As it happens, last week’s British newspapers and correspondence columns were crammed full of anti-gull stories – a tortoise pecked to death like a crab in Liskeard, Cornwall; in the same county, a beloved little Yorkshire terrier mortally attacked in his garden near Newquay; tales of The Birds-like horror of trying to eat ice cream or chips al fresco, constantly assailed by dive-bombing nasties. One correspondent compared being woken by the gulls’ early morning chatter and clarion calls to being in a canyon full of pterodactyls. Nobody had a good word to say about them; instead, everyone was complaining about their protected status.
Maybe because our Northumberland gulls aren’t in the slightest bit aggressive, maybe because we are just plain daft, (as readers of my ponderings know) gulls give us enormous pleasure year on year, particularly watching them rear their young, something they do over weeks and weeks of selfless devotion and complete commitment. And so it was with great joy we all noticed that about seven weeks ago an insignificant life had began to take shape on top of the chimney breast above our home. Within a day or so of three eggs hatching we had the mystery of one chick disappearing, presumed dead and then, perhaps in the same crisis, our Tiny falling from the nest, down the slope of the tiles and on to the flat roof above the upstairs bay. On that eyrie he has withstood everything that Nature has thrown against him: electric storms of an intensity unseen in years up here, lashing rain, wailing winds, constant drizzle some days, and thirst-making sunshine on others. Despite everything, Tiny held firm, developing his survival skills in every eventuality. Gradually our intense worry for his safety subsided, so capable and resilient he proved to be.
Perhaps his legs had never been that strong, after his early fall from the cradle, despite his burgeoning bulk and adolescent plumage. Perhaps the wonder is that he endured as long as he did because he never recovered his strength and ability to get about after his collapse on to next-door’s concrete path. Had he been born on the Farnes, like the kittiwakes and guillemots, he’d have fallen from the cliff and become opportunistic food for the gannets or other seabirds. Anyway, though we fed and watered him, and summoned the RSPCA to help him as he weakened, he drifted off from this life on his own accord, his wings outstretched in hope – almost a fully-grown herring gull, but one who would never know the joy of flying over us on our daily runs, or seeing the sun rise on a winter morning. He now lies not far from Uncle Jonny, with two lovely violet plants to mark the spot where we carefully and very sadly buried him. Just a tiny, insignificant creature, but loved and cared for: our sadness and disappointment are very real. High above, looking down on Kemo Sabe as she dug the little grave, the bird’s father stood guard high up on the chimney cowl; beneath him, the female, sitting on the nest. As we write this, Tiny’s sibling is paddling up and down the roof. Let’s hope he can endure with patience until his flight feathers and muscles can carry his weight up into the life awaiting him.