Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Invited to the next hamlet for supper, bat detector is pocketed for homeward walk: a still, grey dusk after hot dry day. The detector is directed at possible bat locations, side dial turned up and back through the wavebands as for radio station selection on a small transistor radio. In the stony lane between house, walled garden and outbuildings, under Oak canopy, sudden bleeping about 106 kHz prompts a stop and systematic search. Further loud but fleeting bursts and still no sighting until faint, fast movement close by brings attention to scarcely distinguishable, tiny grey form flitting along the wall, diving down fast over the lane at knee height, lightning turn at the outbuilding wall, repeated dive behind and back over the wall, all within arm’s length. Optimal reading settling down at 108 kHz, the Lesser Horseshoe Bat had been too grey to spot and too close & fast to track.

Now back to high pressure systems, sea often flat calm and crystal clear, shoals of fry, Sand Smelt and Sand Eels come close to shore, each recognisable by dark traced surface movements: fry sprinkle the water like a handful of sand or water droplets; Sand Eels jet away from the very edge of the encroaching tide; Smelt rise like trout and take a small fly cast at expanding rings. A little further out, sudden dark lines scar the water, occasional thin, silver lighting streak as eel-like, Swordfish-beaked Garfish flicker after sand eels. Mullet cruise in groups surging for microscopic food, dorsal often showing above water; strong, heavy fish often unaccountably leaping clear of the water. A raiding party of Bass herding and slicing through Sand Eels boils the water dark with white splashes, lures pulled through chased and taken aggressively in the feeding frenzy.

Between whiles, all is peaceful: Bottle-Nosed Dolphin tracking offshore, dark body and fin wheeling over steadily at intervals to blow and breath, or turning in one spot, crescent tail lifted clear for vertical dive. Early in the morning, the shore is so quiet that millions of Sand Fleas hiss at the strand line. Waders call in the grey dawn: liquid Curlew; insistent Whimbrel; plaintive Ringed Plover with young amongst the boulders. Urgent piping along the shore from Common Sandpiper moving south; loud Redshank, ‘sentinel of the marsh’; and fussing Oystercatchers play their part as first Sandwich Terns bleat overhead, heading out from the estuary in thin-winged, buoyant flight to hunt for Sand Eels in the bay.

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