Monday, 6 February 2012

The blood-foots are back

The first of our oystercatchers arrived back last week. I feel I can say 'our' oystercatchers because apparently they are faithful to the same breeding sites year after year. And although only a few of the 100 or so that eventually turn up here each spring actually stay to breed in the area, surely it's likely that the others take the same routes on passage to their own breeding grounds each year?

Anyway, I saw the first one on Friday, strutting about over the just-ploughed section of the River Field in that jerky, clockwork toy way they have. Looking for earthworms I expect. Not many bivalves to be found around here. Despite the name - Haemotopus ostralegus, or blood-footed oyster gatherers - they are neither particularly red-footed (more a deep pink really) or oyster gourmets. They use that blood-red dagger of a bill of theirs to winkle molluscs out from between the rocks or mud at the coast, or, as in our field, to get at juicy invertebrates hidden deep in the soil. Sometimes it's hard to guess what the namers were thinking of when they chose the scientific tags for their discoveries. Maybe they thought bloody-billed cockle-winkler just didn't have the same ring to it?

The point is that this means, in my book, that Spring has officially arrived. Spring as a state of mind that is, as a sense of life truly stirring again in both the natural world and for me; a sense of freedom and release, rather than as better weather coming, or the position of the Sun vis a vis the Earth. If it hadn't been so damn cold I'd have been running around casting off garments in all directions when I saw it.

From now on, assuming that things go as they have done for every year we have lived here, the numbers of oystercatchers will gradually increase day-on-day. Unless we get a big dump of snow or a hard, long freeze, when the blood-foots will go back to the coast for a while to find more accessible pickings. In the end there will be a great flock of them, tucked away under the river bank early in the mornings; mooching in raucous crowds in the fields across the river in the middle of the day, bringing life, colour and noisy pipings to every walk in the field.

I can't wait.

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