I like to keep my distance from seabirds. White droppings, bird diseases, beady eyes, and darting searches for crumbs under my table at Sharky's--all too close for comfort. Aggressive scavengers, they never miss a thing. An unsuspecting tourist can walk along the edge of the sea licking an ice cream cone, get dive-bombed, and be left holding an empty cone. Fast food containers, when carried onto the beach, wave like white flags of surrender, sure to attract a bird attack.
At a distance, though, I'm in awe of them. Soaring and dipping, diving and drinking, they fascinate the quiet observer with spectacles of flight and feeding. They're not easy to capture with a low-tech camera--I long for cool shots that show workings of wings, shapely silhouettes against sky and sea. I'll get one someday but only by accident--it's just a matter of clicks.
Meanwhile, there's the bird lady at Casperson Beach who supplies me with close-ups slow enough for my shutter. Every evening, she comes to sunset with a simple set-up--a folding chair and two loaves of bread rustling about in plastic wraps. The minute she sits down, swirls of birds arrive.
She treats them like children, scolding the big ones for pushing aside smaller ones as she tosses bits of bread torn from her loaves. "You be good now! Get away and let the little ones have a chance," she'll say. If they don't listen, she uses another tactic--holding back. Expectant, they stand stilll, riveted for the next toss. Some move slowly around the edges, jockeying for better positions. It's my time to shoot.
Suddenly, there's a burst, a flurry and bread bits fly thick and fast. The air vibrates with excited flapping and diving, dipping and devouring. The bird lady is joyous, thrilled to be surrounded by her friends. So much attention, so little time!
When she finally runs out of bread, they can't believe it. They stand about, the sun casting a glow on sand and feathers as it slips over the edge of the world.
Finally, worn out with waiting, one bird breaks ranks and the rest follow, swirling away down the beach.
The bird lady folds up her chair, satisfied.