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Slaty-backed Gull?!

Sunday, 30 Nov 2008
Sue's Pond, Cache County, Utah

(Emails from Craig Fosdick, 30 Nov 2008)

Today while picking through the gulls at Sue's Pond (aka Logan Mitigation Ponds) in Logan, I came upon a gull that did not fit the usual suspects. After a bit of deliberation, and one phone call, I arrived at a conclusion: SLATY-BACKED GULL. Yes, I know, out of place indeed. The bird was seen 1120-1230 pm at the Shorebird Playa at Sue's Ponds, aka the Logan Mitigation Ponds, Cache Co., Logan, 11/30/08.

Brief description of the bird and why I think it is Slaty-backed Gull. First, it's a big bird, bigger than the California Gulls and about the same size as the five or so Herring Gulls that were present. It's an adult, with pale pink legs, with a mantle noticeably darker than that of a California Gull, and much, much darker than the nearby Herring Gulls. Eye is yellow, with dark smudging around the eye. Head not blocky, but with a gentle peak towards back and a gentle slope towards front. Bill big, yellow, with red smudge in front of gonydeal angle. Black wingtips. Head is moderately streaked, about the same or perhaps a little less streaking than Herring Gull. I did not see the bird fly....

I have sent photos to be posted on Utah Birds, and will gladly send attachments to anyone who's interested.

After concluding that it was a truly lost gull, Western Gull was my first choice, but I later decided to consider Slaty-backed Gull as well, given that both species are the same size as Herring Gulls and have darker mantles. A phone call to Ryan O' Donnell revealed that my suspicions about the streaking were correct; too much for Western Gulls. The bird is too big (25" vs 21") for Lesser black-backed Gull, leg color is wrong (yellow in LBBG), and the mantle is too dark.

Other birds present at the Logan Mitigation Ponds today included..

350 California Gulls
30 Ring-billed Gulls
1 first-winter Glaucous Gull
1 Greater Yellowlegs
.....and the lonely juvenile Ross' Goose continues.

Sue's Ponds are on <.5 mile down 1900 W off of Utah 30, heading west from downtown Logan. If you've never been are a few tips.

1. Gulls come and go, and just because they are not present on a given day does not mean that they have in point, the Lesser Black-backed Gull was present on/off for nearly three weeks in November.
2. The shorebird playa (gull central) is the second pond down the gated but usually not locked dirt access road (don't drive it if it's wet) on the south.
3. If the SLATY-BACKED GULL is there, it sticks out....darkest mantle, by far.

Good birding, Craig.

Craig Fosdick
Logan, Utah.

(Message to the "Birdnet" from Craig Fosdick, 2 Dec 2008)

As many of you have perhaps already concluded, the "Slaty-backed Gull" that I rather hastily reported on Sunday is in fact not a Slaty-backed Gull, but apparently rather the same LBBG that has been present since at Sue's Ponds since Nov 5. 
Ryan O' Donnell and Jason Pietrzak have provided compelling photographic evidence associated with the Lesser Black-backed Gull record that they have submitted to the Utah State Records Committee ( that shows that (1) the Lesser Black-backed Gull is molting, thus giving it a short-winged appearance that helped to lead me astray, and (2) the coloration of the Lesser Black-backed Gulls legs apparently can appear to range from pink to pink-yellow and all sorts of shades in between.  
Also, Slaty-backed Gull should show relatively large white spots on the tips of its primaries when folded; the photos I have provided ( clearly do not show any such spotting; the short-winged look due to molt is evident in the photos.  How I missed that in the field, I have no idea....
Back to the dump and Sue's Ponds for me....
Good birding, Craig.
Craig Fosdick
Logan, Utah.

               Photos by Craig Fosdick

Photos by Craig Fosdick

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