Late in November the New Jersey Rare Bird Alert reported the sudden appearance of an Ivory Gull in the harbor at Cape May, New Jersey, Only the size of a pigeon and and snow white, this little-known species rarely ventures from the Arctic ice pack, even in winter. I had no idea that I might have a chance to see it. This was only the fifth Ivory Gull ever recorded in New Jersey, the last having been seen in 1986.
The Ivory Gull sighting was far from my mind when we received the sad news of the death, in upstate New York, of my late Dad’s younger brother, Father Dan Schneider (See: Saying Goodbye and A Postscript from Father Dan)
Funeral arrangements were uncertain, so we flew out on Monday, December 7. We later learned that the funeral would not take place until Friday. This left us with some leisure time. We were delighted when, the next morning, my brother offered to drive us down to Cape May to look for the gull.
We did not know the gull’s exact location. Unable to access the New Jersey RBA archives, I sent out a couple of frantic RFI’s to birders who had posted the most recent sighting reports. Luckily, two people replied almost instantly. Without their detailed directions we never would have found the site.
When we arrived at the Bree-Zee Lee Marina we were greeted by other birders who pointed out the gull, perched on a piling about 100 feet offshore, to the south. The sun, behind the bird, reflected harshly off the water, and our binocular views provided little more than a silhouette. Except for its small size, this was not enough to see any identifying characteristics.
The number of watchers swelled to over a dozen. Kevin Karlson joined us, carrying a the remains of a large fish that his neighbor had given him. He placed it conveniently near our observation point, and assured us that the gull would soon fly in to eat.
Sure enough, within minutes it took wing:
We had knockout views from about 15 feet:
This was a first year bird, as evidenced by its black markings:
After about 20 minutes, the gull appeared to have gleaned all the remaining meat from the fish head, and became restless:
During a storm on December 11, only three days later, the Ivory Gull disappeared and has not been seen since.