Wonder of winter waders


Thankfully, we seemed to escape the worst of last week’s storms, with little wind damage compared with some areas. River levels were extremely high and quite a bit of erosion has occurred on my home stretch of the Ettrick, with long stretches of the riverside footpath washed away.

The partially reconstructed Murray’s Cauld seems to have survived to fight another day, though.

Calmer conditions at the weekend allowed me to make my annual pilgrimage to the coast to try and see some wintering waders at my favourite spot on Berwick beach.

On the drive down, I must have seen hundreds of winter thrushes. They were particularly numerous in the hedges around Wark, where fieldfares and redwings dashed out in front of the car every few yards.

Between Wark and Cornhill one roadside field was crammed with literally hundreds of grazing swans. There was a mixture of mutes and whoopers but I couldn’t stop safely for a better look and had to move on.

The stormy seas of previous days had left most of the beach strewn with seaweed, making walking difficult, but the birds were there in good numbers.

All the usual suspects were present – redshank, dunlin, turnstone, purple sandpiper, ringed plover, and my favourites, the sanderlings. I love watching these ghostly white little waders with black legs, scurrying up and down the beach just evading the surf, as they deftly pick invertebrates from the sand before the next wave engulfs them.

Star of the show was a solitary bar-tailed godwit – by far the biggest wader on show and a bit like a curlew but with a long, straight, slightly upturned bill.

Other birds around were rock pipit, cormorant, carrion crow, oystercatcher and a good selection of gulls so there was plenty to keep me amused.

Back up in Berwick town centre, I discovered a Dickensian Christmas market, which provided an excellent finish to a cold afternoon on the beach, with lots of tasty produce on offer and warming samples of all manner of local beverages being promoted.

The highlight for me was the infectious rhythms from a steel band playing their converted oil drums at the foot of the Town Hall steps. Before actually seeing the musicians, I imagined them to be of Caribbean origin dressed in wildly colourful ethnic outfits. I was gobsmacked to discover that they were all young girls from sunny Wooler dressed in woolly hats and gloves, but they were absolutely brilliant.