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The Mast Head: Interspecies at Dinner

Wed, 06/24/2020 - 19:11

Dinnertime for black-backed gulls more or less coincides with people dinner around here, or so it seems to me. 

I hadn’t really noticed before some friends were over and one asked what was up with all the big birds down the beach. But it is often like that with nature: Things that may escape notice as ordinary present another, more interesting aspect when one pays attention. 

The gulls begin to swing a few hours before dusk and cruise slowly near the shoreline, hunting spider crabs. When they spot one, they rise on three wing beats, then tip and dive, emerging after a scant second with their prey. From my observation, it appears that they seldom miss.

On the sand, the black-backs crack the shells and pick at the crabs, often shadowed by smaller gulls of a different species with which they sometimes will share the meal. But why this all tends to go down in early evening is a mystery to me. 

I suppose it could be the heat of the day or angle of the light that accounts for the timing. Deer follow a similar clock, resting in the shade when the sun is high, wandering out to feed as night approaches. One, a doe with long, black-tipped ears that lives behind the East Hampton Star office, reliably feeds when I arrive in the morning and when I head home at night. I like to think that she and I have a little thing going, in that she does not run when I come close and ask what she is having for a snack. She stands and stares when I inquire.

I cannot say that deer are or are not sentient beings, but they certainly do have personalities, hers having an air of causal indifference. But, at least she seems to notice as I tell her not to eat the pachysandra. The gulls cannot be bothered with me and pick up their crabs and move some distance away as I interrupt their supper.

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