Nature’s endless story
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org