Category Archives: Spring watch

Spring watch

The front page of the sports section of the San Mateo County Times features a big picture from the Giants’ exhibition opener in the cactus league, and there’s almost a full page of baseball coverage inside. Spring — real honest-to-goodness spring, not this year-round flower-laden pseudo-springtime we have to put up with in the Bay area — can’t be far behind.

Personal to Ms. M: Don’t worry, I won’t be wearing black and orange just because I’m living on the Peninsula; I’m still an AL guy.

Spring watch

Today, Memorial Day, is the unofficial first day of summer. We walked over to Fort Phoenix at about five o’clock this afternoon under a cloudless sky, with cool air and a brisk breeze from the northwest. There were a two or three dozen people fishing along the hurricane barrier. Three children in swim suits played along the small sandy beach between the hurricane barrier and the rocks at the base of Fort Phoenix. As usual in the New Bedford area, we saw skin colors from pale white (me) to quite dark, and everything in between; we heard at least three different languages. There were families with children, and groups of elders. It wasn’t crowded by any means, but there were more people walking around Fort Phoenix than I remember seeing before.

When we walk over to Fort Phoenix in the winter time, sometimes we’ll only see one or two other people — so even though the cool air and brisk breeze felt like late spring, it felt like summer with all those people walking around outdoors. I won’t say that spring is over yet, but it’s getting close.


I just got back from visiting a friend in Washington, D.C. Flowers are in bloom everywhere in D.C., it was warm, and the air was full of pollen. Yet I had relatively few problems with allergies.

Then I got back to New Bedford, where it is cool, and not so many things are in bloom. And my allergies got much worse. My allergies have never been worse than while living in New Bedford. I’ve decided that my body does not like the damp, moist climate that you get living right next to the ocean; nor does it like the inevitable mold that you get in the old buildings that make up New Bedford.

I will miss many things about New Bedford when we leave here at the end of July, but I will not miss the allergens.

Spring watch

Housework cried out for my attention yesterday morning, and then I drove off to officiate at a wedding in Rhode Island in the afternoon, so I had no time to get outdoors. Fortunately the wedding was at a conference center out in the middle of the woods. It was a two and a half mile drive from the highway along increasingly narrow and winding roads. I kept the car windows down, and listened:
…teakettleteakettleteakettle, that’s a Carolina Wren…
…a little piece of a song, Baltimore Oriole…
…chipchipchipchipchip, Chipping Sparrow….

Then I arrived at the conference center. The wedding was to be outdoors, overlooking a small pond. We did the rehearsal. The wedding got delayed for an hour. It looked like there might be a thundershower at any moment so I didn’t dare go for a walk. I stood on the porch and watched the edge of the pond:
…tiny bird, black with a flash of red: American Restart….
…slightly larger bird on a twig, every few seconds flies out to snag insects: Eastern Kingbird…
…something small and brown, without binoculars there’s no telling….
For those minutes, I was totally focused on birds.

It didn’t rain. At last the wedding started. When you officiate at weddings, you’re presiding over twenty minutes that are very important minutes to at least two people, so I become very focused on the ceremony. And at this wedding, there was another Unitarian Universalist minister in attendance, someone whom I respect and who has very high standards, which increased the intensity of my focus even more. Yet I couldn’t quite turn off my earlier focus on birds. During the prayer I heard a buzzy pee-a-wee pee-a-wee, and I thought: Eastern Wood Peewee. It wasn’t a distraction, I was just doubly focused.

In the middle of the vows, off in the distance, some flute-like notes; was that a Wood Thrush? (the song of a Wood Thrush is one of those few sounds that truly thrill me to my marrow). “Please repeat after me….” It was a Wood Thrush. A little thrill passed down my spine, and the superstitious side of me thought: This must be a good omen; this marriage is going to be blessed. No focus on my part, no professional critique by another minister, no amount of preparation, will ever equal the importance of the glorious song of one small drab brown bird.

Spring watch

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.

Not this year

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.

Spring watch

we both had to work today, but at sunset Carol and I took a walk along the waterfront. The air was warm, and a light breeze blew out of the southwest. We were standing out at the end of State Pier when I saw a swallow whiz by.

“Hey, that’s a swallow,” I said, interrupting something Carol was saying. “I think maybe it was a Barn Swallow.” I thought I had seen a yellowish color, but it might have been an effect of the setting sun.

“I told you, I saw lots of swallows flying around the bridge,” she said.

“You didn’t tell me that,” I said. Actually, she probably did tell me, but I wasn’t listening when she did. “You mean the swing span bridge over at Fish Island?”

“Yes,” she said.

We walked back along State Pier towards where the Cuttyhunk Ferry is berthed, when I saw the swallow again. It gave a funny buzzy sort of call. Then I saw it had a brown back and a dark throat. “Hey, that’s a Rough-winged Swallow,” I said. “And there’s another one.”

We watched the swallows as the swooped in among the fishing boats, obviously catching insects. Then they would sit for a moment — on the deck railing of a boat, on a rope tying one fishing boat to another, and, once, clinging to an outlet hole for a bilge pump on the side of a boat. Then they would be off flying again, doing amazing aerobatics as they swooped in among the boats and low to the water.

“Seeing the first swallow of spring is good luck,” I said. Actually I’d never heard of such a superstition before, but I said it anyway because seeing those swallows made me feel good.

Spring watch

My younger sister called me early this evening to say hello.

“I’m outside trying to find the robin that’s been singing,” I said. Abby knows that I’m a birder, so she did not find this statement to be unusual. “I keep hearing him in the mornings, and I want to see if I can see him. And there he is!”

I finally saw him high up in a tall tree’s branches, his red-orange breast lit up with the reddish light of the setting sun.

“Good Lord, I can hear him, too,” said Abby over the phone. “That’s one loud robin.”

“Yeah, he is,” I said. “He’s way up in this tree that’s right next to the Seaman’s Bethel.” Then to be polite, I deliberately walked away from the robin’s tree, and had a nice long chat with Abby. Tomorrow I’ll go back and see if I can see his mate, and their nest — surely there must be a nest. It would be quite something to find a robin’s nest in the middle of the city.

Spring watch

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?