Saturday, November 14, 2009

Gulls in Montana

Today (Saturday) was the first "big" snow of the season. We had about 3 or 4 inches everywhere, to bad it didn't stay long. Now just the always shady spots have snow. With the great snow, I just HAD to go out and see what birds were stirring in the snow. Turns out that the snow was extremely localized and 5 miles from my house had no snow and no where else had snow either.

I went to the Landfill as usual this time of the year, and there was HUNDREDS of gulls present. A good portion of the gulls where down on the water of the rain ponds that hold the toxic water from the seepage of water thru the mound of garbage. Scoping them out, there was mostly Ring-billed Gulls, with a few Californias. Scanning, I found a MEW GULL out in the open!! That wasn't hard at all!! Just sitting there. That was a yearbird for me. Just as I was about to leave, a SECOND Mew Gull walks into view!! 2 birds!! WOO HOO!!!

After getting my fill of those birds, I checked the other sections of the roosting birds on the active dumping area and the roosting area. Here, the numbers of California Gulls have dropped and the number of Herring Gulls has increased. The usual movement of birds this time of year. The first-year GLAUCOUS GULL was still there, and a few first-year THAYER'S GULL as well. I did, however, find two adult THAYER'S GULLS. For some reason, adults are less common then the first-years, or they just slip under the radar most of the time.

Ring-billed Gull in flight

Here is a shot I took of a group of gulls and until I scared a few away, I didn't realize one add ball bird. This is actually one of the last shot I took of the group, it took me a while to notice the other gull in the group, must have been hidden by the 4 or so Ringbilleds that left. Can you pick out the other bird with out scrolling down for the answer?

This can be a quick, easy quiz. Just look at the basic parts of gulls. I think of gulls as mix and match birds with a certain code. They all have wings, tails, legs, eyes, bills, wingtips, and backs. But each species has a different code of those parts. There are light wings and dark wings, light eyes and dark eyes, light backs and dark backs, yellow legs and pink legs. A certain code or order of these variables equals one species, or at least a few similar species, then you need to use other, more detailed marks.

Here is a cropped image, does this help?

Light eyes and one dark eyed bird. There is the first hint. All have black "rings", but one doesn't. There is the next hint. Darker back then the rest. These, and a few other marks cropped off in this image equal MEW GULL. A third bird! That is a good day if you ask me.

Ring-billed Gull profile shot

Leaving the dump cold and hands totally numb, I wondered the usual route through the "west valley". Not much to report, but in the pond off of Church Rd, there are still hundreds of Mallards.
I checked Foy Lake again, and the WHITE-WINGED SCOTER was still present at the north end of the lake. More and more Common and Barrow's Goldeneye keep showing up, there must have been almost 50 - 60 birds all together.
I then headed to Flathead Lake, and scanned Somers Bay in the hope of finding a Pacific Loon, but dipped on that. There was one WESTERN GREBE, one RED-NECKED GREBE and one COMMON LOON.
Dan invited me to his house for a bit in Somers, and we talked birds, and scanned more of the lake to find a raft of coots and REALLY distant gulls. We ended up watching a trio of BALD EAGLES play fight around.

I am taking a short trip to TACOMA, WASHINGTON this coming weekend!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WOO HOO!!! This will be amazing!!! I will have birding time, and plan on going to many of the local hotspots, but always would love some more help. If anyone has any advice about shore and seabirds in that area or the "coastal" land birds like Golden-crowned Sparrow, please feel free to email me at

Good Luck Birding



  1. Niiice! Mew Gull would be a lifer for me and incredibly rare here in WI. Less than 10 records. Hmmm, need to find one. Oh yea, we had 4 Herring Gulls with dark eyes today. One clear Thayer's. Not bad. Oh yea, and a Kittiwake!! :D

  2. Seriously? a Kittiewake?

    Also, you NEED to get your butt over here so Dan Casey and I can show you some Thayer's Gulls, and grind that image into your head! lol