Eight things I noticed on the beach yesterday evening

Ferry Beach, Saco, Maine

A Herring Gull swooped down onto the beach a hundred yards in front of me, carrying something large in its bill. Through the binoculars, I could see that the gull was carrying a fish, maybe a flounder, that looked too big for it to swallow. A young gull stood nearby, watching and hoping the older gull would drop the fish. The adult gull tossed the fish in the air, dropped it several times, tried to maneuver it so the fish’s head was pointing down the gull’s throat, and then, so quickly I didn’t see it, swallowed the fish. I could see a bulge in the gull’s throat. It swallowed hard a couple of times, then flew away.

A light rain shower passed over the beach, leaving the sand pockmarked with tiny craters where the big raindrops had hit.

I looked out over Saco Bay as the rain showers passed. The sun broke through the clouds in the west, and lit up Eagle Island, which is a mile or so out in the bay. The island stood out, bright and green, against the dark blue clouds and the dark gray sea. More sun came out, and picked out the tops of waves as they broke against the beach, turning them from a dull color to brilliant white.

Bits of a rainbow appeared in the sky: two short, bright bands at the horizon, marking out the north and south points of the bay; and pieces here and there against the dark clouds, so faint that at times I wasn’t sure if I was seeing them or not.

A Common Tern hovered over the water. I managed to get my binoculars up in time to watch it break out of its hover, plunge into the sea, and emerge with a small fish in its bill. It flew up, tossed the fish back and swallowed it, and shook itself dry as it flew off looking for more fish.

Halfway out to Eagle Island, fifty or sixty white specks appeared in a sudden ray of sun, circling around, hovering, and plunging into the sea.

Through some odd optical effect that I don’t understand, broad rays of alternating light and dark appeared in the clouds, radiating out from Wood Island; or perhaps I should say, converging down towards Wood Island. If I wasn’t aware that the sun was almost directly behind me, I would have thought that the sun must have been behind Wood Island, as if somehow the sun were setting in the east southeast, instead of in the west.

A dozen Bonaparte’s Gulls stood on the beach, keeping an eye on me now and then, but mostly doing nothing. They were all molting, losing the crisply-defined black heads of their breeding plumage, losing the odd tail feather, looking rather bedraggled. Presumably, these were first-year birds that never made it all the way up to the breeding grounds in Canada, and so here they sat on the coast of Maine, molting and waiting for the fall migration to begin in earnest. It was a poignant sight, an anticipation of the end of summer.

Posted two days after the fact — I’m a little behind in posting due to spotty Internet access here in Cambridge.