There is an old saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I remember my late father reciting an old Limerick which had lines which said…’my face I don’t mind it, for I am behind it’…..
All of these thoughts came flooding into my mind a few weeks ago at Tacumshin. Lake, in Co. Wexford. I had dropped in to see a first-winter Ivory Gull that had been there for almost two weeks. This was my third Irish Ivory Gull. Lets face it, looking at the photograph above, you have to admit that these birds really would not win a beauty contest with their dirty faces, black spotted white plumage and their disgusting habit of hanging out and feeding on rotting whale and dolphin carcases.
Yet, ask anyone who has encountered them what they think of Ivory Gulls and they will be gushing in their comments about how super they are. So what is it about Ivory Gull that gets a birders heart going?
A Hypnotic Charm
Well, in trying to answer that let me tell you about my first Ivory Gull. It was an adult bird which, unlike the dirty-looking first winters, are actually stunningly beautiful. It was on a very cold winters day at Kinsale Harbour in Cork. It had a pure white plumage, a deep dark eye and a bluish, yellowish, greenish –tinged bill. It was lovely. In fact, this bird had such a hypnotic influence on the gathered crowd of admirers, that no-one noticed a stranger walking amongst our group, lifting up a camera and tripod, and walking away with it! It was only when the bird had moved off that we realised that someone’s gear had been robbed. That’s how good adult Ivory Gulls are!
But first winters just don’t have that kind of beauty. No, their beauty lies in everything else. Firstly, these birds are among the most northern breeding species in the world…they breed as far north as 85 degrees N. if you’ve seen pictures of Polar Bears with a seal kill…those gulls scavenging alongside them…they’re usually Ivory Gulls. So the first impressive thing is that they really have come a long way to be here. You have to admire that.
My Face I Don't Mind It....
Then it’s that dirty face and big eye. They are so odd-looking and sort of ugly, they have a beauty of their own. They look at you and almost say…’my face I don’t mind it for I am behind it’. They are like big street pigeons and even walk like that.
However the real charm of Ivory Gull is in their tameness. They have no fear. I have written about birds not having fear in the past but Ivory Gulls beat all. They just look at you and ignore you. The bird photographed above was feeding away while I stood no more than 3 metres away…I needed to back up to get some shots. It was totally oblivious to my presence. As far as it was concerned, I was insignificant in it’s world. It sort of put me in my place in the grand scheme of things. I like that. I even hear that some birders were taking ‘selfies’ with the bird with their smartphones.
For me, Ivory Gull is truly among the gull of gulls. When you meet one, you can’t help being charmed and being cast under it’s spell. I would recommend anyone who gets a chance to see Ivory Gull to take that opportunity…and you will then know exactly what I mean.
Eric D Birdman