Na­ture’s end­less story

The Compass - - COMPASS -

The lit­tle birds were hur­ry­ing along the fine gravel where the curved edge of the beach meets the salt wa­ter.

They were re­spond­ing to the cheep­ing of their fa­ther, sig­nal­ing them that there was mod­er­ate dan­ger on the hori­zon.

They knew the dan­ger was only mod­er­ate be­cause the tempo of his cries had not reached its full speed and vol­ume, which it did only if the dan­ger had be­come both mor­tal and im­mi­nent. That meant there was a preda­tor on the hunt for some tasty morsels of baby spot­ted sand­piper.

They didn’t want of­fer them­selves up to the crow, gull fox or cat prowl­ing the beach to sate its hunger.

That’s why the lit­tle birds, three of them, wasted no time. They knew that at any minute the tempo of the cries could speed up and go to full vol­ume. They wanted to be into the long grass at the top of the beach and well-hid­den among the drift­wood be­fore that hap­pened, if it was go­ing to.

They re­mem­bered in their first days of life how fright­en­ing their fa­ther’s com­mands had been. At first, they had not fully un­der­stood the vo­cab­u­lary of the cheep­ing, but grad­u­ally it came to them.

The ba­sic call was a sim­ple chirp from the fa­ther, loud enough for each of the four of them to hear and lo­cate his po­si­tion. He would be some­where nearby with a wide view of the beach. That would give him plenty of warn­ing if a threat ap­peared.

The sin­gle cheep al­lowed the lit­tle birds to know how far away he was and in what di­rec­tion he was mov­ing. The lit­tle ones would re­spond with a match­ing cheep, so their fa­ther could keep track of where each of them was.

If one of them seemed too far away or in a spot from which there was no good av­enue of es­cape, the fa­ther would give a num­ber of cheeps in­di­cat­ing which way to move and how fast. If the lit­tle bird did not obey promptly, the com­mand would be re­peated, louder and more rapidly, un­til it did.

It was all-im­por­tant, par­tic­u­larly in their ear­li­est days for the young ones to re­spond im­me­di­ately.

The day of their birth, the fourth lit­tle bird, their sis­ter had pecked her way out of her eggshell in the nest hid­den in the tall grass at the top of the beach at the same time as her two broth­ers and sis­ter. Within half an hour, all four young­sters were copy­ing their fa­ther’s ex­am­ple, eat­ing tiny grubs among the small rocks in the land­wash. Their sis­ter was not pay­ing close enough at­ten­tion though. When the crow ap­peared over­head and their fa­ther be­gan cheep­ing wildly, she was busy dig­ging out a par­tic­u­larly tasty morsel in a tight crack in the rock. She did not re­act soon enough to his cry of warn­ing. It was the cry of mor­tal dan­ger.

Now, there were only three lit­tle sand­pipers, their ears keenly tuned to the di­rec­tions of their fa­ther.

Gone was the fluff that had cov­ered their bod­ies at birth. It had been an­other haz­ard in the first weeks of their lives be­cause the fluff did not re­pel wa­ter very well. When it rained the young­sters bur­rowed into the puffed-up feath­ers of their fa­ther’s chest which shed the rain and kept them warm. Not a very big bird it­self, the adult male sand­piper was able to shield his off­spring from the weather with­out seem­ing to be­come any larger. The lit­tle ones sim­ply van­ished in­side the sil­hou­ette of their fa­ther.

That time of to­tal pro­tec­tion was over now. The young­sters had sprouted their own feath­ers and were equipped for any weather. Their early weeks of life had taught them to count not only on their fa­ther for pro­tec­tion, but to learn to watch for signs of dan­ger them­selves. They had more con­fi­dence and did not live in con­stant fear. The back and forth cheep­ing be­tween fa­ther and chil­dren was less au­di­ble.

The phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance of the young­sters was evolv­ing, too. Their bod­ies were not so plump and rounded now but had taken on a more aero­dy­namic shape, their feath­ers laid atop one an­other in lay­ers pre­sent­ing a smoother, more slip­pery sur­face to the wind that would soon be pass­ing un­der their wings.

That in­cred­i­ble mo­ment of first flight was not far off now. It would come af­ter sev­eral days of ex­tended hops, fol­lowed by longer jumps, then longer leaps as­sisted by clumsy flap­ping of the wings un­til, in a sin­gle mag­i­cal in­stant, flight was achieved.

Within hours, flight was sus­tained over min­utes un­til the last signs of awk­ward­ness dis­ap­peared and the birds were no longer young­sters but young adults, fly­ing at full speed along the beach, around the har­bour and up over the sur­round­ing head­lands. 7 PM - 5TH AN­NUAL LAUNCH­ING OF THE LIGHTS Dec­o­rate & light up your houses & boats. Join us on the wharf for a good time - mu­sic, food (ham­burg­ers, sausages, etc). Fire­works. Cow­boys hats & ban­danas for sale on the wharf. S.U.F. Lodge will be open af­ter­wards 9 AM - BAKE SALE Come on out & sup­port the Great Eastern Sea Cadets 11:30 AM - SCAV­ENGER HUNT FMI con­tact Ros­alind 582-3187 8 PM - MU­SI­CAL MEM­O­RIES "A mu­si­cal his­tory of New­found­land mu­sic". Fundraiser in aid of the Ron­ald McDon­ald House. Must be 19 years of age. Tick­ets $10 each & avail­able by con­tact­ing Lynda Hal­f­yard 582-3670 1-3 PM - WEINER ROAST An­der­son's Cove Beach. Chil­dren un­der 16 must be ac­com­pa­nied by an adult. FMI con­tact Angie 582-2948 WESTERN HOE­DOWN SUF Lodge - 6:30-8 PM (Ages 0-8 years); 8:30-10:30 PM (Ages 9-13 years). Come on out & have your self a rootin' tootin' good time. Prizes awarded for best dressed boy &girl. (ALL ABOVE EVENTS TO BE HELD AT THE SUF LODGE) 10 AM – 12 NOON – ACW BAKE SALE SUF Lodge. FMI con­tact Florence 582-2331 8 PM - MU­SI­CAL MEM­O­RIES" A his­tory of New­found­land mu­sic" NOTE – EVENT SOLD OUT 10:30 PM – KAROKEE SUF Lodge. Come on out for some laughs & a good time 9:30 AM - BOAT FLOTILLA Dildo Wharf. Prizes awarded for best dec­o­rated boat $50 for small (25' & un­der); $50 for large (26' & over) 11:30 AM - COLD PLATE SALE $8 ea. Pur­chase at the wharf or the Le­gion Room (lo­cated at the front of the SUF Lodge) 1 – 5 PM - FUN DAY SUF Lodge dunk tank, bouncy cas­tle, mu­sic, good food and games of chance 9:30 PM ADULT DANCE SUF Lodge Adm $5 2 PM - EC­U­MENI­CAL SER­VICE Re­fresh­ments to fol­low 4 PM – RIB­BON CUT­TING & OF­FI­CIAL OPEN­ING OF THE BILL PRETTY ME­MO­RIAL PLAY­GROUND. Come on out & show your sup­port to the Dildo Recre­ation Com­mit­tee for all their hard work to build this play­ground.

SUF

Lodge.

The char­ac­ter­is­tic down­wards beat of the wings had be­come smooth and en­ergy-sav­ing. It was time for that tech­nique to be per­fected be­cause soon the days would shorten and the mo­ment of de­par­ture for the south­ern mi­gra­tion would be upon them.

In the space of a few short weeks th­ese beau­ti­ful lit­tle crea­tures would have evolved from the most frag­ile of eggshell-en­cased po­ten­tial to marathon world trav­ellers.

If good for­tune flew with them, they would be back in this har­bour once again next spring. Then they would pro­duce their own four­some of mot­tled brown eggs in the long grass at the top of the beach.

The first beak break­ing through one of those eggshells would ini­ti­ate an­other chap­ter in na­ture’s end­less story. Peter Pick­ers­gill is an artist and writer in Sal­vage, Bon­av­ista Bay. He can be reached by email at pick­ers­gill@mac.com

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