Saturday, 10 October 2015

Seagulls in Gauteng?!

Not far from us, about 22km, lies the gold mining town of Randfontein, about 45 km west of Johannesburg (South Africa). Every time we visit Uncle Harry's Roadhouse in Randfontein, what amazes me, is the fact that you can find flocks of Seagulls there, 600km from the coast!

Seagulls are scavengers and will basically land and stay in a place where there is food. I was told by BirdLife SA that seagulls are not necessarily associated with the sea – it’s just their name that is. The gulls that decided to stay in Randfontein were probably on their way somewhere when they discovered Uncle Harry’s Roadhouse. The owner, Jimmy Pappas, says there used to be hundreds of the birds at the roadhouse and they would always feed them left over hamburgers and chips. At one point the birds would only eat the chips with barbeque sauce! But last year he noticed fewer birds and was worried they may have been poisoned by contaminated water the mines pump out, but he’s not sure. He says they normally come around towards and during winter, so we will have to wait and see next winter.

These Randfontein gulls often pass over my garden and if I call and wave my arms, they will circle and come down lower to see what I might have on offer. But every time they've passed by, I've had no bread or snacks with me, so they soon realise there's nothing for them and then move on. To where...?

Something I didn’t know, is that Seagulls are most closely related to the terns (family Sternidae) and only distantly related to auks, skimmers, and more distantly to the waders. But whoever they are related to, I personally would categorise them with Crows, one of my favourite, most intelligent birds! The same as crows, most gulls will take live food or scavenge opportunistically. And their love for man-made “junk food” defies belief! They will go to ANY length for some tasty hot potato chips with tomato sauce!

Whenever I go down to the coast, one of the highlights of my visit is feeding the seagulls. They look at one with definite, calculated intention, and they seem to anticipate your next move before you even know what’s it’s going to be, snatching the food as it leaves your fingers. I also love the way they land right next to you, so close that you can see the pupil in their eye, without any apparent fear, yet poised for instant flight should you make an ominous move.

And here’s the thing – I travel down to Ballito, on the North Coast of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, a few times during the year, but I have to go to Durban or further North up the coast to St. Lucia to find the seagulls – there are no seagulls in Ballito! And yet they are up here in Gauteng, 600km from the coast, a real mystery.


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