Our seaside aviators
By Conservation Officer Kevin O'Hara
Now, here's the thing, I like gulls (yes, those big things that harass the life out of you until you relinquish your chips whilst on a day trip to Seahouses).
I'm being very broad-brushed here, as there are so many different types, but at this week's Sunderland International Air Show it dawned on me why I have so much appreciation for these often less-welcome members of our avifauna.
I was having a day out fishing with friends in a boat on the day of the air show.
After a morning of fruitlessly trolling the ocean for a few hardly-mentionable fishy morsels, I got to appreciate just how hard it is to make a living at sea; yet it is home to some of the longest-surviving and most successful bird species: the gulls and albatrosses.
But, when you look at gulls they are very successful; no other group of species is quite so well adapted to 21st Century life.
On our sorties between fishing marks we were joined by an array of species: fulmars (yes, I know they are not true gulls), herring gulls, black backs and small common gulls and kittiwakes.
All displayed different aerobatic skills to reflect their different lifestyles.
The black backs and herring gull used their superior size to simply gatecrash the party, whilst the fulmar quartered every inch of water on effortless straight wings, whilst the kittiwakes danced lightly, picking off the merest of morsels at the edges of the feeding frenzy.
One bird stood out to me though: the herring gull, beautiful in its own right, pure white, neatly-tailored greys and black uppers.
As its name suggests it is a bird associated with the herring (the fish).
The herring and the herring gull have been intractably linked for eons, but it is also one of the few examples of wildlife adapting to survive successfully.
In many cases, a species so closely associated with its prey suffers badly when its prey diminishes, but not the herring gull.
As we sat at anchor, watching the magnificent aerial displays of modern fighter jets, we were constantly being searched by other airborne eyes, ever on the look-out for a titbit.
Their eyes never missed a thing; so sharp was their vision that the tiniest offering from a discarded sarnie was picked up within seconds of it hitting the water. True testament to their success is their ability to use little energy whilst hanging motionless in the air, quartering the open sea and land, with eyesight as keen as mustard.
I have to say though, that whilst we all appreciated their antics and mopping-up operations, we were glad they were not the same size as the star of the show, the Vulcan bomber, as we had several near-misses from strafing missions of their own.
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