Laughing Badger: When isn’t a seagull a seagull?

Joanie in Filey, on the east coast of Yorkshire. Photo: Sean Wood

One of my regular readers and neighbor, Dom from Mossley Alto, thinks I sometimes speak in puzzles, so I made three especially for the man from our recent reccy in the Filey Wilderness.

Yes Filey, on the east coast of Yorkshire; I have never been there before and was planning to offer my new wife Joanie a portion of whelks in her own tray.

Who Said Romance Is Dead? Not me, and our ‘mini moon’ was awesome, and yes I know I should be so lucky.

First, where was John Constable when I needed him, second, when is a pigeon not a pigeon, and third, and this is my cunningest, when is a seagull not a seagull?

Okay, the first reference to one of England’s greatest landscape painters came when I photographed this timeless scene of hay collecting in the fields near the 11th century St Oswald’s Church, which is located in above the cliffs on what might be known as Filey Alto, as the town is also on two levels.

Joanie and I love an old church and cemetery, and this was no exception and much better than a lounge chair in our opinion. Constable’s most famous painting was, of course, the Hay Wain.

The second riddle regarding pigeons needs a little more explanation. You see on the promontory, the Brigg, at the north end of Filey’s five mile beach, you can observe what appear to be the wild pigeons that are seen in every town in the UK but perish at the idea, some of them are real blood rock doves.

The rock pigeon is the wild ancestor of domestic pigeons around the world, originally domesticated to provide food. Wild pigeons come in all shades, some bluer, others blacker – some are pale gray with darker checkered markings, others an unusual shade of dull brick red or cinnamon brown, and some look like wild doves.

Bird watching is easy: no one has ever said it.

Gathering of hay in the fields near the 11th century St Oswald’s Church. Photo: Sean Wood

And just to prove the latter, the third puzzle is my favorite; so let me put this on the table at the beginning, there is no “seagull”.

Oh yes, there are gulls that live by the sea, but let this be the end. You see that the different species all have different names, and around the world there are 50 different types of gulls in the world.

In Britain we have five species of common nesting gulls, the herring, the black-headed gull, the small black-backed, the great black-backed (massive, the world’s largest gull) and the common gull. Some include the Kittiwake, but I’m trying to keep it simple.

We also have a small but growing breeding population of Mediterranean gulls and a handful of confirmed or suspected breeding attempts for both yellow and common gulls. There are also two other species that are winter visitors.

Getting to our five, even these few can be notoriously difficult to identify, and just when you think you have it, they molt, completely change their appearance, and the youngsters look nothing like adults.

Take the very common black-headed gull; there is a huge colony on the shores of Woodhead Reservoir and there is no “sea” there. They do not have a black head, rather a dark brown color, then in the winter they turn back to a white head with a dark spot remaining. Cunning.

Meanwhile, the young of all gulls cygnet (no pun intended) in varying degrees of dirty brown until they are around one year old. In fact, the swan analogy was correct, as readers will likely have noticed that swans look alike before they mature. Do you remember the story of the ugly duckling?

My young herring gull was very accommodating as the adults ran away, and at first I thought maybe hurt, but no the bird let me shoot forty shots on my cell before joining the others playing King Canute on the foreshore.

Sean and Joanie in Filey

Herring gulls are the much-maligned bandits of pasta, chips, and ice cream, and most beach towns these days will urge visitors not to feed the gulls. Aggh, here they are, they’re not seagulls if you don’t mind.

Not to confuse you, the UK’s five regular gulls do not include terns, fulmars, northern gannets and some other seabirds, such as cormorants and cormorants.

Sad to say that I found one of the “others”, a little penguin, dead on the shore of Filey Beach, with two murres, and have since found that over the summer months, hundreds of of these birds, including puffins and northern gannets, have been found, and mostly with empty stomachs. A story for another day.

Hope Dom is happy with my puzzle trio. I think it’s time for a puzzle contest with great prizes. Watch this place.


The Laughing Badger Gallery & Cellar Bar Music Venue, which many of you have visited, has raised the sticks and moved into its new natural habitat at Howard Town Brewery in Old Glossop.

All the usual shenanigans including workshops, live music, and art.

Find out more here and give me a shout out.

The Laughing Badger is a weekly column: read more here.


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