A Ross’s gull has been spotted on Palmer Lake in Okanogan County by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Biologist Jeff Heinlen.
The Ross’s gull (Rhodostethia rosea), an East Siberian arctic species that normally winters at sea, has only been documented one previous time in the state— in late November and early December of 1994, near McNary Dam on the Columbia River.
“This is like a holiday present for bird watchers,” said Heinlen of Omak. “This is arguably the rarest bird currently in the state, and definitely worth a trip to the area to catch a sighting.”
Heinlen observed and photographed the Ross’s gull—a 13.5-inch-long adult in gray, white and pink plumage—resting on and flying over the lake Dec. 15 and 16. His sighting was confirmed by other wildlife biologists yesterday. Based on other non-arctic sightings of Ross’s gulls, biologists speculate the bird may remain in the area for a few weeks.
The first Ross’s gull to be seen in temperate North America was at Clover Point in Victoria, B.C., in October and November 1966—the sole British Columbia sighting to date. Another adult Ross’s gull was seen at Newburyport, Mass., in early 1975. Since then, an average of about one gull annually has been found in the United States south of the Canadian border.
In the Pacific Northwest states, the bird previously has only been seen on Yaquina Bay, Ore., in February and March of 1987 and in the 1994 McNary Dam sighting.
For those wishing to catch a glimpse of the gull, Palmer Lake is about 15 miles northwest of Tonasket, six miles south of the Canada border. Heinlen says there are two developed areas for public parking along the lake—the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Split Rock day-use site at the south end of the lake and a Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) campground on the eastern shore. There are restroom facilities at each of these areas.
Heinlen reminds anyone visiting the area to be respectful of private property and residents around the lake, and to refrain from blocking roads or driveways or trespassing.
Heinlen’s photograph of the Ross’s gull will be posted on WDFW’s Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/WashingtonFishWildlife. Others who see the bird are encouraged to share their sightings in the comments section of the post.
For more information on Ross’s gull, see http://identify.whatbird.com/obj/1059/overview/Rosss_Gull.aspx or http://www.birdweb.org/birdweb/bird/rosss_gull.