The Paradox of Hot Spot

In the past few weeks I have seen more birders than any time since we moved to Indiana. And this includes Big May Days and Christmas Bird Counts. The reason is I encountered the Eagle Creek Sunday Group one weekend and went on Don Gorney’s Fort Harrison State Park Sunday morning walk the next weekend. And it was fun to be among all the birders. So much so I’ll continue to go occasionally. But seeing the birders at those locations once again brings up The Paradox of Hot Spot.

Does a “Hot Spot” that theoretically increases ones odds of seeing more species outweigh birding lesser birded areas to increase bird data? Because the way we are headed is getting repeated data from certain “Hot Spots” like Eagle Creek.

But as most things the truth probably is in the middle.

Mike and I visited Eagle Creek’s Marina for the second time this month in hopes of seeing warblers. And we did along, with several other birders. This is still strange since I rarely encounter birders at my usual spots.

A Blackpoll Warbler sitting up nicely enjoying the view.
If not for the twig this would have been a good photo of a Cape May Warbler.

And later in the morning we birded the north end and saw a nice variety of shorebirds. Plus encountered several other birders.

This is an ID photo of a Baird’s Sandpiper.
And one of two Stilt Sandpipers working the mud flat.
Paradox of Hot Spot
Would this be the same young Laughing Gull I found a few weeks ago?

In the past I have birded areas where I go the entire day and not encountered birders. (Bushwhacking) And probably not as many species. But I always feel good at the end of the day finding my own birds and adding to the overall data.

But not many people do this type of birding. Most are lured by The Pull to a “Hot Spot” to see birds. So as much as eBird is expanding citizen science data, in my opinion it also promotes birding at certain “Hot Spots” only. Which to me is a paradox.

So how to overcome this? Not sure since it’s probably been happening since birding started. Data from repeatable surveys like the Breeding Bird Survey will still be used for future conservation efforts. Maybe eBird could include something like a repeatable, timed route. But like I have posted before people won’t do those since they are lured by The Pull to a Hot Spot.

Going forward I’ll hopefully be able to split my time between “Hot Spots”, since I need to do more Social Birding, and my less birded areas. We’ll see.

Eagle Creek Laughing Gull, American Avocets, Horned Grebe

As regular readers know I don’t rush to post the same day. I usually take my time and write the story. Then add a few photos. But after two uncommon and one early species I’ll make an exception. So on with Sunday’s morning Eagle Creek Laughing Gull, American Avocets, Horned Eared Grebe.

Update – Don Gorney and Aidan Rominger refound the Horned Grebe this afternoon and identified as a Eared Grebe. A closer look at my photos and I have to agree. Thanks for taking the time to double check.

Laughing Gull

The plan for Mike and I was to bird the Marina area of Eagle Creek Sunday morning. As usual we stopped by Rick’s Cafe Boatyard for a quick scan of the southern part of the reservoir. We saw the expected Osprey and Double-crested Cormorants and were about ready to leave when I noticed an odd gull not very far out. The bird’s bill seemed to dark and droopy for a Ring-billed. Spike S. was also present and thought the tail seemed long for a Ring-billed. Upon pulling out the scope it was definitely a young Laughing Gull.

Eagle Creek Laughing Gull, American Avocets, Horned Grebe
A cropped photo which I think shows the Laughing Gull’s drooped bill.
The best photo I could get in the morning light.

American Avocets

With warblers hopefully waiting we moved on to the Marina. The leaders of the Sunday morning walk were there early and we were looking for warblers when Becky, I think, first called out American Avocets flying over. A straightforward ID being black and white with long bills and legs.

We watched them go north looking for a place to land. Not finding anything they came back by us heading south. They did the same south to north pattern three times and never put down but allowing us great looks. The last view had them flying south.

American Avocets heading north up Eagle Creek Reservoir.
The Avocets came closer on their second pass by to the south.

Horned Grebe

A little later while scanning the water I found an early Horned Grebe. Now maybe the first two we can associate with Hurricane Harvey, but the Horned Grebe I don’t think so.

On first look I thought it was a Pied-billed Grebe but the throat was white. A run back to the car for the spotting scope and one look confirmed it as a Horned Grebe.

A cropped photo of the distant Horned Grebe.
The complete and cropped photo of the Horned Grebe.

And as seen on this eBird Date Range chart Horned Grebe’s aren’t expected until October.

So, all in all a good morning finding an uncommon gull and early grebe, plus seeing avocets. I even picked up a few new warblers for the year.

And hopefully I didn’t make too many errors in writing this quickly.

Laughing Gulls Feeding Frenzy

While observing LAUGHING GULLS in Gulf Shores, AL earlier this month I realized once again I miss gulls. I have stated before when we lived in Illinois there were numerous gulls along the Illinois River Flyway. Mainly RING-BILLED GULLS, but occasionally others in season. Searching through a flock of gulls always seemed to round out a day of birding.

DSCN3447
Laughing Gull – Gulf Shores AL 8/1/16

I spent a little time watching Laughing Gulls while they were most active in the early morning. They were already on the beach when I when I arrived before sunrise. Do they roost there?

DSCN3934
Like the other mornings I had to keep an eye on the weather. This storm spent the day over the beach about 6 miles away.
DSCN3798 Laughing Gull
There were already large numbers of Laughing Gulls when I went out in the morning. I counted 500 along our stretch of the beach.

I used to spend hours watching and aging the Ring-billed, bordering on a gull geek. But not quite. I didn’t spend much time aging the Laughing Gulls but differences were obvious.

DSCN3823
This was one of the few with reddish legs. Not sure what else it has on its leg.
DSCN3830
This guy looks good for a juvenile.
DSCN3836
As does this one.
DSCN3827
A Second Year?

I enjoyed watching them fly back and forth up the coast and out to sea to feed. Their slow, efficient wing beats in unison.

DSCN4075

DSCN4076

DSCN4079

DSCN4078

DSCN4077
These are photos of the same gull. Talk about the consistency of the wing beat. They look like the same photos repeated over and over.

The best part was when the gulls found a pool of little fish and went crazy feeding on them. All ages partook as did the nearby Great Blue Herons.

DSCN3816 Laughing Gulls
Here are the gulls going crazy feeding in a tidal pool.
DSCN3957
Here are the small fish they were feeding on.

Following is an attempt at a video of the gulls feeding. Please forgive the first few seconds as I learn to use the video on the camera.

I use to periodically see this feeding action on the Illinois River involving hundreds of gulls, but never this close.

It was fun to watch.

I miss gulls.