Friday, May 18, 2012

Gulls, I See Gulls!

“What is that?” I exclaimed, about half and hour ago, as something on the roof scurried and elicited a bunch of thuds. “Gull,” replied Sarah MacLean and Kara Pellowe immediately in “what-else-could-it-be” voices. And indeed, what else could it be on Appledore? Yep, you read that right; a bunch of finals, an up-till-2 30 AM packing spree, a seven hour car ride and a short, refreshing boat ride later, I am here, on Appledore Island in the Gulf of Maine being treated to spectacles of gulls mating and the sounds of Common Yellow-throats (Geothlypic trichas), Carolina Wrens (Thryothorus ludovicianus), Gray Catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis) and, of course, the ubiquitous Herring and Great Black-Backed Gulls yeowing, kek-keking, mewing and just generally going at it at the start of their breeding season.

Two Herring Gulls mating outside the dining hall at Shoals Marine Lab

The day began with a 6 AM alarm that turned into a 6 30 AM whine and cereal in a mug, as a consequence of having packed and moved everything out the day before. But by 7 30, Sarah MacLean (last-year's intern and this year's TA for Field Ornithology on the island), Kayla Garcia (Lobster Intern extraordinaire) and I were speeding onwards, on our way to Portsmouth, NH which is where the boats from SML dock. Portsmouth also happens to be home to one of the best ice cream shops in the country, Anabelle's, and David Bonter (who teaches Field Ornithology and also mentors the Bird Internship), generously treated us to some of the best ice cream in the country, which completely lived up to its reputation.

Two scoops of delicious Dutch Chocolate ice cream at Annabelles, Portsmouth, NH
At 4, we boarded the Heiser and jet-propelled our way to Appledore. It was a clear, sunny day with excellent visibility allowing us to see the island from the Portsmouth harbour itself. We passed some Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus), gulls and even a Common Loon (Gavia immer) flying over the deep blue waves and as the island drew nearer, and I could make out the rocks and the buildings, a sense of excitement came over me that seemed to be a continuation from last summer. It was almost as if I was picking up from where I left off, with the two semesters in between having passed in another time and place. The smallness, uniqueness and seeming remoteness of Appledore does that to you. It feels like a bubble that runs on a different temporal scale than the rest of the world and as Sarah was describing, coming back to the mainland after two months and seeing cars instead of gulls can be something of a culture-shock. 

Kayla Garcia (left) and Sarah MacLean aboard the Heiser
Coming back to the island after a year, however, was quite the opposite. The gull nests are in the same exact spots as last year and the food equally, if not more, delicious – i.e. two of the most important things haven't changed. What has changed, or rather, evolved, is my attitude towards them. I am over counting barnacles (which was the brunt of the Ecology and the Marine Environment class last year) and moving on to gulls! Onwards and upwards and it is going to be hard work but it is also going to be, in Sarah's words, “the best summer you've ever had!”


A warm welcome to the island by a nesting Great Black-Backed Gull (bottom right)

This summer officially starts tomorrow with 6 AM nest-marking so I had better hit the sack, but I will definitely have more adventures to report very soon!

A beautiful sunset, with the promise of many more to come over the next two months

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