Capt. Sully Sullenberger

Schlepping Sully Part III

 I heard that. 
"I'm taking the time to read this and it's about a sea gull? Give me a break."
By the second day at Holland Lake, when it was becoming clear what Sully's situation was, I was telling myself the same thing. It's a gull!

Some time in early August, a storm came through Holland Lake and the next morning there was Sully. (No one seemed to know who named him, but we can assume he's named after Capt. "Sully" Sullenberger, who landed his disabled jet in the Hudson River.)(For a time, he was also known as Little Dude.)

The staff at Holland Lake began feeding him (bread, mostly) and so did the guests. By the time I arrived in mid-September, Sully was a well-established mascot of the Lodge though no one was sure what he was. They thought he was a gull, but a guest had told them he was a tern. I was the first person in the five or six weeks he'd been there who recognized that he was an immature Ring-billed gull--specifically a 1st winter bird. (Many gulls go through a number of plumage changes before reaching maturity and their full adult plumage.)

For readers who don't know my background, I have an undergraduate degree in biology, all my electives were ornithology classes, and my senior paper was on the territoriality of Great White herons in the Florida Keys. I've done animal rehab for 30 some odd years, and am past president of our local Audubon Society. I not only recognized what he was, but also his fate if he stayed much longer at Holland Lake Lodge.

Everyone agreed that he'd probably been blown in from Flat Head Lake about 50 miles north northwest of Holland Lake. That's where they'd seen lots of gulls in the past. Their plan was to capture him when the Lodge closed for the season (October 14th) and take him to Flat Head Lake. 

The only person in this workshop I knew, and not that well, was Elizabeth Rosner, our leader. Liz taught a well-received workshop at the Mendocino Coast Writers conference a year earlier. I'd met her, but as a frenzied board member, never spent more than a moment or two chatting. Then, this spring I ran into her at Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino. She told me about the workshop in Montana and I signed up--admittedly because it was in Montana. So, while I started worrying about Sully right away, I was uncomfortable being too out there with my dire predictions for his chances of survival in a crowd of strangers, all of whom were friends, and this their third or fourth writing workshop with Liz at Holland Lake Lodge.
Me and Sully by Liz Rosner

I started my campaign by asking about an animal rehab facility in the area. There had been someone, but he'd died recently. Then I suggested that catching a wild bird, even one as tame as Sully, was going to be a challenge. They'd only get one chance, and it was likely that he would bite whoever grabbed him and, even though that wouldn't really hurt, the knee-jerk reaction would be to drop him, and that would be that. They'd close down, and he'd be left on a lake surrounded by deep forest and high mountains to perish with the first snow. (Actually, as it turns out, he probably wouldn't have lasted another day or two.)

By day three, Liz, bless her insightful heart, suggested I take him when I left. I could drive him to Flat Head Lake. I asked the owner of the Lodge, who was immediately on-board and gave me a pet carrier to put him in. The next step was to change his diet. Yes gulls are scavengers and will eat just about anything, but a steady diet of bread wasn't doing him any good. The writers started tithing fish from their dinners. In the mornings, I'd order two eggs scrambled--one for me & one for Sully. I also discovered there were lots of small grasshoppers in areas where the lakeside grasses were long. I got very good and catching them, trying to ignore the image I was presenting to the other guests. Though a couple of the Lodge staff continued to bring him bread, Sully stopped eating it. 

Sully & Christina
There was a lot of concern about whether Sully could fly. When he saw me, he'd run across the yard. It wasn't until Day 5 that I saw him fly, but only for a few yards. If a dog came into the yard, he'd run to the lake and float away. He also slept on the lake at night. 

One thing I wanted to do was get him familiar with the pet carrier. I put it outside on the south side of the front entrance, door open and started feeding him in it. As I said, Sully was no fool, but he also trusted me--totally. I figured if I fed him in it for a few days and the door never slammed, when it was time to leave, he'd have lost his suspicion of it.After a couple of tries starting with bits of egg or fish in front of the cages, and each subsequent bite placed further and further into the cage, he got more daring--zipping in and out to snatch the meal. Success was at head until the day of the baby shower.

Holland Lake north (I think) by Liz Rosner

Me kayaking by Liz

Sully video
Familiar acrobats of the air, Ring-billed Gulls nimbly pluck tossed tidbits from on high. Comfortable around humans, they frequent parking lots, garbage dumps, beaches, and fields, sometimes by the hundreds. These are the gulls you're most likely to see far away from coastal areas—in fact, most Ring-billed Gulls nest in the interior of the continent, near freshwater. A black band encircling the yellow bill helps distinguish adults from other gulls—but look closely, as some other species have black or red spots on the bill.