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12/25/09
Ivory Gull at Cape May
Filed under: General, Birding & Outdoors, Rutherford & NJ
Posted by: Ken @ 12:34 pm

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). We viewed the weather reports with apprehension, as a strong winter storm was just moving up the northeast coast. My brother, who lives on Great Bay near Atlantic City, New Jersey, talked us into flying into the Atlantic City Airport to stay with him and his wife, traveling to the funeral together.

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.

Passing fishermen not only gave us a friendly wave, but also blocked out the glare, and the color of the little gull turned from black to snow white:

Ivory Gull First Look 20091208

A floating dock extended out to give us a side view, not ideal, but maybe the best we could expect:

Ivory Gull on piling 20091208

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:

Ivory Gull approaches us 20091208

As it approached, the gull dipped to pick something off the surface of the water:

Ivory Gull gets closer 20091208

It flew directly to the fish carcass, as Kevin had predicted:

Ivory Gull at fish head 20091208

We had knockout views from about 15 feet:

Ivory Gull 20091208

This was a first year bird, as evidenced by its black markings:

Ivory Gull Portrait 20091208

With their long optics, birders had no need for a closer approach:

Ivory Gull watchers 20091208

After about 20 minutes, the gull appeared to have gleaned all the remaining meat from the fish head, and became restless:

Ivory Gull 3-20091208

Then, the Ivory Gull lofted and disappeared into the sun:

Ivory Gull departs 20091208

During a storm on December 11, only three days later, the Ivory Gull disappeared and has not been seen since.

8 Responses to “Ivory Gull at Cape May”

  1. Eileen Says:
    Great photos! This Ivory Gull had to be the most popular and photographed bird in NJ in December.
  2. MaineBirder Says:
    Awesome photos of the Ivory Gull! Congrats on the find.
  3. bob k Says:
    Congratulations on finding (and photographing) this rarety! What a cool Christmas present.
  4. Mick Says:
    A beautiful bird and very nice that you were able to get such good close views of it.
  5. Jill Says:
    awesome bird. I saw some photos of this guy posted on Surfbirds a few weeks ago. Cool ! glad you got to see him!
  6. Neil Says:
    Congratulations on the Ivory Gull.Great photos.
  7. NatureFootstep Birds Says:
    a beauty among gulls. Never seen it.
  8. Vickie Says:
    Beautiful images of the Ivory Gull. What a treat. I am sorry about the loss of your uncle. I lost two family members this year in the same generation. We are losing them one by one and all the stories, history and wisdom they brought to us. I hope we can keep it alive for them.

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