too worried as we had offered the trip a little earlier than normal this year, giving us plenty of time for a make up date. The only problem was our actual lack of availability through the end of the winter gulling season. With only few options, we settled on February 11, 2017--unfortunately the same day as Utah Bald Eagle Day, but it was out best option.
In the week leading up to the event we had high hopes with at least 8 species of gull reported so far in the month of February. But the weather, int he opposite end of the spectrum had different ideas. A major warm front passed and dropped 5-6 days of 50-60 degree weather on the valleys across northern Utah. What this meant was all that frozen water that helped concentrate the gulls in a handful of places was now open. There was no frozen water around the southeast edge of the Great Salt Lake.
The morning of the trip Kenny Frisch and I set out to do a quick scouting run. First stop Decker Lake... No gulls. Next was the Lake Park Facility... No gulls. Okay then Lee Kay Ponds... No gulls. This pattern wasn't very welcoming... We drove 7200 West along the west end of the landfill where luckily the overflowing playas had a small flock of gulls with 4 species--the regular 3 (California, Ring-billed, and Herring), and a Thayer's Gull to give us at least some variety.
So with this in mind, we headed to meet the group. Although 37 people signed up a handful didn't show up. There seemed to be some confusion because apparently the Utah County Birders had a gull field trip on Saturday as well. But they cancelled theirs, and we got several emails from people asking if the trip was still on since they received an email saying it wasn't. It would have been cool if they would have sent their members an email saying their trip was off, but we were still offering one.
We set out with a line of cars in tow and found ourselves at Lee Kay Ponds, where there were still no gulls. But a NEOTROPIC CORMORANT, provided nice looks perched and in flight with a Double-crested Cormorant. On to 7200 West where had we known our fortunes for the rest of the day, we would've remained for the entirety of the field trip. The flock here grew to around 500 gulls, still with the majority of the 3 species mentioned above. Eventually we relocated the THAYER'S GULL for the group, and added an adult LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL to make it 5 species on the year, at least besting our worst count by one!
WE did find one bird that initially caused a stir. It was a large dark-backed gull with a thick bill. It had an essence of a darker Western x Glaucous-winged hybrid, but seemed too dark, with a bill that wasn't quite bulbous enough, and wings that were perhaps too long. After some discussion amongst others we settled on HERRING x LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL which is a new hybrid for the trip. Truthfully it may very well even be a Herring X Great Black-backed Gull, but with our distant looks, and lack of experience with those mixes it really is impossible to say with certainty.
There actually were lots of gulls in the area, but they were on the landfill, almost a mile away and showed no signs of leaving the trash pile in favor of the water. I shot a little video through my spotting scope to show the mass in the air...
After an hour we headed up to Farmington Bay where there were hundreds of gulls scattered on the open water. Mostly Ring-billed with a few California and Herring mixed in, we didn't find anything else of note. Aside from the gulls there were a handful of WHITE-FACED IBIS around, as well as a huge flock of AMERICAN AVOCET that had arrived in the last week.
We called the trip a day a little early since there weren't anymore gulls to be seen. Although we would have like some frozen water, and concentrations of gulls it's always a fun trip. Next year we may shoot for an even earlier date to make sure we can get it in before all the ice opens. That in combination with the fact DNR no longer does a carp kill will probably keep us doing an earlier trip in the future to make sure we see lots of gulls, and a great variety of species! Thanks to everyone who joined us this year and made for a great time!