The Speed Dating Lunch Club

Year of Natural Scotland – Changing Seasons and a Parcel of Oystercatchers

Oystercatchers C. Reddick

The first skylark has already begun his morning serenade declaring his territory and advertising for a lady to share his very desirable residence in the tussocky field by the house. The lapwings have been debating whether the best spot is by the iris bed or in the damp hollow by the rocks. Not time for sky dancing yet, but no harm in a little plot hunting. It is the oystercatchers or sea pies who declare that winter is coming to a close and it is time to prepare for the spring nuptials.

These distinctive waders, with their dramatic pied plumage and brilliant orange bills, are a constant feature of the islands’ shoreline and fields. However, the birds we see in the Uists in winter are migrants from Scandinavia, Iceland and the Faeroes; the local breeding birds preferring to winter in the gentler climes of southern England, northern France and Spain. The locals return in March and announce their arrival with clamorous pre-nuptial gatherings in the fields. Here they feed in noisy flocks, squabble, pose, strut and posture as they seek to impress and advertise their fitness to potential mates and rivals. As I sat and watched the hustle and bustle, the peacockery and swagger the phrase that came into mind was not “randomised mate selection among young birds” or “pair bond reinforcement” (oystercatchers are monogamous) but speed dating. This is not scientifically accurate but then you do not have to be a scientist to enjoy a little bird watching.

Oystercatcher with chick
The end result.

6 thoughts on “The Speed Dating Lunch Club

  1. I dearly love oystercatchers (I think they are my favourite bird), so thank you for this post! I haven’t noticed any yet, or heard them cleep-cleeping, but I evidently need to keep a sharper lookout. A pair regularly nest very close to some railway lines – there aren’t many trains, thankfully – so I must look and see if they’re back when I’m that way tomorrow….

    • Oystercatchers definitely have charisma and you always know when they’re around. It is probably still a little early for them to be back on territory (they tend to be site faithful) but they should be back very soon.

  2. The relative movement of your oystercatchers is intriguing – and how do you KNOW? Is there a signpost with one finger saying ‘Scandinavia’ and the other ‘the south’? Or do they have labels on their cases? I remember when we accidentally disturbed a nesting oystercatcher on the slate beach opposite my Mum’s house – the parent went through an elaborate act of pretending she was injured to draw us away from the nest. Fascinating.

    • I know because I spent a great deal of my misspent youth getting cold and wet catching shorebirds and putting rings on them as part of an international project to establish the their movement patterns. I also checked my facts in Birds of Scotland. There are too many eagle-eyed blog watchers around to risk getting the facts wrong. I also happen to like Oystercatchers, they are such clowns and give us hours of entertainment.

      • I certainly wasn’t doubting your facts, Chris, you being such a wise woman 😉

        • I assumed you were curious. Certainly not wise, just been around a long time and read too many books!

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