Schlepping Sully, the End

Through rain and sleet. . . kidding. Actually, as much as I'm not fond of a high desert landscape, the rain and the black clouds made it kind of beautiful. Sully and I dipped into Nevada, then back up into Oregon. As we neared the California state line, a single thought occupied my mind: will the fruit and veggie border patrol let me bring a gull into the State. I was hopeful. I brought my parrot in 22 years ago. I needn't have worried. They are still only looking for produce.

That day we made it to Burney Falls. I found a motel easily enough, but the less expensive queen rooms did not have tubs. For $20 extra, I could get the last king, and did I have a pet?

I was getting better at lying. "A bird, but he can stay in the car."

Though the motel looked like something out of the 1940s, it had the best bathroom of the trip. (As you can see.) I let Sully out and he flapped his wings, lifting off the tile floor, like a dancer. While I filled his bath, he bounced around the room, tapping the floor with his webbed-feet, and flapping his wings to lift himself inches off the ground--a ballet of sorts.

This was our third night in a motel, and Sully knew the drill. He flew over landed on the towel on the side of the tub and dove in. I had to close the curtain to keep him from flinging the contents of the tub out on the floor.   

The remaining fish was looking a little gummy, so I left him to enjoy his bath, and drove to Safeway, where I found two Tilapia fillets for four dollars.

The next morning, my tire pressure light was on. (And of course the Maintenance Required light still burned brightly.) I passed Mike's Automotive Repair on the edge of town, did a U-turn, and pulled in to have them check the oil and add air to the tires.

I think the worst part of the drive for Sully, and for me, was listening to him being pitched from side to side in the cage for the entire the length of Hwy. 20--the last leg of our journey.. (For unfamiliar readers, Hwy. 20 from Willits to Fort Bragg, is 33 miles of unrelenting twists and turns.) (Our roads, from inland to the Coast, are what keep us from looking like Disneyland in the summer.)

Sully and I had driven 1600 miles and I still hadn't decided what I was going to do with him. I'd whittled the choices down to Noyo Harbor, where the gulls trail after the incoming fishing boats, or Lake Cleone, which is north of town. It's a fresh water lake, and since Sully had been born on a freshwater lake, I was leaning toward it. At that moment, I was too tired to decide anything. It was 3 p.m.; I drove home.

There is an 8 X 8 foot flight cage in my backyard from my animal rehab days. I let Sully bathe in my tub, then took him out and put him in the flight cage. I decided to decide in the morning. 

Sully was not used to flying, so I wasn't sure how strong a flier he was. He was also used to being fed by humans, and foraging for himself on the ground. Noyo Harbor was ideal for gulls used to following boats, and diving for fish scraps on the wing. That was not Sully. I thought the competition in the harbor would overwhelm him, so before dawn the next morning, I got up, stuffed Sully in his cage and drove to Lake Cleone. No more thinking about it, or weighing my options. I opened the cage door, and dumped him out. He ran straight through the crowd of ducks, launched himself into the lake and took a bath. That's Sully in the picture below, one minute into his new life.

The other advantage to Lake Cleone is it's full of minnows, and insects, and just on the other side of an old road, is the ocean. There are hundreds of gulls over there, and they come to Cleone to bathe. My hope was he'd join them. Until he did, I would drive out every day to feed him.
Lake Cleone at sunrise

My heart nearly broke the next day when I went out with fresh fish and a scrambled egg and couldn't find him. 

The day after that, he was sitting on the grass with the ducks. He saw me wave to him through the windshield, blinked like he couldn't believe his eyes and ran to meet me. Fending off a young herring gull, I fed him a bowl of fish and an egg. He headed straight to the lake for a bath. 

For the next two days, he wasn't there when I was, then, last Thursday, I think I saw him for the last time. There are other 1st winter Ring-bills out there, but once the boo-boo on Sully's bill healed, I couldn't tell him from the others. I think it was him. He was near the picnic table, and he took what I tossed him, but he didn't come any nearer than the other three gulls. 
Lagoon Point looking west.


It's what I hoped for, of course, but I also miss him. I keep telling myself that I did all I possibly could. That's the hardest thing, isn't it? The not knowing for sure.
Just on the other side of the road from Lake Cleone looking north
P.S. I've been out 4 more times since the last time I saw a Ring-bill and knew it was him. If he's there, and I can't imagine why he wouldn't be, he's been absorbed and is back to being a wild gull.