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The gull on the left is a ring-billed, and the gull on the right is a California Gull, both of which are frequent visitors to Utah’s Great Salt Lake. For years I thought they were simply seagulls. — Photo by Pat Bean

 

In order to arrive at knowledge of the motions of birds in the air, it is first necessary to acquire knowledge of the winds, which we will prove by the motions of water in itself, and this knowledge will be a step enabling us to arrive at the knowledge of beings that fly between the air and the wind.” – Leonardo da Vinci

Just Ask Any Avid Birder

            In 1999, I became addicted to watching, identifying and listing birds. While I had always loved being outdoors in nature, these flying creatures, until this point in my life, had mostly gone unnoticed.

Then suddenly I was seeing them everywhere. I couldn’t not see them. Every profile on a utility pole, every rustle in a tree on a calm day, every small shadow flickering across my path had me looking to see a bird, and to identify it.

How had I lived for half a century and been so blind to their amazing numbers and varied activities?

My addiction didn’t happen overnight, however. I should have paid more attention to the warning signs, which included my suddenly finding opportunities to write about birds as part of my then assignment as an environmental reporter. Along with taking every opportunity to get out of the office for the day to research stories about things like forest management, wildlife habitat and water issues, I began writing stories that involved birds.

The Seagull Monument in Salt Lake City’s Temple Square. — Wikimedia photo

I wrote about backyard birding, hawk watching atop the Goshute Mountains, and the local Audubon field trips. But it was the story about Egg Island, a tiny bit of land in Great Salt Lake, that should have warned me about how crazy birders can be.

In writing the story, I called the gulls that nested on the island seagulls. As soon as the paper hit the streets, I had birders calling to tell me that there was no such thing as a seagull, that the birds nesting on the island were mostly California gulls. From the callers, I also learned that there were over 25 different species of gulls in North America – and none of them were seagulls.

I guess the artist who created the Seagull Statue that sits in Temple Square in Salt Lake City (to honor the “seagulls” that saved the crops of Mormon pioneers from a grasshopper infestation) wasn’t a birder.

Since writing that story about the birds that nest on Egg Island, I have personally seen and identified 15 species of North American gulls. In addition to the California gull, they include Sabine, Little, Bonaparte’s, Franklin, Laughing, Heerman’s, Mew, Ring-billed, Herring, Glaucous, Glaucous-winged, Western, Lesser Black-backed, and Great Black-backed.

I’m still looking for all the gulls I haven’t seen. But then I’m a crazy birder who now knows there is no such thing as a seagull.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Bean Pat: Travels and Trifles http://tinyurl.com/kcblvks Don’t Fence Me In.

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