Sunday, 14 June 2015

Long flight for food

A rock pipit collecting insects from the lawn

While staying with friends in Durness recently there was a steady trip of birds coming to the lawn to forage for insects, especially immediately after it was cut. The list included black-headed and common gulls, pied wagtails and meadow pipits. Special visitors were dunlin - it was great to watch these moorland/shore birds from the lounge window. But I was attracted by the rock pipits, for they seemed to be flying quite a distance down to the shore with food for their chicks. So, I followed their flightline to see just how far they were travelling.

The lawn where the pipits were catching prey, seen from inside the house,
with the Ferryman's Cottage in the background

I was impressed with what I found. The first step, as far as I could follow the birds from the window, brought me to the shore at the bottom of the garden where I found a pair of rock pipits feeding young in a nest in a grassy bank above the tide-line. But those birds were catching insects locally, less than fifty metres from their nest, they weren't the ones from the lawn. So I watched and waited for the lawn birds to fly past. And they did. They came down over the bank then flew low over the water and set out across the estuary with their catch.

The kyle between the mainland and the Cape-side,
the rock pipits were carrying food back to their nest below the cottage

The estuary is the Kyle of Durness which separates the Cape Wrath peninsula from the mainland. I watched the birds fly right over the low tide sands and water channel, several hundred metres wide, and for a total journey of over a kilometre, to feed their young in a bank below the old Ferryman's Cottage. Why the birds were flying so far to collect food is intriguing, but I am never amazed by what I learn about wildlife, simply ever-more respectful of their capabilities.

A brood of four rock pipit chicks lie quiet in their nest - waiting for their parents to deliver more food

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