Franklin’s Gull

A few weeks ago, at the height of the autumn migration season, a group of gulls were seen out at Alum Creek Reservoir beach- you’ve seen this place before on this blog because it is one of the very few sandy beaches in central Ohio.  Sandy beaches attract interesting birds during migration, which makes this place a hot spot.

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A Sun Dog was visible over the reservoir that morning.

Sun dogs are a member of a large family of halos, created by light interacting with ice crystals in the atmosphere. Sun dogs typically appear as two subtly-colored patches of light to the left and right of the sun, approximately 22° distant and at the same elevation above the horizon as the sun. They can be seen anywhere in the world during any season, but they are not always obvious or bright. Sun dogs are best seen and are most conspicuous when the sun is low.

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Driving down to the beach I saw a doe and 2 fawns- they looked like they were used to seeing people here in the state park.

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I’ve been tempted to get a metal detector and see what I can find.  But knowing me, I’d end up looking more at the birds and trying to take photos, which would be a bit hard to do with all that gear.

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A birdwatching tip- if you’re looking for an interesting bird, always head towards a group of birders, chances are excellent they know where the action is at.  No need to re-invent the wheel 🙂

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The beach here often contains hundreds of seagulls, mostly Ring-Billed Gulls, central Ohio’s most common gull.  The trick is to check and see if anyone else is in the mix…

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That’s a lot of Ring-Bills- I estimated 700.  The occasional larger  gull is very often the odd Herring Gull, not uncommon but usually seen in smaller numbers.

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But wait- look at the bottom center of the above picture- there’s some other kind of gull here, smaller and darker-colored.

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There were three gulls of another species along the shore, looking for food.  Notice their dark masks, white eye-ring and black wing feathers.

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These birds were intent on looking for food as the gentle waves washed up against the beach.

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You can see how much smaller these gulls are compared to the preening Ring-Bill in front of them.

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These birds occasionally picked up leaves and other objects, checking to see if they were food.  This is often a sign of younger birds, and from their plumage, these were immatures- they had been born this year and are not as experienced as older birds are.

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These gulls are first-year Franklin’s Gulls, a small gull that usually migrates up and down the central part of North America.  Ohio is a little ways out of their typical flight path.  Breeding in central Canada and the northern plains states, they fly south in the autumn all the way down to the Pacific coast of Latin America- quite a journey.  They travel back up in the spring.

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When mature, these birds will have an all-black head and a rich red beak.  But right now they’re in a different feathered costume, causing many a birder to look through page after page of their field guides.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, autumn migration is a tough time to be a beginning birder!

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Interestingly enough, these birds have nests that float on the water out in the prairie wetlands- and they molt their feathers 2 times a year, which is fairly rare.

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I’ve been fairly lucky spotting rare seagulls lately.  I saw a Little Gull here not a month before seeing these birds.  I often wonder what it would be like to live up along a real (as in miles-long) beach, up along Lake Erie, or along one of the coasts.  There would be many new birds for this land-lubber to see!