Category Archives: Birds

White Season Birds: Iceland Gull

Photo of Iceland Gull (immature)

Iceland Gulls are uncommon but regular white season visitors to parts of New England. Along with Glaucous Gulls, they're referred to as "white-winged" gulls, as all ages have light-colored wings with little to no dark markings.

Iceland Gulls take 4 years to acquire adult plumage, and for their 1st year are a generally evenly patterned off-white to tan color with pink legs and a dark bill (see photo above and gallery below). Adults have a mostly white body, a gray mantle, gray upper wings (with/without limited black at primary tips), and a yellow bill with a red spot.

Photo of Iceland Gull (adult)
Three photos stitched together of one adult Iceland Gull

Size-wise, Iceland Gulls average smaller than Herring Gulls, and larger than Ring-billed Gulls. Paying close attention to wing-tip color, try to spot the immature Iceland Gull in this coastal congregation. Can you identify all 5 gull species pictured? (See the answer below).

Photo of Mixed Gulls

To learn more about Iceland Gulls, visit All About Birds. To view the following images in full-size, click here.

Answer: The photo contains (from smallest to largest): a Bonaparte's Gull, Ring-billed Gulls, an Iceland Gull, Herring Gulls, and Great Black-backed Gulls.

Boreal Birds: Gray Jay

Photo of Gray Jay
Adamstown Township, ME | 24 Feb 2017

Last week, two other birders and I ventured to northern Oxford County in search of boreal birds. I'd hoped to encounter a variety of finches (White-winged and Red Crossbills, Pine Siskins, Purple Finches, etc.) as I did last February when I visited the same area during my 2016 Maine Big Year. But as it turns out, this year's trip featured far fewer finches -- only two American Goldfinches and a flock of 12+ Pine Grosbeaks -- and was instead highlighted by Gray Jays, seen at 3 different spots along Route 16.

Photo of Gray Jay
Magalloway Plantation, ME | 24 Feb 2017

Gray Jays live year-round in parts of northern New England, where they nest notably earlier in the year than most other birds of the boreal forest. Incubation often starts before the first day of spring.

Like Blue Jays, Gray Jays are opportunistic omnivores whose diet includes insects, fruits, nuts, small mammals and birds, and carrion. They're also known to help themselves to food left unattended by hikers and campers, and in some places they'll even eat food right out of people's hands.

Photo of Gray Jay
Stetsontown Township, ME | 25 May 2016

Adults (above) are largely gray and white, with a long tail and a rounded head with a partial black cap. Juvenile birds (below) are dark gray overall. To learn more about Gray Jays, visit All About Birds.

Photo of Gray Jay (juvenile)
Stetsontown Township, ME | 25 May 2016

White Season Birds: Black Guillemot

Photo of Black Guillemot (January)

Alcids are ocean-dwelling birds who, for the most part, only venture onto land during the summer nesting season. New England has six expected species that can be sorted into three size groups. The smallest species is the Dovekie at ~8" long; the largest three are Common Murre, Thick-billed Murre, and Razorbill at about ~18" long; and the middle group consists of the ~13" long Atlantic Puffin and Black Guillemot.

While all of these Alcids can, at times, be spotted from shore, the Black Guillemot is the only species found year-round in shallow coastal waters. During the summer, adult Black Guillemots are visually striking with large white wing patches on otherwise black bodies, and bright red legs. Their winter plumage is surprisingly different; birds are mostly white with variable dark mottling.

To learn more about Black Guillemots, visit All About Birds. To view the following images in full-size, click here.

White Season Birds: Thick-billed Murre

Photo of Thick-billed Murre

Thick-billed Murres breed in colonies on select coastal cliffs north of New England. Their winter range includes the Gulf of Maine, but most individuals remain well offshore. Observation typically requires a spotting scope (and strong easterly winds) or going out on a winter boat trip, but occasionally birds may be seen close to shore, well within binocular range. Last weekend, several birders reported a Thick-billed Murre near the Portland Fish Pier, and on Sunday afternoon, I arrived to find the bird floating just yards from the pier.

Photo of Thick-billed Murre

Thick-billed Murres can dive to great depths to catch and consume fish, crustaceans, and other ocean creatures. In turn, they're caught and eaten by various predators including Peregrine Falcons, Gyrfalcons, Great Skuas, and humans. Other causes of death in modern times include pollution from oil spills and drowning in fishing nets. To learn more about Thick-billed Murres, visit All About Birds.

Photo of Thick-billed Murre

Life List Bird Game #34

Identify the birds in the following photographs, all of which were taken by me in New England. This gallery of untitled photos is randomly arranged and includes more than one photo of most species. If you get stuck, the 10 possibilities (in my Life List order) are provided below. If you're reading this post via e-mail, visit the blog to view the full-size images.

The Birds of Life List Bird Game #34

331. Swainson's Hawk
332. Barnacle Goose
333. Cackling Goose
334. Western Kingbird
335. Sabine's Gull
336. Blue Grosbeak
337. White Wagtail
338. Long-billed Dowitcher
339. Bullock's Oriole
340. Pink-footed Goose

Hint: You can use the photo filename to check your guesses. For example: 008grca.jpg corresponds with my 8th Life Bird: Gray Catbird.