Whilst I may have been sat staring at a computer monitor or a tablet screen for much of the last fortnight, none of that activity appears to have had anything to do with writing a blogpost. Sometimes one's work/life balance isn't worth the... weight.
A few weekends ago, the Orkney Field Club organised a walk around Birsay at the northwestern tip of the Orkney mainland. This was to be followed by lunch at the Birsay Bay Tearoom. What is not to love about that arrangement? Storm Erik did his utmost to put a very wet and windy spanner in these works, but he hadn't reckoned with the meteorological talents of Eagle-eyed M, who managed to arrange a suitable weather window for a blustery, but dry, amble along the coast of Northside.
Burns were overflowing, fields were flooded, and the breakers coming in from the Atlantic were huge, but sunlight was catching the waves, such that the rocky shore was a kaleidoscope of greens, blues and whites. Dodging these waves, whilst trying to forage or rest, was the job of a flock of about thirty Purple Sandpipers. These Winter visitors from Greenland, Iceland or Scandinavia are well-camouflaged for their rocky environs but, again, the low sunshine was helping to highlight the birds as they moved from rock to rock. A few Goldeneye and Eider ducks were offshore, the occasional Grey Seal inquisitively bobbed its head to the surface to stare at us. More birdlife was pottering about in the flooded fields, with flocks of Curlew and Oystercatcher busy feeding, their long bills probing the soft ground. At one point, a large flock of Starlings flew by, pausing briefly to give the merest hint of a murmuration. Likely, this flock had been foraging through the tangled masses of seaweed thrown up on the shore, and was now returning to a nearby farm to congregate and socialise.
With an eye on the clock, and not wanting to be late for lunch, our group took a shorter route than intended, which turned out to be very fortuitous. As the track we were using reached the cliff edge by a rocky geo, we paused again to watch a pair of Goldeneyes. Scanning the water's surface, I was aware of a shape that was too brown to be a seal, but too mammalian to be drifting seaweed. At this point, adrenaline kicks in, and as the human brain attempts to resolve a pattern into a known shape, it is all too easy to mis-identify a piece of flotsam and make a fool of one's self. With this in mind, I tentatively approached the walk leader and mumbled, "Er... I think there's... er... an Otter out there."
Reassuringly, nine other pairs of eyes also thought this, and we spent several minutes watching the Otter catch prey, swim to the cliff edge, clamber out onto a shelf and eat its lunch. And, once it had swum out of sight, we hightailed it to the Tearoom for soup, sarnies, scones and cake.
Owing to the forecast, I didn't take my camera. Unfortunately, my phone just wasn't up to the job of recording images of the surf or the Otter. Even in the tearoom, I failed to capture a photo of the repast, but that was because I wasn't quick enough!