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I saw the Slaty-Backed Gull yesterday with Brian Rapoza on Higg's Beach in
Key West.  I have seen only one Slaty-Backed Gull in Alaska a few years ago,
I certainly don't have any more experience with them than one sighting.  I
have and Brian as well, have seen most of the more common large gulls in the
U.S. including all of the dark backed gulls that could be similar to
Slaty-Backed Gull.

This gull is very cooperative and easy to approach, this makes studying the
field marks very easy.  Our guess on the age and sex of the bird are as
follows: this looks to be a male bird that is a 3rd winter bird.

We ruled out Western Gull because of:

1.  The lighter gray underside of the primaries as opposed to dark on a
Western Gull
2.  White tipped primaries on the top of the wing, followed by black and
then a white stripe separating the dark mantle color.
3.  Western Gull has a cleaner white head in the winter, Slaty-Backed Gull
has brownish streaking on head and neck in winter.


We ruled out Great-Black Backed Gull because:

1.  This bird is not large enough 30" for Great Black-Backed 25" for
Slaty-backed Gull.
2.  Not dark enough to be a Great-Black Backed.

These two things easily rule out Great-Black Backed Gull.

We ruled out Lesser Black- Backed Gull because:

1.  Yellow legs would be on a bird this age, this bird has dark pinkish
legs.

No reason to look at this species any farther.

Kelp Gull, Band-tailed Gull, Black-tail Gull also have yellow legs.

We could not find any pictures that have a bird with this exact type of bill
although in Peter Harrison's " Seabirds " he describes a third winter bird
with a bill like this bird.  Bill pinkish-yellow with dusky sub-terminal
band.

The white trailing edge of this bird is very worn, this makes looking at
this as a field mark pretty poor.  The white tertials are also worn but
visible.

The bill on this bird appears to be large but maybe not too large for a male
bird.  Some literature describes the bill as relatively slender as compared
to large Western and Glaucous-winged Gulls.

The base of the bill is pinkish followed by a dusky band (lower and upper
mandible) and than by a yellow tip.  It seems to have a pretty large
gonydeal angle which may be ok for this species, especially if it is a male.

We believe that this bird is an excellent candidate for Florida's first
SLATY-BACKED GULL!

The big question is:

Why haven't there been any other birders flocking to Key West to see it?
Where are you Wes?

Directions:

1. As you enter Key West from US1 you come to a T-intersection.
2. Turn left at the T-intersection and follow the road past the Key West
Airport.
3. Continue past the airport driving by are some beach areas on your left,
soon the road will turn right.
4. After making the right turn look on your left for Atlantic Blvd.
5. Turn left here and go about half a mile or so. look on your left for a
beach area with a painted restroom and picnic tables.
6. Casa Marina Resort Hotel will be straight ahead at the end of the road
just as the road turns right.
7. You don't have to go this far, park at the beach and look for the gull
here.

We first had the gull on the fishing pier just east of Higg's Beach, it than
flew to Higg's Beach and landed amongst the Laughing Gulls.  Check the beach
first and then walk over to the pier and check the pier railings and light
poles.  It also landed at the end of the pier where you could not see it
unless you walked to the end of the pier.

Larry Manfredi
Homestead, Fl.
E-mail: [log in to unmask]
http://www.southfloridabirding.com

P.S. I shot about 3 rolls of film which should be ready by tomorrow.

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