Wednesday 29 January 2020

Purple aaahs

The weather forecast for Tuesday showed it to be the most favourable day to go birding, with an expected dry, but cold, morning, a sunny afternoon and little in the way of a breeze. So I arranged to meet up with Eagle-eyed M, to explore the beaches of Deerness for waders and wildfowl.

At dawn, the visibility was excellent, I could see snow on a few of the mountains of the Scottish mainland and, indeed, there was hardly a breath of wind. By the time we rendezvous'd, however, it was by turns raining, sleeting and snowing. Undeterred, though with the occasional chunter about meteorological inexactitude, we persevered with a walk along the shore of Newark Bay. The tide was most of the way in, which we assumed would make for poor birding, so spent most of our time looking across the flooded fields just inland, where ducks and waders were foraging in the mud and the murk.

Far to the south, there appeared to be some lighter sky, but it wasn't in any rush to visit East Mainland. We squelched on, through a carpet of thick seaweed thrown up onto the coastal path by recent storms, and spotting a few more ducks bobbing about on the gentle sea. After a while, we noticed that we were approaching a mixed flock of waders, which were spread out along the tide line, dodging incoming waves in their hunt for the freshest, tastiest morsels amongst yet more seaweed. They were mainly Turnstones and Purple Sandpipers, frantically searching for food and ignoring two entranced humans. Because it was nearly high tide, the birds were only a few feet away and seemingly unconcerned. As it was also calm, it was possible to hear a sound which I had not previously encountered, a multitude of Purple Sands burbling away to themselves. It was very reminiscent of Swallow twitterings, and it was only the persistent drizzle which stopped me from filming the lovely spectacle, for fear of ruining my camera.

Next stop was Sandside beach, where a similar thing was happening, but with added Dunlin, Sanderling and Ringed Plover. Scanning the skies, we spotted a raptor headed our way, which resolved into a Sparrowhawk. When the hawk saw us, it broke off from its anticipated route along the tide line and flew out to sea a little way. Then it turned again to fly parallel to the shore, heading for the promontory at the far side of the bay. Half way there, it swooped down low to the water, and on reaching the rocks put up another flock of Purple Sands, only just missing out on snatching one very fortunate bird out of the air.

Driving back inland, we passed several fields with small flocks of Pink-footed Geese, all busy grazing. We went to a small wooded quarry, which can often contain birds sheltering from the weather, but all our searching produced just one Dunnock (which I missed). However, there were several fungi to puzzle over and some Snowdrops to gladden the heart. Later, local fungi expert L identified my photos as Scarlet Berry Truffle and Glistening Inkcap.

Returning to the car, we noticed a couple of finches, sat on a wire fence, just over the road. They flew off before we could positively ID them, but they then landed in a paddock which had been converted into a huge allotment. As we scanned through the ridges of soil, clumps of weeds and huge neeps, we realised that there was a large finch flock busy foraging: Linnet, Twite and Greenfinch. As vehicles passed, the flock flew to the shelter of a mature hedge, where there were also a couple of dozen Redwings. As if that wasn't pleasing enough, three Snipe shot out of the neep patch, whirring away with fast wing beats.

After lunch, the sun eventually broke through as promised, so we pottered around the loop from Tense Towers down to the Holm shore at St Nicholas Kirk. The brightness had encouraged several Brown Hares out into the open, there was a pair of Shovelers on the flooded field behind the kirk, and in the newly-extended cemetery, a small flock of Dunlin and Ringed Plover were resting and preening.

Offshore, the bay held a Great Northern Diver and a Goldeneye, and as the sun slowly slipped towards the horizon, the local Starling flock began to practise their pre-roost murmuration moves. As we were stood in front of the barns where the Starlings would eventually roost, after a while they flew towards us, the pulsating sphere morphing into a horizontal line, the feathered flurry making a gentle whoosh as it passed over our heads.


Coastal Ripples said...

A good day for birding and fungi. We are in a calm too at the moment. Back to normal tomorrow no doubt! B

Imperfect and Tense said...

Aye, it was a short respite!