An Extremely Rare California Gull

On Thursday January 12, 2017 at 2:07 PM, word went out of (a birding lists digest) that a very rare gull had been  found in a parking lot in Pillar Point Harbor, just north of Half Moon Bay. This small, dove-like gull was a Ross’s Gull, an arctic breeder that spends it’s time feeding near ice flows in the Arctic. And this gull was only the second time this species had ever been seen in California. It was previously seen in November of 2006 in, (where else?) the Salton Sea.

On the following day, Friday the 13th, I saw that the gull had been seen up until 3:20 PM on Thursday when it had flown north and the Ross’s could not be refound.  I knew where I would be heading after work to attempt to add a rare gem of a bird to my list but in the morning, the gull’s location was a mystery. Then it was refound at 12:20 at the Half Moon Bay Airport. Now if the gull would only stick until I could get there! But the gull flew east, fortunately no further than the flooded Brussels sprout field across highway one.

I left work and headed west on Highway 92, willing the gull to stay put and not head north into oblivion. Traffic slowed through Half Moon Bay and was equally as sluggish once I turned north on Highway One. I passed the intersection to Princeton, just a bit further, then I spotted all the cars pulled over on either side of the highway. I parked and swiftly walked north, towards the hordes of birders.

The Ross’s stood out like a sore thumb, a brilliantly white gull in a brown field. Bingo Lifebird #509, the perfect lifer!


The Ross’s gull in the flooded field, across Highway One from the Half Moon Bay Airport on Friday the 13th, 2017.

The Ross’s was the perfect lifer because it was ultra rare (only the second California record), it was seen in amazing afternoon light, it was tame and extremely accommodating, it was only 30 yards away in a puddle by itself (no massive gull flock to muddle through), and it acted as if 150 crazed birders watching it was an everyday experience.


Field sketch from Highway One.


Overexposed digiscope photo of the Ross’s. The little gull was scanning the skies, two peregrines were spotted earlier, heading northeast.


The hordes or birders from near and far, enjoying a late afternoon gull from the edge of Highway One.


On the following day, Saturday January 14, at 2:10 PM, it was reported that the Ross’s Gull had been flushed up from the flooded field by a pair of peregrines and the gull was taken by the two falcons, ending it’s wayward journey.

2 thoughts on “An Extremely Rare California Gull

    1. Wow…love reading your stories…about to share them with Drew! Thanks, they’re awesome…maybe the gull was trying to save Lisa’s roof at the airport!


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