With all the rain we’ve been having, with constant puddles in all the low-lying places, it almost feels like spring rather than summer. But in spite of the weather, I know
On our walk this evening, we saw Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) growing in a number of places in cracks in the piers and wharves along the waterfront, and the plants were in full bloom: umbels of pure white, gently rounded, looking like intricate lacework.
Other midsummer flowers are also blooming. One of the chrysanthemums that we planted two years ago in our tiny little garden has deep burgundy blossoms. Near the bridge to Fairhaven, I saw some Common chicory (Cichorium intybus) plants about four feet high, each with a couple dozen pale blue flowers.
First-year Herring Gulls are everywhere. They fight each other for food. They call piteously to adult Herring Gulls, hoping to be fed (the adult gulls mostly just ignore them). There is always an injured first-year gull wandering around looking forlorn — today, Carol pointed out one with a broken wing walking up the street. Within a year, 80% of them will be killed off, but right now they are everywhere.
I’m just starting to notice that the days seem a little shorter, the sun is setting a little bit earlier.
The Red Sox have slipped out of first place. They always slip out of first place in late July or early August, and then struggle for the rest of the summer to catch up to the Yankees. They are as reliable as Queen Anne’s Lace.
Suddenly the trees are turning green. It started last week when the branches of the honey locusts that grow along our street began to look faintly green. Today, that faint green has become small leaves, and when the sun came out today for an hour or so, the honey locusts cast fairly good shade. The maples are a few days behind the honey locusts: I’m just beginning to be able to distinguish small leaves on their branches. Where there are trees here in the downtown, the faint green is softening a little of the harshness of the city.
But spring has its unpleasant moments too. The tree pollen has been bad this year, and with all the rain we’ve been having there is lots of mold, so my allergies are acting up and slowing me down.
Then there are the Herring Gulls nesting on the rooftops near us: they stay up late at night, and get up long before daybreak, and squabble and fight with other gulls, and make all manner of weird and unpleasant sounds. Right now, I can hear a gull outside the skylight moaning and crying and chattering, and he has been doing this for an hour now. Now I wish I hadn’t stopped to notice his noises, because I realize that I had effectively blocked him out of my consciousness before, and I have no desire to be aware of him now. Let me concentrate for a moment… there, he’s gone. What gull? I don’t hear any gulls.
A couple of Devoted Readers have asked if the Herring Gulls are nesting on our rooftop again this year (some past posts on this topic are here, here, and here).
The answer is that no, the gulls are not nesting on our roof this year. The old nest that had been there for three years, re-used every year, is now completely gone, washed away by some of the heavy rain storms we had in late winter and early spring. There are gulls nesting on nearby rooftops, but not on our roof.
Saturday morning, the first light of the new day brought me awake. I lay on my back, staring up at the skylight over our bed. I could just make out the roofline of the building next door. Everything was quiet — even the Herring Gulls nesting on our roof were quiet for once.
Suddenly, I heard an American Robin start singing: Cheeriup, cheeriee, cheeriup, cheeriee. I quickly sat up and looked at the clock: it was 5:24 EDT. I lay back down wondering when, exactly, that American Robin started singing each morning. Did he begin to sing when the brightness of the sun passed a certain level; in which case, did he begin singing later on days with heavy dark clouds? Or was is simply that he began singing when he awakened, whenever that might be? I had some vague idea of trying to awaken myself each morning just before dawn to time when the robin started singing, but then I fell back asleep and forgot the whole thing until just now.
This viral infection has left me with little energy, and I’ve spent a good bit of time lying on the couch, looking out the windows, and listening to what’s going on around our building.
Several days ago, on one of those gray days we’ve been having, I swore I saw a brief flurry of snow. But it could have been a fever dream.
I’ve been watching the Red Maple across the street come into full bloom. By now it is covered with clusters of tiny little red flowers.
Very early one morning, I listened to a Mourning Dove calling from one of the trees across the street. But I don’t think I have heard him calling since. I’ve also heard House Finches calling most mornings; I suspect they favor the trees along the street where I often park my car, on which they often leave their droppings.
The Herring Gulls are nesting again on our rooftop, and on other nearby rooftops. I can hear our Herring Gulls stomping around up on our roof, and having fights, and squawling at each other. The variety of cries they can make is quite wonderful; even though each different cry is more discordant than the next, you have to be impressed by the inventiveness and loudness. I love to complain about the gulls nesting on our roof — that they are loud, combative, abrupt — but at the same time, when you have energy for nothing more than lying on your back and staring up through the skylights, what could be more entertaining than listening to gulls screeching and squabbling?
Down on State Pier this afternoon, the Herring Gulls were strutting around as usual, looking to steal food from one another, or from another bird. They were looking particularly bright and cheerful today, and I finally realized why: almost all of the adults have finished molting, and they are now resplendent in their breeding season plumage.
This can only mean that breeding season is coming soon, or has already started. Because the rooftops of downtown New Bedford are the site of a Herring Gull nesting colony, this means we will soon have to listen as the Herring Gulls scream and squawk their love songs to one another on the roof of our building. I am not looking forward to Herring Gull nesting season.
The gulls woke me up at the crack of dawn. Every morning they sit on the rooftops around our building screaming: Auw! Auw! Kee! Kee! Kee! Kee! Kyoh! Kyoh! Kyoh! Kyoh! With an effort of will I tuned them out and went back to sleep. I don’t know when Carol got up.
A cicada wakes me up much later. It must be sitting on the volunteer maple that sprouted up right next the the building behind us and which is now twelve feet tall. This cicada sounds just like the cicadas I listened to on hot summer afternoons when I was a kid. It almost lulls me back to sleep: zzzZZZZZ…. It seems to go on forever.
When it stops, I get up. I happen to glance in the mirror. If I’m not going to kid myself, my hair is more gray than blond now. It’s my day off and it’s still summer, so I forget to shave.
I stand in the kitchen. A cicada buzzes in the tree across the street. I hear a gull screaming in the distance. We bought a blueberry pie yesterday at the farmers market, and there is one small slice left this morning. I know I’m going to eat it for breakfast. There’s one slice of pie left, I say to Carol. It’s yours, she says, and looks back at her computer. I make a pot of tea, and slide the blueberry pie onto a dark green plate.
The Herring Gulls who nested on our rooftop this year hatched out two chicks, but the chicks didn’t survive for very long. There’s a skylight in our bedroom, which goes up through a part of the roof with a very shallow pitch. That’s the part of the roof where the chicks like to spend their time. We have discovered that they like to sneak in under the skylight and stand on the insect screen above our bedroom, to get out of the sun and the rain. We don’t like them to stand their, because we don’t want their droppings coming down through the screen into our bedroom, so while the chicks are running around on the rooftop we keep the skylight barely open.
But somehow they crept in anyway. Then it started raining. The skylight has a rain sensor that closes it automatically. The chicks got crushed to death. It gave Carol a nasty shock when she went in to go to bed, and there were two dead gull chicks trapped between the insect screen and the sash of the skylight.
I got the stepladder and pushed them out of the way. While I was cleaning up the gull droppings on the floor under the skylight, the two parents stood on the skylight and screamed and hollered. I’m not sure I would attribute grief to Herring Gulls — they are fairly non-social animals. Yet the disappearance of their chicks, and then the sudden appearance of the dead bodies, must have been disconcerting to them:– all their energy had been devoted to parenting, and then suddenly it became quite clear to them that they were no longer parents. They screamed and hollered for about twenty minutes, and then flew away.
Carol felt bad about the dead chicks, but I told her that the mortality rate for Herring Gulls in their first year is something like eighty percent. In the three breeding seasons that we have lived in our apartment, only one chick out of six has even survived long enough to fledge and fly away — three fell off the edge of the roof, two were crushed to death by the skylight. Even with such a high mortality rate, the population of Herring Gulls is rising in Massachusetts, so I am not tempted to feel sentimental about it.
When I came down and looked at my car this morning, it was covered with a faint yellow haze of pollen.
The Herring Gulls that live on our rooftop are noisily amorous most of the day. I stuck my head up out of the skylight once and surprised them in the act. I was embarrassed, they were just pissed off.
One of the realities of living in a sea-side city is that when you walk down the streets on a damp spring day like today, every building seems to exude a faint moldy smell.
The sea ducks and loons have mostly headed north to breed. The seals have swum off to wherever it is that they breed. Now when I stand on the end of State Pier and look out, the surface of the harbor is empty, except for a few gulls.
I came around a corner and looked up at a tree covered in white blossoms. Right in the middle of the city, surrounded by drab stone buildings. It took my breath away.