Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Happy Anniversary

[The angel of light. . .photo by Scott Whittle, .]

Cape May’s best bird ever, IMHO, was the Ivory Gull found in Cape May Harbor by Jim Dowdell on November 27, 2009. Its bright white glow bathed us until December 9 of that year, and still does me whenever I think of it, even now, ten years later.

The ivory gull was seen by hundreds if not thousands of birders from near and far, and was photographed tens of thousands of times.

[ Younger versions of Doug Gochfeld and Melissa Roach. Photo by Scott Whittle.]

“Where were you when you first heard about the Ivory Gull?” I was in far northern New Jersey picking out a Christmas tree with my kids when I heard about the bird, which became the 420th species to be recorded in Cape May County. I knew full well the chances of that bird sticking another day were slim,but was perhaps less troubled than some others who couldn’t go the first day, because I had the amazing fortune to find the last Ivory Gull seen in New Jersey – 23 years before! That bird stayed mere hours before disappearing for good.

The next morning, back in Cape May, my daughter wanted to photograph the sunrise at the beach for her fine arts class, but around 8:00 a.m. my cell phone rang and the good, patient dad went from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde. Thereafter, almost every day of the Ivory Gull’s stay I found a reason to pay a visit, before work or for long hours on days off, and took a few thousand photos. Eventually I wrote on my blog, “This bird is like a drug, one I can’t walk away from.”

Late fall 2009 was a great time to be a birder in Cape May – the Ivory Gull starred with a supporting cast the likes of American White Pelicans and a long-staying Swainson’s Hawk, and especially, the many, many birders both local and from afar who comprise the Cape May Birding Community.

Yet my most poignant memory was late in the gull’s stay, waiting in the pre-dawn for it to arrive, with only a few fishermen around. I talked to one of them about the gull—believe me, we birders were noticed by the fishermen at the BreeZee Lee marina, and thanks to our overall good behavior were tolerated with some bemusement.

[Fish Crows on the cleaning table at the BreezeeLee Marina, enjoying the same fare the Ivory Gull did.]

One fisherman was fascinated with the bird, too.

“Is it here yet?”

“Not yet.”

“It’s different than a regular gull, flies fast, like a hawk or something,” he said. “They say it’s from the Arctic.”

“Yes. It follows Polar Bears.”

“Maybe a Polar Bear will show up here one day,” he joked.


Then the Ivory Gull flew in, like a dream.

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