Terschelling, The Netherlands, September 2012

16 September 2012 -  

At high tide, waterbirds roost on the saltmarsh a short distance inland of the sea wall. Thousands of Curlews sleep packed together, bills under their wings. Along the shore, a narrow strip of mud remains and Turnstones, Ringed Plovers and Bar-tailed Godwits feed in small, dispersed groups. A couple of hundred Oystercatchers are roosting at the top of the shore in a tight flock and five Sandwich Terns are resting nearby, a juvenile squeaking relentlessly as if begging for food.  A young Arctic Skua beats very fast into the wind and dashes down among the terns, white wing patches flashing as it swoops. They fly off and the skua harries the young tern but fails to get any food because it has nothing to disgorge. These inexperienced young birds are still learning how to survive and are having a tough time. The skua lands on the beach and gives stunning views through the ‘scope, every feather in place, dark, beady eye alert, the soft, warm-brown plumage immaculately scalloped and streaked blackish-brown and ochre.

On the north side of the island the wind whips fiercely along the beach. Flocks of gulls – predominantly Lesser Black-backed – are feeding in the surf and small, loose, groups of Sanderlings run tirelessly to and fro, looking for food on the wet sand, sometimes following the wash of the waves. They are joined by sluggish groups of Oystercatchers and the occasional Bar-tailed Godwit. The beach is the scene of a major wreck of razor shells which form thick drifts in places along the tideline. The gulls feed greedily but a razor shell is not an easy morsel and they break the big ones into manageable pieces with their bills. Many birds find it easier to steal shattered fragments than to break shells for themselves, and the tideline is a blizzard of raucous activity.

As I walk back across the polder to the village, a Whinchat is sitting motionless on a fence wire.  It is soon joined by three more, their pale, compact forms and big, buffy-white eyebrows identical and very distinctive. Like most of the birds on the island today, these four are resting on a long migration which in their case will take them south of the Sahara Desert.

Comments are closed.