A NOTE FROM DEE ROSS
(Dee and S+even Ross were the first resident caretakers-curators at Audubon House,
ELMNS, and have been living in Chagrin Falls, Ohio for several years.)
At the end of August I drove (4,000 miles) to Alaska with my parents, then flew back.
I saw so many new things and ecosystems, for this was my first close look at the
Great Plains and Rockies. New animals to me were American Bison, moose, barren
ground caribou, marmot, dall sheep, arctic ground squirrels, grizzley bear.
Birding was difficult because my dad was driving and didn't stop often. But I managed a Yellow-headed BJackbird (at 60 mph) in North Dakota! Other lifers were golden
eagle, goshawk, boreal chickadee, willow and rock ptarmingan, northern shrike and
sage grouse. I stayed In the Interior between Fairbanks and Anchorage, which is a
good birding area earlier In the summer. Being with non-blrders hampered me—but
what can you do! ~"*
Also visited Mt. McKlnley...magnificent view of the mountain with no clouds around
the peak (lucky Dee...Ed.). Picked wild blueberries, had a flying trip above my
dad's hunting area, fished and caught grayling (yummy), saw beginning of sockeye
salmon spawning....altogether it was great and I'd love to go back for more hiking,
birding, etc. Tell our friends hello for us, we hope to see them when we come for a
visit in May.
NOTES ON A "FUNNY" LAUGHING GULL by Malcolm Hodges
Polly Moore, Ellen Red and I made a trip to the Texas City Dike on the 20th of Jan.,
looking for Red-throated Loons, Sprague's Pipit, and anything else of Interest that
might happen, upon us. Although all the loons were rather common, we were well-
pleased with a sedate Sprague's Pipit, which was a lifer for the three of us. However, we are in agreement that the best bird of the day was of a species more abundant even than the loons....a Laughing Gull.
The bird readily distinguished himself from the riff-raff of winter laughers. We
saw him around II a.m. at the end of the Dike, flying with many of his species, and .
kept our eyes on him constantly, fearing that he might fly away. His field marks
were as follows: big, red bill, the color of a Caspian Tern's and the size of the
surrounding gulls; completely black head, as in a summer adult, with a broken white
eye-ring; dusky brown-and-black wings, as in Ist-year laughers; slate-gray back;
white underparts, neck, and rump (mantle flecked with grey); white tail with a broad
black terminal band extending to the tip; black legs and feet. The bird was identi
cal In size and behavior to the Laughing Gulls nearby.
When, after 15 minutes, it appeared the bird was going to hang around, we decided tc
try a ploy to get a very close look.at him. Ellen pulled out a Granola bar and fed
the greater part of !t to this gull and hts compadres. As a result, we were able tc
see the bird from as close as 6'. In the process, we studied the many other Laughing Gulls as well, no+lng that most of his characferls+ics were observed in the
transitional plumages of others, except two we couldn't explain....the very red bill
(no color variation from base to tip), and the summer-black head. Many others had
begun to get their black'heads, but none were more than'halfway there, while our
bird's head had not a white feather on it (except the eye-ring). At this point, the
three of us were still unsure about the bird's I.D. We were sure, though, that we
had studied him sufficiently, so that we might, after some research, come to a decision.
After looking through some references and consulting other birders, I feel sure the
bird is a Laughing Gull, based on size, plumage, and behavior. Bill color is known
to be variable In gulls, and I can only hope that his offspring have bills of similar hue—it was quite handsome! As for the black head, It can be postulated that
his "biological clock" has for some reason suffered an imbalance, causing his head
to come Into spring plumage early. Bent, in Life Histories of North American Gulls
and Terns, says he can find no evidence that laughers acquire black heads between
1st and 2nd year plumages. Birders working the coast should be on the lookout for
odd gulls of this sort. He has certainly caused me to look twice at a species I
usually pass over with a glance!
CAbout a year ago a bird, very similar In appearance to the one described above, wa«
seen In the Bolivar Ferry area by several Louisiana birders,'Who raised the questlor
of It possibly being a gull from fhe Mediterranean area. However, study of slides^
taken of the bird produced a consensus of opinion that it was a "different" looking
Laughing Gull Ed.3