Our Beadnell stay is tempting me to become a birder, as I find myself itching to compile checklists of avian sightings, but I worry about losing the art of looking, so I try to suppress the urge and just look. Nevertheless, birds are my thing, and at the moment I’m thinking about the Beadnell migrants – the scads of birds that flock to coast, dunes, marsh and woodland in the area to breed or stop over on the way to warmer or colder climes.
Rachel Carson begins her elegiac and immensely knowledgeable Under the Sea Wind from the point of view of a black skimmer, and I’ve learned loads from her about migration, particularly of sanderlings stopping over on the mud flats of Hudson Bay. It so happens that in Beadnell Bay, sanderlings – like Carsons’ on the eastern seaboard of North America – also make a spring stop on their journey from the high Arctic to sub-Saharan lands – or South America for those on the US route. They are the first wader I encounter here, darting about like manic ice dancers in their silvery non-breeding outfits.
I’ve also been reading Bird Sense by Tim Birkhead, a lovely book that opens up the science of bird senses – what it’s like to be a bird – for laypeople. The mysteries of migration – how birds find their way with pinpoint accuracy to the self-same spot as last year after navigating thousands of miles across tundra, ocean and desert – are on the wing-tip of our understanding.
So, I’m letting thoughts about migration simmer away, and have begun to see the Long Nanny Estuary as a landing strip for migrants – a coastal beacon shimmering a long way off in the sun, longed-for after the miles and miles and miles.
All this makes me think of our own migrations and returns: from the grand transplantations of human beings across the globe from one life to another, to the siting of a mat on a familiar holiday beach….