No Laughing Matter

Earlier this spring, for our daily walk, Eileen and I chose a fishing pier that jutted out into the Atlantic Ocean about two tenths of a mile and stands about 50 feet over the water. We just needed someplace to walk and stretch our legs. We wanted an easy walk and an opportunity to see if different birds might be visible from out in the ocean. Wind blew briskly on this cool morning. We knew that it would be just a short visit.

At the end, fishermen were casting their lines into the water. I am not being sexist, most of the people fishing were young men. Some had their lady friends relaxing and shivering on the benches nearby.

We watched the birds, brown pelicans and several species of terns, plunge diving into the water. The laughing gulls scurried about constantly on the move and laughing their maniacal laugh.

As we reached the end, I watched a young man, a blond about 18 years old, sling his line way out as far as he could. As the line reached the top of its arc, a laughing gull swooped under it, probably attracted by the bait. As the line crossed the gulls back, the gull reacted instinctively, giving a twist of its wings and body to create a stalling motion that should have helped it avoid danger. Not so this time, the motion slipped the line around the wing and trapped the bird which called and fluttered to the water where it sat calmly perplexed about 100 feet out. 

The young man stood looked equally puzzled. Here was a bird that seemed to go down with his line, but it was just sitting on the water acting naturally. As I walked up to the fellow, he said, “I think I caught a bird.” I assured him he had. He asked, “What should I do?” “Reel it in,” I replied. So, he started to crank. With the weights pulling it down and the line pulling it up, the gull reacted, screaming and attempting to fly, which it did accomplish to a degree. For a while, the young man flew a gull kite, pulling it closer and closer. I was concerned that the hook might catch the gull, but felt confident that the weights would hit the gull first if the line slid up the bird’s body. But apparently the bird had enough line wrapped around it to keep the line from moving either way.

Once to the rail, the gull lashed at anything that moved and tried to bite as I reached out to subdue it. After a little nick from its beak, I positioned my grip so I had the bird by the head and pinned to the rail with my forearm, leaving one hand “free.” Fortunately, another man came forward and while I managed the gull, he traced the lines, finding a several twists around the right wing, both the primaries and the secondary feathers and a loop over the birds shoulder. The fisherman stood by holding his pole, a youngster completely clueless as to what to do, not from lack of caring, but from a lack of experience. Slowly the other man unwound the tangle as I kept the angry bird’s beak under control. Right at the end, a lady came rushing up with scissors and reached between the three of us and went to snip the line. I stopped her and assured her we had everything under control. If she had snipped the line, the gull would have been free a couple seconds earlier, but the line would have dropped into the ocean to be a problem for some other animal.

Once free, I held the gull out over the water. I felt confident that no serious damage had been done. I knew the bird could fly, after all it had flown while being reeled in. I opened my hands and the bird flew right down to the water and landed. I worried. Did I make a mistake? Was this bird seriously injured? I held my breath and after a couple seconds on the water, the gull lifted into the air scolding as it flew off away from the pier none the worse for wear. I hope the gull and the young man both learned their lesson.

 

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