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Too Dark for Herring?


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@Quiscalus quiscula That's a great question and one that I'm interested in too. As far as I can tell, (which is basically from running through the pics on eBird of accepted records for Herring x LBBG vs Herring x GBBG), Herring x LBBG "MOSTLY" have legs tending towards YELLOW, while Herring x GBBG "MOSTLY" have legs tending toward PINK. If there are other subtle distinctions, I really can't see them. GULLS!!!! 🙂 

Edited by KnotLisa
Edited to correct the sequence of letters in LBBG
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I received a few more responses.
From eBird reviewer: “Hard to say for sure, but I think its the angle and the lighting making it look darker, and its a Herring with pink legs, gray back, and robust bill etc.“ That’s the total extent of his reply.


From a cold contact through email address published on eBird: “Greetings. And thank you for reaching out. For me, these images appear to be fine for Herring Gull. Like someone suggested, perhaps slightly darker mantled? But that is a tough call for me to make in the absence of any other nearby Herring Gulls for comparison. The leg color seems pinksih, gape is yellow, iris is pale yellow and the orbital ring is a yellow-orange color (rather than red), size and extent of gonys, all look spot on for non-breeding adult Herring Gull. 
The Herring Gull x Great Black-backed Gull hybrids that we see along the shores of Lake Champlain are distinctly dark-backed. Very similar to near identical to that of Lesser Black-backed Gull. And often with pinkish legs. Your bird would be a great diversion from that and I feel confident that we can rule this out. 
I also considered Herring Gull x Lesser Black-backed Gull. But I don't have experience with that combo. That said, I am not seeing any overlapping features of Lesser Black-backed Gull in your bird. 
Thanks again for sharing and for reaching out to me.“


From a referral: “Lovely photos. However, without a photo with other gulls in the same image, there is a lot of speculation here. If the bird is noticeably darker than a HERG, then it seems likely that it has some genes from either a Lesser BBG or a Great BBG. We see what we presume are both hybrids on the Niagara River, birds that are substantially darker than a HERG. We also see individuals that are only slightly darker, which we suspect have some genes from a previous hybrid pairing between HERG and one of the black-backed gulls.
A photo showing this bird with other gulls would allow mantle shade and size comparison, which is necessary for a solid ID.”


I wanted to note that I had also sent these two kind gentlemen the following pics of Herring Gull taken at the same location about 15-20 minutes apart for all 3 gulls, so the lighting is similar in all the pics.
 

_I4A4962crop.jpg

_I4A4825crop.jpg

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12 minutes ago, KnotLisa said:

I received a few more responses.
From eBird reviewer: “Hard to say for sure, but I think its the angle and the lighting making it look darker, and its a Herring with pink legs, gray back, and robust bill etc.“ That’s the total extent of his reply.


From a cold contact through email address published on eBird: “Greetings. And thank you for reaching out. For me, these images appear to be fine for Herring Gull. Like someone suggested, perhaps slightly darker mantled? But that is a tough call for me to make in the absence of any other nearby Herring Gulls for comparison. The leg color seems pinksih, gape is yellow, iris is pale yellow and the orbital ring is a yellow-orange color (rather than red), size and extent of gonys, all look spot on for non-breeding adult Herring Gull. 
The Herring Gull x Great Black-backed Gull hybrids that we see along the shores of Lake Champlain are distinctly dark-backed. Very similar to near identical to that of Lesser Black-backed Gull. And often with pinkish legs. Your bird would be a great diversion from that and I feel confident that we can rule this out. 
I also considered Herring Gull x Lesser Black-backed Gull. But I don't have experience with that combo. That said, I am not seeing any overlapping features of Lesser Black-backed Gull in your bird. 
Thanks again for sharing and for reaching out to me.“


From a referral: “Lovely photos. However, without a photo with other gulls in the same image, there is a lot of speculation here. If the bird is noticeably darker than a HERG, then it seems likely that it has some genes from either a Lesser BBG or a Great BBG. We see what we presume are both hybrids on the Niagara River, birds that are substantially darker than a HERG. We also see individuals that are only slightly darker, which we suspect have some genes from a previous hybrid pairing between HERG and one of the black-backed gulls.
A photo showing this bird with other gulls would allow mantle shade and size comparison, which is necessary for a solid ID.”


I wanted to note that I had also sent these two kind gentlemen the following pics of Herring Gull taken at the same location about 15-20 minutes apart for all 3 gulls, so the lighting is similar in all the pics.
 

_I4A4962crop.jpg

_I4A4825crop.jpg

It isn’t just the lighting that can play with gull colors, it is the angle.  Literally millions of times I’ve seen what I thought was a darker backed gull only for it to be turned, or have its wings tilted up.  Just a little change to angle can cause it to look darker.  This one may be pushing the extremes of that.  Maybe it can be refound at normal angles.  

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You could always leave it as Larus sp. People don’t often like that suggestion, but if you flip through the Macaulay Library for many a gull expert, there are often birds left as Gull sp. or Larus sp. Sometimes it’s the most responsible thing to do.

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11 minutes ago, DLecy said:

You could always leave it as Larus sp. People don’t often like that suggestion, but if you flip through the Macaulay Library for many a gull expert, there are often birds left as Gull sp. or Larus sp. Sometimes it’s the most responsible thing to do.

Any clue as to why Larus sp. is flagged as rare down here in Orange County? Gull sp. is not flagged as rare. 

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30 minutes ago, IKLland said:

Any clue as to why Larus sp. is flagged as rare down here in Orange County? Gull sp. is not flagged as rare. 

People unsure of gull IDs haven't been able to eliminate the other genera or haven't thought about it?

I imagine a lot of gull sp. reports have been of distant, quickly glimpsed, obscured, etc., birds whether the observer only knew it was a gull, not situations like this where only one species and two hybrids are being considered.

Incidentally, I've just decided that when you report a sp., there should be a way to attach a link to a species you're (pretty) sure is involved, the way people here say "Glaucous-winged thing".  That way future ornithologists could search for weird or hybrid forms of the species.  This species would be reported as "Larus sp., Herring gull involved".

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3 hours ago, IKLland said:

Any clue as to why Larus sp. is flagged as rare down here in Orange County? Gull sp. is not flagged as rare. 

 

2 hours ago, Jerry Friedman said:

People unsure of gull IDs haven't been able to eliminate the other genera

This.

The genus Larus doesn't encompass all gulls. The dataset in Orange County is large, and my guess is that this is a measure to keep the data as accurate as possible. That way you avoid having observers who are unfamiliar with gull taxonomy reporting regularly occurring gull species that are not from the genus Larus, such as Bonaparte's Gull.

It's worth remembering that eBird is a global database.

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31 minutes ago, DLecy said:

 

This.

The genus Larus doesn't encompass all gulls. The dataset in Orange County is large, and my guess is that this is a measure to keep the data as accurate as possible. That way you avoid having observers who are unfamiliar with gull taxonomy reporting regularly occurring gull species that are not from the genus Larus, such as Bonaparte's Gull.

It's worth remembering that eBird is a global database.

Thanks guys, appreciate it. Do you suggest if I’m sure the bird was in the Larus genus to report it as Larus Sp anyway, and add comments, or just report it as gull sp? Or just report it as gull sp unless it’s a good view of a confusing bird. 

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9 hours ago, IKLland said:

Thanks guys, appreciate it. Do you suggest if I’m sure the bird was in the Larus genus to report it as Larus Sp anyway, and add comments, or just report it as gull sp? Or just report it as gull sp unless it’s a good view of a confusing bird. 

I'd go with the first--whenever you're sure it's Larus, which I'll bet is pretty often, report it as Larus sp. with supporting material (which in my opinion could be just one or more photos, but maybe you prefer to add comments even when you have definitive photos).

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13 minutes ago, Charlie Spencer said:

Most (all?) 'species' in the mobile version have a red dot regardless of location or time of year.

The red dot simply means that that species or entry is unreported at that location. The Orange circle with the R in the middle means that the species has been flagged as rare, and you must add comments. When I go to enter "Larus Sp" on ebird moble, it makes me add comments. 

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@chipperatl That’s a pretty good idea. Unfortunately, I’m from PA and was in Mass. for just the day when I saw this gull.

This has turned into a great thread with quite a few good talking points! I never realized how much light and angle can apparently have a big affect on gull ID. I found some info on using the KGS (Kodak Gray Scale) tools (with a bunch of caveats) specifically for gulls, even on digital images of gulls. Sounds interesting, though I haven’t really dug into it yet. For those interested, here’s the link:

http://birdingimagequalitytool.blogspot.com/2015/06/field-marks-grey-scales-and-gulls.html#:~:text=The Kodak Grey Scale is,is a very useful scale.

As far as the ID of this particular gull goes, well, I think that short of getting a lot more pics at different angles and with other gulls in the same pics, the best compromise is the ideas proposed by @DLecy and @Jerry Friedman – that is, list as Larus sp. and in the notes include “Herring gull involved”.

I really have no problem with this at all – I do Accipiter sp. and duck sp. all the time when I don’t get good looks or the views are too distant. Also, being in the zone of hybridization for Black-capped and Carolina Chickadee, I got used to leaving the exact species undetermined. I believe that I read (perhaps an article by Sibley) that a genetic study on the chickadees in this zone showed that there were NO pure species at all. In other words, even if the phenotype showed pure Black-capped or pure Carolina, the genotype showed they were all hybrids to some degree. And since songs are learned with these two also, that cannot be used as a reliable indicator either. In my area, I’d say that at least half the eBirders follow this idea and list as “Black-capped/Carolina  Chickadee”. Others use the classic field ID points to call a bird to a particular species.

This turned out to be a particularly fun thread, and I hope that from time to time others (including myself) will add to it with interesting ideas, comments and insights into gull identification – my new favorite subject! 😊

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