Slaty-backed gull in Lake County, IL (photo by Michael Retter)

Slaty-backed gull in Lake County, IL (photo by Michael Retter)

Every year for the past 13, the Illinois Ornithological Society sponsors a February event called “The Gull Frolic.” It is located at the harbor club at NorthPointMarina, in Winthrop Harbor, Illinois, just spitting distance from Wisconsin. For several days before, bread is tossed to attract gulls and over the years most every kind of gull found on southern Lake Michigan in the winter has been found. Birders are drawn from all over northern Illinois, and beyond, to gather in undiminished numbers. (I have queried people on the success of the event, and there is general agreement to the idea that after being cooped up for January and much of February, it provides a terrific excuse to do some birding and catch up with a range of folks you might otherwise encounter much. This year Gull Frolic was held on February 15 and I was invited to be the speaker. There  were two sessions, where about 50 people at each heard me give my talk, Hope is the Thing With Feathers: Americans and Three Birds. This one of my principal talks: I look at the passenger pigeon as an icon of extinction and compare it with Kirtland’s warbler (we know to keep it at healthy population levels),  and the whooping crane (after decades of effort, its fate is still an open question).

Gull watchers frolicking.

Gull watchers frolicking.

Given the  low temperatures and little in the way of open water, organizers were concerned that the gulls might be scarce and, indeed, tehy were in the morning with only about 200 present. But by late afternoon the number of individuals and variety picked up substantially. Besides the cold weather, there was another unusual factor in this year’s frolic. The day before, Amar Ayaash and a visiting birder discovered a slaty-backed gull in inland LakeCounty, maybe a half-hour away. When it was reported on Saturday, there was a steady stream of people going back a and forth: late in the afternoon when most people had left, a few lucky birders found the slaty-backed right behind the club. I did some birding during the day. Mick Minor let me look through his scope at the Kumlien’s Iceland gull. And later I saw a great black backed and lesser black-backed, along with a nice flock of white-winged scoters just offshore. As has been widely reported the Great Lakes are nearly 100% frozen. One consequence is the appearance of white-winged scoters inland, including at least one that was found dying in a woods, no where near large water.

Kumlein's gull (photo by Geoff Williamson)

Kumlein’s gull (photo by Geoff Williamson)

Here is a list of the day’s birds as compiled by Amar: 85 Canada Goose, 26 White-winged Scoter,,12 Long-tailed Duck, 8 Red-breasted Merganser, 4 Common Merganser, 1 Red-throated Loon, 150 Ring-billed Gull, 700, Herring Gull (many more out on the lake in the distance and not in the harbor this year), 15 Thayer’s Gulls (10 adults, 2 third cycles, 3 first cycles), 8 Kumlien’s Iceland Gull (5 adults, 1 third cycle, 1 second cycle, 1 first cycle), 4 Glaucous Gulls (2 adults, 1 second cycle, 1 first cycle), 5 Lesser Black-backed Gulls (3 adults, 1 third cycle, 1 second cycle), 2 Great Black-backed Gulls (both adults, beyond the breakwall and in flight) 1 Slaty-backed Gull (Adult. Confirmed as same bird from LCF), and 8 American Tree Sparrows.

A flock of codgers: Jeff Sanders, Blogger, and Larry Balch.

A flock of codgers: Jeff Sanders, Blogger, and Larry Balch.

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