Seagull in the Sunset picture

Seagull in the Sunset

Seagull in the Sunset

The picture on my home page is from the beach near John’s Pass on the Gulf of Mexico. Some have asked me to explain what it means to me.

Seagulls and pelicans are a frequent subject of my waterside musing. There is usually a few of them around to watch and they have interesting flying techniques. Watch pelicans flying formation over the smooth water of a bay. When they glide, they descend to as close to the seawater as they can. Sometimes they even get so close they dip their belly. It must be natural for them to do this because it seems they all use the same technique. Compressing the air between their wings and the surface of the water reduces the drag created by their wings. This extends their gliding distance and increases the time they can rest before climbing up to give their wings clearance to make a few more flaps providing the thrust to again glide and rest. The wingman in the formation time their flaps and glides to the lead bird so to ride the airwaves caused by the leader reducing the effort of the wingmen in the formation. Then after a time they trade places to share the effort of being lead bird.

I don’t see Gulls doing such precise formation flying. Their formations are a crowd standing on the beach watching for the next opportunity to grab a snack. But, I like to watch them maneuver and land as well as takeoff. There are as many different techniques as there are gulls. One makes three or four turns trying to line up with an empty spot on the beach. You can see him bending his wings, twisting his tail and even holding his feet out in the wind all at the same time with little or no coordination of the efforts. Then the landing itself consists of three hops, two steps and a slide to a stop. Later you see another gull that seems to have accomplished effortless flight. When he takes off, he turns his nose to the wind and seems to fall from ground into the sky. During his approach to landing, he does not flap his wings and the touchdown is as light and easy for him as taking a relaxed step across the sand. There is no need to keep track of the gulls or to try judging which one has the best or worst technique. Actually, it may be the same gull on both flights.So what does this picture mean for me? Not only is it a beautiful beach sunset but, there’s the gull. He is on a quest for the perfect flight. Knowing the goal is unattainable and the satisfaction from occasional morsels of precision and symmetry are fleeting. His joy is in the effort. Now look close and notice the horizon line. You are in a right bank turning to form up on the gull’s wingtip.

The formation flight with a bird was actually a hawk instead of a gull but I do not have a picture of the hawk and that formation flight is a story about gliders that I’ll save for another time.

Appreciation and credit to Mr. Bach whose writings inspired a young pilot so may years ago.

This Seagull flew during a Sunset in 1988.

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