Outdoors

Rare Ross's gull spotted in Okanogan County

A rare sighting of a Ross's gull in Okanogan County was documtented in this photo by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Jeff Heinlen. (Jeff Heinlen / Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)
A rare sighting of a Ross's gull in Okanogan County was documtented in this photo by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Jeff Heinlen. (Jeff Heinlen / Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)

WILDLIFE WATCHING — A rare sighting of a Ross’s gull has been reported 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 been  documented only one previous time in the state— in late November and early December of 1994, near McNary Dam on the Columbia River, the agency reports.

“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.”

Closer to home, a “gull bonanza” is underway at Lake Coeur d'Alene, according to Coeur d'Alene Audubon Society members. Hundreds of herring gulls, as well as glaucous, lesser black-backed, Thayer's, Mew and ring-billed gulls have been reported from Wolf Lodge Bay south to Blue Bay. 

Read on for details about the Ross's gull from a WDFW media release.

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.




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Rich Landers

Rich Landers’ Outdoors blog


Rich Landers writes and photographs stories for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including a Sunday feature section and a Thursday column. He also writes the Outdoors Blog.


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