Manitowoc, Wisconson-December 5, 2016

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A watchful Ring-billed Gull at the Manitowoc  Harbor
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Ring-billed Gull taking off

I wanted to go up to Manitowoc to see if I could find the Slaty-backed Gull that has been reported there over the last few days. I was not going to make the 2 and a half hour trip unless I could get verification that it was still being seen so I put out an inquiry on the Wisconsin birding email list serve. Fortunately, I received one  response from someone who said he had seen the bird that day so it was on!

I left my house around 6:45 a.m. and arrived at the Manitowoc Lake Michigan Lakefront at 9:15 a.m. I decided to start out at the beach behind the waste water treatment facility as  that is where the Slaty-backed Gull was seen. As I walked around a large bunch of brush on the beach, there was a gathering of a couple of hundred gulls that immediately took off when they saw me and flew a half mile down the lake to Red Arrow Park. I then got back in my car and made my way to the park and decided to get my scope out and take a look at the flock from the parking lot so they would not spook again.

I immediately saw a very large gull that stood out due to its size and the large all-black bill which is characteristic of the Slaty-backed Gull.

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A first cycle Greater Black-backed Gull (left) with several smaller Ring-billed Gulls, a herring Gull (third from right) and an adult Glaucous Gull.

It was only when I returned home and posted this picture on the North American Gull Facebook page that it was confirmed as a first cycle (first year) Greater Black-backed Gull which is a great find in itself.

At this point, I was thinking that there was a pretty good chance this might be the Slaty-backed Gull so I decided to head over to the Manitowoc Impoundment where some Long-tailed Ducks had been reported.

As son as I got there and walked out the long pier, I saw three birds bobbing in the water and was able to confirm two of them as a male and female Long-tailed Duck and the third as a sleeping female White-winged Scoter.

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Male Long-tailed Duck

They were initially  quite a ways out in the harbor but then the male began diving and working his way to where I was set up and I was able to get the following images.

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I swear he came over to check me out more than anything because he soon headed back out to where the others were. This was very exciting for me because the only other Long-tailed Duck I had seen was through my scope and the bird was flying about 300 yards out on Lake Michigan. This a bird that tends to stay far out on big open water.

As I made my way back towards shore I glanced over to my right  and saw the surf crashing on the breakwater. I decided to take some pictures since the lighting was so good and i knew I could freeze the motion.

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the Lake Michigan surf crashing on the breakwater at the Manitowoc Impoundment

Once I turned my attention back to getting back to shore I noticed that the White-winged Scoter was now awake, diving & feeding and moving my way! I quickly set up and allowed her to move in a bit more and was then able to get some fairly good images of her.

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Female White-winged Scoter


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At this point the guy that had responded to my initial  inquiry about the Slatey-backed Gull met me at the impoundment to go look for the gull. We then returned to the beach by the waste water treatment facility and he was able to locate the Slaty-backed Gull! We had brief looks at it before the gulls all took off again but were not able to get any pictures. Still an incredible bird to even see as you can see by its range.



I then decided to grab some lunch and head out to the Killsnake State Wildlife Area to see some of the Northern Harriers and then, at sunset, Short-eared Owls that hang out there.

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Female Northern Harrier

The harriers never came in to close so my pictures leave much to be desired but this is what they gave me on this day!

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Two female Northern Harriers having a disagreement

While I did see several Short-eared Owls, they came out past sunset and so I was unable to get any pictures of them. All in all, it was a great day with wonderful weather and some fantastic birds.


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