Friday, 6 September 2019

The ebb and flow of tides on the North Wirral coast

Where's the year gone? It's Leach's petrel time already. This evening I adopted a different approach to seeing these enigmatic seabirds, instead of standing for hours in one spot looking through a shaky telescope, I went for a pleasant evening stroll from Leasowe lighthouse to the Gunsite car park with just my binoculars, and the story behind it is a tale of two tides.

I suffer from high levels of anxiety which at times can be quite disabling and can lead to stress and ultimately depression. The problem is that the symptoms of anxiety can lead me to make poor decisions. I've given up jobs in the past because of it, literally just walked out. It can also be positive though, I probably wouldn't be doing the job and leading the lifestyle that I have today if it wasn't for anxiety driving me on.

Anyway back to this evening. I started off at New Brighton, standing on the beach sheltered behind Perch Rock. Reports were coming in of petrels all around Liverpool Bay, from Blackpool to Llandudno and many points in between. I'd been there alone for about half an hour and still hadn't seen a petrel or any other seabird, but I told myself that logically it was only a matter of time. However logic doesn't always come into it. Road signs were going up all along the promenade informing me that there was a rally this evening and that I must move my car by 17:00 or risk it being towed away. High tide was 17:30 so I knew that I'd have to go elsewhere eventually. Then there was the place I was standing. I was standing there because it was a sheltered spot, but it's a beach and eventually the tide will probably force me to move. And being behind Perch Rock meant that I couldn't see what was on the otherside. Perhaps there were all sorts of birds going past which I couldn't see. I was aware of two high tides approaching, one physical and in the real world, the other metaphorical and in my mind. Anxiety levels were kicking in.....

Now if I'd been with somebody else I would probably have stuck it out, but being alone with my thoughts convinced me that it was time to move on. I drove down the promenade to the first lifeguard lookout and sheltered behind that for a while. However I was in the same situation that I'd been in at Perch Rock except that I wasn't on the beach. A guy in hi-viz put up a sign right next to me as if to further emphasis the need to move my car at 17:00. Another birder carrying just binoculars came up to me and asked me what I had seen. "Not much" was my answer. He had just had a walk along the beach and seen three Leach's Petrels on the tideline at point blank range 15 minutes before I got there, but in his words "it's all gone quiet now". Why did I bother coming here? I could have been at home now with my feet up enjoying a cup of tea and listening to Test Match Special, instead of which I'm an hours drive from home (through Liverpool in rush hour), I'm cold, my back's aching, my scopes shaking in the wind and I'm getting hungry. I'm just not enjoying this. Both tides had now covered the beach and there were dark clouds overhead. Stress starting to overflow and the first signs of depression kicking in........

I moved again, this time I was heading for Leasowe gunsite car park. Unfortunately I missed the turning and ended up at the lighthouse car park. This was the final straw and a big wave came over me. "F*!# it I'm going home!". I'm referring to a wave of depression of course, and I call it a wave and not a cloud because clouds tend to float over and stay longer and the effect is gradual, whereas waves arise suddenly and wash over you and are gone just as quickly as they came. You can either emerge from the soaking feeling strong and immovable or you can lose your feet and be sent hurtling into the rocks. When I crash into the rocks, that's when I make poor decisions.

So what's it to be? Go home annoyed and depressed and spend the night miserable and feeling sorry for myself or stay and try to get something out of the evening? But I still had the physical ailments, the cold, the aching back and I was hungry, plus there is nowhere to shelter from the wind at the lighthouse and my scope would be shaking and the views would be poor at best. I knew that in my current frame of mind I wouldn't last long. Then a chink of light made me pause and stopped me starting the engine to leave. A compromise came to my mind.

Ditch the scope, forget about it. Go for a walk from the lighthouse to the gunsite about 1.5 miles to the east. If that other guy could see three petrels at point blank range on the tideline, why not me? So that's what I did. I had a pleasant evening stroll along the beach and managed to see three petrels really close in, one coming within 3m of me. These are wonderful birds and we are so lucky to see them like this in the north west. And as each petrel went past both tides receded a little more. High tide was now behind me and the waves had eased and parts of the beach were emerging and the sun was coming out. Anxiety levels were almost non-existant, my aching back which is partly caused by anxiety was not aching anymore, I wasn't cold due to the walk and I'd forgotten that I was hungry.

It could have been a different story of course, if I hadn't seen any petrels what then? Well that would have been disappointing, but just like the real tide the metaphorical tide always recedes. I would still have had a nice stroll on the beach, got some exercise and would not have had the physical discomfort I had earlier. I would still have made something of the evening. Failure and disappointment do not drive my anxiety, if they did I wouldn't be able to twitch a booby in Cornwall. My anxiety is driven by far more subtle, powerful and devious demons than that, and yes high tide will approach again and soon, but there is always a chink of light and most of the time I manage to find it.

It's hard not to have great admiration for these petrels, barely the size of a blackbird, they fly strongly into the teeth of a gale, battling their way through the surf and spray and waves. I've seen them at one of their breeding colonies on the Hebridean island of St. Kilda and I've heard their eerie calls and seen them coming into their burrows at night, but honestly the best and most dramatic way to see them is in a storm on the North Wirral coast.

A chink of light in the dark skies.

1 comment:

  1. Great write up Colin. The ups and downs of mood I'm sure all birders recognise if not perhaps to the same degree. The disabling anxiety must be a tough enemy to fight. But like the Leach's in the storm you have come through. I saw my first 3 Leach's on Thursday this week - distant but I have to agree spellbinding and moving to see them battle the elements.


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