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Gullstravaganza 2013 Recap

posted by Tim Avery at
on Sunday, February 3, 2013 

Utah Birders and Great Salt Lake Audubon at 2013 Gullstravaganza (photo by Oliver Hansen)

In 2011 we had lots of participants and lots of species.  In 2012 the weather cut participation, but we still had more than the usual gull species.  And in 2013 we had more than 30 participants, 4500 individual gulls, but only managed the 4 common species--the rarities just weren't to be found.  None-the-less it was an incredible day of birding with the Utah Birders and Great Salt Lake Audubon.

The week before the event we changed the location of the event to the Lake Park Facility in West Valley City because in the past month the common 4 plus Lesser Black-backed, Western, Mew, Glaucous, and Glaucous-winged Gull had all been reported from here.  9 species of gull and easy viewing made it an ideal meeting place.  The fact that Farmington had been 100% frozen the past 2 weeks also led to our trepidation of hosting the event there.  Another major change this year was the start time of 12:00 noon, instead of 8:00am.  We followed the lead of Colorado and their Gullapalooza, finding that the number of participants upped when they changed their start time to noon last year.

To yesterday.  Jeff Bilsky, Kenny Frisch, and I met up early to go and check the gull situation at Decker Lake, Lake Park, Lee Kay Ponds, and the International Center.  Although we knew Lake Park had the most potential, the good gulls end up showing up at all of these places.  Decker Lake had a fair number of California and Ring-billed Gulls, but no larger winter gulls.  Heading towards Lake Park we got excellent looks at a MERLIN just east of Bangerter Highway.

First Merlin of the day

At Lake Park there were about ~1000 gulls on the Stonebridge Golf Course pond, so we figured that would be a good stop later in the day.  At the west pond at Lake Park we arrived to fog and about 500 gulls roosting next to the target Parking Lot.  When we set up scopes to try and look through them, everything took flight and circled the pond.

Gulls circling in the fog

Perhaps one of the most interesting gulls of the day was seen at this time, when an adult California Gull with NO TAIL passed over us.  It looked almost comical yet sad without that tail.

The "tail-less" California Gull

We couldn't see the water because the fog was thick so we set out to the other locations mentioned.  Besides more fog and bad light, the only bird of note was a MERLIN on 7200 west by the landfill.

Second Merlin of the day

We headed back to Lake Park to wait for the trip to begin.  While we waited a BALD EAGLE made a pass and most of the gulls left.

Perfect lighting and being in the right place got this Bald Eagle photo

The gulls started to trickle back in as the birders did as well.  We waited till about 12:15 to start looking at gulls, because more and more people showed up.  All in all, including guides there were a total of 36 participants during the day--by far the biggest field trip we've organized.  The amazing thing is its a trip for gulls, and its in February!  Needless to say we were very happy with the turnout.

We took the group and crossed the field from the Target where we met and headed to the west pond at Lake Park.  As we walked over hundred of gulls came pouring into the basin from the north.  It was a perfect start to the trip and gave everyone the opportunity to be immersed in the gulls.  We set up and started scanning the 400 gulls on the water.  The majority were the common 2, but there were a number of HERRING GULLS mixed in, and one 1st winter, and one 2nd winter THAYER'S GULL.  Both Thayer's took flight shortly after we started looking at them.  After exhausting the gulls here, we walked around the pond and ogled the gulls in the field next to the Target.  Nothing new mixed in but we set up some great scope comparisons of Herring and California Gulls and giving us a chance to show everyone a 1st winter California Gull.

1st winter California Gull with adult California Gulls

Figuring their would be some mixing up, we headed everyone to Lee Kay Ponds to give Lake Park a bit of a rest.  At Lee Kay there were about 800 gulls on the ice.  The lighting wasn't great, but even with what we had, there was nothing out of the ordinary mixed in.  The highlight for many was a FALCON (probably Peregrine) that was dive bombing a flock of starlings far out over the dump, and a Bald Eagle perched along the power poles.

We checked out the International Center where about 250 Ring-billed Gulls and a handful of California were roosting on the ice.   Again, nothing unusual mixed in.  A Red-tailed Hawk flew over flushing all the gulls which left, and headed south towards Lake Park.

At this point we headed everyone back to Lake Park and headed to the main pond at Stonebridge Golf Course.  We found decent lighting on the northwest side of the pond and spent considerable time scanning the large flock on the ice.  Again, nothing unusual was mixed in.  It was almost unbelievable to have looked through so many gulls and not being able to find a single odd ball.  It was also a little frustrating because we knew there had been some really good birds here within the last couple days.

To end the day we headed back over to the west pond and made our way to the west side of the field south of Target where we had great lighting to view the gulls there.  Again, the common 3 gave great looks, and in the light provided ample photo ops.

Adult California Gull flying by

Ring-billed Gull coming in for a landing

Then it was really an odd moment when a domestic Mallard x wild Mallard hybrid flew over and all of the gulls took flight.  It made for awesome photos.

The whole mess of gulls taking flight

David Allan and his daughter (I'm sorry it slipped my mind) met up with the group at this last stop.  They drove all the way from Millard County up to Salt Lake and she had really hoped to see a Thayer's Gull for a life bird.  It was was great to see someone so young really excited about gulls.  And luck must have been on her side a few moments after the explosion of gulls Jeff yelled out that a Glacuous Gull was flying over-- I looke dup and yelled it again loud enough for everyone.  To the bare eye it looked like a great white ghost form beneath, but when I got my viewfinder of my camera on it, it became obvious that it had darker wing tips--THAYER'S GULL!  

3rd winter Thayer's Gull flying past at the end of the day

At first I thought it was the same 2nd winter bird from this morning, but after looking at the pictures I would say this is a 3rd winter bird, but think it was still the same bird from the morning because of the unique mess of a bill it had.  In any event it was a great lifer moment for the young birder from Millard, and made the trip really worthwhile there at the end.

Shortly after we called it a day and thanked everyone who had come.  Despite the lack of species, it was still  one hell of a great trip.  We raised $130 for Great Salt Lake Audubon, and got some great feedback from those who came.  It may be 12 months till the next Gullstravaganza but we are already thinking of ways to make it even better in 2014!

Thanks to everyone who came and made the event so great.  As a side note we learned that others headed back north made stops at Farmington Bay WMA where both WESTERN GULL and LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL were present!  I guess we still should have hit 6 species for the day, but still no complaints from our end!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for such a great field trip. The "common 4" were fun for this novice to see. -CC

February 4, 2013 at 8:33 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

After a day of renewing old acquaintances, making new ones, and scanning the gulls we headed for Sugarhouse to drop off David on our way home, but it was not to be. We were still in full birding mode discussing birds and recounting stories of past trips, when we (Gail and David must share the responsibility) missed the turnoff to I-80 and instead found ourselves headed north on I-15. David jokingly said "where are we going, to Farmington."
I said "would you like to. " He said he was good either way heading for home and curling up with a good book or continuing north. "Do we have time, he said. "We do," I said and so we headed to Farmington Bay where we enjoyed several Barn Owls, large numbers of Great Blue Herons, and a nice selection of Bald Eagles, but the best was when we stopped at the second bridge, and before Gail and I were even out of the car David had both a Western and Lesser Black-backed Gull spotted. What a nice way to end a day of Gull watching, and now if I could just find that Glaucous Gull Bilsky sees everywhere.

And finally a big thanks to Tim, Jeff, and Kenny for an excellently run trip, I'm already looking forward to next year.

February 4, 2013 at 10:59 AM  
Blogger Tim Avery said...

@anonymous: Glad you enjoyed!

@Norm: Thank you for coming Norm! There is no point in having a field trip if people don't come and make it worth while!

February 4, 2013 at 1:38 PM  

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