other considerations:
Slaty-backed Gull: mantle too dark, legs not obvious pink, unstreaked head, size?
Western Gull: mantle to light, legs not pink, size?

Eventually a Bald Eagle flew over and all the gulls took off. Many headed south-southwest. The strange Gull did not return. We decided to checkout Jackson Reservoir (Morgan). Other gulls at Prewitt Reservoir did include: Franklin's Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls, California Gulls, Herring Gulls.

Later, we had no luck in relocating the "strange Gull". I put out a "RBA Text Message" hoping birders would relocate the Gull somewhere in Weld, Larimer, Adams or Arapahoe Counties.

A couple of Long-eared Owls continue at Jackson Reservoir. The Eastern Screech-Owl and a Great Horned Owl called after sunset.

March 14

After yesterday's discovery of a probable Kelp Gull, four of us took off to search nearby lakes and reservoirs. Bryan Ehlmann and I first headed back to Prewitt Reservoir and then Jackson Reservoir. Jacob Washburn and Ray Simmons were onboard for Weld and Larimer County reservoirs.

Long story short, no trace of the Gull was found. Just about every body of water from the foothills north of Boulder up to Fort Collins and east for 60 miles was searched. No sign. It could still show up, Boulder County has many bodies of water and there are certainly many lakes south of our search areas. We probably will not search tomorrow.

The highlight for Bryan and me was at Lower Latham Reservoir (Weld County). Shortly after sunset, two Short-eared Owls flew around the fields south of County Road 48!

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