Feeding Seagulls

My best friend, Tom, had been renting a summer home in Amagansett, Long Island for a couple of years, and I finally got a chance to come out to the east end for a visit. He loved to go on and on about Montauk Point State Park and the lighthouse there. Since it was only a fifteen minute drive to the point, and since I thought it would be interesting to see the easternmost point of Long Island, it didn’t take much persuading to get me to agree to take a ride with him out there for a picnic lunch.

We stopped at a deli in Easthampton to pick up some food and drinks, and Tom put three loaves of seeded rye bread on the counter along with our order.

“What’s that for?” I asked.

With a mischievous twinkle in his eye he said, “You’ll see later…” Then he got this distant look and thought it over for a bit and decided to tell me, “I go out there a couple of times a week, and I found that the larger birds mostly seagulls, some terns and sometimes pelicans, who knows what else, they like to eat bread, and seeded rye seems to be their favourite.”

So, we continued on out to the point, and had a very nice lunch at this old stone building on a hill overlooking the rocky beach. There was a refreshment stand inside, but since we’d brought our own, we just sat on the terrace at one of the picnic tables and ate and watched the waves and the birds and the occasional tourist making their way down the narrow trails that wove their way through the scrubby greenery to the beach below. The lighthouse was just south of where we sat, sitting on a bluff over the water, but since you couldn’t go inside, I took a couple of pictures and we headed down the stairs to one of the trails.

“A lot fishermen go surf-casting around the north end of the point, but you can’t drive there unless you have a fishing license, so we have to walk,” Tom told me as we made our way between the prickly hedges down the trail that led to the beach.

When the trail we were following finally opened out onto the beach, I could see it was more pebbles and rocks and broken seashells than sand, liberally strewn with seaweed and other debris. “Not too many people around,” I commented.

“It’s early in the season. Most tourists usually stay closer to the lighthouse and the south side of the point, and I guess it’s a little late in the day for fishing.”

As we picked our way down the beach, we saw a couple of sandpipers scurrying in and out with the waves and some seagulls walking along the shore, and Tom said, “this looks like a good spot.” He sat down on a big rock and opened up the paper bag he was holding to fish out one of the loaves of bread. As he opened the wrapper, he said, “watch…”

The seagulls had been eyeing us curiously, and when Tom pulled out the first piece of bread, they came boldly walking up so that all he had to do was hold out a slice, and a gull would grab it, then fly a short way down the beach to land and feast. I don’t know where they all came from, but pretty soon, we were surrounded by about twenty-five to thirty seagulls, squabbling over slices of bread and making all sorts of noise.

I noticed that when one of the smaller seagulls would take some bread, it would be chased around by other gulls, all trying to snatch a bite. But there were some seagulls, perhaps? Who knows, maybe they were albatrosses? They were huge, and none of the other birds seemed to want to get in their way.

As I watched these large birds, I noticed that when they had their slice of bread, instead of just wolfing it down, they’d fly off a short way to a rocky area along the beach where there were some tidal pools full of seawater. A bird would land, drop its bread into a pool, then retrieve it and eat it.

I pointed this behaviour out to Tom, who smiled wickedly and said, “You shouldn’t be too surprised, it’s just like in the song… ‘Big gulls dunk rye.'”

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