I Guano Kill Em All

There’s this bird called the cormorant, also known as the “shag”, which has been a part of the local wildlife for the last decade or more, arriving from the south and taking up residence along with the gulls, terns and ospreys. They are big black birds with long necks and cape-like wings they hold open to let the breeze dry them off. They feed on the bottom on mussels and crabs, popping to the surface to shake their heads and paddle along until spooked, at which point they windmill and run over the surface until they achieve escape velocity and can get airborne.

I want them all dead.

Cormorants exist to shit on my boat. I have strung up old CDs on strings like the rearview mirror of a teenager’s first car to scare them away. I have spent a hundred dollars on bird spikes for the spreaders on my mast. I have festooned my boom with old plastic grocery bags until the poor boat looks like a tree on the Grand Central Parkway in Queens.

But they shit and they continue to shit. And then they shit some more. They deposit prodigious amounts of fish-imbued filth all over the decks, the wheel, the cleats, lines, seats, dodger, windows, spars, winches and lifelines, coating the boat with a thick coat of white guano mixed with undigested mollusks, pebbles, and some sort of toxic waste that is impossible to remove. Flies love the stuff and the whole affair is just an invitation to salmonella, shigella, giardia, diarrhea, MRSA and whatever other flesh-eating bacteria you care to contract.

Yesterday was pull-the-boat day, so Sunday I put-putted out in the motorboat with my son to get things ready for the pulling of the mast at Town Dock. My buddy Tom K. was standing on the shore and bore the bad news. “Good luck with the guano” he said. Sure, I knew they had found a little gap in the bird spikes on the lower starboard spreader and one had managed to spackle the dodger with a blast of ass vomit, but that was okay, I saw that mess the weekend before as I returned triumphant with a bucket o’tautog, but like an idiot I didn’t clean it up. Leaving it there was tantamount to declaring the Bald Eagle was now a designated cormorant port-a-potti and they took advantage of the invitation. It’s a matter of dwindling opportunities, sort of like musical toilets where as the days go by the music stops and they take away another boat to poop on. Stay in past Columbus Day and the ratio of bird butts to available boat toilets get worse and worse until the last boat standing is a heaping, stinking mess of avian fertilizer.

It reminds me of the islands off the coast of South America in the Pacific Ocean that were so coated in bird shit that fortunes were made mining the stuff and shipping it back to the world as fertilizer. Guano was big bucks. But not my guano. No, my guano is my cross to bear.

So I get the boat into the town dock and start calling around for a power washer in the belief that I can use the dock’s faucet and some high pressure blasting to tidy things up before the kibbutzers and bored amateur wharfingers of Cotuit can point out the obvious and tell me it looks like birds have taken a massive dump (why are all dumps “massive?) on my yacht. I tie up. Test the faucet. Dry. The powers-that-be in the Town of Barnstable evidently believe the world stops on Columbus Day and have disconnected the pipes for the winter. Another boat arrives, also frosted with a nice layer, the owner asks me “Is the water on?” Nope. The term “shit out of luck” is invoked and I tie the end of a poo-covered jib sheet to the handle of a bucket and start hauling five gallons of sea water aboard every thirty seconds to try to soften it up and sluice it over the side.

The first helpful rocket scientist arrives with a cock-a-poo or a labra-dump on a leash and says, “Hey, someone got hit hard.” Ha ha. Very funny. Really? No fooling? You think? Scrub, scrub, scrub. Flies going up my nose. Backsplash in my mouth. The other boat owner has rubber gloves on. Not me. I just start rolling in the stuff and compose my obituary: he died a coprolagniac.

Six hours later and the sails are off, the turnbuckles on the rigging are loose, the neutral stop-switch in the throttle is fixed and the engine is running but the boat is still smeared with stalagmites of cormorant. I have been told to use lime remover, Comet, warm soapy water, screw-it-let-the-rain-wash-it-off, and to-hell-with-it–just-shrink-wrap the whole mess and pretend it didn’t happen. Being a nice day the dock was busy with spandexed cyclists, panting joggers, shoulder season tourists, local wise guys and friends and neighbors. Every single one of them expressed some rueful condolences over my messy boat.

Only one said anything that made any sense. I salute him.

“Next time put out mousetraps. All it takes is one and they get the word and won’t come back and if you’re lucky, you might see one trying to shake a trap off it’s claw.”

Thank you. I shall have my revenge.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

8 thoughts on “I Guano Kill Em All”

      1. Ospreys — don’t get me going about those geniuses. Came aboard from the launch one day to find that one had dropped about six menhaden in the cockpit and then tried to construct a next in the bow pulpit using beach straw and whatever stomach mucilage the things regurgitate to glue stuff together ….

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  1. I wonder if a small (or large) electrical charge could be rigged to the top of the mast and powered with a photovoltaic array? Even if it didn’t work every time it would be satisfying for the times that it did work.

    I have heard that the best defense is to find (or make) a dead one and hang it in plain sight as a warning to the others. Or was that pirates?

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  2. When I used to work in Cataumet, I learned that Scraggy Neck was named for its abundance of these foul birds, locally known as Scrags. True or not, I have for many years thought of them by that fitting name. I had to buy a new sail cover because of them a few years ago and have expended the greater part of my ingenuity since trying to devise a reliable method of keeping them at bay. Someone ought to look into the chemical makeup of their shit which seems as permanent as epoxy, and try to replicate it as a marine glue. Good luck with whatever system you try, and let me know if it works out.

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  3. Jeff is right, and some day I ‘m going to prove it.

    I believe they fly in quads — one with a stomach full of some sort of polyepoxide, one with a stomach full of polyfunctional hardener, another with a little wooden popsicle stick, and finally one full of regular old white bird shit for aesthetics.

    I’ve never actually seen them do it, but i swear it’s got to be what happens.

    In the meantime, while I’m waiting to catch it on film, I’m buying a new sail this winter — courtesy of several cormorant quads and and osprey that dug it’s talons into my sail while squeezing the guts out of its’ dinner.

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  4. Double-Crested Cormorants — where I’m from we called them “shit-pokes.” My dad always maintained that a principal constituent of their diet was Portland cement.

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