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Gulls Hunting Spider Crabs

Gulls Hunting Spider Crabs-1880

 

Field Note:

30,000 years before Athena acquired her owl, birds of prey had already captured the human imagination. The single owl among the cave paintings of Chauvet is solid proof. Falconry was practiced in ancient Mesopotamia, the Japan of the Kamakura Shogunate, Genghis Kahn’s Mongolia and in Medieval Europe. Birds of prey are mentioned in Dante and in Shakespeare.

Seagulls? Not so much (Chekhov notwithstanding).

Gulls Hunting Spider Crabs-0717

We have all heard the epithets: Garbage Gulls, Rats with Feathers. Even the ornithologists, quick to point out there is no such species as a “seagull” call them kleptoparasites (meaning parasitic thieves). In lay terms: Stupid Seagull. Nuisance. Pest. The most annoying of birds…

That’s what we call them.

Gulls Hunting Spider Crabs-1110

This is a failure not of imagination, but of observation. Gulls in general, and Herring Gulls in particular are the brightest bulbs on the shore. Gulls are great hunters. There is no seaborne food source they cannot advantage. Every kind of crab, shellfish, bate fish, scraps of bunker left by ravenous schools of striped bass and blues, the shiners when the pool in close to shore, even insects (including the near-invisible things they catch in late summer, on the wing), all this is on the plate.

Gulls Hunting Spider Crabs-2027

Then, there is the tendency to assume seagulls and certainly those within the same species, are all alike. Also not true. Herring gulls have distinct physiognomies, different personalities and individual voices all of which any human who pays attention can learn to distinguish. Gulls recognize each other, individually, and extend that same recognition to us, as individual human beings. Feed a seagull, be remembered. Harm one? They will remember that, too.

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My favorite time and place for watching gulls is any sand spar at low tide. Black-backed gulls as the name implies have wings and bodies that are black on top. They are our largest gulls. Herring gulls are blue-gray on top and have a pronounced red spot on their bills. Among herring gulls the males are larger, the females have longer necks. Ring-bills are also blue-gray on top, smaller than a herring gull, and have a distinctive black ring on the end of their bills.

Pick a gull, any gull, watch what he or she is doing. Be surprised.

Gulls Hunting Spider Crabs-0727

 

Where is this?

The gulls shown here (adult and juvenile Black-backed Gulls and Herring Gulls) were photographed on the Connecticut Shore.  They live and hunt in and around The Stewart B. McKinney Wildlife Refuge.  The Refuge, which is run by the US Fish and Wildlife Service is one of our great coastal treasures, a major nesting area for many species of birds, and also a breeding ground for horseshoe crabs, spider and blue crabs and sea turtles. Like almost all of USFWS, the Refuge is acutely underfunded.  A new group of volunteers is coalescing to support the Refuge and the rangers who work there.  If you’re interested in participating, let me know.  MSL (at) MarkSethLender (dot) com.

To hear or read my prose poem, “Gulls Hunting for Spider Crabs on Public Radio International’s Living on Earth, click here:  http://www.loe.org/shows/segments.html?programID=17-P13-00024&segmentID=6

Africa

elephant-herd-at-sunrise-7087In August, 2016 I returned to Africa. It was twice a homecoming.  Because Africa, with its stone tools predating the time when we were even Human,\ is the origin of Us. And because it is the origin of me; of what I have become; of the thing to which I have dedicated my life, Wild things, and the Wilderness without which they cannot exist. The eyes I see with now are not the eyes of a quarter century ago. I set out went looking for difference, for what separates one from of life from another. Instead, I have come to see animals as like us more than apart from us. More than this, I know that without them we cease to exist. Literally perhaps (because the World without the Wild is unlikely to sustain us), but more important;y, because without Wildlife the part of us that is Human will die, of loneliness and shame. I fear for the Natural World.

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There is something you can do for the wildlife and the people of Africa. Follow in my tracks. See these things for yourself. Go with small groups, go with local guides. If wildlife and wilderness are to survive at all, it will be because local people see their economic survival tied to these things.

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I was hosted in the Maasai Mara by Don Young of Donald Young Safaris and by Nick Wood of Sekenani Camp.  I can recommend both without hesitation.  Between them, they support many families and provide the income that provides an education for the children of those families.  They make wildlife valuable and in our world today, without defined monetary value nothing survives.

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You can visit the Mara with Don or Nick with complete moral clarity. Their tours in the Maasai Mara range from about $300 a day all inclusive, to about $950 all inclusive.  Save up.  Go soon. It’s worth every dime.

 – Mark Seth Lender  [MSL at MarkSethLender dot Com]

Sekenani Camp:

https://www.facebook.com/sekenanicamp/

Donal Young Safaris:

http://www.donaldyoungsafaris.com  [US office, Colorado Tel 303-4398462]

 

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Pedestrians: Penguin Encounters of the Best Kind

Gentoo Penguins Returning to their Nests from the Sea-20151025_141021_26962015Gentoo Penguins Returning to their Nests from the Sea

Field Note:

I saw my first penguins in the Falklands and for the penguins, or at least some of them, that first was mutual. I was their first human being. Watching each other, we had effects on each other’s behavior.

Initially, when a penguin approached, I tried to get out of
the way. This resulted in penguin panic, ending in a wide arc to get away from me. Eventually I realized that they approached out of interest. Trying to accommodate I bent low.

Wrong again.

Crouching provoked a frisson of confusion ending in the same urgent exit.

I eventually worked out the desired response: Stand Still. And the penguins stood still also studying me, for a long time. This behavior obtained across different species but most notably the Gentoo and the King Penguins
Magellanic Penguin Standing Up in his Burrow-20151025_135246_23292015Magellanic Penguin Posing for a Close-up in his Burrow

Why?

Penguins and humans have gross similarities. Four limbs, bipedal locomotion, upright stance, and the proportions of the parts each to the other. The penguin’s interest may have been rooted in these externals. Certainly, in an encounter involving predation or conflict attention might well go to the equivalent of a threating beak or stiff, batting wings (flippers in the case of another penguin), or worst of all, towards flashing leopard seal teeth. This, just as we would be forced to glance toward a clenched fist and perhaps, a weapon in that fist.
King Penguin Wathcing Me Over His Shoulder-20151031_133957_28642015King Penguin Watching the Author over his Shoulder

In the absence of these forcing situations the attractors loose attraction. There was no compelling reason to look anywhere yet, attention went to the face which would indicate that a penguin attaches importance to the its own face, that face being the only point of reference the penguin has go on. If the penguin looks at a human face, preferentially, it is attaching import to the particular “features” that make up the face. Aside from the basic bilateral symmetry shared by all animals with faces, the face is where the eyes are and therefore the place from which a penguin sees the world. And behind the eyes, Awareness. What we have then is one Awareness locating and seeking out another Awareness.

The penguins were practicing what in humans what be called Anthropomorphization. In this case:

Penguinamorphization.

These days I find it harder, and harder to kill anything, or eat anything, that has the capacity to look me in the eye.

King Penguin Chick-20151031_142050_45372015

“Uncle Al?  Is that you?”

Visiting the Falklands and South Georgia Island
My fieldwork in the Falkland Islands and on South Georgia Island was conducted with the support of One Ocean Expeditions (www.OneOceanExpeditions.com). One Ocean is a particularly good tour company because they made multiple landings, and we were able to spend upwards of 2 hours per landing. This was absolutely essential for wildlife observation, and both wildlife and landscape photography, and for a sense of place. Cruising by on a large boat is hardly the same as setting foot on shore. If you have particular questions, or would like more information about visiting some of the places I’ve been, send me an email: MSL (at) MarkSethLender.com

Gentoo Penguins Returning to their Nests from the Sea-20151025_154514_52642015

Stealing Dirt

Gentoo Colony,

Gentoo Colony

Stealing Dirt, my essay on Gentoo penguins, was nationally broadcast on PRI’s Living on Earth during the week of March 11 2016. You can  listen online at LOE.org.

Gentoo Penguin colonies are raucous and contentious and the ones on Carcass Island, in the West Falklands, are no exception. That continuous uproar gives them a bad name. “Temperamental,” people say. “Nasty.” Not true. Penguins are delightful and the reputation that precedes them is simply wrong. They are endlessly entertaining to watch, harmless to us and by and large to each other. The noise and the short tempers are primarily the product of crowding. This despite the thin human population of the Falklands, and the fastness and expanse of South Georgia, the South Shetlands and the many small islands off the Antarctic Peninsula as well as the Peninsula itself. Suitable nesting sites for penguins of any species are few and Climate Destabilization only makes it worse. A tabular iceberg grounded in front of one of the most important colonies of Adele penguins in 2011 (picture Central Park, 120 feet high and made of ice). The giant berg blocked the Adele’s route to the sea and 150,000 penguins starved. The berg came from the massive and continuing breakup of the Ross Ice Shelf, in turn a direct result of increasing temperatures. Pray for the penguins.

I spent 3 weeks in the Antarctic with One Ocean Expeditions. The Falkland Islands was our ship’s first port of call. One Ocean is the most conscientious tour group I’ve ever had. They were invaluable to me, and made equally certain every passenger saw and experienced every wildlife and landscape viewing opportunity. At the Gentoo colony on Carcass Island in the West Falklands, I watched the penguins building nests.  Penguins seem to have a well-developed sense of community and territoriality, but not the best sense of direction.  They deliberately trespass when collecting mud for their nests (hence the title “Stealing Dirt”)  – often getting away with it – and not so deliberately trespass when returning to their own turf. This they tend not to get away with.  In the banner photo above, a trespassing penguin gets the treatment from his immediate neighbors. In the photos following, you can get an idea of how the conflicts develop their extent, and the very definite limits to how much damage penguins are willing to do (no much).

A Gift of Dirt is a Gift of Love

A Gift of Dirt is a Gift of Love

A male Gentoo crossed over from his own local group to a nearby group, and comes back with a pellet of mud for their mate.  She then adds it to the nest mound.  Sometimes it’s a little more complicated:

Back in his local group, he makes a wrong turn

Back in his local group, he makes a wrong turn and gets bitten!

It's not much of a bite - just a mud spot on his feathers.

It’s not much of a bite – just a mud spot on his feathers.

Finally, on the right street everyone notices him but no one minds his presence

Finally, on the right street everyone notices him but no one minds his presence

Gentoo Penguins Mating

Gentoo Penguins Mating

Penguins reward for all this effort is lovemaking.  And I say that deliberately.  Notice how the female reaches up to touch beaks with her mate.  What is this if not the kisses of love?

Thanks to One Ocean Expeditions (www.OneOceanExpeditions.com) , I was ably to spend many hours ashore and in kayaks, with plenty of quality penguin time. The Falklands alone were worth the trip. People are friendly, helpful, the birds close and plentiful (more about that in future columns), it is just a great place. When in Stanley in the East Falklands, be sure to grab lunch (and an Internet connection) at The Waterfront Hotel ( www.Waterfronthotel.co.fk ). For more information about visiting the Falklands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula send me an email. To see more photographs, follow me on Twitter, @marksethlender.