21st April 2022 Eider are returned to South Walney. How will weather, tide and season come together?
Bay Hide Saturday 23rd April
Flowers of viola tricolour bloom in the sand, with dove's-foot crane’s-bill.
There are few eider on the freshwater pools, in contrast with April 2015. We hear skylark and linnet but the wind is too strong for linnet to perch as they do on Thursday. I wonder how the weather disrupts patterns of behaviour in the intensity of the breeding season.
The sun is bright, eider are displaying with males sky-pointing and rising in the water. Two males tussle as their females look on.
Groyne Hide is the site of one of the WW2 searchlight batteries defending the sea-lanes into the port of Barrow where armaments were made and submarines built at Vickers. Some timber birding hides are built on concrete bases, heritage of that time. On Thursday the north-east wind is brisk but we open the hide windows and look out upon the grey seal colony at Shelly Bars. There’s a cluster of eider duck close to grey seals that bask on the sand. They’re distant, but the scene is well lit and we see herring gull amongst the seals who raise flippers from time to time and slither down to swim in the deep-water of Piel Channel.
The wind powers wind-turbines out at sea, shudders the sea-hide and makes wild music through its timbers. The smeary windows stay shut. Window, wind-eye, the wind assaults the hide, flapping a wooden panel that let's daylight in, add to the din. It’s elemental, thrilling, and we're locked in a dynamic aural experience. We're locked in a shelter with a weather-warped door that we can't shut, dare not shut in case a shelter becomes a trap. The wind tugs at the hide’s anchors and we might be swept up and away at any moment. So we squeeze past the wedged door and go on our way.
We head north east past a decaying coastal battery from WW2 and the ridge and furrow landscape created by the monks of Furness Abbey who grew cereals in the sandy, fertile soil. Window, the eye of the wind, the Abbey Windows would be stone openings to let in air and light. A sense of history is pervasive in the solitude, history and natural history meet here.
In the morning the tide was far out, salt-marsh, tidal mud-flats. sand and shingle exposed. Later in the afternoon, the scene was transformed with shades of aquamarine glossing an incoming tide and the black and white plumage of male eider gleaming in the sun We sat on a grassy bank along the Cistercian Way, watching eider duck and patterns on the water as the tide flowed into the network of channels threading the salt-marsh, leaving shoals of sedges which stippled the shallow water. Slowly, we made out clusters of waders farther out, feeding in the shallows, resting on shoals and being pushed toward us on the incoming tide. Redshank were calling, and lapwing. A cluster of birds seemed to be knot. And there were smaller birds with black bellies, dunlin I thought. Too far off for them to show distinctly. As the tide crept over the marsh a lapwing alighted in tussocks close to the shore, sunlight showing the rich colours of his plumage. A redshank came down beside him.
Whimbrel with the head stripes showing well. They’re now arriving on UK coasts on their migration.
Picture 5216. Redshank and Dunlin. The one on the right has a black belly which is the summer plumage moulting through.
Picture 5328. Grey Plover and a mix of Dunlin and Knot. The Knot are much larger the Dunlin and have a paler grey plumage with a small eye stripe. Knot will soon be on their way to their High Arctic breeding ground. One has face, breast and belly in the brick red of breeding plumage.
my thanks to Jeff Holmes
Whilst preparing this blog I discovered
The Military Heritage of South Walney
Archaeological survey & recordings on Walney Island, Barrow in Furnace
Page 8 gives a map showing coastal battery (the ruin by the sea hide) and searchlight batteries on the NE tip and SW tip of the island ( the latter’s concrete base to Groyne Hide a vestige of this structure)
The introduction gives a historical context, including Piel Castle