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A Ross's Gull at Poldhu

Andy Pay

I remember Monday 8th March 1988 was cold, as it always is on the Lizard when there's an east wind at that time of year (we were living in Mullion at the time). One of those days when I wouldn't have ventured out of the house had we not had a dog! By mid-morning I couldn't cope with her staring dolefully at me any longer so I wrapped up warm and set off in the car down the road to Poldhu. After parking in the lay-by over the bridge we made our way up the hill, with the beach below us to the left.

As I'd hoped, there was a loose flock of gulls standing around and I noticed a distinctly smaller one amongst some Black-headeds. I assumed it was the 1st winter Little Gull I'd seen there a few days earlier. Hunkering down amongst the grassy tussocks, I had a look through my bins: it was one of those moments when you literally can't believe what you're seeing. Tiny bill, big black eye, faint shawl around the neck...surely not? But, yes it was blindingly obvious.

I watched it for a few minutes and then I had to get a photo. Of course I'd left the camera at home. I ran back the hill (dragging the disconsolate dog) and we jumped back in the car. As I drove back over the bridge I saw an elderly man walking across to the beach with his dog. I jumped out, breathlessly told him about this incredibly rare bird and asked if he'd guard the beach until I got back with my camera. He was well up for it!

I got home, grabbed my camera and lens...damn, no film! I jumped back in the car, stopped outside the chemists, dived in, bought a 36 exposure slide film and a few minutes later screeched to a halt in the beach car-park. The sentry was still there - nobody else had arrived - and the Ross's was still standing where I'd left it. I got a few distant shots, watched it for a little longer, then the whole flock suddenly lifted up and flew back over the road, inland up the valley, taking the Ross's with them! Finally the dog got her walk and then it was home to phone Dave Flumm. He just said "No....."

Ross's Gull - phone shots of the original slide prints. Andy Pay

A number of us looked for it the following day but failed to find it, but on the Wednesday Liz Gynn from down west picked it up a far way out to sea off the cliffs. On Thursday and Friday it showed pretty well at times, but the crowd that arrived on Saturday were to be disappointed - it was refound at Plymouth that day.

This was the second Ross's Gull for Cornwall. The first was a single-observer fly-by off St.Ives in September 1977...

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