Year of Natural Scotland – Changing Seasons and a Parcel of Oystercatchers
The first skylark has already begun his morning serenade declaring his territory and advertising for a lady to share his very desirable residence in the tussocky field by the house. The lapwings have been debating whether the best spot is by the iris bed or in the damp hollow by the rocks. Not time for sky dancing yet, but no harm in a little plot hunting. It is the oystercatchers or sea pies who declare that winter is coming to a close and it is time to prepare for the spring nuptials.
These distinctive waders, with their dramatic pied plumage and brilliant orange bills, are a constant feature of the islands’ shoreline and fields. However, the birds we see in the Uists in winter are migrants from Scandinavia, Iceland and the Faeroes; the local breeding birds preferring to winter in the gentler climes of southern England, northern France and Spain. The locals return in March and announce their arrival with clamorous pre-nuptial gatherings in the fields. Here they feed in noisy flocks, squabble, pose, strut and posture as they seek to impress and advertise their fitness to potential mates and rivals. As I sat and watched the hustle and bustle, the peacockery and swagger the phrase that came into mind was not “randomised mate selection among young birds” or “pair bond reinforcement” (oystercatchers are monogamous) but speed dating. This is not scientifically accurate but then you do not have to be a scientist to enjoy a little bird watching.