A Flock Of Seagulls – Paranoid Grumps or just Misunderstood?
When you a surfer there are a number of animals that keep you company on the beach and in the ocean. Most of them are marine animals. Some of them you are happy to see, like the quick up periscope of a turtles head and the bobbing swim of a pod of dolphins, or the distant breach and triumphant “Here I am” splash of a migrating whale.
Others not so much. The floating bluebottle sack as it drifts past you on a hot summer’s day. The northerly wind turning the clean wave faces to mush and then bringing these floating mines of pain and swollen lymph glands. And of course every surfer’s and their mum’s greatest fear; that dark shadow or the fin that slices through the water or the big unexplained boil in the surface that occurs in the corner of your eye. And it doesn’t matter if you are surrounded by twenty surfers or you are the only surfer out you are suddenly horribly alone.
But those aren’t the animals I am thinking about. I want to write about the other animals that are always close by. I want to write about the birds.
I sat out in the water a few days ago and started to notice the birds that make the ocean and the beach their home. Shit there were heaps of them. There were two sea eagles [obviously I was out of the big smoke some 10 kilometres from a hundred kilometres of beachfront national park] floating and hunting on the wind, terns plucking baitfish out past the break and later when I walked back to the accom there were cranky plovers as comfortable on the beach as they are on a state school oval.
When we walked through the car park for a surf there were magpies and crows hanging around the garbage bins and picking grubs from the mown grass around the toilet block and the speed freaks of the bird world; greeny parrots on the way to their next nectar upload swooping past us like F18s. In the dune vegetation there were honeyeaters and myna birds and small flitty things making sweet calls amongst the branches. No pelicans though, the early retirees of the bird world, they prefer a more quiet life amongst dinghies, pontoons and stand up paddleboards on rivers and canals.
Now strangely this sudden appreciation of all things ornithological has at its root an action of Blaze’s. First of all, during one afternoon surf three big ocean gulls floated, resting on the ocean about ten metres out past the break. Obviously they were perfectly at ease and when the clean up set came, as it always does at a beach you aren’t familiar with, the last thing I saw before I had to duck dive deep were the ocean gulls perfectly placed to bob up and over the looming peak without even opening their eyes. That and Blaze laughing as he bobbed over as well.
The day before, after a fun surf that even Blaze was happy with we sat down to a lunch of fresh prawns and a 2013 chardonnay courtesy of Blaze’s brother, Gatesy. Obviously this not his real name but like a certain billionaire Gatesy is not short of a dollar and is happy to share the rewards for his hard work around. A man of many skills he knows that after a certain age baked beans jaffles are not what one is always looking for after spending some time in the water. Gatesy also always comes prepared, is a little OCD about his stuff, is a pain in the butt wave magnet and has a big enough car for all our stuff e.g. Nespresso machine, milk frother, fishing gear, red wine, white wine, bluetooth speaker etc.
Naturally eating prawns on a veranda beside a beach is going to attract the only birds that love having a chip on their shoulders as much as in their beaks - Chroicocephalus novaehollandiae aka The Silver Gull.
There was a seagull with one and half legs among a small flock of four that was braver or more desperate for food than his buddies. Of course in an act of charity often seen from Blaze when it comes to animals but never with idiots, he flicked the less than complete gull some prawn’s poo tube that the gull duly caught expertly and gulped down. This, as is the way of gulls, just brought more of them over to prowl the ground near our possie on the veranda.
Seagulls never look that happy at the best of the times but boy do they get bolshie if they think they are missing out or if they feel they are have to share. So Blaze flicked a few more pieces of prawn bits around and some rolled up pieces of bread as well, thereby creating a huge gull fight; a clear illustration of how Blaze can quickly become savage and an agent of destruction. Gatesy is of course long used to his younger brother’s moods and remained silent while sipping the fine, cold white wine and I suspect taking more than his share of the prawns whilst Blaze and I were distracted by the bird brouhaha.
Anyway for the next three days Bob [as he came to be known] the seagull with one and a half legs hung around the cabin we were renting. We flicked him crumbs from cookies and some other bits and pieces and one day he just didn’t show up. That day the wind had changed from out of the south to northerly, the devil’s wind on the east coast of Australia. A wind that chops up open beaches and right hand point breaks turning the ocean into a sloppy mess and seemingly moving seagulls to other caravan parks up and down the coast. Our spirits and our energy dropped. We searched for some shelter and found a few average peaks that we shared with other surfers in the lee of a large headland. Returning hungry but sick of red meat Gatesy, always the most adult among us three, did as Elvis once demanded, He Took Care Of Business.
The afternoon breeze was not strong but it was cool running across the ocean’s surface and touching bare legs and arms with a chilly caress. I didn’t even start and Blaze lasted less than twenty minutes before returning to our cabin with a thump and the opening of the beer esky. In the distance, down the beach at water’s edge Gatesy using all his middle age experience and the angling knowledge passed on by his father, a lean hawk nosed man of considerable ocean abilities, continued to fish. The sun was quickly setting and he was silhouetted against the sky like chunky human egret. After standing still for a long period he then burst into action and as he casted he looked like an Egret stabbing at fish in the shallows.
The sun finally set and twilight moved through and he was lost to view and at least another ten minutes went by before Gatesy returned to us. Already half cut on beer and with the crumbs of potato chips on chests Blaze and I levered ourselves off the couches artfully arranged at 90 degrees to each other in the cabin’s living space and whooped with delight at the ocean’s bounty. Gatesy had caught three good size whiting and so it was fresh fish and a fine Riesling from his cellar for dinner. Situation was never in doubt.
To the juveniles in the room falls the setting up of the table, preparation of the accompaniments and the clean up. We have done this many times and this part also proceeds smoothly and before long like birds with full stomachs we have taken up nesting on the couch. Blaze and I rail at the TV news and bemoan the state of the world. Gatesy, more thoughtful and deservedly well satisfied with the day’s activities leans back with wine glass in hand and suggests in a quiet and firm voice that perhaps some hands of Poker might be in order.
The next day the wind swings south again and new lines of swell show on the point. We find a break down the coast a little that is making the most of the small conditions and when we return for lunch Bob is back on the veranda railing.
Blaze wonders if the reason Bob seems relatively buddyless for a seagull is that he chopped off the leg himself so as to get more food from campers like us. His flock, horrified at his actions, expel him and now Bob flies alone.
I agree that this is indeed a likely scenario but question how he did the self-amputation. Blaze favours a set up with sharks or at least reef fish during a feeding frenzy on a baitfish ball. Obviously the plan was that Bob lands on the water and then hangs said left foot down and waits for it to be bitten off by mistake. I like it and in the absence of anything better we adopt that as a reasonable hypothesis. Gatesy shakes his head and goes off to make a business call on his mobile. Blaze and I hang out the wet boardies and towels on the veranda rails and warn Bob not to shit on them. He fixes a beady eye on us and gives a look that seems to say, “No promises and What’s For Lunch?”
Blaze goes to the toilet and now its just Bob and I alone.
So I say, “C’mon Bob, give us the lowdown. How did you lose the leg?”
He looks some more at me and I swear he is opening his beak to answer when two other gulls land a few metres away. And Bob swoops down beside them and starts the entire cawing and head-bobbing act to ward them off. The two gulls don’t do much. They just look at him like he is a self-harming attention freak who will do anything for a free meal.
I sit back taking in the sun and silence which is only broken by the breaking of waves and a variety of birdcalls. A minute or so later the two gulls fly off and I swear one of them gives me a scornful “sucker” look as they take wing. Blaze yells out if I want a beer and I go inside and leave Bob to it. Blaze can be extreme but he knows beer goes down well after a surf and unlike seagulls he is mostly happy to share.
The Best Bird Songs
My Eagle – Children Collide
Blackbird – The Beatles
Surfing Bird – The Cramps
When Doves Cry – Prince
Birdhouse In Your Soul – They Might Be Giants
Fly Like An Eagle – Steve Miller Band
Old Man Emu – John Williamson – Just kidding!
If I must listen to Flock Of Seagulls I prefer Space Age Love Song. Really a pretty good tune, great clip and is it just me who thinks it sounds like INXS’s Don’t Change?