Jeff Clarke Ecology

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Ivory Coast

Some birds are more of a dream than a reality and a high Arctic denizen such as Ivory Gull seldom make an appearance in the UK, preferring to spend most of their time scavenging around Polar Bear kills, or a deceased cetacean. When they do occur here they are most likely to be found standing atop a decaying beached whale, or seal. In recent years that had become an exceptionally rare occurrence, but that was about to change...

The late Autumn and early Winter of 2013 has delivered an unprecedented arrival of 1st Winter Ivory Gulls in the UK. Most of the birds appeared in the wake of a devastating low pressure system that ripped across the Atlantic from Greenland and made landfall with a massive storm surge on the 5th December.

Most birds were noted for a day, or two, but finally a sixth bird turned up on the east coast at Patrington Haven in Yorkshire on the 12th December. It was initially found by local fishermen but stuck around to be relocated on the 15th December by birders, some armed with a supply of extra fish to keep the bird occupied.

It has to be something exceptional to trigger my 'fast twitch' muscle, but Ivory Gull has always had that charismatic draw in my mind. So the promise of a calm and sunny day combined with flexible workload had me up and out well before dawn and heading across the Pennines on the 17th Dec. I arrived later than planned due to a traffic jam in Hull so missed the bird at its dawn feed. This meant watching the bird at long range against the sun, backdropped by the distant Spurn lighthouse, for most of the day. I had no doubt it would return to feed at some point, so I settled in for the long wait. I was even prepared to suffer for my reward,  I'd foolishly left my flask and sandwiches in the car over a mile away and that's where they stayed, because I didn't want to risk missing the bird come in for its next feed.

By the time the bird returned from it's Humber sojuorn just after 2.30pm the pile of rotting fish had started to seem quite tempting, but the distraction of this lovely arctic vagrant cast such thoughts from my mind and I proceed to fire off hundreds of shots of the bird and some as well.

 

The bird was a fairly lightly marked 1st Winter, but their was nothing immature in the way it tucked into the fishy flesh, it fed voraciously for at least 20 minutes, totally unfazed, by the large admiring crowd that watched it avidly at close quarters. The odd snippet of conversation was barely audible above the rat-a-tat-tat of firing shutters. Eventually satiated it departed once more into the Humber estuary. As the sun slipped below the horizon dozens of happy souls swaggered back to their cars like conquering heroes. Isn't it funny how the natural world can put a spring in your step!

All the images in this blog are copyright Jeff Clarke 2013 (unless otherwise stated)

Blog posted from Patrington Haven, Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire HU12, UK View larger map
©Jeff Clarke 2013
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