Until we moved to Rhode Island last year I had never before lived by the sea. So there are many things that I am still learning about life on the shore, and some things that are still a mystery to me. Perhaps one of my readers with more knowledge of the littoral environment can answer a question that's bugging me today....
This morning I went for a run around Bristol Harbor, starting from Independence Park, up the East Bay Bike Path for a short way, along Poppasquash Road around the head of the harbor, past Bristol Yacht Club and then further down the road towards Poppasquash Point. Not surprisingly on a frigid January day there was little activity in the harbor, though there was one yacht on a mooring, and I saw some Lasers being rigged near the Herreshoff Museum. But Laser sailors are crazy anyway.
Where was I? Oh yes. The great Clam Shell Mystery.
The bike path was littered with broken shells, clams I think, and the unmistakable white splashes indicating seagull activity. I'm 99% certain that what's been happening is that the gulls have worked out that dropping the clams from a great height on to the path is the easiest way to break the shells and gain access to the meat inside. The same thing used to happen at my old frostbiting club on Long Island Sound where, at the end of the winter, the parking lot was covered in broken shells.
But I've never seen this phenomenon in the summer. Why not? Is there a different breed of gulls with different habits here in the winter? Are the clams harder to prise from their shells in the winter? Do seagulls only eat shellfish when there's an R in the month? Or do the gulls have access to other food in the summer and only resort to clams in the winter? What's the answer?
The Google didn't help me much in trying to find an answer. But it did turn up this post Seagull Smarts by a fellow Rhode Islander who claims to know a bit about science and the environment. He spotted the same phenomenon (maybe on the same bike path) and it spurred him to ponder how smart seagulls are and the role of genetics and evolution in their discovery of this natural clam-opener.
But I'm still mystified as to why we only see this in the winter. Somebody please shed some light on this.