Ivory Gull – Aldeburgh, Suffolk

On Tuesday 7th December a 1st winter Ivory Gull was located on the east coast of Suffolk at Aldeburgh. This most northerly of all birds breeds along-side Polar Bears and in the winter ventures no further south than northern Iceland, 1,250 miles away. In Britain therefore sightings are rare, restricted to an average of 1-2 per year and usually in the Northern Isles. Twitching one is therefore difficult.

Having my pager at work now that I’m office based can be very unsettling particularly when there is a major rarity in the country and I have no way of getting to see it. Having spent all day Tuesday thinking about the gull I decided to leave my pager at home on Wednesday but couldn’t resist ringing birdline to check whether the bird was still present, it was.

On Wednesday night Ian Lewis rang me to say that Roger and Terry were going the next day. He couldn’t go until the weekend and wondered whether I was available. There was no way I could get time off work mid-week and I also explained that I couldn’t go at the weekend as it was my father-in-law’s 65th birthday party. We were also visiting a college mate in London on Saturday and travelling back on Sunday.

Although I was on holiday from the Monday onwards I did not expect the gull to still be present and so I made no long term plans to visit Suffolk. I rang Peter on the Thursday and got a recorded message saying that he was away for the day, I assumed that he was in Suffolk.

While in Guildford with Paul & Jo on the Sunday morning, and with the bird still present, I talked to Sara about how I could get to Suffolk during the following week’s holiday. We ended up with the suggestion that I would travel up very early Tuesday morning, assuming the bird was still present, and get back to Poole before 2:30pm so that I could pick Nicola up from School and then take her to dancing. I calculated that this would mean getting up at about 3am on Tuesday morning and then driving for a total of 8 hours and 470 miles!!

The bird was still at Aldeburgh on Monday afternoon and so I rang Peter & Nick to see if they were interested (James didn’t need it and I assumed that Roger had already gone). Nick said he’d ring me back if he fancied it, he didn’t. Peter said he’d think about it and that he’d ring me back later.

When he rang back he asked whether I could do him a favour as follows: We would arrange to meet at a service station on the M3/M4 leave one car and then go to Aldeburgh. On the way back we would drive to central London, to Oxford Circus and back out of the other side of London to the car. Peter wanted to pick up his new TV & Video form Zeno in Central London. After thinking about it I decided that with a London detour I wouldn’t make it back to Poole in time and so we reluctantly agreed that I would go on my own. Peter was too tired to come down to Poole on Monday night and then for us to go to Suffolk in his car on Tuesday morning – this would have solved our problem as it would have meant that we could have been out all day with Sara having access to the Escort.

At 10pm just as I was falling asleep the phone rang, it was Peter with another suggestion. We would meet at South Mimms Service station, transfer into one car and then head to Aldeburgh. On the way back I would drop Peter off at South Mimms, he would carry on into London and I would head home. This is what we agreed. At about 5am Peter paged me while I was on the M25 to say that he may be slightly late as the roads were treacherous with ice in Gloucestershire. I hadn’t noticed how bad the roads were until I got out of the car at South Mimms and was astonished to see the tarmac below my feet thick with ice!!. At 5:45am Peter arrived, he got into my car and we headed off. On the way up I was flashed by a speed camera (and later fined £40 and penalised 3 points).

We arrived in Aldeburgh at about 7:45am. After 10 minutes of getting ready we left the car and wandered over to the favoured beach. The first bird I saw was a largish, bulky gull – a brilliant white colour. It was tugging at a fish carcass , this was clearly the bird!

It was fairly tame and allowed close views only flying on about 4 occasions. It was bitterly cold and in the end Peter went back to the car to warm up. I was determined to get some field sketches completed and so I tried to ignore the cold.

The most obvious features were the chunky common gull size, strikingly white coloration, blackish messy face, green based & yellow/red tipped bill, short black legs and black tips to the bottom two tertials and the visible five primaries and several other wing covert feathers.

Having completed a rather brief field painting we headed off, it was about 9:30am. I dropped Peter of at South Mimms at 11:30 and arrived home at 1:30pm.

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