I’ll let GreatBirdPics member Hmeade2108 tell the story:
I still can’t believe what happened this past Saturday. My Grandpa and I got up early and started to drive out to western DuPage County to try and find some new birds for the year. We were getting close to our destination when my phone started to buzz a little more than normal. I glanced down and saw a message on a GroupMe chat that said “Dan Lory has a Ross’s Gull at 566.” I literally didn’t know what to think. I saw the picture and it was definitely a Ross’s Gull, but what the heck was one doing in Illinois?
These birds are one of the most sought after gulls, if not birds in the United States. Most birders who want to see one have to go up to Barrow, Alaska (northernmost city in the world) in October to see this species migrate past on their annual migration to western Alaska. However, they will occasionally (maybe once every 5ish years) pop up somewhere in the lower 48 states, showing up in completely unpredictable locations, making them one of the most sought after gull species in the ABA area.
So after seeing this alert come across on my phone, we exited the highway as soon as we could, swung by home to pick up my Dad, and raced off to the south side of Chicago to see this bird. When we arrived we almost immediately got eyes on the bird at the south beach at Rainbow Beach, along with hundreds of other birders, some coming from as far as central Indiana. I’m certain more birders will come in, probably as far as the other sides of the country to see this guy if he continues to be seen. We watched for well over 2 hours as the bird made several close passes along the beach, oftentimes coming under 10 feet from the massive crowd of birders, completely oblivious to its fame.
After that chaotic Saturday, the bird disappeared Sunday and still wasn’t refound on Monday, despite birders checking the Lake Michigan lakefront from Wisconsin to Indiana. But on Tuesday (3-14-23) the bird magically reappeared again at Chicago’s Park 566 once again. As I type this (4:58pm on 3/14/23) the bird is still being seen on Chicago’s south lakefront.
I’m still shocked at what happened Saturday, getting the chance to watch an extremely rare bird that never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined would show up in Illinois. For one day “Chicago was at the center of the birding world.”
What an exciting tale! Other GreatBirdPics members got down there, too, and shared some pictures of this mega-rarity.
Here’s one of Hmeade2018’s pics of it flying by.
Our Emil Baumbach was there as well and got a shot of the gull swimming in Lake Michigan.
Birder2011 was there too. Click on her pic (and Emil’s above) to read their impression of the day they saw this sought after bird.
So where’s my picture? I was vaguely aware that a rare bird was seen downtown but I chose not to go down to see it. Why? Because I didn’t know how rare it was. Some things come up as “rare” in my eBird Needs Alerts but they turn out to be not-so-rare after all. Informed birders (like the three above) knew right away how very rare the Ross’s Gull is and jumped on it. There is a lesson to be learned here – know your birds – particularly the rarities so you don’t miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (like I did).
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