Ross's gull at Lodmoor RSPB (Dorset)
© Peter Coe
Ross's gull at Lodmoor RSPB (Dorset)
Ross's gull measures little more than a blackbird but is adapted to life in some of the most inhospitable seas on Earth, searching for food on the edge of the polar ice cap.

It breeds in Northern Greenland, Canada as well as Siberia and only rare drifts southwards.

Yet over the past few days, the snowy white gull has been delighting twitchers at the RSPB's Lodmoor reserve in Dorset.

For many, Ross's gull is the most beautiful of its family, with its dove-like features, diamond-shaped tail and white plumage suffused with pink.

They only turn up in exceptional circumstances every few years, and the arrival of bird on the South Coast even got mentioned in dispatches from the Met Office this week.

Met Office Spokesman Grahame Madge declared: "Birdwatchers in Weymouth have been excited by the appearance of a Ross's gull - an extremely visitor from Arctic Siberia.

"It is not unusual for birds to move in response to weather, but it is extremely unusual for weather to catch up with the movements of birds.

"If it stays, it will be extremely surprised to encounter weather conditions feeling much more like its Siberian homeland: a severe blow if the bird's intention was to get some winter warmth."

The very first Ross's gull recorded in UK was found on the Shetland island of Whalsay in 1936, exactly 100 years after Captain Ross became famous for sailing into the dangerous icy waters of Baffin Bay to rescue 11 trapped whaling ships.

Exactly where the Dorset gull originates from is open to speculation.

It may well have headed westwards through the Kara and Barents Seas to reach Europe or, more likely, headed down from the frigid waters off Greenland.

Meteorologists have been reporting unseasonably high winter temperatures in the northernmost reaches of Greenland at near freezing point, degrees warmer than those experienced in Britain during the current bitter Siberian airflow.

Paul Stancliffe, British Trust for Ornithology, "For its small size Ross's gull has to be among the toughest of gulls. Ordinarily, it moves no further south in the winter than the edge of the Canadian Arctic ice shelf, spending several months in sub-zero temperatures.

"For me, Ross's gull always conjures up images of wooden sailing ships trapped in ice, being visited by small white angels, as the men on board thought they were.

"It seems rather fitting that one should visit Dorset during an icy blast from the east."