Returning Gilbert the borrowed hebridean tup to his home on the coast this morning after a month with my mother’s sheep, I had a chance to spy on a wonderful mix of waders and wildfowl. As Gilbert’s satanic shape emerged from the trailer, curlews rasped out a protest from behind the whins, and a tight pack of wigeon rushed off the salty grass and into the tide for safety.
Redshank and greenshank peeped happily over the next half hour as the sea gradually spilled over its banks and flooded the fields of Gilbert’s home, and the chorus of sounds came to me as an old friend – These are not the wide, rippling oystercatcher bays of western Galloway or the goose infested sandbanks of Caerlaverock and Brow Well – this is a kind of uniquely familiar landscape where brambles trail in brackish water, flounders creep beneath the mud and wildfowl lounge easily on the samphire.
The greenshank are always the last to show up, and this was the first time I had heard the full orchestra since last winter. I felt almost like it had never been away; the chorus is quietened by the seasons to a fraction above silence, but always lurks just on the edge of hearing.