Ballad Of The Slaty-backed Gull

I woke Sunday morning and loaded up the trusty Saturn with my bird gear and even at 7:30am it was already a very muggy 80 degrees in the Twin Cities. I think the heat index at the time was over 90. I asked Cinnamon if she wanted to come up north with me to visit Birderblog and Photon and to go see the slaty-backed gull:


Poor thing, the heat is just too much for her. I concur with her on disapproving of this weather. Blah! I moved to Minnesota for the cold, why is it hot here? I didn't want to force Cinnamon to come because I do worry that if something happened on the road that it would be rough on her to be pulled over on the highway with no air conditioning. So, off I headed towards Duluth alone, at least it's an absolutely lovely drive.

A front was pushing its way through north of the Cities and I was hitting intermittent drops of rain. When I arrived in Duluth and saw the dark clouds clustered between the ridge and Lake Superior, I happened to have Mozart's Requiem playing and toyed with the idea that the weather was a symbol of two powerful forces of birding coming together.

When I arrived at Laura's home she was experiencing a power outage, not sure if it was from the lightning or just a general power shortage that the power companies keep warning us about with the high heat and high power usage from everyone cranking their air conditioners.

We loaded up her Prius with our birding stuff and most importantly Photon (above) and set out. If you've read Laura's blog, you know that if anything she is environmentally conscious and she holds it to the letter. She watched the gas mileage like a gyrfalcon watches ptarmigan.

The clouds stuck with us all the way to Grand Marais but it was a wonderful and breezy 64 degrees--I actually had to put on a rain jacket and was still comfortable. Laura checked all the usual spots and found the gull quickly behind a cafe called the Angry Trout.

Of course the gull was sleeping so I couldn't really see all the things that make it a slaty-backed gull, but I was just happy to be in cool temperatures. That's a big plus to the northern states. Don't like the temp, then drive north near one of the Great Lakes and you're good to go. I did find it to be somewhat anti-climactic to drive all this way for a dozing bird and I was surprised that I wasn't jumping up and down like I would other birds. I started focusing on some of the herring gulls nearby. With the storm clouds in the distance and colorful rocks, it was quite pretty:

Then, Mother Nature decided to shake me out of my lackadaisical attitude towards gulls with a large crack of lightning behind the loafing gulls followed by a bone shaking crash of thunder. That was enough for me and I said, "Okay, Laura, time for lunch, let's go into the Angry Trout." To which she replied while bubbling over with enthusiasm, "I bet that thunder woke that gull up, let's get it back in the scopes!" Sure enough, she was right. I had some trepidation about being electrocuted and Laura said, "You're the shortest one here and the least likely to be hit by lightning." She had a point and if she was willing to take one for the team and risk being struck by lightning, the least I could do was give the gull a second chance:

Behold the slaty-backed gull in its standing glory...on a poop covered rock. Actually, it has not officially been dubbed a slaty-backed gull by the Minnesota Ornithologists' Union Records Committee--the vote hasn't happened yet. It looks similar to a western gull but when it flies you can see the difference in plumage that makes it a slaty-backed and slatys have more of a tendency to roam than a western gull. The vote is expected to call this bird a slaty-backed...unless some starts greasing some palms of the records committee.

People at the restaurant were very curious about what we were all staring at on the docks and came down to look at the rare gull--this is a rare bird that does impress non birding people. It's noticeably different from all the herring gulls surrounding it and it's sounds cool to say this is a Korean bird. When we went to eat, the hostess at the Angry Trout made sure to put us by the window so we would still be able to see the slaty-backed from our table.

After lunch we walked around the lake a bit more, it was so cool and refreshing and I was in no hurry to return to what was now 98 degrees and 110 heat index. We found some warblers, including an immature mourning warbler which I had not seen yet this year. I even had the chance to walk Photon:

I can't believe I was trusted with Photon. It's kind of nice to spend time with an animal that isn't constantly judging me. She's a very well behaved and mellow dog. She was rewarded for all her hard work with a trip to Dairy Queen. Did you know they give free ice cream to dogs at DQ? Some other trip highlights:

On the way back to Duluth we stopped at a rest stop for a break and found evidence of young love.

As we went through Two Harbors, we passed the pantsless statue of the Voyaguer that Ian and Margery have been talking about. Laura was kind enough to stop so I could get a better look. So what does a woodsman with just leather leggings have under his tunic?

Oh my, is that shrinkage?

I'm really glad I went, thanks for all the encouragement, but I'm really glad I went with Birderblog. Seeing the gull was cool, but company on the long drive made it much better.