The Elusive and Rare Ross’s Gull

When I was guiding Churchill Arctic Summer trips for Natural Habitat Adventures with local birding expert Bonnie Chartier, one common goal we always strived for was spotting the elusive and rare Ross’s gull.

The bird, named after the famed Arctic explorer James Clark Ross, has a signature black – necklaced stripe around its’ neck and would randomly appear out of the mist on the Churchill River along the flats to the east of the grain port. This was a nesting ground confirmed by researchers since around 1980. In fact I cannot remember ever seeing the prized bird anywhere else in Churchill. Northern Siberia still exists as the gull’s predominant breeding grounds with seasonal homesteading along the Arctic Ocean’s ice pack.

Ross' gull

Ross’s gull along the gravelly shore. Brian Small photo.

Bonnie Chartier is world renowned for being an expert on the birds of the Churchill region and has a published guidebook (out of print at present) called A Birders Guide to Churchill. We would bring the entire group down to the Churchill River banks by the port and have all looking through binoculars, scanning the water and gravelly flats for smaller gulls with that distinct black stripe around the neck. Another distinguishing mark we always looked for was a rosy – washed colored underbelly.

Ross's gull

Ross’s gull in flight. Bruce Mactavish photo.

A funny occurrence at the outset of a trip happened just along the stretch of road near the port and flats. Our group of 10 or so was searching the shallows and distant Churchill River for the gull when a independent couple just next to us had a set up a tripod with a spotting scope. They had in their possession a copy of Bonnie’s book and were in dire need of finding this prized bird for their “lifelist”. They began asking Bonnie if she knew anything about the bird and it’s whereabouts in Churchill when she subtly revealed whom she was and that the book they had was written by her. Needless to say we all had a good laugh and although no Ross’ gulls were spotted that day, the couple left with a signed copy and we all departed with a funny memory and story.

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