1380 kilometres from home

We amble down to Newton Abbot Quay. There’s a raucous squabble under the bridge as Black Headed Gulls compete for food. “Look out for one with a ring”, I say, hoping that I’ll see J1P4 again. It’s a gull which was ringed in 2011 in Norway and flies here to South Devon every winter to spend time in Decoy Country Park. Then it goes back to breed.

Amazingly, I spot a gull with a ring. It’s circling clockwise across the water and then round to the bank of the quay. I throw a tiny piece of bread into its path and it catches it perfectly in mid air and continues in its circle without even pausing a wingbeat. “There’s one with a ring!” I shout as I watch it coming closer. “There!” I say as I throw another piece of bread and it catches it with the smoothest motion possible. The Puffin Whisperer can see it now and is getting her camera ready. “Here it comes!”

She gets a sequence of photos. As the gull lands in the river it scoops up some water to wet the bread in its crop. We look at the back of her camera and enlarge the photo. J1P4. It’s the same bird, back from Norway.

Black-Headed Gull - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

What a thrill to have a sense of connection, a sense of wildness, a sense of the immensity of distance and a sense of the fragility of life. J1P4, I salute you.

It’s also a lesson that it’s not possible to throw bread and take photographs at the same time, so here’s my photograph of a different gull entirely:

Black-Headed Gull - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

I know you’re not meant to feed gulls bread. My only excuse is that this is citizen science.

I logon to the Norwegian researchers’ website and enter the bird’s details. Its last position was 1380km away. I now feel connected to all the other people who have spotted it, living different lives in different countries, speaking different languages, who all want to contribute to studying J1P4’s life. When I say they speak different languages, I mean different first languages. They probably speak English as well as I do, with a worse accent but better grammar.

J1P4, I salute you.

Black-Headed Gull migration - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

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