We had an absolutely great turnout for the event with 36 intrepid larus enthusiasts congregating at Farmington Bay for our annual gull trip. The group was a great mix of old and new faces and names, and ranged in age from little kids, to well seasoned birders. The weather was truly beautiful--sunny, and right around 50 degrees--something that isn't normal for this date. After the group was mostly there, we carpooled up and headed down west dike to see what we could find...
And what we found were RING-BILLED GULLS. Lots and lots of Ring-billed Gulls. In fact, at 1,200 individuals this was the most common species we encountered of the day. To be fair there were an estimated 2,500 gulls too far away to identify. Large rafts of gulls sat in distant corners of the bay, obscured by heat waves and distance. Notably there was no ice on the water, and the gulls were spread far and thin. Like a evenly buttered piece of toast, it seemed like the birds had been laid out evenly across the bay, making it difficult to scan and compare shapes and sizes, as often there weren't birds "nearby" to compare to.
But this did not matter--we came for gulls so we looked for gulls! We started to pick out our second species, the Utah state bird, the CALIFORNIA GULL in small numbers mixed in with the Ring-billed. Eventually we came across a distant HERRING GULL, and finally a stop turned up 4 more Herrings close enough for everyone to get good looks. We might just be able to pull out enough gull species to make the day a "stravaganza".
Eventually we made it to the 4-way at the end of the road and scanned for gulls here. Notably present--much of the same from the drive in--except more California Gulls entered the fray. To the southeast there was a nice mix of the 3 species and the movement of gulls in and out out was promising. Eventually we turned up a 1st winter LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL. Then a second, and before the day was over Mike Hearell and Taylor Abbot picked out an adult that joined the raucous.
A small part of the group got looks at a THAYER'S GULL, but this usually common enough species was quite difficult to track down. After most of the party had left for the day we were able to find an adult in the area. 5 species of gulls for the day. Surprisingly this isn't the least amount of species we've had on this trip, and its only 1 less that what I would call "average". Still comparing this to last year where we had 7 species as well as hybrids, it seems tame. The three main reasons this years event didn't have the species count I always dream of, was due to the open water (lack of ice congregating birds), the fact DNR didn't do a carp kill here (still shaking my head on that one), and luck. In the previous couple days both Mew and Glaucous-winged Gull had been see here. Luck goes a long ways...
As the group parted, Mike, Taylor, and I made our way up west dike, and spotted an interesting Herring/Thayer's Type bird. The smallish (for a Herring) bird had a rounded head, smallish bill, large window on P10 underside--but had a yellow eye, and apparently quite a bit of black on the underside of the primaries. So is this a tiny Herring, or an abberant Thayer's Gull? Gotta love gulls!
I love this field trip though. Getting a large group of birders together to hang out for a couple hours, and just talk birds--gulls none-the-less! We did see a few other birds as well--I tallied 43 species on the afternoon. A small flock of WESTERN GREBES had arrived on the bay, while small flocks of WHITE-FACED IBIS and SANDHILL CRANE were present too. The TUNDRA SWANS were present in small numbers and at a distance as well. Near the entrance a flock of a dozen or so HOODED MERGANSERS were lounging on the water, And on Glovers Lane a CACKLING GOOSE was hanging with a flock of Canada Geese as I took off for the day.
In all we raised $150 for Great Salt Lake Audubon with this event this year--and we learned some things to help plan next years event. The truth is you never know what you're going to get till the trip happens. Weather, food, and so many other things have to fall into place just right. At the end of the day though, it was a great day spent looking at gulls with a fun group of Utah Birders!