One of FWL Ross’ most significant specimens was a great black-headed gull and to this day it is the only reliable record of this bird having been seen in the UK. Ross writes, ‘Among the many objects of natural history which have been discovered during past months may be noted the following remarkable bird. This bird, to which may be applied the term giant of the black headed gulls, was shot by a boatman, Mr William Pine, while fishing for bass in the river off Exmouth, about the end of May or the beginning of June 1859; it was in company with a flock of ordinary gulls. Its remarkable size and appearance attracted the attention of the boatman, who, having his gun with him, singled it out, and fortunately obtained the bird which has since kindly been presented by the above-mentioned gentleman to the writer. The usual locality of the bird is the shores of the Caspian sea, but it is also recorded as having been found on the shores of the Red Sea, the Ganges, and the Ionian Islands, as well as accidentally on the margins of the Danube in Hungary. One is led to suppose that this is by no means a common bird as examples are rarely seen in collections.’
This bird was almost certainly blown off course or became lost while migrating from Russia or Mongolia to the Mediterranean.