One clear summer evening, after the final gulls have made their way to roost, an oystercatcher’s call echoes out across the surface of the sea.
The first defining feature of an oystercatcher’s call is its volume. A single one of these medium-sized wading birds can wake an entire sleepy former-fishing village. The gulls of course do this too, and it’s always the gulls that get the blame. For both our frustrated slugabeddery and our terrible wastefulness somehow the gulls are to blame. Poor unloved gulls.
Defining feature number two of an oystercatcher’s call is its shrillness. It sounds like someone being told off in no uncertain terms. When a pair fly together past the copper mountain across the copper-topped evening bay they do not whisper sweet nothings to one another, but rather row and scold like a middle-aged couple arguing about whether to buy their son-in-law a birthday present – or go to the pub instead. Oh well, folk will be how folk are.
But the third feature of an oystercatcher’s call is my favourite – its determination to be the one I hear. And this bird will be heard. It’s not physically big or imposing. It’s not conventionally beautiful, although it is to me. Some see its appearance as oddly striking, half-way to elegant but let down by its carrot bill. A clown in a ballgown. But it’s a common enough bird in the places it lives so most people don’t pay it much attention at all.
For me though, no matter the chatter of gulls and folk, when I’m sat by my tent, glorious sun rising over the sea, it is oystercatchers that I hear. When I settle down, snug for the night, it is oystercatchers that I hear. As I walk the cliffs to limestone ledges, dunes to pebbled beaches, and from strand to golden sand it is oystercatchers that I hear. My lovely oystercatchers.
So what does this loud, shrill, determined voice of shoreline and freedom say to me? Just “I’m here, I’m here, I’m here…”