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By no means do I profess to be an expert at gull identification, but I do
consider myself fairly conservative when it comes to making calls on tough
IDs, especially vagrants/hybrids/etc.

David Sibley has strong words of wisdom when it comes to gull
identification:

1. "Gull identification represents one of the most challenging and
subjective puzzles in birding and should be approached only with patient and
methodical study. A casual or impatient approach will not be rewarded."

2. "Bare parts vary just as other characteristics do. These characteristics
should be weighed cautiously and not relied upon for identification."

Having said that, I stared at what I hoped was the SBGU at 40-60x for at
least 20-30 minutes yesterday evening and when it flew in the air it had the
pink feet of an SBGU, along with the dark mantle, streaked head, and red
bill spot. But what I never saw was the white separation between the outer
primaries and the mantle ("string of pearls"?). Two out of state birders
(Ohio?) standing next to me watched it for a much shorter time, concluded it
was the SBGU and left. Who knows what we were really looking at...

Which reminds me of a story my friend recently told me about chasing a
vagrant rosy-finch (I've forgotten the species now). They had been studying
it for a minute or so in bad weather and some other birders pulled up. "Do
you have the rosy-finch?" the newcomers asked. "Uh, we think so," my friend
responded. The newcomers looked at the bird for less than 5 seconds, said
"Okay, cool!", and then jumped in the car to leave (presumably checking it
off and high-fiving on the way home). As the others left my friend realized
the bird they'd been looking at was actually a House Sparrow and a minute
later they located the actual rosy-finch.


Hopefully the bird is still down there, and I'll try for it again this
weekend, but in the mean time I would remain cautious of "YES!" reports
without sufficient documentation.

Anyone relocate the Long-tailed Duck?

Dress appropriately if you head down south.

Best,
Justyn Stahl
Alton, IL

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