11/16 – 11/17: ROSS’S GULL, QC

Ross's Gull (Rhodostethia rosea), Chambly, QC. November 17, 2013.

Ross’s Gull/Mouette rosée (Rhodostethia rosea), Chambly, QC. November 17, 2013.

Jim Orrico and I spent an unbelievable weekend in Chambly, Québec, enjoying a brilliant adult Ross’s Gull (Rhodostethia rosea) (French: Mouette rosée), that had been present in the area since November 10th or so. It was the first of these long, action-packed rarity chases we’d enjoyed in a while, one that involved a life bird no less!

We were able to view the bird on both days of our visit (Saturday, November 16th and Sunday, November 17th), at two different locations (the Chambly Sewage Ponds, and the marina that abuts the Chambly Fort, where the bird had first been found).

During our tenure with the gull (over six hours!), we were able to study it in detail, taking a great number of photos and video and lots of notes. Of course, more than half of our time was simply spent watching and reveling at this ethereal Arctic visitor, enjoying it both in flight and on the water, foraging, preening or simply swimming along.

Despite the fact that we were in a foreign country, birding in a francophone province, we still saw a number of wonderful faces that reminded us of home. These included Glenn Williams, Dave Hursh, Sara Zagorski and Denise Jernigan. It was a thrill to get to enjoy this bird with such terrific folks, and to share memories that will last a lifetime.

Ross’s Gull has been on my most-wanted list for a while now, thanks to its rarity, uniqueness and sheer beauty. As expected, this bird did not disappoint, and showed for all who came out to see it.

During and immediately after this wonderful experience I compiled a good number of notes and recollections about my experiences with the bird and those around me, posted below:

  • picking daintily at surface
  • pigeon-headed
  • pinkish wash to face and breast (appeared strongest in the vent area)
  • dark gray underwing
  • much whiter back compared to BOGU
  • smaller than BOGU
  • more elongated
  • smaller bill
  • dark eye distinctive
  • primaries, secondaries, etc. appeared white at certain angles
  • wedge-shaped tail
  • sat Little Gull-like on the water (“toy boat”)
  • blunt-tipped wings
  • bright red legs and feet
  • faint gray collar; difficult to see in some lighting conditions
  • thin black edge to the outermost primary; sometimes not visible
  • [sketch]

Following our initial experience with the gull on day one, as we sat back in the hotel room reflecting on the day, I noted: “…We have just been sitting here, in a trance of joy, relief and happiness after seeing one of the most ethereal and captivating birds on Earth.”

When that sensational weekend had finally come to end, I spilled out a ton of thoughts and notes onto paper, including the following: “At times, the Ross’s would jump up and begin to fly apparently for no reason at all, as if it was trying to stretch its wings and take in the scene in front of it. Crowds of people, some old, some young, had all traveled hundreds of miles to see it, all connected and united by their single desire: to glimpse this extremely special species, one that few ever get the chance to see.

It was truly an amazing experience, one that I will cherish forever. It’s rare that one gets to enjoy three truly remarkable things at one time, but this was one of those times. Special people, a special place and a truly remarkable bird were all packed into one whirlwind two-day experience, one that I will never forget. Even in the future, in the darkest of times, I will search for that pink light in the darkness, and be reminded of what I spend my days fighting for.”

This amazing bird really seemed to wear its heart on its breast, and I doubt the thrill of the initial sighting of that flash of pink will never diminish.

Photos below:

Ross's Gull, Chambly, QC

Note the thin black edge to the outermost primary, and the broad white trailing edge to the inner primaries and secondaries. Also note that this species does not exhibit the broad white area (“flash”) found on the outerwings of Bonaparte’s Gulls.

Ross's Gull, Chambly, QC

Note the faint gray neck collar, pink wash to the belly, and blunt, broad-tipped wings.

Ross's Gull, Chambly, QC

Note how the apparent darkness of the gray underwing changes with the positioning of wing and light (in comparison to the previous photo). And check out those bright red legs and feet!

Ross's Gull, Chambly, QC

Note the “pigeon-headed appearance”, with the short bill, rounded head and dark eye. Also notice the way this bird is sitting on the water (very upright, sort of like the “toy boat” shape exhibited in Little Gulls).

Ross's Gull, Chambly, QC

A nice size comparison, showing the Ross’s Gull in the foreground, followed by a female Mallard and Bonaparte’s Gull.

Ross's Gull, Chambly, QC

Note how the body (especially the wings and tail) of the Ross’s Gull appears more elongated and “stretched out” than the nearby Bonies.

Ross's Gull, Chambly, QC

In flight; note the awesome wedge-shaped tail, blunt-tipped appearance to the wings, pink breast, belly and vent, and beady black eyes and bill.

Ross's Gull, Chambly, QC

At the fort; our initial look. Again, note the exaggerated, elongated shape of this bird.

Ross's Gull, Chambly, QC

Ross’s Gull in the late afternoon sunlight of day one, exhibiting many of the clinching features noted above.

Ross's Gull, Chambly, QC

Ross’s and Ring-billed Gulls. Note the dainty appearance of the Ross’s Gull, in contract the large, almost brutish look of the Ring-billeds.

Ross's Gull, Chambly, QC

Ross’s Gull swimming and foraging on day one. When foraging, this bird daintily picked at the water, making quick stabs at the surface as it swam about.

-Alex

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5 Responses to 11/16 – 11/17: ROSS’S GULL, QC

  1. marcy klattenberg says:

    Alex,

    Your photos are nothing short of spectacular! Once again thank you for sharing your birding in such detail with those of us who cannot get out to the far off places that you visit and are so successful in finding what is there. Marcy

  2. Helen says:

    Awesome information and photos on Ross’s Gull, Alex! Thanks for sharing! –Helen

  3. JOrrico@aol.com says:

    One of your best posts.

  4. Chris Harbard says:

    Magical birds … How wonderful for you all. Great photos and fantastic memories!!!

  5. All I can say is “I’m jealous!” Tina, the Dixons, the Rotino family and I went up the following Friday and spent 7++ freezing hours on Saturday searching, to no avail. Thanks for sharing your terrific pictures, which are some slight compensation. It was a nice area, the people were great, but we didn’t see the bird. I’m very happy you and Jim got to see it though.

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