Friday, July 13, 2012

Whimbrel & Wheatear

Writing this diary has several benefits: working at conveying memorable moments clearly fixes them in the mind; seasonal events fall into patterns, first recognised then anticipated with satisfaction.

The very week after solstice, set in a carpet of pink Thrift on the far salting, dun brown heads and backs of first returning Curlew, roosting up with long bills tucked back under wing, just one beady black eye alert for danger. Single Shelduck with silver duckling on the river bend; lone Oystercatcher probing silver mud flats; then, scanning past boat and anchor chain, a medium-sized wader, lightly built as Redshank or Godwit, until profile showed long, down-curved bill of first Whimbrel passing through from northern breeding grounds to southern winter quarters

For several weeks the beach was empty of all but resident breeding pairs of Oystercatcher and Ringed Plover, but the week after solstice saw a party of Turnstones, also moving southward, as well as dry bleating calls of Sandwich Terns heard from the beach car park. Just yesterday, walking down the rock protected estuary bank, a squared white rump flashed down the line ahead, disappearing as a superb, slate-backed male Wheatear flipped up to its rock top vantage point: black-masked and peach-breasted, one eye cocked upward, intent on possible danger from above. Wheatears first appeared here in March having following the coastline northward; nested high in mountains in rocks and dry-stone walls; now returned to trace the coastline southward for winter.

After the excitement of Spring, all is quiet inland as birds work hard to feed and raise young: thin whistles and calls to maintain contact in dense woodland; young Buzzard calling all day for food from across the valley; just occasional isolated phrases of Song Thrush, Willow Warbler or Blackcap song, notable only for their brevity and current rarity.

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