Jun 222017
 

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.

Gulls Hunting Spider Crabs-2111

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

Oct 302016
 

working-a-narrow-seam-svalbard
Working a 3-foot Seam

The Svalbard Archipelago hosts the northernmost coal mines in the world. For now, only enough coal is being extracted to run the aging power plant in the largest settlement in the archipelago, Longyearbyen, on the island of Spitzbergen. The others have been closed – but not out of climate concerns. abandoned-coal-car-cableway
Coal Car Cableway (Temporarily?) Shut Down

Rather, it is the dwindling economics of coal that pushed the closure. That the mine owners claim that closure to be temporary only drives the point home. Even 800 miles above the Arctic Circle, in the most fragile climate on the planet, money trumps common sense.
glacier-melting-3
Glacier in Rapid Retreat

Of late, I’ve been including, in both my Arctic and Antarctic Tweets, the hash tag #NoIceNoUs.

No joke.

thick-billed-murre-in-flight-alkefjellet-20160717_035616_14872016
Alkefjellet Cliffs

ivory-gull-on-blue-ice-20160715_041945_17692016
Ivory Gull on Blue Ice, Brepollen

reflections-20160718_083108_65782016
Female Polar Bear, in the pack ice, 81.36 North Latitude

thick-billed-murre-alkefjellet-20160717_031128_87502016Thick-billed Murre

It is worth seeing for yourself. And it is worth saving. To hear my prose essay on Svalbard coal and see more photographs, layer-up, slip into your kayak, and paddle over to Living on Earth

My fieldwork in Svalbard was supported by One Ocean Expeditions, and I highly recommend them.

Mark Seth Lender
Producer/Essayist/Photographer
Living on Earth
Member: Explorers Club
yeh-lets-do-lunch-20160718_071733_51102016

Jun 262016
 

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