We arrived on site to find that the lake was frozen. This was not good news. After waking at 3am and making a 4.5 hour drive, this is not what any of us wanted to see. The area where the bird had been reliable was almost completely ice, although a few backlit gulls were painfully far away. While some birders tried to make any small, distant, backlit gull into a Ross's, we soon realized we were going to need a different strategy. We positioned ourselves in a situation with better light, but the majority of birds were still distant. We moved to the dam where there were pockets of open water. However, there were no birders here. Clearly this was going to be our best bet as we could actually identify birds with the light at our back. But where were all those other birders that left the first site?
Within 5 minutes of setting up our scopes, an eagle flew over and spooked the gulls enough to entice them to take flight. I watched a small flock of Bonaparte's Gulls in flight and, with them, the unmistakable Ross's Gull! The other birders from the Twin Cities were able to get on it as well and we all enjoyed seeing the bird.
There was one problem, though. While I was as happy as anyone to see this bird (not a life bird, but you can never see too many Ross's Gulls!), the bird was very distant. While scope views of the bird in flight were nice, it was clear that obtaining an identifiable picture was going to be a chore. I tried digiscoping the bird when it would sit on the water or ice, but, even with my scope jacked up to 60x, my digiscoping camera batter quickly died in the single digit temps. I was left with my SLR and 400mm lens. Every time the bird took flight I rattled off as many pictures as I could (after finding the bird in the viewfinder. At these distances, even that was a hassle). Right before we needed to leave, the bird flew in closer than it had before and, again, I rattled off a dozen or so pictures.
Imagine my surprise when a series of three photos, while absolutely horrible, actually are identifiable as a Ross's Gull!
I'm now super busy with finals and grad school things. I do still have a couple birds I want to track down in Minnesota before I leave, so keep an eye out for another blog post. I'll likely get out at least once or twice this week/weekend to break up all the studying I'll be doing!