31-B-2018 Laughing Gull

STATUS
Not Accepted
DATE VOTING COMPLETED
1ST ROUND
2-5
2ND ROUND
1-6
HOW MANY OBSERVED?
1
DATE SIGHTING OCCURRED
DATE REPORT PREPARED
REPORTER
Ross Silcock
OTHER OBSERVERS
Michael Hogg- first noticed the bird and suggested it was a Laughing Gull.
LOCALITY OF OBSERVATION
Lake Walcott Spillway, Minidoka County, Idaho, US
HABITAT WHERE THE BIRD WAS OBSERVED
tailrace of Minidoka Dam; water forming rapids over rocky area.
SIGHTING DURATION, CONDITIONS, and EQUIPMENT USED
Observed the bird for about 30 minutes. Weather was calm, bright sun, light was over our right shoulders but a bit harsh. We were parked along the paved road around 970 yards (measured on Google Earth) straight northwest of the dam face and, on the same line, 250 yards northwest of the bird, which was perched on a rock. I used a Nikon 90 mm scope and a 400 mm lens on a Nikon SLR camera to get the photos.
DID YOU TAKE NOTES?
No, not at all
DID YOU CONSULT A FIELD GUIDE OR OTHER REFERENCE WORK?
Yes, another day after the observation
WHICH GUIDE(S) OR REFERENCE(S): DID YOU CONSULT?
National Geographic. We discussed the field marks and ID during the sighting, but concentrated on getting photos. I looked at National Geographic field guide (7th edition) when I got home, September 6.
DESCRIPTION OF THE BIRD(s)
Among a large number of Franklin's Gulls for comparison, Michael noticed a gull perched on a small rock in the rapids that appeared to be afraid to get into the fast-moving water (unlike the Franklin's). Using the scope, we could see a gull that appeared a bit larger than the Franklin's nearby, with a noticeably longer, slightly droopy bill. The folded primaries were black, with a string of white spots, presumably the white primary tips more visible in flight. The head retained a shadow of the black hood, placed further forward than the "back half" of the head location on most of the Franklin's. We aged the bird as an adult molting from alternate to basic. Legs were dark, almost black. There was a prominent eye crescent at the rear edge of the eye.
BEHAVIOR OF THE BIRD(s)
During our 30-minute observation, the bird was trying to figure out how to get into the water, and was turning around continuously, peering at water, but finally flew, at which point we lost it among the Franklin's Gulls present.
HOW AND WHEN DID YOU POSITIVELY IDENTIFY THE BIRD, AND WHAT CLINCHED THE IDENTIFICATION FOR YOU?
We were convinced it was a Laughing Gull while it was under observation , and the photos confirmed our thinking. Main features we used for ID were (1) black primaries which extended past the tail and had a row of white spots, (2) the bill which was about the same length as the head from bill base to nape, (3) remains of the black hood, now brownish-looking, and its larger extent than Franklin's.
HOW DID YOU ELIMINATE SIMILAR SPECIES? WHAT WERE THEY?
Bird was larger than Franklin's, location of molting hood was more extensive and further forward than on Franklin's, bill was longer with a slight but noticeable droop than Franklin's, In my mind, most convincing were the black primaries extending past the tail with the series of quite visible white spots, indicative of an adult Laughing Gull and not present in any Franklin's plumage. The one photo I got that showed the open upper wing showed that the latter was overall dark,
WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH THIS (AND SIMILAR) SPECIES?
I have seen thousands of Laughing Gulls on the Texas coast in winter, vagrants in both Iowa and Nebraska, and thousands of Franklin's Gulls in both states.
DESCRIBE YOUR GENERAL BIRDING EXPERIENCE
I am an active birder, retired, mostly in Nebraska. I am currently on the Nebraska Ornithologists Union Records Committee and compile Seasonal Reports for Nebraska Bird Review and co-write the Southern Great Plains section of American Birds with Joseph Grzybowski. Of course I am not as sharp (hearing, mostly) as I once was at age 73, but still, I think, one of Nebraska's top 10 birders.
WERE PHOTO(S), VIDEO, AND/OR AUDIO OBTAINED FROM THIS SIGHTING?
Photo
SUPPORTING IMAGES

FIRST ROUND VOTING:

Cliff Weisse
Reject, specific identification not established

Brown wing coverts age this individual as a juv/first winter. Fairly extensive whitish primary tips, petite bill, limited extent of black in primaries (spread wing), and white breast point to Franklin's and eliminate Laughing Gull.

Shirley Sturts
Reject, specific identification not established

I'm a bit confused on the description "Black primaries extending past the tail with the series of quite visible white spots, indicative of an adult Laughing Gull " - Did he mean to say a field mark of the Franklin's Gull. However the one extended photo shows an all dark wing which would fit that of the Laughing Gull.

Dave Trochlell
Reject, specific identification not established

I believe that this was actually a Franklin's Gull.

Carl Lundblad
Accept

Excellent description, discussion, and analysis of the photos.

Doug Ward
Accept

Good description in comparison to Franklin’s Gull (Luecophaeus pipixcan) with diagnostic photos attached. While I think the observer mis-aged this bird, it is a good identification.

Darren Clark
Reject, specific identification not established

I could easily be convinced to change my vote. It seems the plumage details are all somewhat vague and inconclusive and the photographs are too small to see the necessary detail including bill length and appearance.

Jay Carlisle
Reject, specific identification not established

I'm tempted but not entirely convinced (& have been fooled before by "different"-looking 1st-W Franklin's so maybe I'm being too conservative). Specifically:
- head pattern ("half-hood") looks good for immature Franklin's
- can't tell for sure but the 1 view of tail suggests that the black terminal band doesn't extend to the outermost tail feathers
- body doesn't seem quite as elongated as a Laughing should
- lastly, the two-toned plumage on the upper side (different mantle color vs. upperwing) argues towards a 1st-cycle bird - not an adult with a receding hood as suggested by the observers

Thus, my best guess is that this was a "big, bruiser" Franklin's that stood out from the rest

SECOND ROUND VOTING:

Cliff Weisse
Reject, specific identification not established

same comments

Shirley Sturts
Reject, specific identification not established

I am still not convinced that this is a Laughing Gull

Dave Trochlell
Reject, specific identification not established

I will reject this record again because I believe that the bird was misidentified.

Doug Ward
Accept

Sticking with my initial “accept” vote. Decision based on the following points from the report as well as the photographs.
1) Structure – Observer mentions larger size in direct comparison to Franklin’s (Luecophaeus pipixcan), as well as longer, “droopier” bill; the later point can be seen in the photos. In addition, the sleek appearance, leg legged, and long pointed wing shape can be taken from the various images which are also supportive of identification as a Laughing (L. atricilla).
2) Age – This bird appears to be in its second cycle molt to 2nd year basic plumage. Some remaining dirty coverts noticeable, as well as fresh P1-6/7 primaries while retaining 1st cycle P6/7-10 primaries. Aging important in assessing plumage.
3) Plumage – Primaries show more extensive black than expected from a similar aged Franklin’s. In addition, the outstretched wing does not show the noticeable white subterminal tonge/band shown by similar aged Franklin’s. With respect to body plumage, the grey on the sides of the chest is a good mark for Laughing as are hood extent and reasonably dark nape for this aged bird.

Jay Carlisle
Reject, specific identification not established

No change from round 1 vote

Darren Clark
Reject, specific identification not established

See previous comments.

Carl Lundblad
Reject, specific identification not established

I now agree that the documentation may be inconclusive and seems to point to a Franklin's Gull. I agree that mis-ageing this bird may have led to confusion regarding the wing and head patterns. The bill doesn't appear particularly large or droopy, and the bird's overall structure seems within range for a Franklin's. The primary tips seems fine for Franklin's, and the inner primaries do not look as dark as they should in a Laughing Gull of this age (lightening the spread wing photo a bit helped). I agree with Jay that the tail pattern also better supports Franklin's Gull, from what we can see.