The birds of Gibraltar

You knew they were there.

The keening and gulling was a distant but ever-present backdrop to the relative serenity of our balcony – punctuated sporadically by the rattle of a 35 year old exhaust train as the vehicle raspily exhaling through it ka-bomped over the speedhump placed thoughtfully outside the hotel.


We’d selected a “rock view” room, which I’d suggested based on the fact we’d seen ocean before – and our mountain-facing room in Cape Town had paid dividends.  Cursory research would’ve revealed that it was less a rock view, and more a strategic/defensive concern, what with the cementlike face of the Rock of Gibraltar looming vertically on the other side of the road.  Admittedly more interesting than a brick wall: although at least with a brick wall those bloody birds wouldn’t have been able to find purchase.

Friday – our first day in the curious little territory – we decided the best thing to do would be to get the bus from the stop immediately in front of the hotel (on top of the speed hump, now I look down at it) around to “town”.

As we stood on the footpath looking around wide-eyed at our new surroundings for the next few days the volume increased, and the air was transformed from the usual placid backdrop of the avian mob to a more urgent and frenetic sound.  We looked up to the sight of thousands and thousands of seagulls taking wing.  Whilst the normal scene might have a couple of hundred of them soaring and flapping listlessly and stupidly about, this was more like some sort of silent whistle had gone off to signal the start of a new seagull work day.  Or a particularly charismatic one had just squawked the seagull equivalent of “WE RIDE!”, before leaping from the cliff face and sparking a chain reaction.

Whatever the cause, the air was now thick with the things – urgently flapping their way out to sea, then some turning back in to begin circling.  There was no logic or pattern you could see.  No unity of purpose, no sign of a goal.  They must’ve covered a couple of thousand feet of height in airspace – their wheeling about very much making me think of the armada of winged monkeys in The Wizard of Oz.

I pulled out my phone and tried to think of the best way to document this poetic motion in photo form, when a rusty old pickup truck approached the speedhump, and as it slowed a weathered tradesman proffered his head from the window to issue some advice.

“I wouldn’t stand under ’em”.

As I sit writing this from our hotel balcony I can state conclusively that the mass taking wing does *not* coincide with the bus timetable.


And as I gaze out over the midnight-blue canopy over the hotel walkway – seemingly decorated to resemble some sort of deep-galactic starfield – I can therefore conclude that seagulls aren’t smart enough to have developed a sense of humour.

The birds of Gibraltar
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