The Mast-Head: The Season’s Signals

   This week’s cold snap notwithstanding, spring has come early this year. Bruce Collins, who lives in East Hampton Village, phoned recently to say he had seen red-wing blackbirds in his yard more than a week ago, something he did not recall before the middle of March.
    Out where we live on the southeastern reach of Gardiner’s Bay, things are a week or so behind the village. I noticed the rusty-wire call of my first red-wing on Saturday though, which is early enough. There have been no spring peeper frogs yet; their trills are at least another 10 days off.
    It had been another cleaning and organizing weekend around the Rattray household. The kids have been growing (as usual), and there were clothes to be given away. The chicken coop, which had not been swept out since the fall, was due for a change of bedding. An old mattress took a last ride to the town dump. Amid all the trips back and forth, I spent a lot of time outdoors, listening to the birds, paying attention to the season’s signals.
    A cardinal perched in a scrub oak on the water side of the house held forth in the morning. Chirps and whistles from birds I could not identify came from unseen redoubts in the surrounding marshes. The bay was oddly quiet.
    Most winters the bay rattles with the gabbling of the long-tailed ducks, which raft in large, extended families a good way offshore. I assume they have been scarce this winter because their preferred grounds to the north have remained free of ice.
    There have been the usual gulls along the shore most days — herring gulls and a few black-backs. At dawn, when the wind has been from the north, they hurry to pick up scallops blown in overnight. They squall and bicker over what they find and quiet down once feeding is through.

    It may have been a mild winter on land, but dawn on the beach is bitter when the wind is up. Mostly, it is the gulls’ domain, for a few more weeks at any rate. The gulls’ lot is a hard way to make a living, although until it warms up they have little competition. Some mornings I see raccoon or fox tracks in the sand. Deer, too, walk the beach, though for what purpose I can’t be sure.    It may have been a mild winter on land, but dawn on the beach is bitter when the wind is up. Mostly, it is the gulls’ domain, for a few more weeks at any rate. The gulls’ lot is a hard way to make a living, although until it warms up they have little competition. Some mornings I see raccoon or fox tracks in the sand. Deer, too, walk the beach, though for what purpose I can’t be sure.