Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Babies Babies Everywhere

Sometimes in America, when we are embroiled in modern life, shrunk wrapped into our cars and entombed in our suburban houses and vacuum-sealed into air-conditioned offices, it's hard to tell that summer's about more than barbecues, fireworks, and a trip to the beach.  For the vast majority of species out there, summer's about babies -- putting forth heroic efforts during a very short window of time to pass on DNA to the next generation.  But here on Kent Island, it's in our face, all the time.

My favorite nest site on the island; in a fish tote that washed up above the beach.  Looks super cozy.
Mama came right back to sit on her eggs once we moved on.
The herring gull eggs are hatching.  We have thousands of nests on the island, most with three eggs in them. That means thousands of fluffy little chicks, thousands of begging mouths to fill, and thousands of angry moms and dads when we get too close to a nest or hatchling.

Gulls can get downright dangerous if you venture too close to their nests. They mob us, swoop down on us, rake us on the head, scream in your ear, and poop with surprising accuracy.  To protect ourselves, we move quickly, wear hats, hold up sticks above our heads (they go after the highest point of the intruder), and construct Gull Protection Devices.  It all makes going for a walk downright unpleasant, and trying to do any research on the beach seriously difficult.

Two eggs hatching.  The upper left one has a hole but it's hard to see.
What a herculean effort it must be to break free from the shell.
This chick was freshly hatched -- still wet.  Welcome to the world, little gull!
You really have to watch where you step.  Babies can be hiding anywhere.
 The adult gulls are rather pesky, as you might imagine.  However, the babies are really cute at this stage. Covered with grey fluff, hiding under bushes and behind their angry parents, whistling softly or begging loudly, baby gulls are pretty cute.  They'll have a hard life, and for most of them, it'll be short.  Especially for the third egg baby, chances are, you won't make it past September.  A hungry eagle will grab you, you'll die of exposure, you'll starve, or you just won't learn to take care of yourself.  In the back of my mind, I know for each of these cute little puff-balls, it'll be a desperate struggle to stay alive for a few years, until they're old enough to have their own chicks.  But it's hard to think life is so hard, when I'm surrounded by so much hope and life everyday.  Thank goodness for chicks, and pass the gull protection device, I'm going for a walk!

A black back gull trying to take my head off.  This is without magnification; he was dive bombing me!  Sorry it's not in focus; I feared for my life when this was taken.
A student wearing a Gull Protection Device.
Damon's head; a victim of a gull attack during a run.  Just another day at a seabird colony!
The only kind of gull I trust.  But he does look a little suspicious . . . .

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