Due to a statewide test being administered to underclassmen today, I had some free time and decided to go out to Highline Lake State Park in Northwestern Mesa County and fill in one of my saddest county bird gaps: Long-billed Dowitcher. Long-billed Dowitchers aren't uncommon where I live; in fact, they're regular and 'easy.' However, they have seemingly avoided me on every in-county birding venture I have ever done. So today I drove out to the lake to try for this 'elusive' and 'difficult' bird, and was rewarded when I flushed a pair getting out of my truck. In fact, they were the first birds I flushed all day. After seeing my quarry, I looked around the lake a little and saw a couple Gadwall, Eurasian Collared-Doves, and heard a Killdeer. However, a Canada Goose and far off swimming thing made me think that the other side of the lake would be worth a look.
A few minutes later, I was on the other side of the lake and shaking my head. It was definitely worth the drive over - my First of Spring Osprey was sitting in a snag, and a lone Sandhill Crane circled up from its nighttime roost. A dozen cormorants wandered around the lake, and there on the shore between me and the sun were several gulls. Gulls. And they were in horrible lighting. Even in these conditions, though, I could see that one or two of these birds looked different. So I hiked the quarter mile out, hiding behind bluffs and bushes on the way, to get a better look. It was well worth it. From my truck, I thought I saw two non-Ring-billed Gulls and Ring-billed Gulls. Getting closer, I found that all but one was a Ring-billed, but that one was a Herring Gull! This is only the second Herring Gull I have ever seen in Western Colorado, as they are rare and irregular. As the book "Birds of Western Colorado Mesa and Plateau Country" states, there is a 50/50 chance that a bird will even be recorded at all in any given year. Not bad. I wonder what else will show up this spring...
Two of the gulls from Highline Lake: Ring-billed in front, Herring in back.
CORRECTION: Due to much correspondence I have since had about this photograph, I am unsure whether this is a weird Herring Gull or California Gull. For the time being, I am leaving the ID as Larus species, due to mixed opinions I have heard. When I am certain of the ID, I will re-edit this post.