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The Grateful Gull

Monday, February 9, 2015

Liam and I, turned loose in Florida, when the Weather Gods decided to smile instead of crap on us. It was in the upper 60's and 70's for the duration of our visit, and only rained one night and the next morning. The reason I'm blogging this now is because it is unconscionably dreary here in them Mid-Ohio Valley right now. 40's and drizzly and gray. Not complaining, mind you, for all of you buried under yards of snowpack. Grateful. Just pinin' for the F'lords.

You never know when a walk on the beach is going to turn into a rescue mission. Liam and I saw this beautiful juvenile bluefish swimming wan figure eights in a tidepool. The tide was receding, and the lovely opalescent bluefish was clearly doomed to become gull food. 

The problem was how to catch a very fast fish with sharp spiny fins and a good set of razor-sharp teeth with only one's bare hands. Which, by the way, one uses to make one's living. I studied on this little dilemma as I walked a short distance past the fish.  I could have kept walking, which was what I wanted to do. But I couldn't leave it there to die. 

Being a landlubber, I don't have much practice catching fast toothy spiny fish bare-handed. Noodling, I believe they call it. I tried the Direct Grab, and the fish wisely nipped me. OK. Direct Grab, bad.

Thought some more with my big brain, like the hunter-gatherer I was designed to be. Aha! Got it. I cornered the fish in the deepest part of its pool and with both hands swept a big wave of water, including the fish, out onto the flat sand.

In moments I had it safely contained and on its way to freedom.

photo by Liam Thompson, who accompanied me to release it just back of the breakers. Yay.

Better luck next tide, Fish.

We hadn't gone another ten minutes of breathing salt air, walking on perfect wet sand and listening to waves when I heard a willet give a sharp, urgent, keening call I'd never heard before. It was clearly sounding an alarm, but for what? I followed the bird's gaze 

far down the beach to a woman with a fishing pole, and a small white gull, grounded, facing a man. 

Oh, that's not good. 

As I ran toward the scene I could see the man was afraid to approach the gull, and that it was tangled in his line and would only get more tangled the more it flapped. Well. We'll see about that.

I swooped in there like a big ol' bird and in one grab had the gull by the back of its neck with its wings tucked under my arm. It bit me a lot, but ordinary bird bites don't bother me in the least, because I was  perforated for 23 years by the best biter that ever lived. She could crack a Brazil nut in one go. Enormous masseter muscles; tremendous crushing power; piercing tip and shearing mandible. By comparison, a nip from a laughing gull is a loving tickle. 

I didn't bite you that much. I just bit you good. 
Yes, you did, Charlie, like a good parrot should. 

Back in my parrot-keeping days, I remember talking with a guy from whom I was buying a used cage. From the look of his hands, he'd handled a lot of parrots. Ever the reporter, I asked him about it. He said the bites didn't hurt him any more. "You get bit enough, the nerves die back." Niiice. Let's all handle parrots until our nerves die back. Then we wouldn't need to scoop bluefish out of tidepools like a wussy. We could just grab those runners with our nerveless hands.

I still have nerves in my hands, and want to keep them, so I secured the little laugher's pointy part, but not before he scored bigtime on my poor titty, whose nerves, despite baby Phoebe and Liam's best efforts, have clearly not died back. How do they know to stab humans where it hurts most? Not slow, these larids. Titty twisters.

I held the gull while the fisherman unwound his line, then Liam shot a commemorative photo of the happy bird-whisperer, and I joyfully hoisted the gull back into the air, to live and laugh again. That was sweet, to give it its freedom, with two still usable wings as a bonus. Monofilament is not kind to bird bones.

We'd been at the beach 20 minutes and already rescued two creatures. I guess we came at the perfect moment. Or we were the right people for the moment. Nobody else on the beach, I noticed, batted an eye or turned around when the willet started shrieking. To my ear, it might as well have been screaming, 


It's all about tuning into what the birds are saying, all the time. Being more huntergathery.

Our hunting and gathering at the lovely Quality Inn seemed to be strictly limited to carbohydrates. Man. I look at these hotel breakfast bars and there is literally nothing the Atkins adherent or Paleogal in me wants to eat. Liam is another story. Malted waffles, cinnamon rolls, English muffins, biscuits with lumpy white gravy...that's just pure breakfast heaven for him. Part of what is unfair about life is that a 15 year old boy can turn that stuff into several feet of python-lean beauty, growing up instead of straight out. His 50 something mother can only watch and marvel and have a half-bowl of Raisin Bran, a guilty pleasure I save strictly for motel stays. It's a sugar bomb, probably the worst of all breakfast cereals. At least motels are consistent in their choices.

We thought the gators looked very well-fed at Merritt Island NWR. They're not eating flapjacks for breakfast.

Little blue heron has that lean and hungry look I dig. An avian javelin, perfection in slate and mauve.

If you can't get a good photo of a little blue heron in Titusville, you're doin' it rong.

We saw more roseate spoonbills this trip than ever. What a treat! And this immature bird has yet to go bald, to show its slightly icky chewing-gum green scalp. I've always wondered why the white Eurasian spoonbill manages to keep its nice white hair, and ours goes bald. 

Miraculous bird, the spoonbill. Another gift.

As was that evening's sunset on Biolab Road.  A good day with my sweet boy in the rare, warm sun.


Envious of "Better luck next tide, fish."

Thanks for the rescues!

To your many titles we can add 'the Willet Whisperer'...

Lovely post. Made me homesick for Florida, even though I just visited a few times and I'm enjoying the same weather while visiting in south Louisiana.

At Okefenokee, there was an alligator with only one eye. Another volunteer naturalist said that when the alligators go after the herons/egrets, the birds aim for their eyes first. Maybe you are on to something there.

Envious of your experience, even tho I've lived here all my life. Maybe next time... :-( At least The Fink Raymond had a birthday party as consolation. :-)

Yeah, BW, it absolutely killed me to miss my three favorite Crackers in my once-every-four-years visit to your heavenly home. DANG IT. How can I get y'all in trouble if you don't show up for the appointment??
xo jz

I'm a great believer in synchronicity; not only was the right person there at the right time, but you were supposed to be there to rescue these creatures. Why? Who knows? Most people live their lives without even noticing what happens around them in nature. It's their loss, really. Thank you for yet another post that lifts my spirits.

Pinin' for the F'lords. HA!

Also - I think it's wonderful that the Willet was shouting about the Gull. And, of course, that you were there to understand with your not yet nerveless opposable thumbs to fix it! Brilliant.

*and fix it* not to fix it. Pfft.

That's why I love being on the beach, never a dull moment. (Well, and the salt air, and the damp sand under my bare feet, and the sun, and ... uh, where was I?)

Oh, nice job on the crises intervention! Very "un-touristy"!

Marilyn, you have to wonder if and how gators know to leave herons/egrets alone; if there's some kind of cultural transmission that what happened to One-Eye can happen to you. Perhaps they send each other pictures of the event and thus know how to avoid it in the future. I've only handled one great blue heron and one red-throated loon. Scared to death of them. They know where to hit you--in the eye-- and are so lightning-fast you've got only once chance to grab them and get it right.
Mimi, as you know, I'm right with you on synchronicity. :)

I think the major thing with alligators and birds, is that they can't chew, and they can't digest feathers very well.

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