How about a most-unusual sport?

John Gilbert

Eye Contact. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Eye Contact. Photo credit: John Gilbert

The UMD hockey teams continue to play mind games with Duluth area fans. It seems as though when one of them is at home, so is the other, and when one is on the road, so is the other. It’s the weirdest schedule I’ve seen since women’s hockey was started.
This weekend, the UMD men are home to face for what seems to be the umpteenth time, “the most important series of the season.” The Bulldogs, fighting to get above the .500 mark and become a legitimate contender in the NCHC, return to AMSOIL Arena Friday and Saturday nights to take on St. Cloud State, which IS a legitimate contender, and threatening to make the league a two-team race with North Dakota.
The UMD women are also at home, facing North Dakota in a pair of 3 p.m. games at AMSOIL Arena Friday and Saturday. Last weekend, both teams were on the road. The men lost an excruciating 2-1 double-overtime game at Miami of Ohio, before bouncing back for an impressive 5-2 victory. The women had a tough trip to WCHA-leading Wisconsin.

Have some salmon. Photo Credit: John Gilbert
Have some salmon. Photo Credit: John Gilbert


True, there were plenty of diversions with all the playoff football on television, but I found another diversion that, with a stretch, can qualify as a sport of sorts.
Bird-watching. Maybe you saw the Steve Martin movie about folks who are so passionate about pursuing rare birds – just to watch them – that they’ll leave their families and jobs behind to chase after them.
We’ve had a close-up taste of that down at Canal Park with the Arctic Gull appearance. The normal, garden variety herring gulls are neat in their own right, even if they sometimes can become a nuisance. Grey and white with maybe some black, gulls are sleek and fun to watch as the flock together, or sail and soar on their own.
But a rare, all-white Arctic Gull appeared and then it was discovered it had come with a partner that met a sad fate on Park Point. These birds are not as big as normal gulls, but they are sleeker and seemingly quicker in flight. In normal times, they apparently follow along after polar bears, feasting on the tidbits left behind after they find fish or seals or whatever.

Show off. Photo Credit: John Gilbert
Show off. Photo Credit: John Gilbert

We hear that climate change is destroying the ice at a rapid rate up near the Arctic Circle, and it is forcing the polar bears to vacate their usual foraging area. Can’t say for sure, but we now know that at least a couple Arctic Gulls decided to “fly south” for the winter.
They got to Canal Park in Duluth in time to enjoy some very mild weather, compared to what they’re used to. Then we had our wonderful cold snap.
Nevertheless, I decided to head on down to Canal Park, armed with my camera and its trusty 28-600 Leica zoom lens. A group was gathered there, parka-laden, shivering over their tripods. I walked up and asked if they had seen anything. Quickly, they pointed out to the long row of gulls perched on the pier, and one fellow said, “Look out to the fourth orange ladder, then look back just to the right of it.”
Sure enough, one all-white gull sat there, huddling, amid the normal gulls. After shooting some long-range shots, I retreated to the warmth of my car.
The next day, though, I took my wife, Joan, down there and we had better luck. The bird was putting on a show, strutting along the pier and pecking away at a slab of salmon that somebody had flipped out there as an attraction, much closer to the gathering of onlookers. The bird completely disregarded the herd of photographers and other curious seekers hoping for a glimpse of the bird during its extremely rare -- if not only -- trip to Duluth.
It seemed only appropriate that our weather took a giant tumble on Saturday to provide some Arctic-like conditions for the Arctic Gull. So Arctic like, that Joan walked out there with me, gazed at the bright white gull for about five ninutes and said, “OK, I’ve seen the bird. Give me the keys to the car.”

Not camera shy. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Not camera shy. Photo credit: John Gilbert

She was gone in a flash, starting the car and warming it, and her, rapidly while I stood out there. It was worth it, though, because I caught the best part of the show. After a while, the bird took off and flew some very neat patterns above us all, mingling even with some of our own gulls to fly above the canal and pier.
Another Arctic Gull had been found dead on the end of Park Point, and I haven’t heard anything more about it. There was a bit of humor that came out of that, though. A nice older woman was standing down on the ice-covered walkway on the pier, getting a good view. I nodded to her as I walked past, and she said, “I saw the other one last week, and now I’m getting to see this one.”
“You saw the other one?” I asked. And she nodded. Then I asked: “How do you know it was the other one?”
She thought about that for a moment, then laughed. “Of course, I don’t know,” she said. “It could have been the same one, both times.”
In fact, why should we assume that only two of these birds decided to fly from the Arctic to Duluth. Maybe there’s a flock of them. How would we know? Maybe they hide out, and send out one emissary at a time to amuse us and cause us to toss them tidbits of food. And if there were only two, were they an item? Was it a romantic escapade that turned tragic? Of were they two buddies, off on a scavenger hunt?