Tag Archives: sea birds

Surf Dad

Grebes are a type of bird – oddly proportioned, graceless on land, they live most of their lives at sea, like sailors.  They hunt by diving into the water, flying through the depths, soaring between the currents.  Their legs are placed far back on their bodies, to propel these aquatic hunts, but making walking difficult. And in flight they should be embarrassed.

Boyfriend and I see them quite often.  Unafraid of every wave’s swell, often diving into them, which is more than I’m willing to do.  The types we see are typically sized – small to medium – arching their necks as if they were for all the world sea-bound swans.  These necks are black and white.  Their bills are yellow.  Their eyes are red.  We are always glad to see them.

A couple of weekends ago, I was standing on a rock, monitoring Boyfriend’s surfing exploits with our camera.  It can get dull between rides, so my attention will stray.  I had seen an adult pair of grebes earlier, red-eyed and companionable.

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Now, I saw what I thought was a wayward scud of foam to my distant right.  But as I watched, it seemed to disengage itself and start swimming against the tide.  To my delight I realized that it was a ‘raft’  (a group of grebes) of young grebes, possibly thirteen in all.  They were just about grown out of their down, but the adult coloration had not established itself yet.  They swam in a ragged line, diving into the waves, bobbing over them, coming dangerously close to the rocks.  I feared for their little lives.  The world needs more sea birds.

These little ones were being weaned from their parents – possibly the two I had seen earlier, free at last.  But these tiny youths might still have needed a parental figure, and were willing to accept any port in a storm.

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Waves of Panic

It didn’t last for long.  But for the briefest of moments, the ocean’s surface had begun to buzz, bubble and boil – like a cauldron’s substance, sprinkled with green salt and membranes of kelp.

Breaking through the surface were the bodies of fish, their muscles and spines contracting in uncontrolled leaps, their efforts evaporating in the air before they fell, helpless, back into the toothsome waters.  Their panic was anarchic; a school of bedlam.

Danger surrounded the little fish.  Danger sought them.  The sense of the coiling progress of a hunter, its quiet and bloody hunger, pricked their nerves into a scintillating panic.  Their only means of escape was a quick, confused leap into the suffocating air followed by a helpless collapse into the sea’s watery embrace.

The fish repeated their chaotic vaulting – the ocean’s surface was dimpled with the tracks of their frenzied attempts.  Instinct told them that the aerated arc above them was their only hope of escape although their gills fluctuated and gagged at every contact with the arid tides of barren molecules.

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But suddenly the air was torn apart by an approaching mayhem. As it drew closer it was heralded by cries that were sharp and pitched, by feathers that wandered into the froth – soft, curling messengers that presaged a secondary slaughter.  Like an armada the color of dusk, they floated on tiny, aimless journeys before sinking – to warn a terrified, submerged population.

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And just as the cries became shrieks, the water was assaulted by all the tools of hunger.  Screaming avian jaws lanced the surface of the water like needles perforating a quilt.  In a tumult of competition gulls, cormorants, shearwaters and terns plunged their faces into the ocean, their sharpened beaks an affront to the watery, fish-frenzied world.

And then just as suddenly, it was over.  The anarchy of the waves became serene; the muddle of violence was silenced.  The sky was unpopulated:  the dialogue of birds became a distant murmur, hidden in the pockets of salt and fog.  The predatory fish, sated and sleepy, sank into dark grottoes thick with alloys of green and coral.  As for the rest, the panicked prey, all that remained was a scent of oil and blood in the water and a silent flurry of scales beginning a slow descent:  witness to the terrible plan Nature had in store for them.