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Thayer's Gull - February 19 to March 6, 2010

Thayer's Gull at Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, PA
On the evening of 19 February, just on the edge of darkness, I spotted a dark-winged Thayer's/Kumlien's-type gull on the Ohio River amongst a few thousand Ring-billed and Herring Gulls. I came away from that dark and distant encounter not convinced either way (or even convinced that it was an unidentifiable bird of mixed ancestry... unless of course that what all Thayer's and Kumlien's gulls are). I hadn't seen the bird in flight, in fact, I hadn't seen it well at all.
So it went for nearly two weeks. Every now and again I'd catch back up with the bird, but I never could get a glimpse of it in flight. By early March, the rivers had become completely ice-free, and the gulls had taken to roosting on the tip of Point State Park. In a flash of brilliance, on the morning of March 3, Scott Kinzey decided to try to view the gulls from Point State Park itself, and made some excellent photos of the target bird in flight. I followed in his footsteps that evening.
The bird took to circling over my head at a range of 30 to 40 feet surprisingly easily...

Canon 50D, 500mm f/4L + 1.4x, 1/640 sec at f/5.6 (manual), ISO 640, tripod

Canon 50D, 500mm f/4L + 1.4x, 1/1600 sec at f/5.6 (Av +1), ISO 640, tripod

The two photos above alone are enough to confirm that the bird was good enough to call "Thayer's". The bottom photo shows a solid brown tail band generally unmarked beyond the middle of the tail, characteristically dark-edged primaries, and the tell-tale dark "secondary bar" (the trailing edge of inner wing on the upper side). The top photo shows the same brown tail band and the extent of the markings at the bases of retrices, which, admittedly, had me worried for a short bit, but which are in range for Thayer's nevertheless.
Even though the ID was cinched, here are a few more views anyway. The first photo shows how the underside of the primaries and secondaries can appear silvery from the correct angle...

Canon 50D, 500mm f/4L + 1.4x, 1/800 sec at f/5.6 (manual), ISO 640, tripod

Another view from below, and a detailed close up of the underside of the tail (a 100% crop from the original frame):

Canon 50D, 500mm f/4L + 1.4x, 1/400 sec at f/5.6 (manual), ISO 640, tripod

Canon 50D, 500mm f/4L + 1.4x, 1/400 sec at f/5.6 (manual), ISO 640, tripod

I returned on March 5 to try again, and succeeded in getting a few photos of the bird in direct sunlight. Amazing how different it looks with some real light on it... but I'm (pretty) certain it's the same bird.

Canon 50D, 500mm f/4L + 1.4x, 1/1000 sec at f/7.1 (manual), ISO 400, tripod

One last picture of this bird's exquisitely subtle coloration... so variable depending on the lighting situation.

Canon 50D, 500mm f/4L + 1.4x, 1/1000 sec at f/5.6 (manual), ISO 640, tripod

One final bonus to the evening on March 3 was some truly outstanding light in which to photograph some of the Ring-billed Gulls...

Canon 50D, 500mm f/4L + 1.4x, 1/640 sec at f/5.6 (manual), ISO 640, tripod

Canon 50D, 500mm f/4L + 1.4x, 1/640 sec at f/5.6 (manual), ISO 640, tripod

Unless explicitly indicated otherwise in the photo caption, all photos on this website were taken by and are 2003-2012 by Geoff Malosh. Unauthorized usage of these photographs for any purpose is strictly forbidden. If you are interested in using any photo for publication or if you are interested in purchasing a print, contact me at pomarine -AT- earthlink -DOT- net.