Birdwatchers in Chicago are delighted because polar gulls rarely visit local beaches.


It was 8:15 on Saturday morning when Woody Goth’s phone started ringing.

Frustrated, he checks his screen to discover that one of his birding groups is baffling a small white seagull with distinctive black markings. The bird looked like a Ross Gull, a very rare visitor from the Arctic who last stopped for an extended stay on a Chicago-area beach in 1978.

But could it be?

A “gull person” among birdwatchers, Goth was never in doubt. He ran out of his house and drove from Lakeview to Rainbow Beach on the South Side “faster than I would give a reporter”.

And there it was, 2,000 miles from the ice home.

“This is the best thing for me, not just as a birder, but in my life,” said 34-year-old Goss.

The bird drew crowds of up to 200 people on Saturday and reappeared to delight onlookers at nearby Steelworkers Park on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to Jon Bates, curator of birds at Chicago’s Field Museum. , is exactly the long-awaited Ross Gull.

“It’s absolutely happening,” said Bates, who saw birds foraging on the Rainbow Beach shoreline on Saturday.

“Most of the time they’re just above the Arctic Circle, sometimes wandering as far below 48 degrees north latitude, but often they don’t stay very long. The idea of ​​being able to see it was really fun,” Bates said.

Larger than a gull, with a small black bill and a nice soft pink wash all over its chest and head during the breeding season, the Los Gull usually prefers places like Siberia, northern Canada and the icy Arctic Ocean. .

A Ross Gull in Chicago's Rainbow Beach Park on March 11, 2023.

But every few years, for reasons that are not clearly understood, one of these nutrient-rich little seabirds makes its way south to the United States, says Bates. These visits can be very short. About 12 years ago, a Ross Gull was spotted on Montrose Beach. Birdwatchers say one got a good photo and the gulls are gone.

What really excites the birding community is when the seagulls of Los Angeles slowly drop by. The last time it happened in Cook County he was in 1978.

A few years earlier, a Los Gull appeared near Boston, attracting crowds of up to 3,000 people, according to The New York Times.

“You never know where it will end up. That’s why it has this kind of mythical reputation,” Goss said.

This time, the famous bird makes its first appearance at Park 566, just north of Steelworkers Park. Her 68-year-old Dan Rowley in Hyde Park was on her usual bird walk when she spotted an unusual bird in the corner of her eye. He thought it might be Bonaparte’s gulls or black-legged bees, but after consulting his guides in the field, he had only one really meaningful identification.

Lory posted a photo of the bird on the Cook County Bird Chat and didn’t even dare to say what he thought he had found, but the rest of the group confirmed his suspicions and within an hour Nearly 100 people arrived at the scene.

Among those who have seen the bird recently is former accountant John Vilamontes, 71, who lives in the Belmont Kuragin area. During a break from his beach search yesterday, he pulled out a picture on his camera. The photo showed a young Ross with his characteristic M-shaped black markings along his gull’s upper wing. short black beak. A wedge-shaped tail is a dapper.

Woodstock lab manager Amanda Parrish, 37, managed to see the birds despite crutches and a broken ankle. She returned Wednesday with friends from the Audubon Society of McHenry County.

Also present was Greg Neise, webmaster for the American Bird Society and a long-time birder in Chicago.

Neise left his West Suburban home while the bird was still seen in Steelworkers Park in Chicago’s South District, but by the time he arrived, it had flown north and disappeared. .

“This is a 45-year story,” Neise sighs. In 1978, Ross, who was only 15 years old when he saw the seagulls, was on Avenue Beach to see what was going on. As the blizzard of 1978 began, birdwatchers stood their ground. Someone spotted a seagull and Nyse ran over. Two experienced birders said to him, “There it is,” and as they said the bird got up and began to fly.

“When I caught it with my binoculars, it flew off into the snowstorm. I never saw enough to identify it myself,” Neisse said.

Then, 10 years ago, I tried again. He was able to see a Ross Gull in Cherry Creek, Colorado.

“It flew in, and as I got closer the camera malfunctioned and it came right in front of me,” said Neisse.

Neisse joined about 15 birdwatchers at Steelworkers Park, a trash-strewn field perched on the copper-colored waters of Lake Michigan. The wind blew and his fingers stiffened, but the mood was upbeat as a birder with a powerful scope attached to his tripod peered down the waterway where birds had been seen earlier in the day.

Greg Nyes, who last saw the slip at Steelworkers Park on Chicago's South Side, March 15, 2023, returns home without a glimpse of the rare Ross Gull.
A Ross Gull walks through Chicago's Rainbow Beach Park on March 11, 2023.

Birders came from Ohio, Michigan, and Minnesota.

“It’s just a nice day for a drive. Keep your fingers crossed,” says Chris, a 30-year-old birder of Berien County, Michigan, who trekked with her teacher husband, Dennis Fortin. Knutson said.

Darlene Friedman, a former veterinarian who drove in from the Detroit area with a friend, said she missed the seagulls by about 15 minutes.

Neisse spent Wednesday afternoon at Steelworkers Park, holding a forearm-sized camera and chatting with Bader’s fellow Tom Larry of Chicago. They stared at the pale winter skies, examined the bright seas, and guessed the location of their targets.

“It could be sitting in a grassy field and just lazing around,” Neisse said.

“It could be slipping in 92nd,” thought Larry.

A bird appeared. A male red-fleshed mermaid with a jade-green mohawk has settled on a small beach across from a birdwatcher, as if patiently waiting for his close-up.

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A kestrel, America’s smallest peregrine falcon, perches high in a tree with bright orange markings. Using one of his on Bader’s scopes, he could even see the tiny paws of mice that the birds held in their claws.

A snow-white seagull soared majestically overhead. The red-winged blackbird called it an electric “tweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee”.

Still, birdwatchers waited.

Finally, around 6pm, when the sky over the lake turned faintly red and dusk was approaching, Neisse was ready to leave. Paying tribute to his previous bad luck with the Los Gulls, he told a crowd of about 20 that the birds he had missed about an hour earlier in the day were likely to show up within 15 minutes of their departure. .

When asked how he was doing, he laughed and declared that defeat was “a matter of course.”

“Decades of disappointment!” said Neise. “You have to say, ‘Pile up!’ I’ll take it. ‘”


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Written by Natalia Chi

Chicago Popular; Chicago breaking news, weather and live video. Covering local politics, health, traffic and sports for Chicago, the suburbs and northwest Indiana.

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