A Rare Arctic Gull in Massachusetts | March 4, 1975
SALISBURY, Mass. — Telephones rang. The word was passed. Up and down the East Coast, dedicated men and women rose in the middle of the night, shouldered their equipment and drove hours through the darkness to take up their cold watches along the marshes and beaches here where the Merrimack River flows into the Atlantic. A Ross's gull had been seen. “This is the birding event of the century,” said a man who saw the gull yesterday.
Thus began a frenzy that brought birdwatching into the mainstream. The story was covered in all major newspapers and the Times article influenced both Time magazine and a crew from 60 Minutes to cover the story of birding going "bigtime". Peter Alden, who helped document the sighting, will recount the story and talk about "event birds" on an upcoming Plum Island fied trip. The talk will also honor Paul Miliotis, one of the trio who first identified the Ross's Gull.
Below are two accounts of the discovery with links to the archived articles.
American Birds, June, 1975
By Paul Miliotis and P.A. Buckley
What has been termed by many "the bird of the century'' , the winter-plumaged adult Ross's Gull that was seen in the flesh by thousands, broadcast on nationwide TV, graced page one of The New York Times and which appeared in virtually all major newspapers in the U.S. and many others throughout the world, began its rise to notoriety about 2:30 p.m. on a gray Sunday, March 2, 1975, as it fed on the incoming "tideline" at the mouth of the Merrimack River in Salisbury, Mass. (opposite Newburyport).
A small cluster of independent field observers were scanning the flocks of Bonaparte's Gulls when Walter Ellison of White River Jct., Vermont and Paul Miliotis spotted an odd gull in with the Bonaparte's. Ellison finally ventured that it looked like a Ross's Gull, and as it wheeled and dived for small floating prey, the diagnostic wedge-shaped tail, grey underwings and almost totally white head with delicate black bill and huge dark eyes convinced Miliotis that Ellison was absolutely correct.
Rushing to a phone, Miliotis called Paul Buckley. After an incredulous dialogue lasting but a few moments, Buckley grabbed his binoculars and cameras (but left his telescope behind in the rush), and he and Francine Buckley raced out the door to pick up neighbor Ken Harte, pausing only long enough to call Guy Tudor in New York City and set telephones ringing all over the U.S. and Canada. Setting what will probably stand for some time as the track record between Carlisle and Salisbury, they arrived on the Merrimack to find a large party of additional observers had already gathered at the scene, having also coincidentally been birding that day in the area. It was clear the bird had been satisfactorily identified. See Archive.
About Paul Miliotis
Paul was a top, all-around naturalist who loved sharing his knowledge of plants, dragonflies, butterflies and especially birds. He traveled extensively to pursue his passion and was well respected by many throughout the bird, insect and plant world for his knowledge and dedication to the birding and entomology community. In recent years he was a popular co-leader of frequent Plum Island and Cape Ann Spark Birding field trips. See his obituary.
New York Times, March 4, 1975
SALISBURY, Mass., March 3—Telephones rang. The word was passed. Up and down the East Coast, dedicated men and women rose in the middle of the night, shouldered their equipment and drove hours through the darkness to take up their cold watches along the marshes and beaches here where the Merrimack River flows into the Atlantic.
A Ross's gull had been seen.
“This is the birding event of the century,” said a man who saw the gull yesterday.
The Ross's gull, a small, gray‐winged seagull distinguished by a rosy chest marking, a wedge‐shaped tail, red feet and, in the summer, a black collar, is native to the Arctic. It breeds in northeastern Siberia and can sometimes be spotted in October off Point Barrow, Alaska.
The bird is rarely seen even in its own habitat, and this was the first record of its appearance on the East Coast of America.
There had been unconfirmed reports before, but yesterday a number of bird watchers here said that they had seen and identified the gull. Immediately, excited telephone calls spread throughout the bird‐watching community. By this morning, dozens of the East's most devout bird watchers were, well, flocking here.
Three telephone calls bearing news of the Ross's gull were made within the space of 10 minutes last night to the New York home of Roger Tory Peterson, who is to feathers what Julia Child is to egg whites.
At 3:45 this morning, Mr. Peterson, the author and editor of the series of small, bluebound Field Guides that are the nature lover's bibles, was on his way. See archive.