Example 2: Franklin’s Gull

On Sunday, October 27, 19–, I met X– at Loch Raven reservoir. X– had been making a series of observations from a point of land on the north shore of the lake, and I was anxious to learn of the spot. During the fall X– had seen a Piping Plover there on September 27 and, beginning on October 10, Laughing Gulls. The Laughing Gulls had built to a population of 48 birds by October 25, although none were present on October 26.

At 10 a.m., X–, Y–, Z–, and I met at the reservoir, and X– led us through the woods to a point of land that jutted out into the lake, just east of the main Dulaney Valley bridge, at the north side of the lake. About 50 feet offshore was a very small island that had been exposed because of the abnormally low water conditions. On the island were 2 Great Black-backed Gulls, 6 Herring Gulls, and several dozen Ring-billed Gulls. As the others began to search for waterfowl, I noticed a flock of birds that were just pin dots through my binoculars, high in the sky to the east. Using my 30-power telescope, I could make out what I thought to be a flock of Laughing Gulls. Soon they begin to spiral downward, and within a few minutes they had reached the water level and were flying toward the island. Upon alighting, they were identified as 13 adult and 2 juvenile Laughing Gulls.

Over the past few years I have grown accustomed to meticulously examining every bird that I see in a flock. This I began to do with the flock of gulls in front of me on the island. Soon I noticed a smaller bird among the laughers. I advised the others, and soon all four scopes were trained on the island about 50 yards away. I told them that I thought I had a Franklin’s Gull. The characteristics that separated this bird from the Laughing Gulls were easy to see, since a Laughing Gull was immediately behind the bird in question. Differences were noted as follows: first, the bird was in adult, non-breeding plumage, as was the nearby Laughing Gull. Most notable was the smaller, slighter bill. The color of the mantle was half-shade lighter than the Laughing Gulls. (I had never noticed this difference before, but subsequent research has shown this to be true.) The spectacle-like white eye ring was outstanding, and the nape and side of head were covered with dark gray feathers that appeared like a partial hood. All of these field marks were compared with the neighboring Laughing Gulls. We are all convinced that we observed a Franklin’s Gull, a first for Maryland’s piedmont.

The large flock of Laughing Gulls was itself an unusual occurrence in this location, and the Franklin’s Gull even more so. One must assume that the Franklin’s arrived on the island with the Laughing Gulls, since only large gulls were on the island when we arrived. Whether the high-flying flock was migrating, or whether it represented some of the Laughing Gulls seen by X– two days before (but not the day before) can only be speculated. My four previous observations of Franklin’s Gull in Baltimore County have all occurred within the September 20-October 27 period. Apparently there is a late fall migration that pushes this bird to the east coast during this time period.