November 2015: Wintering gulls are beginning to return
to Daytona Beach Shores and other coastal communities to the
north and south. By next month, gulls by the thousands
will gather on the beach each evening before flying out into the
ocean to spend the night. This gives birders an
opportunity to walk among the large flocks to learn how to age
the gulls as well as to spot the different species. The
vast majority of gulls will be Laughing Gulls and Ring-billed
Gulls. Herring Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls and Lesser
Black-backed Gulls will make up the rest of the majority.
The Laughing Gull look-alike -- Franklin's Gull -- has become a
regular visiting species to the Daytona Beach area for the past
years. As of November 11, Michael Brothers has identified
45 different Franklin's Gulls of varying ages. The
Franklin's Gull pictured above is a 2nd cycle bird. It looks almost like an adult, but there
is less white in the primaries and there are some thin dark
marks in the outer primary coverts that would not be in an
adult. In the photo of the spread wing, the
pale gray tail that contrasts with the white upper tail coverts
can be seen.
Franklin's Gull is marginally smaller than the Laughing Gull,
about 2 inches shorter from tip of the bill to tip of the tail
and about one ounce lighter. Franklin's Gulls have
slightly shorter legs and a shorter and less drooped bill.
The wings are shorter, too, averaging a span of 36 inches vs. 40
inches for the Laughing Gull. Wings on the Franklin's Gull
are less pointy. The underwings are always clean white
with limited black tips on the primaries. These subtle
differences may be difficult to discern. More obvious is
the more extensive dark hood on the nonbreeding Franklin's adult
in comparison to the smudgy gray streaking on the nonbreeding
adult Laughing Gull. The broad white eye arcs on the
Franklin's Gull are a distinct field mark. The arrow
points to the Franklin's Gull in the photo. Note the
darker cap compared to streaking on the remainder of the birds
which are Laughing Gulls of various ages. The broad eye
arcs stand out, too.
Our thanks to Michael
Brothers for sharing his
photos and his knowledge about identifying Franklin's Gulls.
Don't miss the daily opportunity to see the largest collection
of gulls in the east coast. Gulls begin returning to the
beach about two hours before dark. Park at Vann Avenue or
Frank Rendon Park on A1A in Daytona Beach Shores and walk north
and south to view the flocks. But don't dismiss other
areas of the beach. Franklin's Gull have been spotted on
beaches in Ormond-by-the-Sea and Ormond Beach proper.
Continue to search for the bird that looks different from all
the others. Glaucous, Iceland and Thayer's Gulls are often
found in Volusia County during the winter, although generally
only in single numbers per species.