Friday, 17 April 2020

Relieving the cabin fever


Earlier in the week I was offered a days work on the Cumbrian coast and I jumped at the opportunity. It's a very beautiful spot with wide open views and a chance to see some estuary birds and perhaps a bit of coastal migration with the icing on the cake, I get paid for it, which in these days of lockdown is like winning the lottery. It's also a very remote spot and once I get there I don't see another soul all day, so no problem socially isolating here.

It was high tide when I arrived but it was a neap tide so not particularly high and I had no problem walking to my vantage point. Sometimes when it's a spring tide it can be difficult to get to because the water comes right up to the cliff.

So as soon as I was in position and set up I started to scan those bits of the beach and saltmarsh which were still uncovered. The first bird I looked at was a whimbrel! Nice, my first of the year and by no means a nailed on addition to the year list this year. There were also about 30 curlew, 200 oystercatchers, 10 redshanks, bar-tailed godwit and five dunlin. I could also see about 20 shelduck and a handful of eider on the sea, normally I'd say that it was fairly quiet but after over 20 days in the back garden it seemed to be positively teeming with birds.

If I turn my attention to the north west of my vantage point I can see the open sea. It's a bit distant to be honest but high tide is about as good as it's going to get, so when time allowed I had a scan in that direction. I could see a few sandwich terns and further out still I was delighted to see gannets plunge diving. I followed a couple of sandwich terns as they came much closer in and suddenly spotted some small birds crossing low over the water, their white rumps clearly identifying them as wheatears heading north. Migration in action, eight birds in total plus a few swallows, a wonderful sight! During the course of the day I spotted several more wheatears, some crossing the beach and a couple of others on the rocks at the bottom of the cliff.

Photo: Northern wheatear.


By early afternoon the tide had receded and temperatures had risen and in my sheltered spot I was quite warm.  I was surrounded by freshly flowering gorse and the scent of the flowers was all around me. My dad once told me that the scent of gorse was that of coconut and whenever I smell the flowers it reminds me of him, it's one of my favourite plants. A typical bird of gorse is the linnet and there were several of these around today, with a singing male right next to my vantage point. Up to five little egrets fished the smaller creeks and channels, whilst in the main channel a few red-breasted mergansers were getting amorous with the spectacular displays of the males.

Photo: Red-breasted mergansers displaying.

I had another look to the north west, I could see a few sandwich terns on the freshly exposed sand bar and suddenly an arctic skua flew towards them and scattered them in all directions, at least 70 terns in total.  An awesome spectacle, and makes me wonder how many more days like this I might get this year.

Finally and close to the end of the day I spotted two whooper swans flying high and heading north.  A great day of visible migration as one group of birds arrives from the south and another group departs to the north. A good end to my working day.

Photo: Little egret.
Photo: Linnet.

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