A bird on the beach is worth two in the field…

For a day that started off looking fairly grey and dismal, it turned into a glorious afternoon. ‘I’m not going to bother drawing the curtains,’ I’d said to Graham this morning when I got up to make the tea.

What a difference a few hours make.

A curlew chick, newly ringed

A curlew chick, newly ringed

Unable to bear the prospect of sitting at our laptops any longer, with sunshine streaming in through the windows, we decided to start the weekend early, and upped and headed off to an area where whimbrel are known to nest. Graham is newly licensed to monitor them. He’s also currently very keen on ringing wader chicks of any persuasion, Schedule 1 species or not, so it was quite a slow journey, stopping at every sighting of a curlew, redshanks, oystercatcher or lapwing that looked like it might have some babies around.

An oystercatcher chick

An oystercatcher chick

So I got the opportunity to photograph oystercatcher and curlew chicks.

Orchids

Orchids

The area where the whimbrel are was covered in orchids, which suddenly seem to have sprung up everywhere. There’s loads of lousewort and butterwort about too. And not just one or two, but whole swathes of them. So Bertie and I hung around photographing flowers (much to Bert’s chagrin) while Graham went to look for whimbrel nests.

Arctic skua nest

Arctic skua nest

Not only did he find a couple, but we also found an Arctic skua nest. At this stage, with just eggs, they’re not so aggressive and protective. When I asked Graham, who didn’t appear to have made any effort to memorise the location, if he’d be able to find the nest when he came back to ring the chicks, he said, ‘Don’t worry, the skuas themselves will tell me where it is!’  You just have to be brave enough to endure their wrath in order to find it.

A bull with his harem

A bull with his harem

With the nest-finding done, we then took Bert for a walk on the beach, where he could have a good run around, much needed after being denied any earlier bunny chasing on account of nesting birds. A herd of cows in a nearby field – you don’t see that many cows in Shetland – thought he was absolutely fascinating and came lumbering up to the fence to have a gawk at him. Including a rather large and intimidating bull. ‘I don’t think we should hang around,’ said Graham. ‘Looking at the size of him, and that fence, I think if he decided he really wanted to get this side of it, he could.’

Sandwort? Beachwort? Seawort?

Sandwort? Beachwort? Seawort?

So we left the bull and his harem to their own devices and sent Bert for a swim in the sea (it’s amazing what throwing a stone in the water will achieve). I was fascinated by a plant (as yet not properly identified) that seemed to be taking over the whole beach and was actually growing in the sand. ‘Sandwort,’ said Graham authoritatively. ‘Or beachwort. Or seawort…’ It was rich, dark green,with tiny white flowers, and had a strong, sweet smell, not unlike gorse.

Sand patterns

Sand patterns

I also rather liked these sand patterns created by the receding tide.

And then Graham found a ringed plover chick (star of the main photo on this page) to ring. He was very chuffed as it was his first of this species and quite the smallest, fluffiest wader baby I’ve ever seen. Definitely the baby bird of the day for me.

When you think I was considering not even bothering to draw the curtains this morning, it wasn’t a bad day…

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