Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Splash Zone

The cliff tops are mellow now. Autumnal colours of dark greens, with splashes of purple heather and yellow gorse sprinkled amongst the rich browns of dead bracken, create an atmosphere of change. Blackberries, sloes, and rich-red rose hips, add to an end of season landscape, and a few red admirals feed on the ripening fruits.

The splash zone between sea and land has always fascinated me. In just a few yards the vegetation changes, as do the animals that live there. I settle down to watch the birds exploiting this special habitat. Rock pipits, wrens, stonechats, robins, pied wagtails, linnets and turnstones all turn up to feed in one way or another. Later in the year during cold weather, when the splash zone remains unfrozen, others too will find precious food here. Purple sandpipers, meadow pipits, blackbirds, song thrushes, and now and again, a wintering black redstart will use this temperate world between land and sea.

There’s always something of interest on the shore, and today it’s the pied wagtails that attract my attention. They’re beginning to flock now, and I’ve heard reports of up to 60 already this autumn. The sandy beach has its usual strand of kelp along the high water line, and the wagtails busily feed on the abundance of flies and sand hoppers in the rotting brown mat. In winter they find food by either travelling around in flocks, or as the ones below me, by defending temporary feeding territories. Just four birds are involved this afternoon, each working a small strip of kelp, defending it against any other who dares to venture too close. When competition gets much, or they’re disturbed by gulls, they reposition themselves onto different territorial strips. This behaviour could turn out to be vital when food is short in deepest winter.

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