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Monday, December 24, 2012

A Lesser Larid and A Dead Booby

[Little Estero Lagoon, December 2012]

The lesser black-backed gull is a European gull that winters in Africa. It is uncommonly found on the Eastern coast of the US but its occurrence is increasing. It was, therefore, a notable event to see two of these larids at Little Estero Critical Wildlife Area, on the Gulf side.

[Lesser Black-Backed Gull at Little Estero CWA]

 Seen on the beach grooming:

The main identification characteristics include a dark grey back, black wing tips with white spots, and, in winter plumage, streaking on the head and neck.

The lower mandible shows a red spot while the yellow legs and pale eyes are also distinctive.

Elsewhere on the beach, a brown booby carcass is found, almost blending in with the sand:

Definitely not how anyone would have wanted to see their first booby.

Moving on to a livelier subject, nearby, a snowy egret walks from one lagoon puddle to another. Each containing an evermore collection of concentrated fish left stranded by the receding tide. Good news for the herons who enjoy this veritable feast.

The serenity on the beach is broken by the sounds of excited yelping accompanied by a minor commotion that reveals a pair of oystercatchers chasing off their last season's young as they get ready for the upcoming nesting season.

The American Oystercatcher is always resplendent and never tires in being a cooperative and photogenic subject:

The black head and neck, brown back, white breast and belly and the trademark orange bill all make for a striking combination.

This brings to mind the following:

There is an old native legend about how the oystercactcher got its orange bill. Little Aw'aku ("joyful hope") once asked this question of his mother and she told him the story that she herself had heard from the ancients: Initially all oystercatchers had a pale grey bill, much like the Willet and other ordinary shorebirds. One day, the great Mountain God Ohak'inay became angry and exploded into fire and flaming rock; spewing rivers of molten earth that flowed in all directions [aka a volcanic eruption].

All the creatures ran helter-skelter except the ever curious and fearless oystercatcher which dipped its bill into the lava as it flowed into the sea. Blessed by Ohak'inay for his bravery, no harm accrued to the oystercatcher and when he pulled out his beak from the river of lava, it had miraculously acquired the color of liquid fire. Thus the oystercatcher's newly resplendent orange bill became a symbol of its strength and bravery which it boasts to this day.

Little Aw'aku asked his father about this beautiful legend and his father said: That may very well be, my little Aw'aku; however, an alternate explanation could also be considered. Have you thought about the play of evolutionary forces over millions of years? Perhaps, little Aw'aku, breeding success correlated with those male oystercatchers that had the brightest, most resplendently orange bills. And, over time, the pale-billed oystercatchers race was superseded by the orange-billed. You see, my little Aw'aku, his father continued, the Great Ohak'inay favors adaptability among His creation, and those that adapt the best, survival of the fittest if you will, are those that eventually prevail according to His divine will.

Little Aw'aku ran away unimpressed and prepared to hear another story from his mother. This time, about how the World would come to an end, thousands of years in the future, on December 21st 2012 at 9:15 am.

[Note: fabrication intended for entertainment purposes only].

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