Those birds are indeed more than hard to come by.
The intrepit North American birder can either visit Alaska in late summer for Ross's and Newfoundland in winter for Ivory, or hope for an odd chance of seeing both birds as vagrants in the lower 48 at some stage in their life, however unlikely that may be.
European birders striving to catch a glimpse of either of these species face even tougher challenges: Ivory Gulls can be found breeding on the remote islands of Svalbard far to the North of northern Norway and may thus be seen during a visit to this (almost) remotest of Europe's corners, but there is no area where one may chance upon a Ross's with any rate of reliability. A few winters spent sea-watching on the Norwegian coast, on Iceland or the Shetland Island or along the harsh winter west coasts of the British Isles may lead to a certain probability for a vagrant record, but this is just about as good as it gets.
Then came this winter, and things changed.
First of all, this winter has seen a small influx of Ivory Gulls to northern Europe. Well, a handful (or slightly less) birds have been found scattered widely across the coasts of the continent, so an influx is a rather strong word, but due to the scarcity of records in other winters we'll just call this year's birds an influx and leave it at that.
Before you start wondering why I started this story in the first place, rest asured that I - of course - did not see any of those Ivory Gulls. In fact, I have not seen any Ivory Gulls at all, which is a shame. But this winter was so peculiar that I just have to point it out to North American readers who may not be aware of the implications it has on searching for the species.
So here we go ...
Despite the occurence of a few birds in the North of the continent, European birders were quite surprised when news came out from France of a bird found on the country's south-west coast, close to the border with Spain. Now, an Ivory Gull is an extremely unusual and rare bird even along the northern coast of France, but this far to the South, it is absolutely astounding. Here are some pictures of the bird.
But ... it even got better. A few days ago, a handful of Dutch birders sought shelter from the winter's miseries in their country and went to the arid landscapes of central Spain. And while scanning through the Mediterranean avian goodies of a lagoon complex south of Madrid, they chanced upon an adult ... now sit down, please ... Ross's Gull!
While the fact that this is only the third ever for Spain alone goes to show how unusual this record is, the additional facts that it is an adult bird and that it was found as far inland as a gull can go in Spain makes it just completely incredible.
Here is a video of the bird, which already is quite smething to see. But if you scroll down this gallery on surfbirds, you'll find a picture from February 21st 2009 of it swimming amongst a small group of Flamingoes, right below a picture of the Fench Ivory.
Have you ever seen a Ross's Gull together with Flamingos? I sure haven't. In fact, this is likely the most bizzare assembly of species I have ever seen on a single photograph.
Maybe I should sort of translate the whole incident to birding in North America, as most of my readers do the majority of their birding there and even though they are surely aware of Europe's geography, they might be less familiar with bird distributions on the East side of the Atlantic:
The magnitude of this incident is comparable to an Ivory Gull being found on the coasts of Georgia while an Alabama inland lake hosts a Ross's at the same time.
So there you have it. Kind of makes defining your target species for future birding trips a pretty difficult thing to do. But hey, we always knew gulls were full of surprises.