Ring-billed gull

Y'all Qaeda in Oregon

The last time I visited Malheur National Wildlife refuge was October 2013. Some of you might remember. I was Schlepping Sully V,  the ring-billed gull I bird-napped from Holland Lake, MT. Malheur, one of my favorite places on the planet, was my first choice of where to release him. I spent the night in Burns with Sully in the bathtub.

As it turned out, the next day was cold, windy, and raining. I couldn't find a single bird much less a population of gulls to introduce him to, so I drove on.

Fotos de Frenchglen - Imágenes de Frenchglen, Oregón - TripAdvisorMy first visit to Malheur was long before I moved to California. I was still a student at University of Miami, finishing up a degree in Biology. I'd started writing by then and I was into photography and birds, birds, birds--thanks to Dr. Owre, a professor of ornithology. On that first trip, I "discovered" Frenchglen, a wonderful little B&B, and spent the next day or two driving round and round the refuge.

After that, I visited every chance I got. I took my friend, Janice, when we drove my husband's old SUV back to Miami from San Francisco, and broke down 5 times in 4 states. We learned to pee on the side of the road by sitting on the running board between two open doors.

When I moved to California, I drove hundreds of miles out of the way because I wanted to see it again. I'd bought an RV for the move and was hauling Hopi, my parrot, now 35 years old, Rosie, my albino red rat snake, Lovie, a tame white dove, and Nauvoo, the coal black kitten I acquired on the way. We stopped for lunch under a stand of cottonwoods in Malheur. The RV door was open and I was making a sandwich when a young deer stuck his or her head in. While I ate, sitting in the doorway, the yearling munched the apple I gave it and let me rub its neck, then broke my heart chasing after me as I drove away. 

My friend, Janice, sent this NYTimes story to me this morning. It's a reminder, Malheur NWR belongs to all of us. Anyone can visit. This B.S. about 'returning it to the people' is just that. It was never theirs. What they want is to take it from the many for the use of the few.  

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.


Schlepping Sully Part V

Flathead Lake by majikphil3.blogspot.com

Flathead Lake in Winter by brix.berg.com

Assured that there were gulls at Flathead Lake all year long, I left Holland Lake for the 50-plus mile drive north, where I expected to off-load my cargo, then return to Holland Lake Lodge with their pet carrier. The four mile drive over the washboard road from the Lodge to the highway was the longest of the entire trip. Poor, trusting Sully had been slapped into a cage, covered with a blanket, and was now being rattled about like a bean in a can. He flapped and paced for the entire drive. On the upside, I figured he'd never put his survival in the hands of another human being.  

Malheur NWR Oregonlive.com

An hour after leaving the Lodge, I arrived at the north end of Flathead Lake. I drove from point to point along the lake, scanning it with binoculars for gulls. There were none. I turned around and headed south on Hwy. 35, which paralleled the east side of the lake, pulling over at every opportunity to scope out the shoreline. I began to feel like an idiot for not trusting my instincts. Of course, there were no gulls. What would they eat over winter even if the lake didn't freeze, which I was told it never did. At the southern tip of the lake, I turned south toward Missoula. The next best option was Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, in southeast Oregon--a day and a half away.

About this time the Maintenance Required light that had been flashing each time I started the Prius, came on permanently.

I was south of Missoula on some back road, when I found a nice pull off and decided to see if feeding Sully would relive his unrelenting anxiety. The writers group had pitched in fish from our last meal at the Lodge. I had a Ziploc full of halibut, a couple of scallops, a lovely chunk of Panko-crusted trout, and some scrambled eggs. 

You may recall from Part I that I'd planned to camp both coming and going to Montana, so the entire length of the rear of the passenger side of the car was filled with a feather comforter folded in half. Behind my seat was a folding chair on top of which I'd placed Sully's pet carrier. A small cooler was behind the passenger seat with the head of the comforter covering it. My laptop and all associated paraphernalia were in a backpack, on top of the comforter, as was my suitcase. There was another bag containing a cook-stove, plate, cutting board, and utensils jammed in next to the cooler. Oh, and a bag of groceries, whittled down to crackers, a can of Wasabi peas, peanut butter, toilet paper and paper towels.

I failed to mention that I'd lined the bottom of Sully's cage with a couple sheets of newspaper for the drive to Flathead Lake. Not nearly enough, but like most smells you get used to them, and frankly, I kind of grew to like it. Anyway, I got some fish and eggs from the Ziploc in the cooler, then traipsed around to Sully's side of the car, open the cage door wide enough to get my arm in, and fed him. After that, he settled down.

I'd been up since before dawn and, with Sully quiet, I started to get sleepy myself. I was on Hwy. 93, which paralleled the lovely Salmon River. I found a wayside park, pulled in, climbed onto that down bed, put my legs on top of my suitcase, and fell asleep until Sully fluffed his feathers about 10 minutes later.

We're by then about 350 miles into the trip and the first night on the road to Malheur was looming. There were campgrounds along the river, but what were the chances I'd get a wink of sleep? I looked at the map and decided the next town I came to large enough to have a motel would be it for the day. What exactly I was going to do with Sully, I wasn't sure, but as we became fond of saying at the writers workshop. "I'll burn that bridge when I come to it." (This story is long enough without explaining how funny we thought that was.)
I owe them 4 stars. Northgate Inn, Challis.

 The Northgate Inn, Challis, ID. Their sign said, WiFi and pets welcome. It was family owned and the nice lady asked me, when I checked in, if I had a pet. I was honest. I said a bird.

"I won't charge you for it."

I'm pretty sure her mind went to a parakeet, or maybe a canary, but she didn't ask and I didn't tell her. Though my room was near the front, I parked at the rear entrance to the motel, checked that the coast was clear, and rushed down the hall with Sully's cage. 

When I checked in, I specifically asked if the rooms had bathtubs. I'm sure you can see my thinking here. They did and that's where Sully spent the night. I ran a little water in tub, and opened the cage door. He wasn't too eager to come out until I splashed water like a bird bathing. He couldn't resist then. I put the cage on the floor, and started filling the tub. It scared him at first, but with the shower curtain pulled, he couldn't get out. I filled it more slowly, and pretty soon, he was all in. He bathed with wing-slapping joy, not once but three times. I fed him, made sure the shower curtain had no gaps, and turned out the light. Night, night, bird.

I won't go into what the tub looked like in the morning. I drained it, fed Sully, refilled it so he could bathe again, then put him in his cage, and took a shower myself to rinse away any further evidence.
Sunrise in Challis, ID

I carry a Fort Bragg phone book in my car. I looked up my mechanic's home phone number and called to ask if I should worry about the Maintenance Required light. He said it meant I needed an oil change, and not to worry.

"I'm about 1000 miles from home."  

"You'll make it."

My second call was to Ron LeValley, an authority on birds. He said Malheur would be a perfect place for Sully, and if not there, try Klamath NWR in south central Oregon.
There was a little restaurant a block or two down the street. For breakfast, I ordered one egg over easy and one egg scrambled to go.

Hwy 93 out of Challis Flickr.com

In memory of Oscar "Bud" Owre
       on this his birthday

Schlepping Sully Part IV

I think this is Glacier NP from the Lodge
I was set to depart for home on Sunday morning the 22nd. On Thursday, I mentioned to the staff person who'd been feeding Sully (bread) for 6 weeks that, with any luck, I'd be taking him with me.
        "Oh no, she said. "I'd miss him. I'll take him to Flat Head Lake when I leave."

This played into all my trepidations about taking him. Was it the right thing to do? Would he fly out of here on his own when the time came? Had that time come and gone? What if there weren't any birds at Flat Head Lake? The only other birds on Holland Lake were a pair of mergansers, and a Western grebe. (Or so I thought.) And if there were no gulls at Flat Head Lake, what was I going to do with a gull in the car for the 4-day drive home?

If I leave him, I told her, will you stop feeding him bread? He needs protein--left over fish, scrambled eggs.

         "Gulls are scavengers," she said. "He'll be fine."

If she hadn't said that, I might have left him, but she was blowing me off. She'd been taking care of Sully for 6 weeks and here's some squat little old lady about to abscond with their mascot--her buddy. She couldn't have cared less about my credentials or whatever it was I thought I knew about birds.

To be fair, all the staff at Holland Lake Lodge is amazing. Every person knows your name by day two, and you are treated like family. It was one of the most pleasant experiences I've ever had--with the single exception of worrying about the damn bird.

There was a baby shower on the lawn the same day I revealed the plan to Sully's other mother. I totally understood that they didn't want the pet carrier in the view shed, but it went from being placed out of sight to disappearing completely.

At night I would sleep for a few hours, then wake and run all the scenarios on a loop in my head. If I was a normal person (and I mean that in every sense of the word) I would have let this go, deciding that it was their bird, so to speak, and that I should let nature take it's course. But then I'm not normal.

Those of you who have read Lost in the River of Grass may see reality playing out where only a fiction existed. I didn't see that link between me, and my struggle to do the right thing by Sully, and Sarah and Teapot, the baby mallard in Lost . . . until I was on the road home. Or for that matter, now that I think about it, Joey and Sukari, Hannah and Rega, and Buddy and Annie. It's who I am, and what I do, and the theme of every bloody book I write. Duh!

I went to Liz for advice. After all she and this group of writers were regulars; they'd already booked next year's dates. I didn't want to turn the whole place on its ear over practically the most common species of GULL on the planet. Bless her and them. To a person, they were in my corner and suggested I email the owner who'd left--poor guy--for a vacation of his own. I asked yea or nay, did he want me to back off and leave Sully there?

I spent another sleepless night waiting for his answer, not at all sure, he'd even check his email. The next morning I decided to ask the owner's mother. She said absolutely I should take him, and promised I'd get the cage back to me on Sunday morning. Of course, that meant no more training him to eat on the inside, but there was nothing more I could do. I knew for sure that I'd get one shot at him. During breakfast, she whispered that the owner had called her. They both wanted me to take him.

That night, I borrowed a sleeping pill from one of the other writers.

I packed up Saturday night and put most of my stuff in the car. I also moved it out of sight of the apartment where this staff person lives. The gull-napping plan was afoot. It was still dark when I woke Sunday morning. I looked out the window, saw the cage but the gate, and Sully standing in the yard looking at it. I grabbed my bowl of leftover fish, scallops, and scrambled eggs, and tiptoed down stairs. No one else was awake, so I crept outside, and moved the cage over by the door where I'd fed him before. Sully came running, but would have no part of going in after the tidbits I placed in the rear of the cage. I spent 30 minutes alone working on getting him in, then the yellow jackets showed up, and the first guests started trouping out to watch the sunrise.

Sully wasn't bothered by people walking in and out, but he'd have no part of trying to take something away from a yellow jacket. I removed the food, and went in to take the chill off by the fire. Breakfast was starting and the place would soon be swarming with guests. I wanted to cry. Instead, I defrosted my feet and hands and went back out to try again.

I placed a tiny bite at a time--afraid he'd get full and lose interest--first in front of the cage, then just inside. He snatched them in the blink of an eye. If he didn't get at least the front half of himself in the cage, I wouldn't be fast enough to get the door closed. My stomach churned, and my back was killing me.

The sun was up and people were headed back in for breakfast. I'd been at it for well over an hour. Scallops were is favorite. I gave him a tiny taste, then put another bite in the center of the cage. I heard the lodge door start to open, but didn't dare look up. I heard it close. Sully charged in, I smacked him in the butt, and slammed the door. I grabbed the blanket I'd brought from my car, covered the cage to keep him from squawking, and took off down the trail through the woods to my car.

At breakfast, one of the other writers asked if I'd seen the eagle.circling off shore yesterday morning? I had not, but now was pretty sure Sully's life expectancy had been that day or the next.

This is how clear Holland Lake is.

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.  http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/ring-billed_gull/id

Schlepping Sully Part II

Have you ever heard the reason I moved to northern California? If you haven't, you're the only one. So I would never be hot again as long as I live.

A couple of years ago, when it was clear that I could no longer afford the gas to keep the battery charged much less take another road trip, I sold the RV. About the same time the Cash for Clunker opportunity came along and I got rid of my Ford Explorer. I now drive a Prius. Additionally, I'm not pleased about the fact I am three and a half inches shorter than my once full height of 5' 5", but it came in handy when I decided I would camp on my trip to Montana. Not in a tent. I'm way too old to be interested in that. In the Prius. I pulled the passenger seat all the way forward, placed a feather comforter the full length of that side of the car, added a sleeping bag, a couple of pillows, my little cook-stove (for coffee in the mornings) and a small cooler. I spent the first two nights at my friend's gorgeous 'beach' house in Yachats, then headed east. I watched the temperature going up and up as I got away from the Oregon coast. By the time I got to Bend, it was in the high 90s. I checked into a motel for the night.

I went to Bend specifically to visit Healing Reins, a therapeutic riding center. A friend of mine is working toward launching a center here on the Mendocino coast. I wanted to make contact with one of the best.
Wednesday October 16, 2013 from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM PDT
at Healing Reins in Bend

There were two new chickens in the carrier. I'm not sure of the message this little goat was sending them.
This picture is blurry because I was smiling too hard.
                John Day website

From Bend I drifted northeast, hoping for cooler weather. I'd wanted to visit the John Day Fossil Beds again, but it was 95 degrees there, so I snapped a couple of pictures and drove on to find a motel with a strong AC unit in Ontario, OR. That night there was a lightning and thunder storm that made this old fossil happy to be snug in her bed.

It was in Idaho I first noticed that 'deer crossing' signs had changed to 'game crossing.'

The next day the temperature was nearer what I thought I could cope with, and I was determined to camp on my last night before reaching Holland Lake Lodge where the writing workshop was to take place. I crossed Idaho and came into Montana through Lolo. That's where the big fire was earlier in the month. The aftermath, as expected, was sad, but it gave me renewed admiration for fire-fighters. I passed a number of houses that remained untouched by the fire which had burned all the trees around them. One right up to its back door.

Because of the fire, all the campgrounds were closed for the remainder of the season. I checked into a motel in Missoula. Missoula, BTW, is beautiful. They have an appreciation for trees that beats anything I think I've ever seen. From an over-pass, the tops of trees are all you can see in neighborhood after neighborhood. Very impressed.

First afternoon on Holland Lake
See that bird on the shore? Guess who.

Schlepping Sully Part I

Hopi pronounced Hoppy
For the last two weeks I've either been driving to Montana, writing in Montana, or driving home. I logged 2927 miles. I decided to drive because I reread Steinbeck's Travels With Charlie this summer, and used to love to drive. When I moved to Fort Bragg from Miami I took a circuitous 9000 mile route, rambling through the five states that I had never been to: Arkansas, Wisconsin, North and South Dakota, and Montana. It took me seven weeks of traveling back-roads in the RV I bought expressly for the move. I was accompanied by my parrot, then only 11 years old, a tame white dove who sat on infertile eggs the entire trip in her basket which hung in the bathroom off the shower head, and an albino
red rat snake--one of my going away presents. Rosie lived 9 years. In Nauvoo, IL, I picked up a stray kitten. That trip was 22 years ago.

My trip to Montana started with a 10 hour drive up the coast to Yachats (pronounced Ya hots), OR. A dear friend moved there a few years ago and this was a chance for a visit. She took me to Newport where we visited the Hatfield Marine Science Center. They had truly interesting exhibits, but you know my fondness for octopuses. They have a Pacific Giant octopus on 'octocam' which they feed on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 1 pm. If you go to the octocam at that time, you can watch them feed her. http://hmsc.oregonstate.edu/visitor/octocam (if link doesn't work, copy and paste into your search engine.) 

Waves at Point Cabrillo for example
Another stop we made was to a memorial for two young men who were killed when a sneaker wave swept them off the rocks. I was so moved by the memorial one of the boy's mother had erected at the site, that I took pictures. Here on the Mendocino Coast, not a year passes that we don't have a fatal encounter with the sea. 

They were standing on the rock at the top of the picture 

And were swept into the crevice.

The memorial on a prettier day by Linda Watson

So who is Sully?
Wait for Part II in a few days.