bird has people flocking to Chequamegon Bay
First sighting of Ross Gull in Wisconsin
By STEVE TOMASKO
Article courtesy of Ashland Daily Press
December 11, 2001
ASHLAND — Last Thursday a routine waterfowl
survey in Chequamegon Bay turned into "among the most
exciting" of 30 years of bird observations, Dick Verch
What Northland College biology professor
Verch, and his co-horts, Travis Mahan and Tracy Heckler,
saw that morning was far from routine — a Ross's gull,
a bird normally not found south of the Arctic circle.
Mahan detected a different looking gull
flying over the bay. As Heckler and Verch focused binoculars
in the direction of the bird, they noted a small gull
with gray underwings and what appeared to be a pinkish
tinge to the underside of the body.
The three talked about what they might
be seeing and it became apparent that for the first time
in 16 years they weren't going to complete the last four
census stations of the survey route.
They packed up the telescope and moved
to the head of the bay where the unusual gull appeared
to have headed.
In a short time they had located the small
gull continued to observe the it feed, preen, sleep and
fly short distances for two hours. By then they felt confident
enough to say they were likely looking at an adult winter-plumaged
Ross's gull is a species of the far north
that usually (except for a small colony near Churchill,
Manitoba) breeds along remote stretches of northern Siberia
and spends its winters in the ice pack of the Arctic Ocean.
At 7 p.m. Thursday, Verch posted a notice
on the "WisBirdNet," a computer list of Wisconsin birders.
By 7:30 a.m. Friday, birders from Appleton, Wausau, Duluth,
as well as several local people were gathered at the head
of the bay.
By Saturday, people had driven and flown
from as far away as Missouri and Pennsylvania to see if
they could get a glimpse of the bird, Verch said.
Unlike many bird chases, Verch said, this
one had a happy ending for most people that visited the
site on over the weekend. The gull stuck around and carried
out its activities near enough so that all pertinent field
marks could be readily seen.
"Wisconsin 's first Ross's gull was officially
recorded!," he said.
Why would people come so far so fast to
see a bird?
Verch said there are probably at least
Serious birders are passionate about seeing
something they've never seen before, just for the thrill.
There is a sub-set of birders who strive
to achieve the longest "life lists," a listing of bird
species they've seen.
For many people, Verch said, there is
simply the joy of seeing something so unusual, so rare.
It's hard to say how or why the Ross's
gull ended up in Chequamegon Bay. The night before the
sighting, there were some very strong winds, which could
have blown the bird off-course. However, Verch said the
bird could very well have been there days before as well.
There have been two sightings of Ross's
gull in Minnesota, so birders predicted it was just a
matter of time before one ended up in Wisconsin.
No one saw the gull on Sunday or Monday,
Verch said, and most of the birders had again scattered
to the four winds waiting for the next rare sighting.
"After birding the Chequamegon Bay area
for 30 years this ranks among the most exciting of my
observations," Verch said. "What else could a birder ask
for, except possibly for the bird to stick around for
another week and participate (by being one of the countees)
in the Ashland Christmas Count?"