Hart Beat by Hart Rufe

First published April 24, 2012 ... Contact Hart at hartrufe@gmail.com

Gull Thieves

The game is on as gulls swarm unwatched beach booty.


Gull TheivesWhen Hernando de Soto, the famous Spanish explorer and conquistador, conquered Peru in 1530, his expedition was regarded as extremely successful back in Spain because he came back a wealthy man with vast riches in gold and silver that he had plundered from the Incas. Conversely, his second trip to the new world in 1539 was deemed an utter failure, as he marauded his way through Indian territories now known as Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas, but did not find any gold, silver or treasure of any sort, and ultimately died in 1542 on the western bank of the Mississippi River. History credits de Soto as the “discoverer” of that great river.

This background is relevant because in 1898, at the height of the Spanish-American War, a fort was built on Mullet Key in Tampa Bay near the presumed location where Hernando de Soto began his American odyssey. The name Fort De Soto just sounds more imposing than “Fort Mullet Key.” I am certain that de Soto never dreamed that the REAL treasure of the area would be the birds and Gulf Shore beaches that attract visitors from all over the world.

Gull TheivesRecently we witnessed a modern day plunderer pillage local treasure on a Fort DeSoto Park beach. Unsuspecting beach-goers went for a pleasant stroll leaving their luncheon snacks protected only by plastic shopping bags and a small sand fort in front of their beach chairs. The natives, a group of Laughing and Ring-billed Gulls led by a foreign conquistador, Lesser Black-backed Gull, seized the loot and made off with it. In the photo above, the Lesser Black-backed can be seen taking command of the raid, and in the second photo he is successfully transporting his bounty to safer surroundings. The third photo depicts a juvenile Herring Gull attempting to steal a plastic bag of a Coke six pack. Note that he is alone in this endeavor. Finally, the Lesser Black-backed posed for his formal portrait.

The Lesser Black-backed Gull is a European gull that is slightly smaller than the more common Herring Gull. It is identified by the darker back (mantle) and wings, but not as deep and rich a black as the larger Great Black-backed Gull. One of the Lesser Black-backed Gulls’ most distinctive features is its yellow legs, contrary to the pink legs of the somewhat similar, but lighter backed, Herring Gull. It, like the human European invaders of yore, has become more common in the eastern United States, and can be found on Hutchison Island, both north and south, most winters. Ground zero for the species in the winter is in eastern Pennsylvania where they occur in the hundreds on two lakes – Nockamixon and Peace Valley, only a few miles from our Bucks County home.

Lesser Black-backed GullJust as the Spanish Galleons that transported stolen treasure from the New World back to Europe in the 1500s, (and sometimes sank in hurricanes off Fort Pierce Inlet, giving rise to our popular designation as “Treasure Coast”); and modern day double hulled oil tankers transport modern day treasures from the Middle East, past Florida, to refineries in Texas; perhaps future space shuttles will transport treasures of the future, (uranium? lithium?) from undiscovered planets back to the Space Coast with who knows what impact on the unsuspecting planet inhabitants.

Lesser Black-backed Gulls, as plunderers, are strictly “small-time.”