Saturday, 13 June 2009

A Rare Thing

Image left: Common Sandpiper
Sunday 7th June
A Rare Thing

I turn into the Narrows under a sky filled with the siren like calls of oystercatchers. I quickly find the empty cup of their nest seated in a heather topped boulder: It had originally held three eggs, but two of these had been lost early on leaving only a single chick to face the rigors of life on the beach. I move off and their calls subside.

The recent run of neap tides have failed to dampen the expanse of sand leaving it littered with sea borne debris. Even the small tidal stream that skirts island’s side of the sand has disappeared leaving only the fossilised indents of running water. On the opposite bank the oaks of John’s Wood have filled out their canopy still holding to the glass ceiling created by the prevailing winds. Below on the edge of the sand a patch of Irises are just beginning to flower, the distance lending them the feel of impressionist’s sketch with hastily thrown yellow dashes amongst the green fuse.

For the island’s rocky margin life has also moved on apace, the low cliffs hold wooded tufts, with oak, birch, aspen and hazel all in leaf while the rowans had started to blossom. Even the shear faces of rock are dotted with tight bunches of thrift like unfurled anemones. Where ledges and fissures afford some shelter ferns, penny royal and heather bring their own colour to the patina of lichens. I drew myself into this world with deep breaths , someone had painted over the surfaces with life.

From a low stand of birch the call of a bird brought my attention in from the beach. The tone was melodious enough to be a songbird but it had a distinct resonance that marked it out from the thrushes and warblers. Its calls pulled me from bush to bush while my quarry gave up only tantalising glimpses. I was been played for a fool and when the bird had taken me far enough from its nest it made a long arc back to were the game had began. I too returned to the start but instead of replaying the chase, I waited. A small wading bird emerged from the thicket calling to its mate who answered from the top of rock on the edge of the beach. It flitted off the ground and threw its legs forward to grapple with a low branch on which it intended to perch, it took a couple of second to find its balance. I waited with them as they moved from branch to rock through the small valley dipping their tails and calling all the time. What I took to be the female made occasional sorties to the base of a hazel, where I assumed her nest lay. The species of the bird was only something I could guess at and these guesses ranged from rare passage migrants to species I had seldom found the need to look up in my field guide. I suppose life is a rare thing in itself and intimacy with it, rarer still.

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