Sunday, 2 February 2014

Water, water, everywhere?

Today, 2nd February, is World Wetlands Day.

I imagine that your viewpoint on this might be different if you live here compared to your thoughts if you live here. Or, perhaps, they are two different effects of the same problem?

In Orkney, the biggest problem these last few days has been coastal flooding, due to exceptionally high tides coupled with strong winds. At least yesterday there was less rain and we saw some sun. Our Lass and I pottered around the West Burray loop. From the cottage, we began the walk along the single track road that goes to the western end of the island. Normally, from there, we can see the narrow causeway, or ayre, that connects Burray with Hunda. Not yesterday, there was only a thin tell-tale line of white water to reveal where it was. Then our route picked up a farm track that skirts around the hill of Muckle Wart and heads back eastwards to Burray Village. The water pouring off the hill was making good use of the track too, as the previous days' rain responded to the gravitational urge to be at one with the sea.

The thin white line

We briefly encountered a different kind of flow as we tramped through the soggy fields. A flock of sheep thought our presence meant food, and they milled around and along with us for several minutes before they finally figured out we were not going to provide a meal.

As we regained firmer ground and another single track road, we could see huge waves in the distance, as the North Sea crashed into the beach alongside Barrier Number 4. A quick check with our binoculars also revealed that the surface of Water Sound was above the level of the Burray pier.

Our return route took us over the hill of Little Wart, a vantage point from which we could watch waves, driven by a strong south easterly gale, colliding into Barrier Number 2 between Glimps Holm and Lamb Holm. The spray was spectacular, at least from this remove, but I guess that wouldn't be your dominant emotion if you were driving across the causeway. In addition, the same violent sea was smashing into the recently-repaired defences of Graemeshall Road on Mainland, a picturesque and seaweed-strewn portion of the route between our current abode and our new home.

Back at the cottage, we enjoyed a hearty breakfast and watched the wildlife feeding in the fields below the garden. With the high tide making the shore a no-go area, waders were thronging to these pastures to search for tasty morsels in the soft ground.

Curlew, Numenius arquata

The Curlews are often accompanied by a flock of Starlings, their different beak length and feeding strategy allowing the two species to comb the same area without competing over food resource.

Obviously and conversely, the low tides are out of the ordinary too. For the past few days, we have been able to see sand in Echnaloch Bay, as the water retreats further than normal and exposes more than just rock. This phenomenon has brought new visitors, not only a small increase in the number of Oystercatchers, but also a few hardy folk searching for 'spoots' or Razor Clams, on the normally hidden beach.

It's encouraging to see wildlife and humans sharing a sustainable resource.


Martin said...

Are the 'Hardy folk' equipped with a bottle of concentrated salt solution to make the Razors hop out of their burrows or just foraging casually?
ps. Razor clams are tasty and easy to clean :)

Tales of a Bank Vole said...

I think your going to have to explain the different beak length thing to me.
The Starlings have shorter beaks and so will feed close to the surface, but, do the Curlews always use the extra length of their beaks to dig deeper? Or do they only dig deeper when food near the surface is exhausted? As most creatures take the simplest route to food I would have thought they would not dig any deeper than they need and so would compete with the Starlings until the food near the surface was gone. But what do I know.
Anyway lets have some more news re the new house!

Imperfect and Tense said...

Got the keys this afternoon! Hope to be in by the weekend.

Imperfect and Tense said...

Looked to be the proper way with a long blade.