For the past two days, the hundred acres on the far side of the small lake have been under the plow. The noise is minimal (farmers farming definitely do not disturb me), the sight of the mechanized movement cause for pause, and the change from dull gray to earthly brown most welcome. With the tractor have come the groupies, literally hundreds of ring-billed gulls.
Ring-bills are justly named for the black ring that encircles their yellow beak just above the tip. They may well be the only gull around here with yellow legs, a feature they share with another common visitor, the mallard. Like the rest of the gull family, they are not particularly picky scavengers and, when not at the farmers', may frequently be located near fishing boats and garbage dumps.
The gulls have been in the far field since the snows melted, drawn to the huge puddles of standing water that will most likely remain until the droughts of a normal summer return.
Armed with Orvis's cracker thrower, my camera and a box of positively ancient Ritz crackers (for feeding gulls has turned out to be far less thrilling for visitors than anticipated), I went over last week, hoping for a good picture for my bird album as well as positive identification that they were indeed ring-bills. It's a little hard (for me at least) to be sure of identification when they are constantly wheeling overhead.
The field gulls paid little attention to my car and even less to me. I was able to snap away in pure delight equally pleased with the finished product.
Watching as they circled the tractor got me wondering what these noisy birds do prefer when eating at the Ritz is not an option. I had visions of thousands of seeds being purloined before they even hit the furrows for the scads of gulls were nothing if not devoted to the endeavor taking place beneath and beside them. Even now, the farming finished, the moving dots line the rows so recently planted, descending en masse and then moving off as quickly to cover another area.
I'll be traipsing that same field in days, waiting only for the first hard rain (and relief from my spring cold) to look for arrowheads, apparently quite common to this exotic region.
Certainly the gulls are not examining rocks.
Turns out (and I admit to being surprised) that the gulls dine (and lunch and, when possible, breakfast) on insects. The same worms I dig up when planting my Easter peas, are Easter dinner for the white ones! Other insects including grubs also suffice. (I regret being unable to entice them to visit here for an hour or two.) Not terribly discriminating, they'll also eat some bird eggs and small fish, my guide assured me, and, when the pickings get terribly slim, have been known to scavenge any trash heap. A rather unsavory side to the lovely bird.
The book also says they may choose to winter here. We are south of southern Canada after all though I'm sure they stay closer to the open water of the larger lakes and, for some reason, the playing fields of the local high school where they can be found on almost any respectable afternoon.
A school of gulls?
Susan Crossett is a Cassadaga resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org