Rosss Gull  old school

In the old days, birdwatching at IJmuiden’s South Pier included a stop-by at the local beach pavilion to read about the latest bird sightings in the log book here. It was in the same pavilion that my brother Marcel got his first copy of Dutch Birding: issue four of volume 11, opening with an article about the famous Bonaparte’s Gull Chroicocephalus philadelphia at IJmuiden in 1988-1989 (Eigenhuis 1989). A few months later, he subscribed. 

In the 1990s, I often called the Dutch Birding birdline (50 cents per minute in 1995)  to hear if there were interesting birds reported. On some days, I even called more than once – sorry, mum! When I got home from school on Wednesday 8 November 1995, news of the previous day included a fly-by Ross’s Gull Rhodostethia rosea at IJmuiden (discovered by Pascal Wink, I learned almost 20 years later) and a Pallas’s Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus at Lisse. Both were enigmatic species I had seen only once before. I decided to cycle the 14 km to IJmuiden. 

On the South Pier I met Magnus Robb, who had also come to search for the Ross’s Gull. We soon found a flock of Little Gulls Hydrocoloeus minutus. Although the birds were foraging a bit too far out at sea to be studied in detail, one particular gull kept attracting our attention. Like the surrounding Little Gulls its flight low over the water was rather erratic, with its wings beating nervously. Every now and then, it flipped over to one side, dropped down and dipped into the water to pick up food items from the surface. Its tail then seemed long and wedge-shaped. But had we seen enough to claim the hoped-for arctic vagrant?  

After what seemed like an age, suddenly the gulls started flying towards us, one by one. It was the moment of truth. Was our gull really showing a long and pointed tail, broad white trailing edge to the wing (not extending to the outer primaries), small bill, conspicuous eye (surrounded by a dark mask) and traces of a narrow, dark neck-ring? Yes, it was! We were shaking from excitement. While I raced to the nearest telephone box to inform others, Magnus tried to stay on the bird.

Since then, a few more Ross’s Gulls have turned up in the Netherlands, including the popular first-winter at Vlissingen in January-March 2018, depicted below. Although it is no longer considered a mega rarity, I still see this beautiful gull as an almost mythical bird (and a suitable Dutch Birding logo). 

Ross's Gull intobirding.com

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Published 18 March 2018