Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Waiting for the tide to turn ......
Every walk in the countryside or along the coastline has its own natural soundtrack and the calls of redshanks, which you can listen to by clicking here, are the wild music accompanying visits to most seashores. They're sounds that evoke images of waves lapping over seaweed-covered rocks with long-filled waders probing for worms in the soft sediments that accumulate between them.
When the tide rises redshanks are driven up the shore and one of the best places to watch them locally at close quarters is at the mouth of the river Tyne, where they flock on the north pier below Tynemouth Priory and wait for the tide to turn.
The quotations under the pictures below are taken from the 1891 edition of Rev. F.O. Morris's A History of British Birds, first published in instalments from 1850 onwards. The text that accompanies the beautiful colour plates in these books is often dull description, but it's also peppered with anecdotes gleaned from fellow clergyman-naturalists and sometimes includes the author's own acute observations.
You can read a biography of Morris, who was a vigorous opponent of cruelty to animals in general and fox hunting in particular, here, here and here. In some other respects, especially in his anti-Darwinist stance and his attitudes towards women which would today be deplored but neither of which were unusual in Victorian England, he would be a rather unattractive character, if judged in hindsight and according to enlightened modern attitudes.
Here is what he had to say about the sounds of redshanks on the seashore:
'The call note of the redshank ... is loud and clear, merry and not unmusical, and also at times is plaintive and garrulous, and ordinarily more clamorous and as if scolding.'
'....... if approached unawares, they utter a wild scream of alarm...'
The birds in the first four pictures below were photographed recently on the north pier, where they seem quite accustomed to passers-by so there were no 'wild screams of alarm.'
The bird in the bottom three pictures, in summer plumage, was photographed at Low Hauxley Nature Reserve, near Druridge bay on the Northumberland coast.
The quotations in italics below are all from Morris's A History of British Birds'.
'When the tide is at its height they assemble in flocks on the uncovered places, but immediately that its fall permits their return to their feeding places they disperse in quest of prey'.
'In the winter they frequent the sea shore, delighting in the sandy or muddy flats which are in many places left uncovered by the falling tide; and in the spring they repair to fenny places and marshes, and the borders of lakes, ponds and pools'.
'It wades, reaching its head down under water at full length'
'They can swim well, if necessitated to do so...'.