Late September and sunlight glosses seaweed and shingle with an incoming tide. From the yellow dunes, amidst sea-holly and marram grass, I spy a couple of waders outlined against the white foam of a breaking wave. The birds are foraging, running to and fro against the rhythm of the waves and heading north along the strand. Amongst the ringed plover there are dunlin, first winter birds with plumage of tortoiseshell and grey. Breeding solitary in the uplands, dunlin come to the coast and spend autumn and winter here in flocks.
Cloudscapes are glorious on this autumn day and the sea is depths of aquamarine. Seaweeds are rich and glossy. Pebbles of the shingle conceal a flock of waders, some twenty or thirty birds. It's an immersive experience, following them so slowly along the strand. Every sense is focused. I must not disturb the birds but there are so many and so well camouflaged they're hard to see, even harder to photograph as I shift between binoculars and camera. I'm struck by the contrast in the secrecy of these small waders and the high visibility of eider and gannet off The Point of Ayre where wild water is their protection. Unlike ringed plover who might have to share the strand with walkers and dogs. And who must nest exposed on the shingle.
We reached the strand as a party of geologists were leaving- nothing much, only gulls, they said. Having lunch up in the sand dunes, I spied ringed plover and came down to see what I might discover. I love the elusiveness of these small waders that spend autumn and winter foraging on the shoreline.
We chose a handful of banded pebbles as a memento of a lovely day. See how the white neck-ring and grey-brown mantle echoes the colours of the pebbles. In spring, ringed plover will breed here on the shingle and they'll need perfect camouflage to protect their eggs and young.
How many ringed plover are here amongst the shingle?
Dunlin in flight, left. With ringed plover to the right.
Dunlin ( centre) with ringed plover, foraging where the incoming tide breaks on the shingle.
Dunlin in summer breeding plumage, July 2015. For some hour we studied this handsome bird high on Beinn Luskentyre, Outer Hebrides. Dunlin are solitary during their spring and summer breeding season, a mountain bird. In winter they are found in flocks foraging along the shore, as at Cronk Y Bing.
Jan Wiltshire is a nature writer living in Cumbria. She also explores islands and coast and the wildlife experience. (See Home and My Books.)