Whether sifting through sand, or scrambling over a rocky shore, it's about finding treasures in every day. 

Seagulls at the Trough

Seagulls may be raucous and messy, but they are sleek graceful birds. They would even be considered beautiful if they had better manners. It is fun to watch them still. Flock politics and pecking order, feeding behavior and aerobatic skill make them entertaining.

The local canneries are closed for the year and no longer putting out seagull delicacies like ground fish heads and fins. Town gulls must forage for a survival diet to see them through to the next fishing season. Country seagulls are fine with wild fare all year around.

M-m-m-m, starfish for lunch. Score!

Gotta get it positioned just right.

It's best to get at least two legs started in the right direction.

Seagulls can unhinge their jaws so that they can eat huge bites. Sort of like a hungry sixteen-year-old boy.

Now if the starfish would just bend.

Gulp!
 

The flock in our harbor are mostly immature birds this time of year, with a few adults sprinkled around to babysit. The juveniles' plumage is light grey-brown and mottled.

The neighboring boat left for a few days, opening up prime foraging territory.

Seagulls lined up like pigs at a trough.

They pulled mussels, and sometimes clumps of mussels off of the dock for lunch. It was like a self-serve food bar. There seem to be some rules, though.

  • When you get a beakful you must move away from the food bar to minimize theft.
  • If you move away from the food bar you lose your place.

Mine, mine, mine.

  • If an aggressive seagull pushes you out of your place then you can go push somebody else out of their space.
  • The loudest gull doesn't always win, but it is worth the screaming anyway.
  • Biting is bad form, but is occasionally the way to get the point across.

Chomp!

So the seagulls are eating mussels seasoned with limpets and barnacles. All of those foods come in their own packaging. How does a seagull get through the hard shells to digest the rubbery, gooey center?

First the gull has to horf that puppy down into it's crop.  That is a pouch in it's esophagus where it can store food. Temporarily, of course. When you see a gull's neck bulging unnaturally then it has food in it's crop.

Here goes...

Vito No-Neck here just has a crop full of mussels.

You really want to see that again, don't you?

This one is even smiling.

Slurp!

After a stop in the crop, the mussels get a digestive juice bath in the first part of the gull's stomach (the proventriculous) and then are broken up in the muscular pouch called the gizzard. Skipping some digestive details, the seagull burps out most of the shells like an owl regurgitates a pellet. The rest you can figure out, as you must watch your step on the dock and never walk under a seagull that is perched on a light pole. Never, never walk under a flock of seagulls that are taking off.

At the end of the day the flock settles down for a quiet paddle around the harbor before perching on the dock for the night.

Sunset at Heritage Harbor

Wishing you full bellies and the good company of your flock,

Alaska Beachcomber

More on birds in Southeast Alaska:

Arctic Terns at Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau

Pot Fishing for Crow

Barrow's Goldeneye ducks

Crows and Ravens Love Dog Food

 

 

A Springlike Day in February

Most of the snow has melted in Wrangell. It could snow two feet tomorrow, so I headed out in this pretty, partly sunny day to look around. A quick walk near the edge of the woods showed that the skunk cabbage felt the weather change and started to sprout. They are too early, and will be nipped back by frost. 

They are kind of creepy looking.

Skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) sprouts with the brown remains of last year's leaves around them.

The deer are getting there before the frost, though. There are several clues that the skunk cabbage sprouts below were nipped back by deer. 1) They are clipped off fairly cleanly instead of being rooted out by bears. 2) There were deer tracks in the snow patches. 3) There was other deer sign all over the place. I have spared you by not including pictures of that.

I've watched deer eating skunk cabbage sprouts and they often chew it with their mouths open, dropping bits, and looking uncomfortable. It probably burns their mouths. It is a good energy boost when not much else is sprouting, though, so they munch them right down.
Don't try to eat raw skunk cabbage. It WILL burn your mouth badly and could make you sick or kill you.

Skunk cabbage sprouts nipped off by a deer.

Skunk cabbage spadix and spathe in the snow. The plant has melted the snow around itself.

Skunk cabbage are very interesting plants, and I will do another post on them in early summer. They make their own heat! Just a little, but it is enough to melt some of the snow around them as they get started. The photo on the right was taken last year, a little later in the season.

Then I headed down to the harbor to see if all of the wildlife was still hanging around. Seals - check.

Seal.

Mallards - check.

Mallard male and female.

Mallards, reverse side - check.

I couldn't help it. They are so pretty that they deserve another picture.

Seagulls - check...I mean - of course! There are always seagulls.

Seagull paddling about at low tide.

Merganser - check.

Female common merganser.

Female common merganser.

There were lots of boats in the harbor, but I didn't take a boat picture till I drove out to the north end.

Trolling for winter kings in Back Channel.

It is SO beautiful out! I love living here! Wouldn't it be great to be out there on that boat fishing for winter king salmon? It is glassy calm and the sun is out. My fingers are cold, though. Wait...what is that?

It is Alaska Airlines turning final to land in Wrangell! The afternoon jet! There are two jets a day: one northbound and one southbound. Simple. Clean. Essential! There are no roads out of most Southeast Alaska towns. If you want to get in or out then it will be by plane or boat.

Fishing in February? Hah! It could snow for a couple more months here! I wanna go to Hawaii! Hey Jet, wait for me!