Every year a pair of herring gulls nest on the roof opposite my office. I watch the transformation of the chicks from grey balls of fluff to birds. I see the parents, posted at opposite ends of the roof, tirelessly watching over their babies. The occasional ruckus as another gull or gulls get too close. A pigeon strolls onto the roof now and again; a jackdaw and a a pied wagtail both visit to forage in the gutters. But mostly, this roof belongs to the gulls and their offspring.
The chicks no longer have the fluff of childhood. They are still in their juvenile feathers; still fat, necks hunched into shoulders. But they have begun to stretch their wings, flapping as they waddle up the slope of the roof. I have watched one of them almost take off: levitating up the slope, feet an inch off the tiles. They have been there for weeks now, surveying what goes on above and below. They can see trees and grass in the square, people and cars moving below, birds flying above. From their vantage point, they can probably see the sea. What must it be like to be awaiting flight? To know that soon the sky will be yours and you will be part of the winged community you have watched each day. What must it be like to feel the spread of those wings and to sense that they will soon be strong enough to lift you?
The smaller birds have disappeared now for their moult. As usual, I didn’t spot the day it went quiet, only noticing the absence after the fact. The sparrows that have fluttered around our street and chirped from the rooftops for months are gone. But where the sky was filled with songbirds, it is now filled with painted ladies. They don’t sing (or at least not so we can hear); the sound of their wings is silent to my ears; but they fill the air with colour and motion. It has been ten years since so many arrived. The privet in the park is in motion with bees, wasps, hoverflies, a peacock butterfly and at least 15 painted ladies. One of them stays overnight in our yard, tucked into a rose. In the morning, I watch as it vibrates its wings to warm up and then it is off, up over the walls and away into the morning.
I’m starting to look outwards again. So far, the drift of the year has been inwards, but I’m beginning to pay attention to the world once more. Summer has begun for hundreds of children and heatwaves bring people out in states of undress. I usually struggle with this time of year because it always seems like summer should be over by now. I’ve already celebrated the first harvest at Lammas and I won’t be on holiday until September. But I’ve wished away too much of this year.
I try to capture a little of the blithe summer spirit in the pauses of the day. Moments when I can sit under the shade of a tree and let insects flutter around me, seeking nectar from the white clover dotting the grass. I watch a jackdaw sunbathe, flinging his wings forward like a magician then fanning them out to display the emeralds and sapphires within the black. I watch his head droop as he goes into the sun-bathing stupor, then afterwards grooms his feathers.
Sometimes I walk down to Smiths Dock, along a new road that has recently opened. This was once a place where ships were built and repaired until the yard finally closed in 1987. Now prefab townhouses and new apartment blocks line the bank. Wildflowers grow from gaps in the gabion baskets used to shore up the embankment. The old dry docks are still there, filled with seaweed-stained water and gulls. I hear the cry of kittiwakes. Most nest further upriver, under the Tyne Bridge, but a few still find a spot here among the gentrified buildings. They are the sound of the sea to me, even more than the herring gull. But this month they will take flight and return to open ocean, not to return until next spring.
The year drifts inevitably towards autumn. Spring and its burst of new life is long gone. But summer too is a sky filled with new wings, soaring towards distant horizons.