Have to Laugh

Did Laughing Gulls get their name from the sound of their calls? Or do they get their name from the fact that it’s hard not to laugh when we hear them?

Laughing Gulls, Hanna Beach

Laughing Gulls, Hanna Beach

I’ve cleared my business schedule this week so that I can focus on a self-imposed writing retreat, right here at home. The rules are no business-related writing. No conference calls or meetings. No client deadlines and no sales activities. Instead, I am spending the entire week focusing on a personal writing project, in hopes of pounding out a significant word count and bringing the end of this manuscript in sight.

To kick off my writing week properly, I spent an unusually warm Monday afternoon at Hanna Beach. As I walked I was already running phrases and paragraphs in my head, writing before the writing, which is a common practice for me. I had a good pace going and noticed that I was approaching a flock of gulls but didn’t pay much attention to what kinds had gathered. Instead I was watching a handful of pelicans diving repeatedly just offshore, when suddenly I found myself smiling and then laughing out loud.

The flock I had caught up with was mostly Laughing Gulls and they were separating left and right to create a path for me to walk through them. They were also complaining about it. Just as I made eye contact with one gull, he (she? it?) threw back his head and called Ha Ha Ha so loudly that the gulls near him stepped a little farther aside.

I had to laugh. I always have to laugh when I hear them calling.

Spring is coming and when it does, a group of Laughing Gulls will gather here at the apartment complex where we live and squabble with the crows about who gets to perch on top of the community center building and proclaim themselves King of the Complex. Each morning, with the sunrise, the squabbling will begin and I’ll wake up to the Ha Ha Ha of the Laughing Gulls. After experiencing that last spring, I know there will be many mornings when I’ll have to laugh with them, and isn’t that a great way to start the day?

Bird Party

IMG_7017One of my favorite books when I was a little girl was Go, Dog. Go! I didn’t care about the girl dog with many hats constantly seeking approval or the fact that the dogs drove cars. What I loved about the book was the dog party, the idea that all kinds of dogs gathered together at the end to have a good time.

Walking along southern Jax Beach this past weekend I saw what I’m pretty sure was a bird party.

Several kinds of gulls and terns, skimmers, and sanderlings often congregate together in large mixed flocks on winter days, when the beach isn’t heavily populated with people. Saturday’s above average warmth and abundant sunshine brought out a few extra bodies, but not enough to deter the birds and several flocks dotted the coastline, right where the water met the sand. But they were only half of the party.

The real action was happening just offshore, taking advantage of a calm surf. More than a dozen pelicans were taking turns circling above, diving into the sea, bobbing about for a bit  on the surface, and then taking off to restart the sequence. This is a common occurrence, of course, but on that day, the pelicans were diving and bobbing with large flocks of gulls and other birds, some diving occasionally as well but mostly floating in big groups that mirrored the ones on shore. In the sand and in the surf there was a lot of chatter, and the skies between were criss crossed with feathered friends winging from group to group, squawking their hellos and goodbyes or maybe spreading gossip. Whatever they were communicating it was evident that all those different kinds of birds gathered together in the sand, sea, and sky were having a good time.

Go, birds. Go!

My kingdom for a “real” camera

A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!

–Richard III, Shakespeare

As The Beach Writer I spend a good bit of time on the coast, and I spend a lot of my coast time walking. I need and enjoy the exercise, sure, but I walk because it helps me create. As I walk along the beach I see what I can see, and I think about what I can make of it.

Most days I snap an average of 20-50 photos with my iPhone camera, some of which I’ve posted here. I don’t fret about their quality. After all, they are snapshots, a glimpse of what I saw, a reminder of what caught my eye or tickled my brain that day. I don’t usually focus on what I can’t reasonably assume I can capture with the limited capabilities of my “camera.”

That changed last Friday.

I blame the pelicans.

Friday’s walk started out uneventfully. The day was overcast gray and breezy enough to wear a jacket, while not cold enough to stop me from walking barefoot and wading in the surf. In the beginning my husband was walking beside me but then something in the sand caught his eye for a photo and I heard the familiar “go ahead, I’ll catch up.” Soon we were separated by a quarter of a mile or more of beach, and that’s when they buzzed me on the left.

They being the pelicans. A pair of them snuck up from behind, flying no more than a couple of feet above the sand, and passed within 10 feet of me. They flew a couple of football fields ahead and then landed at the water’s edge. They were still there when I reached their landing spot and I noticed that just coming into view in the distance was an entire flock of pelicans mixed in with gulls, terns and skimmers.

The pair basically dared me to take their picture, allowing me to slowly walk within about a dozen feet of them and kneel down in the sand while clicking up a storm with my iPhone. But I wasn’t fooled. I knew I wasn’t going to get anything good. Maybe if it had been sunny I’d have gotten lucky with a couple of shots. But I have taken enough gray day beach photos to know that my iPhone camera can’t handle low lighting and doesn’t have a proper zoom function.

What I needed was the camera and lens that I used when I published the newspaper. That was a “real” camera.

“Where are you?” I asked my husband moments later, having given up on the camera feature and using the iPhone as, surprise, a phone instead. “There are pelicans here!”

Yes, I sounded 12. No, my husband was not shocked. We’ve been married a long time.

As we talked, a jogger approaching from farther down the beach startled the birds flocked ahead and soon all were in flight around, over and past me, making a beeline for my husband.

“They’re coming for you.”

I counted 18 pelicans plus the pair before I lost track. Easily more than two dozen flew past me, the most I’ve seen at one time and certainly the most I’ve seen that close. When I met back up with my husband up the coast, nearly half of the flock was floating just off shore, within wading distance, feeding on something clearly both tasty and abundant.

We watched them together until the wind picked up enough that standing still was undesirable, and then returned home without a single decent photo between us, but at least one shared thought.

It’s time to invest in a “real” camera.