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Ross' Gull in C Spain

John Muddeman
05/03/2009 10:23:59

Another result of the Storm 'Klaus'?

Posted in: Birds | Castile-La Mancha | Spanish Mainland, Southern Spain, Central Spain

“En un lugar de La Mancha…”. So begins the tale of Don Quijote, and fitting for this remarkable record.

As with over a hundred other birdwatchers in Spain, I took the opportunity (on Weds 25th) to join two other friends and twitch a vagrant 2 hours from home. Indeed, it’s my first twitch in Spain in 12 years, but considering the rarity of the bird in question, I think it was well worth it! adult winter Ross' Gull - Rhodostethia rosea © John Muddemanadult winter Ross' Gull
Rhodostethia rosea
© John Muddeman

This little gem is not only one of the smallest gulls in the world, but also one of the prettiest, rarest and most difficult to see on its breeding grounds, mostly since they are in Arctic and sub-Arctic NE Siberia, despite scattered records from the Canadian Arctic and Greenland! Despite one or two being annual in the UK, this was Spain’s third, the other two being from the N coast in 1994, and being so far inland made it all the more remarkable. Quite what the Dutch birders who discovered it must have said, I don’t know, but it was a superb find, and thanks to them posting a (stunning) shot on a website almost immediately, many Spanish birders and a few others, like me, were able to enjoy it too.

A further surprise at the lakes was the presence of Tom Gullick. OK, so he was only just over an hour from home there, but equally delighted at seeing this bird for the first time, and so close to where he lives. Widely acclaimed as the world’s top lister, having seen >8300 species to date, it perhaps highlights the extraordinary nature of the record!

My musings over the bird also make me wonder where it’s come from. With so many Glaucous and Iceland Gulls, including a few Kumlien’s – of known Nearctic origin – could it be that this is one of those few Canadian birds? A very few Ross’ Gulls bred for a few years at Churchill, Canada, but sadly stopped doing so, apparently after too much disturbance around the nest sites. Annual spring sightings of birds in breeding plumage on the Churchill river during ice break-up around late May still suggest they breed somewhere in the area though, and so just perhaps it’s one of these Nearctic birds. A late-summer concentration occurs around Spitzbergen and Franz Josef Land however, so perhaps it was a N Atlantic wanderer that got caught up in Klaus… the lack of other typically N American species such as Bonaparte’s, Ring-billed and Laughing Gulls associated with this perhaps also indicate a different scenario.

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