Chasing a Mythical Gull
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At 1:25AM I picked up Frank. Edie was next at 1:40AM and the three of us were off, headed to Massachusetts. Five States later at 7:15AM we arrived just north of Plymouth Rock to find a half dozen frozen birders scanning all over the bay. At 7:55AM someone shouts ‘white-winged’ gull and sure enough one is in flight coming over the breakwater right at us, not just any old ‘white-winged’ gull but the purest of them all, the only all-white gull, a magnificent adult Ivory Gull.
Other than the one that showed for a few days in Gloucester just before this bird, February 1997 was the last time New England hosted of one these stunning beauties, but that was a juvenile, with black markings on it – no less pretty but not as pure white. It has been over a century since the last adult was seen in this part of the country, hence all the excitement over not one but two of them that had been found in the last week. We are soon joined by Alan Brady, who in all the excitement managed to lose his front bumper on the ice, but that is another story. More importantly Alan who has been birding for well over 60 years had yet to see an adult.
The Ivory Gull is slightly smaller than a Ring-billed Gull, but bulkier with more of a barrel chest; long tail and even longer wings, which to me showed a similar jizz to a jaeger in flight. The head is perfectly rounded with a short neck; the bill, a two-tone blue-grey with yellow tip; beady black eyes and short black legs, which undoubtedly make it easier to walk on the packed ice in the High Arctic where it is from. Its all white plumage blending in so perfectly with the color of the ice. It is the most northerly breeding bird, a scavenger, fond of fish, seal scraps and carcasses. We watched it flying around often pulling up and hovering for a second, with its feet dangling (photo above) as it thought about descending. In the time that we were there it sat on a dock railing, dwarfed by Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls. It stood on the ice in the car park and walking about picking up whatever food it could find until it located a piece of meat – which hit the spot.
It was awfully tough to leave this bird, but we had come a long way and it was just as far to go back! Following a celebratory breakfast, where the waitresses were ecstatic over all the extra business that birders had bought to the community, we were back on the road at 10:15AM and unloading in Philadelphia at 4:00PM. A long very satisfying day – mission accomplished.