Shorebird season

It is shorebird season on the reserve – my first, and with it so much to do and learn. This week we put up fences on the beaches – long lines of poles with a single rope twice twisted around them, stretching along the high tide line then cutting back along the beach and along the dunes. Not so much a physical barrier as a mental one, they are, like those velvet ropes in galleries, a request – a warning. Please don’t – you mustn’t. Every eight posts or so, a sign. This is a shorebird nesting area. Special protection area. Public access to this site is prohibited by law.

It has been heavy work, this. Day one, we bring the Land Rover and trailer onto the high sand and I stand in the trailer throwing posts – one at each thumbs up from the driver, every eight metres or so. As the Land Rover beetles its way back past the posts we have laid, I breathe in sun and breeze and wonder if the white birds I can see diving are Sandwich terns.

We carry more posts over a gap between the dunes. The smallest dunes, by the sea, are embryo dunes, built and bound by marram grass; these may become yellow dunes, then grey – each time building in biodiversity. High above us, singing skylarks superintend our progress. Last week I learnt that larks are laverocks, that west coast Caerlaverock is the castle of the larks. I sometimes stop, hearing their song, look upwards – hope to spot the tiny shape that is filling the dunes with music. Low over the dunes, a kestrel is hunting.

We unroll orange netting with metal spiked poles, encircle likely nesting areas. If not fully predator-proof, these will at least deter them – make some spaces a little safer for those birds who choose to nest there. We are a small team of staff and volunteers, dedicated to birds who may blithely choose to nest elsewhere. We work and we hope.

The posts do not seem heavy, at first, nor the mell – a large hammer with which we take turns to drive the posts into the sand. I carry it over my shoulder, laugh, reference Thor. Sunshine chases clouds across the dunes and over the beach where we work. Showers are forecast.

I take a break from the mell, stretch out my arms and back, look seawards. My hair blows into my face – I am growing it, and I remember now why previous efforts have failed. There is sweat and salt and sand in it. My face is gritty and greasy with sunscreen and sand, still pink despite the factor 50. I do not care – face turned sunwards, eyes closed for a moment, I bask. I could have been a lizard, maybe, in another life. Sun-loving.

Bright gannets – the first I’ve seen this year – skim the surface of the sea. I wait to watch one dive, admire their yellow heads and perfect black wing tips. They look as though they have been dipped in ink. I imagine them standing, wings outstretched like cormorants, waiting for their perfect plumage to dry. I look at my nails, and think of polishing them – deep blue and pale gold, like the day. It won’t last if I do – they’ll smudge and break. I should cut them sensibly short.

We have been three days at this and walking back I drag the mell behind me. It leaves a furrow in the sand. The wind is picking up and a few spots of the long-expected rain are falling. The skylarks watch us leave.

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