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Ivory Gull - December 7, 2009

Ivory Gull (imm.) at Cape May, New Jersey
 
For many years, Ivory Gull has sat at the very top of the list of birds I'd most like to see. That is to say, Number One. Having chased and missed several times in the past, and at other times having to endure daily reports of long-staying birds I could not break away to go after, it was easy for me to think I'd never actually catch up with one. Yeah, that's a foolish thought, but one wrought by two decades of futility in tracking one down.
 
By now, most everyone connected in any way to the birding internets knows of the most recent visit by this almost mythical species to the continental United States -- an immature at Cape May, New Jersey. Predictably, the bird had been present for 10 days, including staying over two weekends, before I was able to chase after it. It seemed to be shaping up as another typical chapter in the story of me and the Ivory Gull, wherein the entire eastern seaboard's worth of birders enjoy yet another close encounter with the bird, with me left playing the role of the poor sap to be among the first to miss it.
 
Fortunately, that didn't happen this time...

gull_ivory_cpemaynj_20091207_50d1_8284w.jpg
Canon 50D, 500mm f/4L + 1.4x, 1/2000 sec at f/9 (manual), ISO 320, tripod

To everyone's great delight, the bird fell into a predictable pattern shortly into its visit to southern New Jersey, spending its days at the Bree Zee Lee yacht basin on the northern side of Cape May Harbor. There it spent its days flying around the heads of observers and foraging on discarded fish guts below the cleaning dock used by fishermen at the harbor. In characteristic fashion, this bird showed zero fear of humans, and as a result often approached observers to within a few feet, allowing absurdly close scrutiny and photography.

gull_ivory_cpemaynj_20091207_50d1_8028w.jpg
Canon 50D, 500mm f/4L + 1.4x, 1/125 sec at f/8 (Av +1/3), ISO 400, tripod at ground level

gull_ivory_cpemaynj_20091207_50d1_8017w.jpg
Canon 50D, 500mm f/4L + 1.4x, 1/200 sec at f/8 (Av -1/3), ISO 400, tripod at ground level

The weather worked out perfectly the day I was there too. The morning started with a low cloud bank and a seriously cool sunrise, which allowed for some creative work with backgrounds. In the first below, the bird is actually standing in front of a red building which provided the deep rose color of the background. If the sun had been out from the start, this image would not have been possible, because the bird would have been strongly sidelit, and the building in deep shadow. In the second and third photos, the bird is captured in flight as it flew in front of a soft purplish sky, just before sunrise.

gull_ivory_cpemaynj_20091207_50d1_7989w.jpg
Canon 50D, 500mm f/4L + 1.4x, 1/60 sec at f/9 (Av -2/3), ISO 400, tripod

gull_ivory_cpemaynj_20091207_50d1_7865w.jpg
Canon 50D, 500mm f/4L, 1/400 sec at f/4 (Av +1 1/3), ISO 800, tripod

gull_ivory_cpemaynj_20091207_50d1_7910w.jpg
Canon 50D, 500mm f/4L, 1/500 sec at f/4 (Av +1 1/3), ISO 800, tripod

After about an hour, the sun broke through for the rest of the time I was there. In total I spent about six hours watching and photographing the bird. Eventually the camera was returned to the trunk and I just sat quietly on the docks watching the bird do its thing. An Ivory Gull, at last... and a day of birding that will be very hard to top.

gull_ivory_cpemaynj_20091207_50d1_8169w.jpg
Canon 50D, 500mm f/4L + 1.4x, 1/2500 sec at f/8 (manual), ISO 320, tripod

gull_ivory_cpemaynj_20091207_50d1_8239w.jpg
Canon 50D, 500mm f/4L + 1.4x, 1/2500 sec at f/8 (manual), ISO 320, tripod

gull_ivory_cpemaynj_20091207_50d1_8243w.jpg
Canon 50D, 500mm f/4L + 1.4x, 1/2500 sec at f/8 (manual), ISO 320, tripod

gull_ivory_cpemaynj_20091207_50d1_8289w.jpg
Canon 50D, 500mm f/4L + 1.4x, 1/2000 sec at f/9 (manual), ISO 320, tripod

gull_ivory_cpemaynj_20091207_50d1_8302w.jpg
Canon 50D, 500mm f/4L + 1.4x, 1/2000 sec at f/9 (manual), ISO 320, tripod

gull_ivory_cpemaynj_20091207_50d1_8303w.jpg
Canon 50D, 500mm f/4L + 1.4x, 1/2000 sec at f/9 (manual), ISO 320, tripod

Unless explicitly indicated otherwise in the photo caption, all photos on this website were taken by and are 2003-2012 by Geoff Malosh. Unauthorized usage of these photographs for any purpose is strictly forbidden. If you are interested in using any photo for publication or if you are interested in purchasing a print, contact me at pomarine -AT- earthlink -DOT- net.