-RBA *Minnesota *Duluth/North Shore *December 12, 1996 *MNDU9612.12 -Birds mentioned
Hotline: Minnesota Duluth/North Shore
Date: December 12, 1996
Sponsor: Minnesota Ornithologists' Union (MOU)
Reports: (218) 525-5952
Compiler: Kim Eckert
Transcriber: David Cahlander firstname.lastname@example.org
Although I was unable to relocate the possible SLATY-BACKED GULL today, it is probably still present. It was seen both yesterday and Tuesday at the Superior (WI) landfill, and I wouldn't be surprised if someone else independently saw it today. The gulls at the dump are relatively easy to examine, but at any given time there are hundreds of gulls roosting out on Lake Superior, many of them too far away to identify -- certainly including at times the possible Slaty-backed.
Therefore, it's worth coming up to look for it this weekend, but note the landfill's limited hours on Saturdays (8-11:30 am) and that it's closed on Sundays. On weekdays the hours are 7 am - 2:30 pm -- and note it's OK to hike in when the dump is closed (the hike is not far, but there tends to be less gull activity when there's no dumping going on). The staff there has always been quite friendly, and it is not necessary to check in at the office as you enter -- just stay out of the way of the trucks and bulldozer and you're fine. It is best to remain in your vehicle as you look at the gulls -- they tend to flush if you walk around with scopes, cameras, etc.
To reach the landfill, take US Highway 2 / 53 south all the way to the edge of Superior, turn left at the large, obvious sign which reads Moccasin Mike Road / Wisconsin Point / Lake Superior, and follow this road straight east 1.5 miles to the dump. Also check the lake for gulls by turning left on the road just before the dump, and this road ends in 3.5 miles at the Superior Entry breakwaters -- the Superior Entry channel is the MN-WI state line. To reach the best place to scan, turn right just before the end of the road and you'll have a good view of the ice floes which are usually present around the breakwaters -- some of them on the Minnesota side! -- and this is one place Karl Bardon and Peder Svingen first observed it last Saturday.
Some reminders. First, the gull has not yet been positively identified -- it may well prove to be a Slaty-backed (an adult), but the ID is difficult and Karl and Peder saw and photographed some features that may be inconsistent with Slaty-backed. Second, the mantle color of this species is quite variable, and this individual is at the paler end of the spectrum -- paler than a Lesser Black-backed, possibly the same shade of dark gray as an adult California. So don't go looking for something as black as a Great Black-backed. Third, one reason the ID is difficult is the standard references are not very helpful -- including Grant's gull book. And fourth, if you find the gull, concentrate on two features -- and try to obtain photos if possible: 1) look for a dark marking behind the eye, and if present write field notes on or sketch or photograph its exact shape and position; and 2) try to see the exact pattern of both the upper and lower surfaces of the outer primaries when the wing is spread -- and a series of photos would probably be needed to determine what that pattern is. Of course, it is worth noting as many field marks as possible in addition to these two features. And note it is better not to tell you in advance what the eye mark and wing tips should look like for a Slaty-backed -- your observation will be more objective and accurate if you don't know what you are supposed to see in advance.
Even if this "Slaty-backed" doesn't cooperate for you, there are other gulls worth looking at. Besides the predominant HERRING GULLS, there are several GLAUCOUS GULLS of all ages, a few first-winter and adult THAYER'S GULL, at least two first-winter ICELAND GULLS plus a probable adult, and an immature RING-BILLED GULL (rare here in winter!). -- Kim Eckert