Wednesday, February 17, 2010

It is Tuesday night and there is not a single post on Ontbirds regarding the Ivory Gull seen on Monday. If it had flown onto the ice even a few minutes later, or descended to land mere yards away, it may have gone unobserved by its original finders, who had identified all they could see and whose departure was imminent. But a small white bird caught the attention of these two birdwatchers, hearts soon pounding as they realized the significance of their find. Photos are taken for the record books and within minutes, a report goes out across a listserv at the touch of a few buttons, an obscenely convenient network connecting hundreds; hundreds immediately aware of a rarity minutes ago a distant thought. The thrill of the hunt ensues as a few dedicated enthusiasts and listers dash to the lakeshore, hoping for a glimpse of this special visitor. It is not to be. This will be a brief encounter, witnessed by two individuals favored by fortune. The gull departs. This visitor, unaware of its celebrity, is searched for in vain by each subsequent arrival, unaware of the interest they themselves create as they scan with scopes and binoculars in the bitter wind and waning light. As the sky darkens, so do the spirits of the watchers. Iceland, Glaucous, and Lesser Black-backed Gulls will have to suffice this night. The Ivory Gull continues westward, snow-white feathers veiled by the night, a phantom flying unseen.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Empty Ice Patch - An Ivory Gull Lament

Mark and I scan for the Ivory Gull at Cherry Beach, Toronto
Photo courtesy of Lynne Freeman

failing light - no miracle tonight – this rare visitor avoids my gaze like she has once before – this heavenly form – this delicate winter-white angel – an ephemeral rest on the lakeshore – a brief appointment yielding disappointment – the shelves of ice carry a congregation – black backed, great and lesser, ring billed iceland glaucous herring – but despite my silent prayer – she is no longer here – yet still my eyes rise skyward - for I cannot bear to miss her once more


Yes. At 3:58pm today, while birding Colonel Sam Smith Park with Mark Field, a report of an Ivory Gull was posted for Cherry Beach, Toronto (an ADULT Ivory Gull no less). Bless the iPhone. I really wish I owned this device for birding. Up-to-date birding reports and directions right at your fingers (not to mention if you ever need a refresher with a bird call, there are helpful apps to do just that). Needless to say, it didn't take us long to decide to ditch Colonel Sam and head across the city (bless having a van) to give the gull a go. Through bitter cold, we made a valiant effort with Jean Iron, the original finder alongside Paul Prior, to spot the gull but she informed us that it had flown directly west away from Cherry Beach and was not spotted again. Check out Jean's site and see the bird by clicking here. I don't know about Mark but I felt slightly defeated as the light faded and the last of the gulls on the patches of ice flew away for the night. This isn't the first time I've missed this rarity. January 2006 was a tough time when I couldn't get home to see the Ivory Gull that showed up at Hillman Marsh and provided great views.

There's still hope this bird will stay. There will certainly be a lot of eyes looking out for it throughout the week and I can assure you I'll be checking out the postings on Ontbirds frequently. I'll add here that although the end of the weekend held the slight disappointment of missing the Ivory, I still had two great days of birding on Sunday and today. I'll be posting full day lists/counts for the days within the week.