The Bird and Memory of the Week is Ross’s Gull, Rhodostethia rosea, a super rare small gull rarely found out of the Arctic. I believe the Gull was first found at Palmer Lake in far north central Washington by Fish and Wildlife biologists on December 13, 2011 but it did not make it to the public grapevine until December 20th. When I learned of the sighting I immediately posted on Tweeters that I was going to go early the next morning. Three responses came in quickly – Michael Willison, Knut Hansen and _______.
We met at the Starbuck’s in Issaquah. Palmer Lake is approximately 280 miles from Seattle. December 21st is the shortest day of the year and there was snow on much of the route. We were all VERY keen on getting to the lake as soon as we could. I acknowledge a love for driving fast, especially when there is a potential treasure trove at the end of the journey, so I asked if anyone had a problem if I went fast. Being focused on the Ross’s Gull possibility, nobody objected. That was all I needed. Snow be damned, we made it to the lake in just about 4 hours…no tickets, no incidents, but I think there was some fear of loss of life along the way and definitely questioning about giving the “Go Sign”.
Snowy Roads – Clear Skies
Palmer Lake and the surrounding country are gorgeous, especially with the snow and especially since it was a bright sunny day. When we arrived in the town of Loomis, we were greeted by a herd of Bighorn Sheep. I see them often on the cliffs along the Yakima River Canyon, but these were up close and personal…impressive animals. There was some confusion as to where the gull might be and when we scanned the Lake from the South, we found some Common Mergansers, some Trumpeter Swans and some Canada Geese but no gulls at all.
The reason there was no gull was simple – it was tight against the eastern bank feeding on a deer carcass which apparently was the major reason it had remained so long. When we found the carcass, we found the gull – WOWSERS!!! Truly a gorgeous little gull, delicate and dove like with a hint of a dark spot behind the eye and a dark smudge around the eye. A tiny black bill and if the light was just right, a faint rosy pink on the breast. It was not yet even 11:00 a.m.
We watched it for a long while as it pecked at the carcass and then flew off briefly only to return and continue its feast. This was only the second Washington State record and it was a life bird in the State and I believe in the ABA area for all of us. As bad as it feels when there is a chase and a miss, the elation and adrenalin rush when you find a target bird is much greater. Multiply that several fold for this super bird – a bucket list bird for many. It was exhilarating. Other birders arrived and joined the party and some had been there before we arrived. The Ross’s Gull remained for the rest of the week and was seen by many birders from Washington, B.C. and probably elsewhere – probably between 50 and 100 sightings.
We had other birds in the area and on the way home, including two Snowy Owls, but they fade from memory as the Ross’s Gull, as little as it was, remains a giant super fond memory in my birding life.
Snowy Owl (Distant) on Highway 17