On Saturday we left our neighborhood and headed north to Lake County, Illinois, in search of first-of-year birds for our burgeoning year lists. Our best find of the day was a California Gull at North Point Marina in Winthrop Harbor, Illinois (That’s on Lake Michigan, just south of the Wisconsin border.)
California Gulls are western birds that sometimes wander into Illinois. This was a rare and wonderful find for us, although we have seen them a couple of times before. We only found it because our birder friends reported it on IBET, the Illinois birders’ email list. With their help we knew that the gull was there and exactly how to recognize it.
Below are photos of what we saw, taken with our old Kodak C533 through our Vortex Skyline 80 spotting scope. In the first photo note the yellowish legs, dark eye, and irregular dark band on the bill. These features help distinguish California Gulls from the much more common Herring Gulls, which are about the same size:
Herring Gulls of the same age almost always have pinkish legs, yellow eyes, and just a red dot on the lower bill. The following close-up view of the California Gull’s head shows a reddish mark on the lower bill, behind the dark band — another diagnostic feature for California Gulls:
Many birders spent hours on a cold and wind-swept beach searching for this bird, and they sometimes came up empty handed. With good luck and the boys’ sharp eyes, we found the California Gull on the relatively protected Marina docks. Actually, Ethan found the Gull three separate times — it flew twice to different docks, yet still he picked it out by looking for the California Gull’s yellowish legs among the sea of pink-legged Herring Gulls.
As we left the Marina and headed home, we also found two other year birds for me and Ethan: Green-winged Teal in a pool along the Marina’s entrance road, and Blue-winged Teal at Almond Marsh. At the end of the day, I had 120 year birds on my list, and Aaron had 126. Go here to see my 2009 year list.
And one more thing: We spent Saturday morning on a field trip with the Lake-Cook Chapter of the Illinois Audubon Society. With about 40 other people, we watched loons and other migrating waterfowl on the inland lakes of Lake County. We learned some new places to go birding, and we got to hang out and talk birds with some great birders. Trips like this are a wonderful way for beginning birders to learn more about the birds in our area. Go here for a list of upcoming Lake-Cook Chapter field trips.
Our thanks to the trip leaders, Fred and Cheri Thompson, and to everyone else who helped organize the Loons of Lake County field trip!