Beauty amid the breakers

The jaded sun shone, the air felt warm, spring-like even, and a Robin uttered its charactaristic, spritely song from the rusted pinnacle of a nearby fence. It did not feel much like Winter this morning, despite the month. The only tell-tale signs of the season coming in the surf; where the white-horses of the North Sea galloped ever closer to shore before breaking upon the algea clad rocks of the beach.

Here, amid the bubbling white water, purple sandpipers fed. Conspcious yellow feet working two to the dozen as they scurried to-and-fro over the jagged rock, dainty bills pecking and prying incessantly. Their vigour matched only by the black-headed gulls who, further out, danced swallow-like in the surf. Pale wings rising and falling in rapid succession as the birds snatched invisible titbits from the waters surface. Occasionally pausing; their bodies still momentarily, before upending – faded heads obscured as the birds dove deeper in search of food.

The waves kept coming; one after another, their arrival proceeded by a shower of saline spray. The birds did too: turnstones, cryptic colours blending seemlessly with the taupe rock underfoot and, later, ringed plover, masked and petite. The sight before me, one of pleasant coastal familiarity, accompanied by the ever-present chortle of gulls. Herrings and black-backs, the larger members of the Larus genus, far more imposing than the graceful black-heads foraging nearby. Their laughter ringing in my ears as I sat, watched and waited.

Waiting which, eventually, yielded fruit – a pale spectare falling, subtly, into line alongside the silver-grey bodies of its pre-assembled kin. Another gull, yes, but one of alien beauty; of elegance and a softer, much more diminuative appeal. A gull I have not seen here before, nor anywhere else of late: an iceland gull. A scarce visitor to our shores that, like the frost that adorns the ground by night, or the redwings that traverse the hedge in straggly flocks by day, occurs predominately in winter. Pale plumage setting it apart from bodies of its more boistrous cousins positioned nearby – the black-backs – like a lonesome pearl amid dozen shards of jet.

I am rather fond of iceland gulls, and always have been. Birds such as this – white-wingers – adding a touch of the exotic to many a walk in Winter; much as this one, a juvenile, did today. Admired until it lifed, white-primary feathers splayed in the flight, drifting slowly and carelessly from sight. Above the heads of the purple ones, still feeding in the spray, and that of the heron stood motionless in the shallows but a few feet away.

I follow suit, departing my watchpoint. Eyes wandering, breifly, to another winter visitor – a red-throated diver; rising and falling with swift repetition on the more tumultuous expanses further offshore. Far less appealing now than in summer – when its namesake throat flushes a delightful crimson – yet beautiful nonetheless. A sight which, much like the gull, dispels the decitful springlike aura brought about by the sun and the singing songbirds. Reminding me that winter still reigns, and will do for some time now; with the potential for treats such as these set to continue for another few months, at least.

Header image: By Andreas Trepte – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5,

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