Saturday, January 9, 2016

Luck is the Residue of Design...or not

Lately the media and bird-blogosphere is filled with stories of the Malheur NWR occupation and Noah Stryker's impressive global Big Year. Alas, all that media saturation has covered up, by intention or not, some other big birding stories of 2016. Like, for example, Butler's Birds went to Minnesota for 2.5 days this January and saw some cool stuff. I'm still waiting for my Slate interview and sponsorships.

The frozen north was not as brutal with its weather as I expected. At first I considered myself lucky that it was partially cloudy and high 20s most of the time I was there. Turns out this was not so lucky, because species like Great Gray Owl are not going to perch very readily on wooded edges when there is a lot of glare and exposure. I'll give away the disappointing ending right now saying I had terrible luck with the Owls. There were almost no reports in my area for the days I was there, through they were reported right before and right after I left. Revenge is already being planned for next winter. 

Overall I can't complain too much though about my luck (which sucks! I hate that! not complaining is the worst! lamentations!). I booked my tickets a few months ago, but a couple of days before arriving in Duluth something else starkly white, immature, and packing some serious wanderlust arrived in Duluth.

At the Canal Park wharf, about 2 miles away from my Day's Inn, a young Ivory Gull was bringing a touch of elegance and pizazz to the scene. Since this species tends to occur only as a vagrant in northern states (California has a few records of course and Arizona had one bizarre occurrence of this species on the Colorado River near Lake Mead), it was not really on my radar as a bird to see short of an Arctic trip.

After rolling into Duluth around 1:30 from the twin cities, this was literally the first bird I saw on my trip as it cruised around in the early gloam. The bird was almost worryingly conspicuous.

It would seem to be a good omen, that this bird waited for several days (and is still being seen, no small thanks to generous leavings of salmon sacrifices from the local birders) and was so easy to find. Apparently Gull omens do not cross over for owl-finding, or maybe I also had some bad karma coming with me from elsewhere. I'll have to consult Arin Murphy-Hiscock, but I think the message the Owls were sending me was, "Screw you buddy."

Analysis and significance aside, the Ivory Gulls was very impressive to watch. It comported itself with grace and manners well beyond the bounds of its chunkier Herring and Thayer's companions. While birders awkwardly clambered and skidded on the icy jetty the IVGU slid and bandied about like a younger and sexier Brian Boitano.

There were plenty of residual scraps and sundry other detritus left over from previous baiting and good ol' fashion littering, so the IVGU had plenty of foraging to do, which it did so fabulously.

When you've got style, who needs taste?

There were other clunkier Gulls around too, like what I believe to be a 3rd year Thayer's doing its impression of a cat sitting on a coffee table, and a Herring Gull chilling on some of the ice platforms floating around the harbor area.

As we left the IVGU and headed north towards the Sax Zim bog, the clouds burned off entirely and we had a gorgeous sunny day. Little did I know this weather is not really conducive to good Owling, but we were already spoiled for Monday. Starting with an Ivory Gull first's like having filet mignon for breakfast in addition to our tiny McDonald's burritos.


  1. Nice to see you back on here and posting again Laurence! Congrats on a spectacular gull, and nearly a pure white one...

    1. Thanks Tommy. Tis' good to be back, rusty included.

  2. The Bog is a fickle monster. It is either feast or famine. I'd say I've seen GGOW on fewer than a third of my trips there. Condolences on the owls, but if you had to only see one bird in MN this year...

    Revenge sounds sweet--experts say the BOOW irrupt every four years and 12-13 was a big year for them.

    1. It was mostly faminous for me, I regret to report. The Duluth scene provided almost all of my lifers, but the Bog did cough up some nice PIGRs and the lifer Common Redpoll--failure to get that bird would have been catastrophic.

  3. A trip to Washington may be in order. I shall be your guide. 5 BOOW in one night is possible. Well done on the gull sir.

  4. Screw the owls! That gull is fantastic ! Much better sighting and Nicely captured. When in WI, I search for that stupid thgu But so far I've only been able to pick out herring gulls. I had the same issues. I was home for a few days and it was actually nice outside but then the storm came and nasty bad birding happened afterwards :-(