Skip to main content

Bonaparte's Gulls

The garbageheads give gulls a bad rap. Those large, aggressive Ring-billed and Herring Gulls that frequent dumps and fast food outlet parking lots have given the average Joe the idea that all gulls are the equivalent of winged rats. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even the big boys that are prone to dumpster-diving, and here in Ohio that's usually the Ring-billed Gull, are beautifully proportioned and supreme aerialists.

But they lack the graceful good manners and delicate agility of my favorite of this bunch, the Bonaparte's Gull.

On a recent Lake Erie trip, I got to spend a bit of time photographing some bonos at Ashtabula County's Conneaut Harbor. I could watch them all day, and strive for getting that perfect shot. But althought they don't look overtly fast, Bonaparte's Gulls are usually moving faster than one thinks when trying to freeze them on the wing.

Pristine adult Bonaparte's Gull, Chroicocephalus philadelphia, in crisp winter plumage. Birds in breeding finery have solid black heads, as if some jokester thrust them beak first into a vat of ink. The white wing flashes are quite distinctive in any plumage. The common name honors a distant relative of the famous Napoleon Bonaparte, while the scientific specific epithet recognizes the area where the first specimen was secured, Philadelphia.

Here's a youngster, a first-year bird. Note the black terminal band on the tail and the dark bars on the wing. Bonaparte's are two-year gulls: it takes them two seasons to attain full adult plumage. For big gulls like Herring and Great Black-backed, it requires four years to reach adulthood.

This bird was raised in a tree! That's right, Bonaparte's Gulls nests are arboreal, usually from 5 to 15 feet up in a spruce tree! They breed in the northern boreal forest, and place their flimsy stick platforms in stunted spruce near water. I have looked into one of their abodes, once. On a trip to Churchill, Manitoba, I spotted a Bonaparte's Gull nest about ten feet up in the boughs, and clambered up for a look. The parents were rather displeased, and expressed themselves by attempting to whack me in the head like tiny feathered Stukas on a dive-bombing mission.

November is THE month for Bonaparte's Gull-watching along Lake Erie. Sometimes thousands of them congregate around favored harbors, and one can revel in the odd squeaky buzzes produced by the pack. They are highly piscivorous at this time of year, deftly dropping to the water to nab small fish. One potential prey is spotted, the gull will drop airspeed and almost stall, lifting its head somewhat and developing a hunch-necked look. That's what this one is doing.

Bingo - sushi time! The bird has adeptly snared a small minnow, likely an Emerald Shiner.

We are indeed fortunate to have Lake Erie is our northern border. This, the second smallest of the Great Lakes, is the richest biologically and supports a tremendous fauna, including these small, graceful gulls.

Comments

dAwN said…
great post..I am enjoying reading and learning from your blog...
thanks..

Popular posts from this blog

The Pinching Beetle, a rather brutish looking bug

The world is awash in beetles, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Few of them can match the intimidation factor of a Pinching Beetle, Lucanus capreolus, though. Those formidable looking mandibles look like they could slice off a finger.

Today was one of those coolly diverse days. I started off down in Fayette County, visiting the farm of a friend. He has restored about 25 acres of wetlands, and the response by the animal community has been nothing short of phenomenal. Blizzards of dragonflies of many species, amphibians galore, and nesting Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, and Sora. Among MANY other things. And all in a short two years. Add water and they will come.

Then, working my way home, I ducked into a Madison County cemetery that has a thriving population of Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels, and shot images of our native prairie dog. Then, I stopped at a spot along Little Darby Creek, waded on in, and procured some pretty nice shots of various stream bluets and dancers. …

Calliope Hummingbird in central Ohio!

A hatch-year male Calliope Hummingbird strikes a pose. Small but tough, the hummingbird was feeding actively yesterday in 39 F temperatures. It frequents feeders and gardens at a home in Delaware County, Ohio, about a half-hour north of Columbus.

Fortunately, the wayward hummer appeared at the home of Tania and Corey Perry. Tania is a birder, and knew right away that the hummingbird was something special. For a while, the identification was up in the air, which isn't surprising. The Calliope Hummingbird used to be placed in its own genus, Stellula, but has recently been submerged into the genus Selasphorus, which includes Allen's, Broad-tailed, and Rufous hummingbirds. The latter two, especially, are quite similar to the Calliope in subadult plumage. Rufous is the default "vagrant" hummingbird here, with dozens of records and birds turning up annually. There is but one Ohio record of Allen's Hummingbird, from late fall/early winter 2009. Ditto the Calliope Hummi…

Ballooning spiders

Fear not, ye arachnophobes. The subject of this entry is indeed about spiders, but the star of the show is about as cute as a spider can get. And you'll want to know what we're about to learn...

On my recent West Virginia foray, we were strolling down a seldom-used lane, when a bright yellow object caught our eye. It was a goldenrod crab spider, Misumena vatia, on top of a post! Not only that, she - it is a girl - was acting extraordinarily goofy. The spider would stilt up as high as she could go on her legs, weave back and forth, jig side to side, and otherwise engage in what appeared to be spider break-dancing.

Click the pic for expansion, and you can see two columns of silk issuing from her spinnerets. This is an important point, as we set about determining what this non-web-making spider is doing.


So fixated was our spider on her task that she even rejected what would seem to me to be a perfectly scrumptious meal. This little caterpillar climbed rapidly up the post and dire…