A walk by the sea in late summer
Standing on the cliff edge, the waves provided a continuous lull as the icy water touched the wealth of pebbles nestled amongst the sand. A constant rhythm, the waves continued, giving reassurance that nature will go on.The cool, early morning meant I had the path to myself, with the exception of a few delighted dogs out on their first jaunt of the day; tail wagging with every step.Ambling up the coastal path, the ground beneath my feet was so compacted – it had been traversed by many a walker and beach goer, yet the cheerful orange-red of the scarlet pimpernel flower held strong nearby, tentatively protruding onto the trail. The splattering of rain which had fallen the previous night made just the top surface slippery in places, so I spent time looking at my feet placing them one by one on the onward journey for a short time. Soon the wildlife distracted me, and I just had to risk a slip in the mud.
I could hear the tinkling of delightful goldfinches as I made my way up the steep incline. Once ascended, I peered up to the sky. There a charm of them flew to and fro from branch to branch in their energetic flock, their wingbars like a flash of gold, reflecting the precious jewels these birds are. They seemed to follow me alongside the path, drifting purposefully together before landing on the plants by the cliff edge. As if by magic they were gone. I don’t mean they took flight and left me, but their plumage made them almost impossible to spot amongst the foliage. The plants were not tall, I knew the bird’s position well, they were simply camouflaged. I had never thought the goldfinch to be a bird capable of such perfect disguise, but it seems a chameleon like disappearance is a certain skill of theirs.Breaking myself from my trance watching the engaging flock, I peered over the hedge to the scrub near the rock face. The rosy-red chest of a male linnet alighted a twiggy bush, bubbling away with its call. A flicker of russet red and a snow white tip; a fox’s tail disappeared into the undergrowth. I scrambled forward along the path to get a better view, but this skulking mammal was not to be seen again.Reaching the top of the cliff edge I peered at the endless ocean; onwards the blue mass extended to the horizon. Imagine the life that is hidden from view, such species richness stays a secret from the land. I scanned the watery surface, but the rippling waves played tricks with my mind – no cetaceans or seals to be seen. The previous day I had been lucky to spot some dolphins far out at sea, just momentarily their fins were visible, an indication of the secret world below, but as quickly as they came they were lost to my eyes amongst the jostling of the waves.Past the greenery covering the cliff and by the craggy rocks below, the black and white ‘suited and booted’ oystercatchers could be found with their glorious orange bill. The cormorants too were there, standing like dinosaurs on the ancient rocks as they held their wings out for the gentle touch of the sunshine.The gulls glided past, herrings added full pelt their sound of the seaside to the air. I could see a fulmar approach from over the ocean, such perfect speed and accuracy with its spitfire like flight, a bird truly to be marvelled at. Ever nearing closer, the excitement built as the feathered pilot soared past the coastline below me. Its tubular nostrils were clearly visible through the binoculars, and although their name means ‘foul gull’ in old Norse, due to their rather interesting ability to throw up an unpleasant oily stomach substance, I think this name is rather a shroud over their true splendour. When on the wing they are masters of the air.The wind blew over the ocean gently pushing me along the path as I came to a patch of scrub. The rasping sound of the stonechat alerted me to the presence of a male, with its deep black head and red-orange blushed breast, perched on the stem of a dried out umbellifer. Flickering of tail movement could be seen in the patch of undergrowth behind, and a whitethroat popped into view, the characteristic naming feature clearly visible. A young stonechat distracted me, as a parent flew to feed this speckled robin-like bird in the hedge. Flickering feathers, calls of delight, the chick had got its breakfast, while the scratching sound of the whitethroat cut through the breeze.Winding hills, sturdy stiles, secluded beaches, rugged rocks; the meandering path went on. A wooden bench provided a welcome rest and the gentle touch of water droplets told me the mist was coming. Watching the tumbling of the waves had a welcome tranquillity; calm serenity despite their angry turn. Agile wings, grey barred underparts. A bird of prey had just appeared from below the cliff, breezing close to the bench and far along the path. Propelled into pursuit, I made my way forward in search of the awe-inspiring peregrine. The alarm calls of birds in the hedgerows guided me on to the one I sought. A glimpse is all I caught of the angular wings as this hunting master drifted over the cliffs from the path to the rock face below.As moments passed and the waiting seemed fruitless, the smaller birds thought the return of this predator was unlikely as well and began to relax again. Suddenly, the foliage filled area was alive with tits – coals called their repetitive syllables, blues appeared meddlesome and happy, while the long-tailed flock danced about the hedgerows.Just by waiting, wildlife which occupies the zone where the land merges to sea showed itself, albeit sometimes briefly, as I passed through. Providing moments of intrigue, excitement, peace and longing, wildlife is very special indeed. As the long-tailed tits left with their flock, I waited for the masterful avian predator as the refreshing, drifting mist awakened my senses.
Image of a fulmar taken in Scotland used to illustrate the piece.