Thursday, 11 May 2017

Incoming Tide

It’s been cold lately, more like March than May, and with a stiff wind from the northeast, it’s time for woolly hats and gloves again. Wader migration is at its height, and a high neap time is ideal for getting close. Way out on the mud they gradually appear as the tide pushes them ever nearer. Whimbrels, always in small groups, fly in to bath in the brackish stream then retreat to roost on the sandbar. Bar-tailed godwits, one or two beginning to acquire summer dress, feed by the tide line with oystercatchers and a few knot. Dunlins, most in fresh summer plumage with rich rusty backs, pure white under parts and jet-black bellies, dazzle in the bright sunlight, urgently probing the mud with rapid stabs. Gone are their drab winter tones to reveal just what a beautiful bird this is in summer. As one, and for no apparent reason, they suddenly fly off, arc across the sea and return to the same spot. Only the dunlins do this, nearby silver sanderlings stay put, scurrying along the shoreline ignoring their neighbours.

The encroaching tide slowly shuffles the gulls towards the shore revealing two grey plovers, one in all its summer glory. Only in spring and autumn do we get the chance to see what a really stunning bird this is. Black-bellied plover is its American name, but at this time, and in this light, it might well have been called silver plover. The contrasting black, white and silver make it the star of the shore.

As if by magic, out of the shuffling pack pop two pure white sandwich terns bathing at the water’s edge; I can’t believe I missed them. I’ve just a few minutes to make out the yellow tips on their bills before they’re off towards Mumbles  Lighthouse.

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