On Pelee Island, the gulls have staked out their territory on the rocky outcroppings shielding the west dock. The gulls know that humans may use the breakwaters for other purposes, but those rocks are theirs.
The Constitution will leave Boston Harbor tomorrow for a 10-minute deep water cruise under the power of the sails on its towering masts. Its tour will commemorate the 200th anniversary of its famous battle against the British ship HMS Guerriere during the War of 1812. In that battle, the Guerriere‘s cannonballs bounced harmlessly off the Constitution‘s sturdy oak hull, causing a sailor to exclaim that the ship’s sides were “made of iron” — and giving the Constitution her great nickname, Old Ironsides. The Guerriere eventually surrendered to the American ship, shocking the British press and giving American morale a much-needed boost.
Old Ironsides was launched in 1797, sailed the high seas during the Napoleonic period, fought the Barbary pirates, and defeated all four British ships it encountered during the War of 1812. The ship continued to sail under the American flag until 1855, when it was taken out of active duty, undefeated. Since 1881, the USS Constitution has sailed the ocean seas under its own power only once — in 1997, on the 200th anniversary of its launching. Tomorrow, Old Ironsides sails again.
At least, that’s what I think this bird is after looking through the Waterbirds of Ohio guidebook from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website. It’s one of many bird species we saw this year on our visit to Old Hen Island in Lake Erie.
This bird is huge — not quite as big as a chicken, but much, much larger than the robins, cardinals and blue jays we see here in central Ohio. It must weigh several pounds, and it’s not particularly intimidated by an approaching human. Its oily feathers allow it to float comfortably on the water. It bobs up and down on the swells of Lake Erie and then takes off and wheels around the island, high in the air. It’s also perfectly comfortable waddling around the patch of grass in the middle of the island, looking suspiciously at whoever might come near.
These gulls also are loud. In the morning, their startling cries that greet the sunrise could wake the dead — or even the snoring cribbage player who might have had a few Labatt’s too many the night before. And, of course, the gulls are happy to leave their markers. The rocky shores of the island are coated with chalky droppings that look like multiple coats of bright white paint.
Cousin Jeff is in town for a welcome visit, which means we’ll have some spirited political discussions and also get a chance to sample some of the Carroll County produce he graciously brings along from his home in eastern Ohio. This visit’s bounty features some ripe red tomatoes and luscious peaches, all freshly picked, a bottle of Ohio maple syrup — and a candid but friendly exchange of divergent views about the upcoming election on our patio last night.