In my last post, I shared the history, such as we know it, of M99. Her apparent mate, during her brief life, was Z09. He too died this year. Z09 hatched in 2013, quite near where M99 had hatched the previous year. Z09 entered our database with this terse notation about the day he was captured: “Regurgitated sausage; no bander reported.” That same combination of highly specific detail interspersed with lapses in information would characterize Z09’s whole life, as we understood it.
After fledging at the end of summer in 2013, no one reported any sightings of Z09 for the next two years, when he returned to Appledore and was seen once near Kingsbury House, hard by where he hatched. At two years old, he was a long way from being ready to breed, but like M99, Z09 seems to have been an early prospector.
After that sighting on Appledore, no one saw him again until the following spring when he was spotted at the boat launch in West Haven, Connecticut. It’s possible that that’s where he spent the previous winters too, since gulls often show fidelity to their winter sites, but the youngest birds are notoriously peripatetic, so he may well have been much farther afield in those years when no one saw (or noticed) him.
What is clear is that when he turned up in Connecticut in April 2016, he was readying for, or already headed, north; four days later, he was seen on Salisbury Beach in Massachusetts. He was not observed on Appledore at any time that summer, but neither was he seen anywhere else. By the fall of 2016, he seems to have settled in to overwinter on Salisbury Beach, with several different observers spotting him. In April 2017, he was seen closely associating with M99, so it seems they had established a pair-bond by then. Reviewing the sightings of both birds, it turns out that on at least one day the previous fall (November 6th, 2016), both birds were observed on the beach, so it appears they had ample opportunity to get to know each other in the months leading up to the breeding season. We don’t know precisely when the birds begin to look around for potential mates, but the scene on Salisbury Beach suggests an opportunity for us to do some more detailed observations there to try and parse that out.
From here on, Z09’s story coincides with M99’s almost to the very end. Just like M99, Z09 was seen once on Appledore in the summer of 2017. At four years old, he was of breeding age at that point, and was seen in the same area that M99 was, also once, that same summer. Perhaps they nested, perhaps not. Z09 overwintered on Salisbury Beach again, just like M99, and by the spring of 2018, their pair-bond was again evident on the beach, up until M99 died in April. Z09 was not seen again after that.
In July 2018, we were on Appledore and out criss-crossing the island mapping all the nests. On the same shrubby ledge where we think it possible that M99 and Z09 nested in 2017, we spotted a gull carcass thoroughly decomposed and beginning to come apart. We always examine these finds, and when we did, we found Z09’s band, and found also that his body was stuck to something. Turning him over, we found a length of fishing line wrapped tight around a bush with one end leading to Z09’s head, where a fish hook was lodged through his bill. We retrieved the line, we retrieved the hook, and the bands from his legs, and let him rest there, relieved of all the objects that humans, out of curiosity or carelessness, had asked him to carry.