Saturday, February 03, 2007

Ivory Gull

On this day in 1940, Herbert Cutler found a dead Ivory Gull washed up on the beach at Island Beach in Ocean County. He was accompanied by William Yoder, Jr., Quintin and Evelyn Kramer, Morris Finkel and Jack Herre (Cutler 1940). The bird was an adult; the specimen is now in the collection of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia.

Cutler's Ivory Gull note appears in a special section of the Auk devoted to unusual bird records stemming from the harsh weather in the winter of 1939-1940. Ivory Gulls were seen in larger numbers than normal in the Gulf of St. Lawrence (Taverner 1940) and one made it as far south as Mt. Desert Island in Maine (Sullivan 1940). The NJ bird was the most southerly record up to that time, but it was clearly part of a larger pattern.

Apart from the cold weather, another unusual circumstance contributed to this record. Although the United States had yet to enter World War II in January 1940, German U-boats were patrolling the north Atlantic. As Walters (2004) puts it, "There was the time when German U-Boats were sinking ships off the Jersey Coast, casting oiled seabirds inland, many to their deaths. Right on the spot appeared the 'Dead Birding Clan': Dave [Cutler] and a gang of others (the Kramers, Harry Goldstein, and Herb Cutler). They picked up dozens of dead alcids in several weekends of systematic beach surveys...Herb Cutler found the first dead Ivory Gull ever for New Jersey on one of these weekends."

There have only been two other NJ Ivory Gull records since 1940; one was at Manasquan Inlet from 28 January to 5 February 1955. The other appeared at Lake Como on the North Shore on 10 February 1986, then reappeared at Liberty State Park on 16 February. From this spread of dates, one can conclude that late January and early February is the right season for an Ivory Gull in NJ, but the steady increase in climate warming suggests that this is one of the least likely vagrants to visit NJ in the future.

Cutler, Herbert S. 1940. Ivory Gull in New Jersey. Auk 57:403-404. PDF here
Sullivan, Maurice. 1940. Ivory Gull from Mount Desert Island, Maine. Auk 57:403. PDF here
P. A. Taverner. 1940. Ivory Gulls in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Auk 57:402-403. PDF here
Walters, Chris. 2004. Adventures in Birding: The Dave Cutler Story. Philadelphia Larus 31(1):1, 4-5. PDF here

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