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.

103 thoughts on “Winged

  1. Here’s the thing, Andrea, and I say this as a person who really doesn’t know you and probably will never meet you: you are a talented writer and a gifted observer of life. You see things thousands of people never see,and you are gifted enough to paint a picture of words so that others may see.

    it is a pleasure reading your blog.

    Liked by 6 people

  2. How lovely to read your lyrical words.
    Like you it feels to me that summer should be over. It’s been a strange year in many ways…..

    The Painted ladies are everywhere and so I will enjoy this magical happening until the season formally changes. August is the month, I often feel pangs of nostalgia and sadness……its one of those ‘in between’ months…neither one thing or the other.

    Thank you
    Janet X


  3. What must it be like to take your first flight?! I imagine the gull babies don’t give it another thought, it’s just what they are meant to be doing. I don’t really have a bucket list and I have knocked off what would be at the top, seeing the Northern Lights, but a second would skydiving, maybe next year. Then perhaps I could have a slight feeling of what birds experience every day.
    Thank you, as always, Andrea, for your beautiful descriptions, allowing your readers’ imaginations to take flight.


  4. Birds and flowers are manifestations of weather, and an assertion of harmony in Nature’s orchestra. That you can feel the ebb and flow of life on the wings of Spring, Summer and Autumn, and the flattening of it all in the claws of Winter, is a blessing that not all are fortunate to have.


  5. I am with Billy. Your writing and observations are sublime.
    Summer feels like it takes forever to get here (in Montreal, anyway) and once iit does, arrives with a vengeance of heat and humidity from mid-July to mid-August. A blink of an eye and we are in September where the temps cool but the days are still glorious.
    I have been watching the time go by with the construction on my street! Never mind the birds, will I be able to get out of my driveway?


  6. Your gentle observations are comforting somehow as you write about the nature around you and look toward the next season. Happy Lamass to you. As we head into August and early September we keep a watch on the weather. It is hot and dry but could change quickly with a hurricane.

    I enjoyed your imagining the baby gulls looking toward the sea and what may come.


  7. You perfectly capture the nostalgia of almost the end of summer, ready for the fall. Your powers of observation are keen. We are also in a gentle season in Virginia. It feels more like early September than early August. Our state butterfly, the tiger swallowtail is as plentiful as I’ve ever seen them. They float from flower to flower, occasionally soaring towards treetops or swooping over the grass. I have not noticed the birds disappearing but I have been scolded by a cardinal couple who don’t like us sitting on the back porch when they want to use the squirrel/bird feeder. The tree rats are annoyed when Bob is not out there to throw nuts at them. There is always someone who is annoyed–sort of like humans.


  8. Oh, to sleep in a rose! That sounds so heavenly, just the thought makes me smile. Maybe Painted Ladies gave us the idea of flower faeries.
    I’m not ready to say goodbye to summer yet, but then, I never am. Fall is nice, but summer is where I thrive!


  9. Have you written here about the herring gulls? I seem to recall a post where you mentioned them. I like to see wildlife return to the same location year after year. Gorgeous photos, Andrea. I love the butterfly shots. This year I’ve seen more butterflies out and about than I ever remember seeing.


  10. Stunning piece Andrea; wings slowly dismantle the Summer, the Swifts will leave any day now, only today I watched a flock of c100 young House Martins as they slowly moved South, darting around the treetops, chirping as they fed. Summer is definitely one of Nature’s take five periods, rest from one season before preparing for another.
    Thank you for writing, I enjoyed reading about the rooftop residents.
    Take care.


  11. Beautiful written, as always, Andrea, and lovely images. 😍 I enjoy the abundance of nature in the summer, but autumn is my heart. ❤ I too, celebrated lammas, baking special bread with my daughter and granddaughter and keeping an eye out for signs of the change of seasons – none to speak of yet, summer continues to rule here. Thank you for your beautiful writing…


  12. The pictures and your wonderful descriptions of what the creatures are doing make the world you live in come alive. It has indeed been a strange year. I’ve been inhabiting family life. I’m growing closer to my grandchildren, especially my grandson, the oldest of the bunch. It is a work in progress.


  13. How lucky you are to have a view like that out your office window! I love to watch the birds. You reminded me that in Idaho recently I saw a full grown duck resting on the crossbar at the top of a very tall telephone pole it was quite the sight. Lovely writing as always!


  14. Hello Andrea, what a breath of fresh (summer) air and joy to visit and inhale this space. You direct me to the wonders your discerning eye beholds and you hold me captive with the thoughtful joy-melancholia your words evoke. Thank you. Bless you!


  15. Beautiful evocative writing as ever, Andrea 🙂

    Almost the opposite of your outward-looking gulls, we are watching the second brood of swallows hunkered down below the decking where they can see nothing of the world. Tiny mohican haircuts atop of huge gaps. Here – as with last August – it is cold and wet and due to get much wetter and windier over the coming days. As with last year, I fear for this brood.

    I’m happy to hear that you are beginning to look outward once again. The cycle is necessary but too long in one phase can be a struggle. Autumn is on its way – so many temptations for us all to look outward then 🙂

    (And I’m with Eliza – oh, to sleep in a rose!)


  16. I, too, have wished a lot of this year away—the heat and humidity. I am happy to be in the home stretch to autumn. It really is my favorite season. I love the butterflies. I’ve not seen as many this year. But, I’ve noticed an over abundance of dragonflies. Nature does seem to cycle like that. I love the story of your gulls. You are such a keen observer of the natural world. I enjoy hearing about what’s going on around you.


  17. Your beautiful description of the ‘Winged’ community around you Andrea is written like a lyrical melody to the senses. You took me to your office window hearing the sounds of the gulls.. I often wonder at the miraculous way those nests are perched so precariously near chimney tops..One wrong footing!…

    The Painted Ladies are always a delight, we have just started seeing the Red Admirals here too and the occasional Peacock butterfly, sadly they are not as numerous as in years gone by.. My buddleia bush thankfully still attracts them.
    Other Winged ones in our garden this year have been blackbirds who have raised two lots of fledglings, along with sparrows and a robin. whom gave great delight as we watched them flit in and out feeding, and then when their chicks fledged I watched over tentatively as they can hardly fly, as we have a neighbours cat who uses our garden as a walk through, So we were on lookout for them until they grew stronger to fly.

    Wonderful post and photos Andrea.. Enjoy the rest of your Summer, though today it feels like Autumn has arrived with rain and wind..
    Love and Blessings your way ❤


  18. I so love your writings and observations, Andrea. Hope the young Herring gulls have a long and happy life and stay away from the chippers and unhealthy food 🙂
    That Painted Lady was clearly posing for you 🙂


  19. The way you talk about time, it seems to pass so beautifully, it’s hard to conjure up on the daily commute but it is happening out there and you capture it so well. Wonderfully penned (keyboarded) as always.


  20. Dear Andrea, your posts always resonate so deeply with me. This one especially. Winged creatures. That’s been a theme for me this summer, too. I’ve found so many dead ones along the paths I’ve wandered in my woods. But so many more swoop and flutter around me. Sometimes we fall, sometimes we soar. Sometimes on the same short walk.


  21. Nice shot of the gulls and their young! I always wonder why we see more or less of certain species … like your seeing so many Painted Ladies. I know what we’re sadly doing over here that’s causing our Monarchs to decline, but instead, we see quite a few Swallowtails, most often yellow, but occasionally the stunning dark variety with the bright blue on the inner/lower wings. Unlike you, we’re still seeing all the birds, so many sparrows, catbirds, jays, robins, cardinals, finches – all of them. Though we see most of these year `round, too. Thanks, as always, for the walk … and the wings.


  22. Beautiful, subtle observation capturing the shifting of the seasons. I once pleasantly surprised a young blackbird who was sunbathing. I hadn’t seen him as I was watering the garden with the hose on a fine mist sprinkler setting. I sprayed him by accident and he loved it. He stretched back his wings, puffed out his chest and squawked approval so I did it again. Every time I stopped he did the same thing. He was very demanding. One of those special moments.


  23. Andrea – I know the solution to the lyrical bluz mood ( love your descriptive writing as always ) – once you move to FlOrissa you will have forever summer with no “Augusty – autumn” discouragement ever. Greens and blues are in-style daily ;)))) frankly I was always sad and discouraged, as I was feeling the aging and survival is upon me) once Fall was approaching but not once since I moved to Fl 🙂 ☀️🌴🏡


  24. I mourn when summer nears its end (I think you and I are different season-lovers, but no matter, we both love attaching ourselves to each season). My pure joy in the summer is watching the songbirds at our feeder. They’ve gotten used to my voyeurism, so they play in front of me – the yellow finch and the blue bird, the speckled sparrow and black/white/red woodpecker. In the back of the house the hummingbird feeder buzzes with activity all day long, from sunrise to sunset. The other day as I stood at the window with my camera (always trying to catch them in action) I put the video on the phone because Phoebe the hummer winged-in-place, staring at me through the screen, only inches away! I swear, we COMMUNICATED. She then took some more sips, winged around the feeder, and came back to “talk.” I was so excited that once she left I raced to my guy to show him the footage. Which was of my feet. I think I got so excited I must have dropped my camera arm. So funny. But I think it’s nature’s way of reminding me to just enjoy the moment. Enjoy the bird song and the buzz of winged birds. Just. Enjoy. Because soon enough, the leaves they will be a’changing. ❤


  25. Andrea, I think you’ve stolen all of our butterflies from down South, and spirited them away up North! I’ve barely seen a butterfly, despite having plently of butterfly-friendly plants in my garden. There have been a fair amount of bees, both of the honey and bumble varieties, and wasps, too. Birdwise on the roofs, it’s mostly seagulls, magpies, and jackdaws, all making their fair share of raucous noise, but always preferable to too much human-generated sound. The blackbird’s evening song is by far my favourite. Also, I had the pleasure of hearing both a tawny owl and a barn owl the other night. At one point, the tawny owl was talking to itself during the day, too. Nature is so wondrous, although ferocious at times, but forever fascinating.


  26. Dear Andrea! I always love your writing: takes me on walks with you, transports Me to your world of four seasons, I sit with you at your window, sip tea with you on your porch as you look at those birds

    Honestly I can relate to those young chicks awaiting flight… Your words are perfect reflection of my life stage right now: working on improving myself, moving out of my comfort zone, learning/improving my abilities




  27. Summer is going so fast. Back to school for the kiddos soon and while I did plant a few flowers for bees/hummingbirds/butterflies, the bees were nary to be seen. Ouch. I guess the change of season will change our writing also, right? I can feel the shift coming:).


  28. Pingback: My Top Ten Favourite Blogs | Bug Woman – Adventures in London

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