Frolicking with the Gulls

Frolicking HEGUs 02-17-2018-6217I confess that I always look forward to this annual event, the Gull Frolic up in Winthrop Harbor near the Wisconsin border, with some ambivalence. Admittedly, it is as much a gathering for the local birding community as it is for the gulls themselves. The drive is long. The weather, when good for seeing gulls, is challenging for humans. Maybe ambivalence is more prevalent these days for just about anything that takes up my “free” time. But then I tell myself, you never know what or who you’ll see until you go, and the car could probably use a drive on the tollway (is that still a thing with a hybrid vehicle? I don’t know), and any excuse to sing along with Peter Mayer (from Minnesota) is a good reason to go anywhere anyway.

Iceland and HEGU 02-17-2018-5950

1st Cycle Iceland Gull (left) and a 3rd Cycle Herring Gull

So there I was an hour early, thinking I was late, remembering I had seen the email about the later start time but didn’t check it before I left, so I appeared, I suppose, to be a die-hard gull fanatic by arriving so soon with my monster lens attached to the camera and hanging off me like a third limb. There was plenty of ice and the gulls, mostly Herring, were congregating on it. The challenge was to recognize gull species other-than-Herring and all their myriad plumage cycles. I thank Amar Ayyash, gull expert extraordinaire, for graciously pointing out the first-cycle Iceland Gull captured in the above photograph, as appearing more evenly brown in plumage. The narrow all-black bill helps too. So maybe I will remember this next year. Or maybe not.

Glaucous Frolicking 02-17-2018-5900

Glaucous Gull (left) and below with geese

After years of hearing people swear by hand warmers, the cold winter inspired me to try a pair in anticipation of the Gull Frolic. It’s reassuring to know that there is nothing sinister contained in the ingredients that cause a chemical reaction to create heat when iron powder is exposed to air (sounds a bit explosive, though, doesn’t it?). Although the heat never really reached my fingertips, it was nice to have that little hot pad in the palm of my hand in the glove. Trying to manage the camera with cold, gloved fingers is challenging, so if my hands were a little warmer it likely didn’t hurt.

The Canada Geese weren’t exactly invited but they were enthusiastically crashing the party when the chumming of (albeit whole-wheat) store-bought bread began. I’m sure the bread isn’t good for the gulls either but it doesn’t hurt them once a year, and the whole purpose is to take advantage of their propensity to engage with anything that hits the water, or in this case, the ice, to bring them in closer so we can see them. Gulls aside, I found it a bit amusing to watch this particular goose try to land gracefully on the ice.

Unfortunately, I didn’t stay for lunch or the lecture. My right knee was bothering me (I might revisit this thought in a future post, now that I am seeking a remedy), I was tired of the cold, and I had the usual myriad weekend chores listing up in my brain. Basically, beyond Herring Gulls, I think the only other species observed were the Iceland, Thayer’s (even though Thayer’s has been lumped with Iceland, there’s an effort to re-split again), Glaucous, Great Black-Backed, and a Lesser Black-Backed I did not see. I find the Herrings in their various plumages entertaining anyway. But by the time I left I was beyond entertainment and eager to survive the long-ish drive home. Second-cycle Great Black-Backed Gull below.

There is one thing I will never be able to test and that is how gulls would respond to music. Indeed the thought had never occurred to me until I was driving home. That would certainly be another kind of frolic.

There’s no reason to believe gulls would not respond to music, but it’s beyond my ability to design an experiment. I leave the option open to anyone who wants to try it. Of course gulls don’t “sing” per se, but who knows, they might dance, or they are certainly capable of something resembling dance in flight. I have seen pigeons and doves dance, and cranes too, flamingos, parrots…so I am not being altogether fanciful in my musings here.

Beyond the Thayer’s Gulls above, here are a few more pictures of frolicking gulls, for the record. While I’m looking forward to next year’s event and hope to be in better shape for it, these cold winter memories are a bit much. Bring On Spring.

Frolicking 02-17-2018-5865It might be a good idea to revisit my last day in Ecuador to brighten up my next post…

11 thoughts on “Frolicking with the Gulls

  1. For a minute I thought you were following the cold, perhaps you didn’t get enough in Chicago. I like gulls and other sea birds (Or lake). The only problem is to name them correctly. You are a busy woman Lisa. Good shots! 🙂

    • Thanks so much, H.J.! I like gulls too, and I am happy to see the same ones that fly up and down the river every day. I sort of learn how to identify them once a year and then it almost all fades from my memory. Sort of like shorebirds… 🙂

  2. I am always impressed with your Gull posts, you are a whiz with ID! I continue to this day as a helpless ID’er with some of the Gulls. Their many plumage cycles just confuses me more. Here in SC, I been trying to find the Iceland Gulls that were being reported on e-bird to add to my bird list. But I still don’t know if I truly have a photo of one, or is it a cycle of another, so I don’t/can’t count it. Do you recommend somewhere on the internet that really helps with IDing Gulls including their cycles? Or a book? Thanks Lisa, you are the Gull whisperer! 🙂

    • Oh thank you, Donna! But I am far from a gull expert. I wouldn’t have had a clue what these gulls were if people weren’t calling them out, especially Amar with his helpful tips. He has a great website, I should put a link up. It’s The field guide I’ve had for years, Gulls of the Americas by Steve N.G. Howell and Jon Dunn, seems to be out of print. Without it I’d be lost going through pictures. Now I guess I will guard it with my life. …But check out Amar’s website, Anything Larus – he can distinguish between individuals!

  3. I do the same thing… look forward to something and want to do it but then all driving and the rush convince me otherwise. Sometimes I force myself anyway, and I’m usually happy for it.
    Ecuador might not be the worst idea though, I’m done with anything under 20 degrees.

    • Funny because I kept Quito’s weather on my phone app and the other day we were a degree warmer in Chicago, but we’re back down to, well, thirties and forties which is normal, I guess, for March. If it is possible to slip in a normal day here and there. And the days are getting longer, which seems to be setting off migrations. I wish I could migrate. 🙂

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