TWO RAVENS fly over the windswept foreshore at Tarn Point near Hycemoor, Cumbria. I had set out this morning to explore the dunes at Eskmeals Nature Reserve at the mouth of the Esk, but found the yellow flag flying there; an indication that the reserve is closed because they're testing shells on the adjoining gun range. Tarn Bay is the nearest place with public access immediately south of the range, but even here, as I sketch, I feel the car joggle as I hear several bangs in the distance.
As the tide starts to go out, wading birds suddenly start to appear. A few Curlews probe the water's edge. Curlew tend to work the shore alone. They'll search in shallow water or on the wet sand, sometimes inserting the full length of their bill into the soft sand to winkle out food.
Thirty Dunlin retreat from the waves, running in single file up the beach. They take off and wheel about, turning simultaneously, flashing their black and white wing bars to startling effect. I'm not an expert on waders but I identify these as dunlin, rather than the smaller sanderling, or the larger knot, mainly by judging their size and the speed of their movement. They run like a frantic little clockwork toy.
Three Redshank trot breast-deep in water as they work a shallow channel together while three Ringed Plovers stick to the sand at the water's edge.
There's a brownish bird which, even for a wader, seems somehow out of proportion. It's got legs that seem as long as those of the curlew, but its fairly substantial beak is no longer than that of a lapwing. It's in brownish winter plumage but flashes a conspicuous white rump, edged with black (or dark brown, to be accurate), as it flies. It also has wing bars.
According to my bird book this must be a Grey Plover, a species that winters with us but nests on the tundra during the short Arctic summer.