ROSS'S GULL, NY - Jan 26 & 27

Ross's Gull had been my #1 North American bird to see for a while of the few birds I would drive many hours to experience if I had to. Imagine my surprise when I woke up on Thursday morning to an emailed photo of a first cycle ROSS'S GULL. Awesome. Just one tiny problem...I had no idea where and when it was taken. The information began to trickle in piece by piece. I was ready to bail from work at any time if the report was local and recent. "Local" has a mildly expanded meaning when it comes to a Ross's Gull. As we would come to find out the bird was photographed just the day before near the Adirondack, NY town of Tupper Lake.

I had a decision to make once the details came through - drop everything and run, or calm the $#&% down and wait until the next morning. I decided to pack what I could, get in the car, and make my way in that direction. I could always turn around if I changed my mind or received news that the bird was not chase-able. Traffic was thin, and I was approaching the MA/NY border on I-90 when I got some info from a friend that the bird might only be visible from private property. Turn around? Not yet...keep driving and wait for more. Turns out the homeowner and family are longtime birders in the area, and they would welcome small numbers of birders at a time to view the bird. Sweet. Kept going, knowing that I would only have about an hour of daylight with which to work once I arrived, and that was assuming roads would be clear and traffic-free. Lucky enough this was the case, and I arrived at the residence at 4pm. The bird had just flown, so the handful of folks who had been there were on their way out. I would stay the night and try again in the morning if it did not come back. A few others, including Andrew Spencer and Matt Medler who had driven from Ithaca, were also just arriving. We were told that the bird had been commuting to and from the iced-over lake in front of the yard, where it had been feeding on fish eggs and other offal that were laid out on the snow. I don't think we had to wait more than 20-30 minutes for it to reappear for a pre-dusk meal.

Having never seen any video of this species in flight, I was immediately struck by the long-winged impression it gave as it flew in. This really made it appear larger in the air than it does on the ground, where it seems small and dainty. The flight style was about as graceful as you could imagine.

Completely thrilled, we all enjoyed the bird until it left at dusk. The homeowner, Jack Delehanty (son of local birding legends Charlcie and Jack Delehanty), could not have been any more hospitable...and I am not exaggerating when I say that. We all hung out for a while, chatting over celebratory local beer. The few of us who had driven 4+ hours to Tupper Lake decided to stay in the area for the night rather than risking a snowy/icy drive home in the dark. The temp was dropping and the snow was falling.

The next morning we were back at it quite early, hoping for better lighting conditions and some photo ops. The bird reappeared at just about 8am. It proceeded to spend the entire morning coming and going from its feeding area in front of Jack's yard. At one point it was spooked by a Bald Eagle and uttered a short series of grating calls, deftly recorded by Andrew Spencer and coming soon to a xeno-canto page near you.

The overcast slowly brightened as the morning went on, at least temporarily between the frequent snow showers. A subtle salmon-pink wash on its belly became evident during those moments of brighter overcast. We were able to get some images of the bird, though my ISO was higher than I would have liked. Below are some jpeg edits. I actually shot RAW too, which I never do, so maybe sometime I will pull out those files and see how they look in comparison. It's a switch I have yet to make even though I've heard from so many that once I do I will not want to go back. I am a birder first, photographer a distant I haven't been bothered to try.

I finally pulled myself away from the bird around 12:30pm. On my way home I stopped at nearby Sabattis Bog to enjoy the local GRAY JAYS, then for SHORT-EARED OWLS at the Fort Edward Grassland at dusk. Just an amazing 24 hours of impromptu birding.

Almost as memorable as the bird itself were the folks I met during the chase. Just the kindest, most genuine people. I was able to connect more than a few faces with names I had long-known from internet reporting over the past several years.

And here are some images and a brief video of the Ross's Gull - literally the only gull I saw for well over 24 hours!

 - Nick


  1. Killer photos..glad you scored!!

  2. Fantastic! Thanks for getting the word out on this birder. Many of us got to make unforgettable memories with this magical visitor over the weekend.


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