Watching the gulls come home is one of my favourite monents of the day. The Wearmouth Bridge, built in 1929 but with a history in different forms back to 1796, in its current shape a replica of the Tyne and Sydney Harbour bridges, all three of which I have walked over, is a good vantage point to watch the birds fly home. At sunset the sky above the bridge turns to orange and then pink, and the deep bottle green of the bridge iron turns a defiant purply-grey, and the gulls come in, singing on the wing, circling and spiralling on drafts of air we cannot see and barely notice as anything other than the cold on our cheeks. These are mainly common and herring gulls, flying at 500ft or higher, following as far as I can tell the flow of the Wear to the sea at its mouth.
I once saw a gull hanging off the St Peter’s basin wall just before the mouth of the Wear as it hits the North Sea. It was trapped in fishing line, tangled around its foot and around the iron railing, the barrier for us to avoid falling in. There were three teenagers fishing just a little way along, with the tools that could have helped to cut the bird free. Instead it hung off the side wall over the sea some thirty or forty feet below, strung up like shot game. There was always fishing line dumped along that walkway, from Sunderland out to Roker Beach. Yellow and pink and orange line, tangled messes of a frustrated day’s fishing. I used to put as much of it in the bins as I could.
I approached the bird and tried to help. I thought every gull was Jonathan Livingston. This one flapped wildly, yelped at me, desperate to get away. It must have been brusing itself as it beat its wings against the sea wall. All I managed to do was untangle the line from the railing. At that the gull fell, flapped, and flew of, trailing a line that I knew, or at least guessed, would weigh it down eventually, get itself trapped again in some thicket or fence. I looked back at the boys fishing who had been watching me. Then they turned back to their own work. I ran on.
Back on the Wearmouth Bridge at sunset, waiting or my metro train, I watch more gulls come in threes and pairs, circling, taking their time. Perhaps they had fed well at whatever inland port they had found, outside a chippy in Chester-le-Street, a bench in a park where they competed with starlings and crows for crumbs along the gravelled paths. They were uplit in pink, high and away, the night beach ahead of them, in no rush. My metro arrived. I got on.
Image (cc) tomo tang