The 1931 Donaghadee Ivory Gull

Thanks to a contribution from Tom Ennis, the record of the 1931 Donaghadee Ivory Gull has been re-assessed by the committee.

In reviewing this record NIBARC fully agreed with Tom Ennis and the 1931 record of an Ivory Gull at Donaghadee in 1931 has been removed from the NI List. There are two other records; a well-documented first-winter bird at Bangor (Down) during December 1978 and a first winter bird (photographed by one lucky observer) near the River Lagan, Newforge on the 2nd March 1989. Of the high Arctic pair (Ross’s Gull and Ivory Gull), the latter remains by far the most rare in Ireland.

The comments from Tom are below: 

I have been interested in this record for some time but I have only recently been successful in finding any documentation to substantiate the record. I have discovered that it was recorded in British Birds Vol. XXIV pp372-373 and I have managed to get a look at what was published in the Notes section of that issue.

My interest in this record stemmed from the fact that the bird appeared to be a long stayer, which is not very usual in this species. More commonly Ivory Gulls are only present for a few days and then “disappear”.

When I read this note I was surprised that there was no description of the plumage at all. I assume therefore that it was taken to be an adult Ivory Gull as had it been immature, the observer would surely have remarked on the black spotting and darkish face. He does go on to make statements about the bird which are not in accord with any of the Ivory Gulls I have seen. He contrasts it with the Black-headed Gulls and he states that “the somewhat greater length and more slender build of the Ivory appear accentuated.” Elsewhere he states that in flight “the Tern-like manner of the Ivory is very noticeable”. In my experience Ivory Gulls are plump and Pigeon-like and I have never come across anything tern-like in their appearance. While an Ivory Gull is bigger and bulkier than a Black-headed Gull “somewhat greater length”, although imprecise, concerns me. In describing its flight he states that its “superior grace and lightness of wing” not only separate it from the Black-headed Gulls but also from the Herring Gulls. Again this sounds more in line with his earlier statement of tern-like. He also mentions that he was struck by the intimacy (he emphasizes this) between it and the Herring Gulls. According to the literature Ivory Gulls are often aggressive to other species and are not renowned for their conviviality. Nevertheless a lost and tired bird may behave very differently from its norm.

Observers in 1931 did not have the field guides and other sources of knowledge which are available to us today. The Handbook of British Birds had not yet been published and it was well into the 1950s before the first practical methods of separating Iceland and Glaucous Gulls in the field were known. Accepting that the observer has used a degree of hyperbole in his note, I think there is nothing he has written that would not equally well apply to a white phase first winter or second winter Iceland Gull. I do not say that this definitely was not an Ivory Gull but I think it is far from proven and I do not see how it can stand as a first Northern Ireland record of Ivory Gull. A copy of the relevant pages from British Birds Vol. XXIV is below:

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