In the course of returning some “borrowed” tidepool organisms back to their home surf, we stopped to hang out at Hampton Beach State Park today. This beach is popular with gulls of several species, and is not far from the Isles of Shoals, a group of islands where both gulls and terns nest in the summer. One of these, Appledore Island, is the research site of Dr. Julie Ellis, who places bands on the birds in order to study their travels and life histories. Though the birds can travel all the way to the Gulf of Mexico in a given year, any beach from southern Maine to northern Massachusetts is a particularly good place to look for her birds, and if you find one, you can report it and participate in actual science. Sure enough, we saw a young Herring Gull sporting band number P09.
The bands on the birds’ legs are designed to be easy to read, though binoculars are a big help. Lacking that, you could just sit down and eat a snack and the Hampton Beach gulls will gather around, approaching quite closely in hopes of getting a piece of your granola bar. Then you can snap a picture or just write down the band number. Julie bands both Herring Gulls (green bands) and Great Black-backed Gulls (black bands), and both are quite captivating to observe. Simon was very intrigued by their vocalizations today, and turned to me saying, “Why does he say ‘Ur! Ur! Ur!’ Mum? That’s his alarm call that says he’s afraid of the waves, is that right, Mum?” If I ever thought I would end up with kids who would not be science geeks, this was yet another indication that we are already well down that path, and unlikely to reverse course.