Dear Readers, the Eleventh Day of Christmas might ostensibly be about human pipers, but for me, the word ‘piping’ conjures up the shoreline, and the sound of wading birds. The loudest are the oystercatchers – my Crossley Bird Guide describes their displays, when pairs ‘pipe’ at one another, as ‘deafening’. See what you think – it certainly has an over-excited quality.
When I was growing up, the northern lapwing or peewit (Vanellus vanellus) could be found in huge flocks on farmland in the south, but I don’t remember the last time I saw one in England. I remember great flocks of them on Orkney, though, tumbling through the air like smuts from a fire.
They have a call rather like the sound of an old-fashioned bicycle pump, and my Crossley Guide describes their display song as ‘madcap…with thudding wingbeats and a sound like peeling sellotape’. See what you think.
But perhaps the sound that I miss most of all is that of the curlew (Numenius arquata). Like all ground-nesting birds it is under constant pressure from changing agricultural practices and from habitat disturbance, and some of its last outposts are in the peat boggy areas of the west of Scotland. I once found the skull of a curlew, and couldn’t believe the length of its beak – the mandibles looked like a delicate surgical instrument, and indeed the bird uses its beak to extract crabs and seaworms from their burrows in the mud.
The call of the curlew is surely one of the most haunting of all bird sounds.
And finally, you might expect the sandpiper to have the most ‘piping’ of bird calls, and you wouldn’t be disappointed. Their call has the tone of a tin whistle, though the song is a simple note, repeated.
This post has made me realise how much I miss the sea. I must make a visit a priority this year. We sometimes get black-headed gulls on the nearby playing fields, but it’s no substitute!
Can you match the names of the shorebirds to the photos?
A) Black-tailed Godwit
C) Ruddy Turnstone
E) Purple Sandpiper
Oystercatchers by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen – Own work by uploader, http://bjornfree.com/galleries.html, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7286081
Lapwing by Andreas Trepte – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32486411
Eurasian Curlew By Andreas Trepte – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15771576
Common Sandpiper by JJ Harrison (https://www.jjharrison.com.au/) – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23214327
Photo 1 by Original: neekoh.fi; this edit: MPF, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo 2 by Andreas Trepte – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=716747
Photo 3 by Andreas Trepte – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15764295
Photo 4 by Andreas Trepte – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33235014
Photo 5 by Andreas Trepte – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10610115