Spring Journal - Field Notes by Esther Woolfson
The award-winning nature diarist Esther Woolfson celebrates the signs of spring in the first of her guest blog posts for Friends of the Earth.
In the darkness of evening, I heard the sound of the first oystercatchers of the year.
Their arrival was three days earlier than last year but eight days later than the one before. It could be that I just didn't hear them on the day they came back. Perhaps they didn't take their usual, time-honoured route, past my house to the hospital up the road where they like to nest. All the same, I'd been waiting for them.
Phenology, the study of the timing of natural events, makes us vigilant. The moment we note, record, anticipate, our year alters. We become aware of everything that might affect growing or flowering, flying or migrating. We wait and we worry. Every year, there's joy in arrival and melancholy in departure. By keeping records, we can mark differences. We can see what's changing.
But now, oystercatchers are back in Aberdeen, these delightful black and white waders with the long red bills. 'Sea-pies'.
They like this coastal city and environs so much that we have the highest concentration of roof-nesting birds in Europe. It may be that an increase in the construction of buildings with flat roofs which happened with the growth of the oil industry, encouraged them. (They like the gravel coverings on flat roofs. When the university was undertaking roof repairs, nesting trays with pebbles were provided to protect oystercatcher-nesting sites.) It may be because, for reasons unknown to us, they simply find the place congenial.
Along with every other change of season, they bring something unique to our lives. Now, they'll be everywhere, pottering, picking, flying overhead. I'll listen for them every evening, usually toward ten. Their call is an unmistakable, high 'peep-peep-peep'. In the far off days when pubs closed earlier, it always sounded as if they were joyous avian revelers making their way home after a bibulous evening. The entire city will enjoy their presence throughout spring and summer. In July, among the first birds to leave, they'll be off and then the evening darkness will go quiet.
Esther Woolfson is the author of Corvus—A Life With Birds. Her new book, Field Notes From a Hidden City—An Urban Nature Diary, has just been published by Granta, to rave reviews. Esther lives in Aberdeen with an elderly rook, a young crow and the 14 inhabitants of a dove-house in the garden.
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