Thursday, August 20, 2015

Ode to Galician Seagulls


A Galician seagull keeping a very close eye on my sandwich (Islas Cíes)

A few weeks into my summer vacation, as I was riding a bike down a quiet road in my suburban Ohio neighborhood, I had a glorious thought. It was a thought that brought me so much joy in just a few seconds time. The thought was this: There are no seagulls here. I am far away from both the ocean and those sea faring little creatures and I’m actually a tiny bit glad that I am. (Cue the hallelujah chorus!) A seagull would have to fly very far and try with all its might to come to this landlocked state about 10 hours away from the coast and find me.

Maybe Western Atlantic seagulls aren’t as whiny and greedy as Eastern Atlantic seagulls but I would almost beg to differ. I have experience living on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean (first in Jacksonville and then most recently in A Coruña) but nothing could prepare me for living near the beach with dozens of Galician seagulls.



Atlantic seagulls chilling in the ocean after sunrise
(Jacksonville Beach, Florida)


One might argue that seagulls are seagulls and they all act largely the same for the most part. Well, I would argue even more that you haven’t truly met a seagull (with lots of attitude and personality) until you’ve met a Galician seagull. Nothing can really prepare you for them but maybe I can give you a few words of advice (and warnings) about them if you do have the honor of meeting one of these fellows someday.

Galician seagulls play hard ball. They have made their mark on almost all of the shoreline in the whole region but especially in A Coruña and they don’t have any plans to leave. None whatsoever. They are territorial and don’t take well to humans invading their turf. Heck, they don’t even like it when dogs invade their area or steal their food so don’t take it personally.

As they have marked out the beaches in the A Coruña province, the Islas Cíes (in Vigo) and the beaches that line the Rias Baixas area, they have a lot of territory to cover and protect. They show no mercy to the throngs of beachgoers who show up to their beaches, with picnic baskets, towels and sports equipment ready to spend the day enjoying the surf and sun. They will watch you like a hawk (one of their many archenemies besides the pelican) and make it their mission to steal your sandwich or bag of chips in 10 seconds flat. A few of them have a bet going and try to outperform one another in attempt to steal your lunch and your good mood. Trust me - it happens!



Clear water and pristine white beaches that are home to hundreds of seagulls

Paradise still looks nice and inviting, though, right?

Then there's the weather. The Galician seagulls get beaten up a lot during the winter in A Coruña. I didn’t know how much until I spent a full winter there myself barely traveling outside of the region. A Galician winter is no joke, let me tell you. If it’s not the blustery Nordic winds that hit them with a blast of cold air at any angle in the city, it’s the coastal storms that wreak both gale-force winds and pounding rain –and sometimes hail if it’s really putting on a show—on them and everyone else in the city. The Galician rain is discussed constantly by locals and other Spaniards but most of the time it comes down on everyone –animals and humans alike— as a mist or steady light rain. The storm systems that march on in and swirl around the city, however, are no joke and the seagulls find neither shelter nor reprieve from the rain. They could fly down to the Islas (or somewhere farther south) and get a break, kick back with their buddies there but in all this blinding rain and hail? They’d rather stay where they are and squawk their complaints to the rest of us. It requires minimal effort and almost zero extra flying time so why do anything else?

When the weather finally does clear up and sunny days are once a reality again, you think they would take a break and leave us poor humans alone. Not a chance! Well, there's a reason why they don't pack their bags and head out. I forgot to mention all the smoke and fire these seagulls have to deal with too. Midway into winter, they have to deal with all the Carnival celebrations and the burning of the Giant Sardine the Xunta (the local government) creates for the city. Well, I take that back. They burry the sardine in the ocean and then light a falla (a large, colorful paiper-mâche character) on fire which signals the end of the Carnival festivities and all the madness.  The city gets pretty smoky that night but it is nothing compared to the events that take place a few months later that really gets these seagulls worked up.

Let me share four words with you: noche de San Juan. To some it is a night full of risks, fires and drunken conversations and parties but to others it is the loudest and possibly rowdiest beach party in all the city. A lot of people go to smaller towns to usher in the first sights and sounds of summer but a large number of people stay in or come to visit La Coruña. From fireworks to free concerts to huge bonfires on the beach to partying the night away, the Noche de San Juan offers something for everyone –whether you want to stay out for a few hours or go all night. It’s up to you but it’s worth it.

Bonfires line the beaches of A Coruña for one magical night: San Juan
(Photo credit: corunaespiritudefuego.com)


The seagulls, however, practically get smoked out of their own habitat but those all-night bonfires don’t keep them away more than just a day. In fact, a few brave ones stay put and see what kinds of trash and food they can get into in the dumpsters. (As if they don’t already spend enough time any other given night scrounging through an open trash can or dumpster. Sigh…) They all come back the very next day because that’s when their party starts – the leftovers party that is. If you take a walk on the main beaches in A Coruña the day after San Juan -or the day after that-, the only things you will see are very few remnants of San Juan and hundreds of seagull footprints covering the sand. And if you try to get between a Galician seagull and a scrap of food or a measly plastic bag, well, you’ll regret you ever tried in the first place. Whatever falls on their beaches and is left unattended is theirs.

So, I get it, gaviotas galegas. Life in Galicia gets under your feathers and runs you through the wringer.  You can barely survive the rain and wind in the winter and then you get driven out of your modest little homes on the rocks at the beach (or wherever it is they build their homes) come summertime. The thing is…you guys could just migrate somewhere warmer and less temperamental  than say,…the rainiest region of Spain. Just a suggestion. On the other hand, it seems to me like you quite like this whole rampage you do to city dwellers of A Coruña and other cities in Galicia once the rainy season hits. Or when the weather is perfectly fine. I think you just like torturing us at 2 AM with your squawks that sound like meows or at the very sight of aluminum foil you swoop down and steal our tasty sandwiches that we spent hours preparing. Geez...


They are serious about their sandwich stealing business...let me tell ya.
But no, you won’t listen to me and change your ways. That requires too much effort and you guys would rather be lazy. And besides, I know what you think of me and what I am to you. I’m just another set of hands that can feed you, another pair of ears that can listen to your less than melodic squawks and another couple of eyes that can watch you fly away with massive amounts of garbage in your mouth.  You’re a big strong bunch of tough old birds, though, that’s for sure. And although I don't like you, I'll say this: More power to you!

Just don’t steal my sandwich next year and we’ll be on good terms. Got it? Good.


Okay, maybe just keep your distance and stay far, far away from me. (Photo taken on the lovely Islas Cíes)


Have you dealt with Galician seagulls before? Or do you have experience with a different type of bird or animal in another part of the world? Share your stories and thoughts (both good and not-so-good) in the comments below!


No comments:

Post a Comment