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Twitch: Kittiwake

Indiana & Illinois

snow 34 °F

Yesterday, I received a report of a Black-legged Kittiwake at Montrose Point in the morning. So, I opened the report to disappointingly see that it was a single fly-by sighting and it most certainly continued southward along the lakefront. Then, in the afternoon, news broke that a (the?) Kittiwake had been sighted at Porter Marina in Indiana — I mapped it and Google Maps said it would be an hour’s drive. Who knew if it was the same bird, but “one bird theory” people were having a field day for sure — hah! It was plenty of time to beat sunset so I quickly grabbed my camera, hopped in the car, and was off on yet another Indiana chase! Fingers cross that it would be as successful as the last one. I have seen Kittiwake once before — a brief fly-away sighting from the Block Island Ferry in Rhode Island, so I was hoping to get a satisfying, killer look at this elusive gull species.

I arrived around 3:30 and immediately started scoping out the Marina. Amazingly, no other birders were present. There were areas of open water among the ice so there were both ducks and gulls around. One duck that immediately popped out to me was a CANVASBACK, a pretty nice sighting any day:
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This male BUFFLEHEAD was feeling lucky to be entertaining a harem of not only female Buffles but a female MALLARD too — lol! He was strutting his stuff and realing his head as far back as it could go, then suddently popping it forward, launching him forward a little bit into the water in an exceedingly dorky display of hormones.
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RUDDY DUCK:
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One really nice sighting was a beautiful LONG-TAILED DUCK across the way in the other distant marina — these ducks are uncommon winter residents along Lake Michigan and it is a great treat to find one.
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Then, I saw a smaller bird hiding behind the COMMON GOLDENEYES on the ice — whoa!! My heart stopped for a few seconds...
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BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE!! This is a small, rather pelagic species of gull that is annual on Lake Michigan but very elusive for birders since they tend to pass through on stormy days with strong northerly winds in November. A winter bird and particularly a cooperative bird is a great, rare treat. Some identifying characteristics of a juvenile Kittiwake like this are the black “M” pattern on their wings in flight (you can see part of this pattern even while this bird is resting) and its distinctive double collar. Definitely my new favorite gull!!
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It didn’t mind the presence of other ducks like COMMON GOLDENEYE and LESSER SCAUP and at times it seemed rather ill as it roosted and closed its eyes periodically.
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Thankfully, within about twenty minutes, it perked up and started flying around again which was great for seeing its beautiful black “M” in flight. What a stunning gull! Unfortunately, this also meant it must have moved on after I left because Simon and family tried for it later without success.
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I still had some daylight left so I decided to book it back to Cook County and bird the Bend of the Little Calumet River which has been seeing some impressive duck numbers lately. Though diversity wasn’t great, I was not disappointed by the numbers — over a thousand ducks congregated in this section which consistently stays open due to the power plant nextdoor. Here are some LESSER SCAUP with a female Mallard — note that they are Lesser because the peak of their head (take note of the center bird in particular) is toward the back, giving their head shape a more squared-off appearance. Lesser and Greater can be hard to differentiate and I have to re-learn this every winter, lol!
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More Scaup with RED-BRESTED MERGANSERS, COMMMON GOLDENEYE, and a drake BUFFLEHEAD:
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MUTE SWAN with Lesser Scaup:
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RED-BREASTED MERGANSER drake with more Scaup:
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GADWALL, new for the year!
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COMMOM MERGANSERS with a Gadwall:
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COMMON GOLDENEYE with MALLARDS:
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MUTE SWANS flying over a mixed raft of (mostly) LESSER & GREATER SCAUP, COMMON GOLDENEYE, BUFFLEHEAD, MALLARDS, AMERICAN BLACK DUCKS, and COMMON MERGANSERS as it started to snow!
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And the “best” ducks of the location — two RING-NECKED DUCKS (back) with GREATER SCAUP (foreground):
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A great day! Bird-of-the-day to the Black-legged Kittiwake with runner-up to the Long-tailed Ducks! Now that’s a successful winter’s day of birding.

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1125 Species

Posted by skwclar 23:12 Archived in USA

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Comments

What a great afternoon and bird!

by Poo

What fun to see your photos! The Kittiwake is beautiful! The bufflehead with harem so funny.
Thanks!

by Mary Mc

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