Birds, Fish, and Planes

Gull’s gullet too small for its prey
Seaplane hobbyists with well-behaved classic single-prop model
Model seaplane, a classic single-prop design
The hobbyists’ second model, styled after a jet, meets a quick and wet end
This flock of about two dozen American Coot are probably only the first of a cohort that may reach several hundred in the weeks to come
This Pelagic Cormorant probed and pried under rocks at the water’s edge
This Pelagic Cormorant has no trouble swallowing fish of a size the Gull could not handle

This Western Gull caught or stole a flat little fish, but had a problem getting it into its gullet.  As a small crowd of humans watched, the bird flipped the fish over, turned it this way and that, all to no avail.  Bottom line, the peg was too big for the hole. 

Then, as a pair of model seaplane hobbyists showed up and launched their craft just a few yards away, the gull took advantage of the distraction and flew away, out of sight.  The hobbyists also ran into bad luck.  Their first model, a single-prop classic two-seater seaplane, responded to its radio commands.  It flew circles and accomplished landings and takeoffs without problems.  A Brown Pelican circled a bit higher and cast a curious eye on this softly snarling bird.  But the hobbyists’ second craft, a noisier jet model, started like a rocket and promptly crashed into the water, breaking into pieces.  The men enlisted the first plane, after many efforts,  to tow the wreckage ashore.  I had a bit of a chat with them and suggested that there must be better bodies of water where to deploy model seaplanes than the bird-rich North Basin.  After recovering their wreck, they left.

As if on cue, a flock of American Coot came into view, about two dozen strong. This was the first substantial arrival of the winter season  (in my eyes) of a Coot migration that in recent years has reached hundreds.  Moving quite independently of this group, a solo Coot paddled to a different drummer many yards away.  What goes on in the Coot brain to make some birds behave as group creatures but sends another off on a solo path?  I’ve seen several versions of this pattern here in the North Basin over the year. 

As I watched the solo Coot paddling along very near the rocks, my eye was drawn to a Cormorant who was on the same path.  At one point the Cormorant emerged from a dive directly under the Coot, causing a brief squawk and a splash, but no further complications. This Cormorant — its slender form and slim long bill marked it as belonging to the Pelagic variety — dove and energetically probed and pried under the rocks at water’s edge.  It seemed to be doing well. 

A bit later, out in the open water of the Basin, I happened to get some snapshots of another Cormorant — a breeding male, judging by the rusty patch on its face — that had caught another flat little fish, easily as big as the one that the Gull had at the outset.  But the Cormorant’s gullet stretched effortlessly; in a moment the flat fish was bird food.  

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