This past weekend I drove to Barrie, Ontario where I searched along the shoreline of Lake Simcoe for Little Gulls, which had been reported in recent days. Whenever there is a flock of Bonaparte’s Gulls, it is always worthwhile to keep a lookout for Little Gulls mixed in. Searching for Little Gulls in the Barrie area at this time of year can be rewarding, especially from a photographer’s point of view since there is a good chance that one may get some pretty close views. On this occasion, I lucked out and I was able to capture a few images of immature Little Gulls despite their best attempts to blend in with all the Bonaparte’s Gulls and go unnoticed. I’ll get to those images shortly, but what captured my attention initially was an adult nonbreeding Bonaparte’s Gull successfully capturing and feeding on a fish close to shore. As you can see from the images below, it was quite a mouthful for this small gull.
Below a Bonaparte’s Gull prepares to swallow a fish whole.
Shortly after swallowing its meal, this individual seemed to struggle somewhat as it flew away from the surface of the lake with “extra baggage” so to speak.
Getting this sequence of images at reasonably close range and in good light ensured that the outing was a worthwhile one from my perspective whether or not I spotted any Little Gulls.
Fortunately for me, as luck would have it, during my search I did come across a couple of immature Little Gulls and I was able to snap a few clicks as they flew past. I have seen adult Little Gulls on previous occasions, but this was the first time I was in a position to observe and photograph immature Little Gulls.
There are a few key characteristics which can prove helpful when trying to distinguish between immature Little and Bonaparte’s Gulls. In the above photo of a Little Gull, note the dark cap and the bold blackish M pattern on the upperparts. These features were discernable out in the field, at least they were at my viewing distance.
By contrast, look at the photo below of an immature Bonaparte's Gull. The pattern on the upperparts is not nearly as bold as the one found on the Little Gull shown above. Although not seen quite as clearly here, there is no dark cap. Not to worry as this feature distinction is highlighted much clearer in the next comparison pair of photos that follow.
The perspective shown in both the above and below photo is similar. The differences noted earlier between the two immature species is perhaps even more evident here. In particular, note that the immature Little Gull has a dark cap whereas the immature Bonaparte’s Gull has no dark cap.
This next photo (shown below) is a second-cycle Bonaparte's Gull, in my opinion, which is distinguished from an adult by black on primary coverts and outer web of P9. It appears to match quite closely with a photo of a second-cycle Bonaparte's gull I found in my guide book, Gulls of the Americas by Steve Howell and Jon Dunn.
To wrap up this blog post, I've included two photos of an adult nonbreeding Bonaparte's Gull. You'll note that it has a white leading edge to its wings, a dark ear-spot, and a dusky smudge around the eye. There is no black on primary coverts and outer web of P9, which is shown more clearly by referencing the photo of an adult nonbreeding Bonaparte's Gull taking off from the water highlighted in the third photo of this blog post.
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Bonaparte's Gull Gulls, Terns and Skimmers - Part 2
Little Gull Gulls, Terns and Skimmers - Part 2