Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Crazy, the Adorable and the Crazy Adorable

Things have been slowing down on Appledore. Well, not so much slowing down as becoming hardwired into a daily routine with nothing particularly new or exciting to report. My feet now take me to all of my 60 nests of their own accord every morning and more than once I have caught myself thinking about the most random things – from Starbucks coffee to snow-covered Himalayan peaks – while reaching down to a wrangle a hefty 9-day old chick out of a tight crevice.

Also, over the month of so of checking these nests, I've come to know the gulls and their chicks pretty well. For example, I now duck instinctively the second I step on this one ledge in Norwegian because the male from nest 12H219 will poop on me right then. In fact, some of these gulls/chicks/nests are notorious enough to have earned the high honor of being named by me.

Specimen, the first: 12H283, The Punching Machine. Ever since its babies were still in eggs, 12H283 took a distinct dislike to the humanoid figure in a green jacket and silver bike helmet that came to creep on its little homey home everyday. Then, one day, the humanoid crossed the line when it actually stooped down and picked up its newly-hatched chick. It was time for attack! On full defense mode, this gull loves to punch holes into the back of my helmet and will not relent even after five minutes of incessant helmet pounding; not till I beat a retreat, resignedly putting down a zero yet again for number of chicks found at 12H283.

The Punching Machine's handiwork on my helmet, a month into the internship

Then there is the Siren, the bird from 12H228. I have a favorite bleeding spot – a good spot to measure and bleed chicks – on the rocks above its nest and, understandably, it gets upset every time I walk past to either collect or return a chick. But even when I'm sitting down and calmly trying to poke a needle into a chick's vein – not any of his chicks, mind you, I haven't seen either of them since their respective first days on Planet Earth – this bird takes offense and flies back and forth over me, repeatedly, almost rhythmically, emitting distended yeow calls and shrieks but never once making contact; like a persistent, annoying fire-truck siren. 

Next bird up is Snapper. Must say, it deserves credit for its intelligence and amazing dedication to its offspring. In the good old days I had to literally lift it up off of its eggs with my foot; now I have to sprint up a good 15 meters of overgrown, poison-ivied trail and even then I fail to take it by surprise because it moves its chicks every day! Sometimes they are around the nest, sometimes they are in the long grass further down the trail and, of late, it has taken to enticing its three strapping young fluffballs up a thorny-bush covered rock, forcing me to bush-whack and only narrowly avoid having my eyes skewered by inch-long thorns. And, as if this weren't enough, the insane bird snaps! He loves the sight of my ankles and every time I move my feet, it takes a hearty snap at them, creating a pretty pattern of red lines all over the barely-covered-in-sock skin.

Speaking of crazy biters, another gull, the one at nest 12H66 loves to go for my wrists. It had the bright idea of building its nest behind a thick pipe that essentially blocks it from flying out when I approach it. Trapped behind the pipe, it keeps its eyes fixed firmly on my right hand, or perhaps just the one pulsating vein on my right wrist, and will not shy away from executing impressive full body jumps to leave oftentimes bloody gashes on my arm. At the rate that it's going, I'm just a tad concerned that people back on the mainland will think I cut my wrists.

And its not just the adult gulls that are crazy. Apparently craziness is a heritable trait in gulls and can express itself as a crazy death-wish in their chicks. Case in point: the chicks at nest 12H289. I bet my stree out than them at each encounter for I have to keep sprinting over jagged rocks to catch them before they get snapped up by a Great Black-backed Gull or tumble over the edge of a cliff and into the ocean. Apparently anything, even a violent death, is preferable to being picked up by a human.

These and other gulls keep things lively around here, and you only realize how much when you are stuck indoors on a sweltering 32 degrees Celsius day like today, typing up a blog post when you'd much rather be out in the field checking up on, and battling your wits against those of, Snapper & Co.

However, the sunny weather does have it's advantages. For example, when you're sitting in the RIFS Lab, typing away and your co-intern, who's watching Arrested Development, goes from laughing hysterically to gesticulating hysterically and you look out of the window to see these adorable tykes lounging in the sun –

Chick preening 
Chick naptime

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