There’s a keen wind singing along the shore this morning; it is not cold, just brisk and southerly. The waves are small but very noisy and their tops light up in glowing verdigris as the sun swims behind scudding clouds.
It is high tide and little waves are shouting loudly as they send white foam across the steeply sloping sands. Retreating, they leave hundreds of individual seaweed bladder sacs that look like sultanas and raisins that have been plumped up by brandy and are ready to be scooped up into a Christmas cake mixture. Here and there are heaps of ‘knotted-wrack’ whose (still attached) multicoloured sacs are more like large, shiny Kalamata and Halkithiki olives lying in dark woven bowls set upon a pale, sandy tablecloth.
Dog is keen to play. He waits for me to throw stones into the sea and when I do he barks and jumps in, dashing back and forth in between waves.
A few metres ahead of us, also rushing between water, foam and sands, are dozens of small birds, passage migrants making the most of the tiny hoppers and flies that are busy in the strandline. Swallows are diving and dipping along the shore; every so often a larger wave rolls the seaweeds over releasing more insects, and the flashing birds, ignoring our play, swoop past my ears and over dog’s head as we walk.
There is a lone oystercatcher. He is not worried by us even as dog trots past him. It is unusual to see a single bird like this and I wonder is he injured. No. He blinks his red rimmed eyes and peeps loudly and firmly; then he flies a few metres further on, intent on feeding. The number of smaller birds grows as more family groups arrive to take advantage of the high tide pushing worms, crustacea and insects before it.
After walking the length of the beach we turn back to retrace our steps. Birds scatter and regroup, calling out and rushing around; many will set off again soon as they head south to join the huge flocks on the estuaries of southern Scotland and northern England. But for now I head to the back of the narrow sandy beach and sit on our log bench. During one of the big Spring storms the log was washed up onto our shore. We carried it to the frayed edges of machair and propped it carefully so it formed a solid seat that is almost invisible from the rest of the beach. Now it is a favoured spot to quietly watch both the sands to the north and the rocky shore to the south. This place never ceases to amaze me; usually after just a few minutes of stillness the coast will spring to life as birds, deer and otters, sensing the ‘all-clear’ and emboldened, emerge to carry on with their calm busyness.
It is no different this morning. A few moments of relaxation for me and, as dog lies down, his wet fur caked in sand, the sounds of waves singing and voices on the winds seep into my head and I am cast back to childhood days of swimming, sand-castle building and rock-pooling. My eyes momentarily fill with water from the salty sea breezes and as I recall other beaches and windy days. The only time I was not allowed to swim in the sea was when it was thundering. My mother would stoically stand at the water’s edge, holding a towel and clutching her scarf and coat collar tightly by her throat while I swam, heedless of the wind and rain. She had a hard time getting me out of the water.
I breathe deeply. Much as I’d like to swim this morning, the beach is full of others whose need is much greater than mine so I sit on the log-bench and watch.
This is a bright, breezy morning and the wind is strengthening. There is no rain but there is a lot of activity. The birds are progressing along the shore, avoiding waves and dipping into seaweed heaps. I keep my eyes on the sandy shore enjoying the music from birds and sea. Then I realise that dog is down there amongst them. He is not bothered by the birds and they ignore him. I know what he is seeking: a stone, one that he can bring to me to play with. As he wanders along the water’s edge, digging now and then, an otter scampers from the back of the dunes and runs past dog. The otter looks at dog briefly and then dives into the waves. He dips down under the water and then resurfaces; he rolls onto his back and looks again at dog whose head is now up, body alert. They seem to exchange glances and then the otter vanishes; the flocks of little birds scatter, hollering out to each other and tumbling and swirling along the beach.
Dog gallops up as if he wants to tell me what just happened. He sits and leans against my knee, wetter and sandier than before and trembling with excitement. The gangs of small birds settle and run about once more in the search for food.
Loud, bossy and shrill shrieking erupts; the lone oystercatcher is apoplectic about something, the otter perhaps? Or maybe the cows are coming down onto the sands as they sometimes do?
Ah no, his red-eyed, crimson-beaked family have arrived and he is shouting out his orders.