Tuesday 4 June 2024

Blackwaterfoot Revisited 1st June 2024

It is fair to say that, although Sanderlings are seen passing through Arran on migration every year, this year seems to have been exceptional in the numbers seen so far.The latest Arran Bird Report for 2023 confirms them as a 'Regular passage migrant' in both Spring and Autumn but of the two sightings recorded in May and June 2023, the first was of two and the latter four individuals

The thirty strong flock I saw on 28th May was therefore out of the ordinary. The flock has decreased in the ensuing days as presumably some individuals recommenced their northward migration so that by today there were only nineteen present.The Little Stint that accompanied the original flock was last seen on the 30th May so it was now just the remaining Sanderlings with a few Dunlins, Ringed Plovers and Turnstones to keep me occupied on a glorious early morning of sunshine

The Sanderlings behaviour had changed as they no longer seemed interested in feeding on the rotting seaweed. This may have had something to do with the tide which was far out, exposing many limpet and barnacle encrusted rocks and pools of seawater which in turn persuaded the Sanderlings to develop a preference for feeding amongst the rocks where  they could be very hard to discern due to their cryptic plumage and the cover provided by the rocks.

Eventually they appeared to grow tired of feeding and congregated on rocks at the edge of the distant sea and after a spell of preening settled down to sleep and rest These most sociable of birds becoming quiet and gradually huddling together to form a compact group.

The distinctive white rump of a House Martin averted my gaze as it flew a low circuit over the dead seaweed in front of me and finally, after two more hesitant flypasts, found the confidence to land and collect up a beakful of rotten wet weed and sand which it then flew off with to a nearby house where it was constructing a nest under the eaves. It quickly returned to repeat the process being joined by another, possibly its mate.They continued to land and gather beakfuls of material and then ferry their load to the house.

This activity was noticed by  other martins too, so that there were up to six House Martins coming to gather nest material. They never remained long on the ground, half a minute at the most, often less. For a bird that spends so much of its life in the air it must feel particularly vulnerable on the ground and they obviously were only coming to earth out of necessity.

They were noticed by a couple of Swallows which joined the martins in the gathering of nest material.I made the most of this unexpected and unusual opportunity to observe at close quarters these migrants that have travelled from distant Africa to raise their young on Blackwaterfoot's shores.

When the birds were on the ground, albeit briefly, it was possible see the differing shades of iridescence on their upperparts, In the case of the Swallows royal blue while the martins appeared more midnight blue.  If a bird turned, it was as if a light had been switched off as the sun no longer caught the iridescence and the plumage appeared black. 

It also gave a rare opportunity to observe the legs and feet of the birds.The swallows were bare and short, the martins also short but covered in white feathering,

On a sunlit shore to the sound of the sea's gentle distant murmur as Blackwaterfoot awoke behind me, for the next hour I watched the martins and swallows go about the business of collecting material for their nests.

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