Following the dirt road as it wandered through the deer lease was to be surprised by the occasional stock tank and pond hidden by the hilly terrain. By checking these oases, the driver could tell by footprints and scat the critters that had come to water.
As he had looked out over a large reservoir the previous week, he had seen a large flock of seagulls. While some searched the shoreline for insects, others relished floating on the surface
Curious as to whether they had continued their migration, he stopped atop a hill and reached for his binoculars. Scanning the length of the lake, he noticed great blue herons and numerous ducks.
Quickly giving the body of water one more look-see, he nearly missed the gray and white object standing on the muddy shoreline. Slowly backtracking, he finally found it.
While a lone seagull continued to walk along the water’s edge, it would peck at the earth. Then the man saw it suddenly grab a grasshopper it had startled into the air. For early November, the warmer weather had guaranteed available insects.
Still watching the bird, he wondered why it had remained while the rest of its flock continued their journey. As the lonesome traveler turned to walk away from the water and in his direction, the man noticed a difference in its wings.
One was held against its body while the other drooped slightly at the end. Whatever had happened to the bird might have affected its ability to fly.
Troubled by the realization that other water birds would greatly reduce the number of available fish, and the insect supply would dwindle and succumb to the cold, the man decided to walk toward the seagull. If he were mistaken, the bird would fly. If not, then he would need to catch it.
On his way down to the lake, he startled the gull as his boots dislodged rocks hidden by clumps of dry grass. Sliding into an occasional juniper spared him from landing amidst large growths of prickly pear cactus.
During his descent, he noticed the bird had tried to fly. Unsuccessful, it began to run from this unknown danger.
Chasing it away from the shoreline and into the brush would give him a chance to capture it. Having brought an old, tattered coat from his truck, he waved it in the air and verbally created a threatening presence.
Hoping no oil field workers would see or hear him, the man pursued it until, in desperation, the seagull veered up an incline and under a dense growth of scrub. Panting, he stopped to catch his breath. Hopefully, the bird would settle into the undergrowth and think it was hidden.
Buttoning his shirtsleeves, and then his denim jacket, he anticipated the thorns of the sheltering acacia. After picking up small rocks and putting them in a pocket, he began to approach the scrub. Using his arms for balance, he was careful in the placement of every step.
Slowly kneeling, he took several pebbles and tossed them away from the scrub. By the movement of the grass close to the plant’s woody trunk, he knew where the gull was hiding.
A minute passed. Then he tossed another rock. Obviously the bird would remain still and assume it could not be seen.
With the relic from previous hunting seasons, the man extended his arms. Quickly lowering the coat, he lunged down upon the hiding gull.
Feeling the squirming mass beneath his hands, he cupped the material around the bird and brought it toward his chest. Not wanting it to escape, he waited until he was inside his pickup before examining his captive.
Until he held it, he could not imagine the beauty of its bold colors. The seagull’s head, under parts, and tail were a snowy white. In contrast, the bird’s soft gray mantle, or feathers covering the tops of its wings, ended in primaries tipped in black with white spots. Near the end of its yellow bill was a broad black band.
When the hunter called, he warned, “The end of its wing is broken. It’s barely attached.” Willing to bring it to us, I told him I’d meet him at Highland. Barely hanging on to the rest of the wing, the damaged end was useless.
After clipping the dried flesh that had held the dead portion of the wing, veterinarian Scott Burt said the remainder of the wing was healthy. With conservation lakes, zoos and educational facilities needing different species, the decision was made to try and place the ring-billed gull.
“Had to have been shot,” said the hunter as we walked out to our vehicles. He was disappointed that someone would do such a thing.
A desire to have a permanent seagull to attract other waterfowl and shorebirds to a protected lake meant the large bird would live out its life among a variety of feathered friends. Although glad when I called with the good news, the hunter said it was poor consolation.
Memories of seeing gulls glide downward with narrow wings extended, or with wings held high as their webbed feet broke the calm of a lake would always be his impression of what they deserved to experience.