Thursday, 28 May 2009

A Shallow Scrape In The Sand

Image Left: Oystercatcher chicks

A Shallow Scrape In The Sand
Wednesday 27th May

After dinner we walked onto the low grassy headland above the arc of the beach, the Oystercatchers where already up swinging around us with alarm calls while keeping some distance. I had found the nest earlier today on a walk across the bay to collect some guests who had been visiting Iona for the day. At three o’clock the shallow scrape in the sand was occupied by to two fluffy chicks and a single undamaged egg. At five, on the way back from a visit to the croft a small beak could be seen as it broke through the shell.

I guessed by now the chick would be out but wasn’t entirely sure if the little brood would be mobile enough to have scarpered. Once on the move finding highly camouflaged wader chicks becomes almost impossible especially when their parents’ warning calls seem to encourage them to remain as motionless as any of the other three million pebbles on the beach. A couple of years ago I nearly flattened a lapwing chick that had decided to patrol a stretch of road next to a Pennine moorland. What had been conspicuous while running on flat surface of the loose road completely disappeared when seated.

After walking backwards and forwards over the same ten feet of road for five minutes and finding nothing I glanced down at my feet and saw what I thought was frog that had been unlucky enough to encounter a car. Realising it was the chick I took a deep breath before bending down, luckily the flat appearance was partially an optical illusion created by the mottled pattern of its down. I lifted the chick and its legs dropped down like the oversized landing gear of an aeroplane. When I placed it back in contact with the ground it new its cover was completely blown and made a break for it in style of Road Runner.

I took the precaution of checking and setting my camera before we neared the nest so as not to spend anymore time than necessary disturbing the chicks and their parents. We dropped onto the beach cautiously studying the ground before every step. We found three chicks safe and well with half an egg shell in a small cup of sand. The latest hatchling was still sporting the wet look and nestling into the down of its slightly older siblings. All in all we stayed at the nest for a little over a minute before walking the short distance back to the street and out of danger zone for the worried parents.

Image Above Right: Nest Amongst The Pebbles
Image below: The Conception

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