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27 December 2010
Lapwing delight

Thanks to widespread ice, the Reed Path makes for treacherous walking today and is only recommended for the sure-footed and welly-booted.

If you do make it along the shore’s side, you may be delighted by the sight of foraging lapwings. These striking black and white birds, with their prominent crests, are frequent inhabitants of the RSPB’s Udale Bay nature reserve, a few miles along the coast, and its neighbouring farm. But they’re far less seldom seen on Cromarty’s foreshore.

For the past few days, a small flock of lapwings has been feeding on the shore by the Reed Path, among the usual crowd of redshanks, curlews and oystercatchers. When disturbed, the lapwings can be easily spotted in flight. Their wings are ‘blocky’ or square compared to the other waders’ sleek pointed wings, their black and white markings are clear and they wheel through the air rather than following a straight line. And of course, anyone growing up in Cromarty or elsewhere in the Scottish countryside is likely to recognise their familiar call: ‘peewit, peewit’.

Dabbling in the shallows, they’re harder to spot when the sun shines, as they blend with the glistening rocks and pools. Here, overcast skies favour the patient birdwatcher.

Look out for eider ducks paddling in pairs off the shore. Once you become familiar with their heavy set profile, you’ll identify even their silhouettes, with the shining waters of the Firth behind them. Fully lit, you’ll see their bold black and white plumage.

Songbirds, too, are abundant by the shore, where they’re picking at every berry and seed husk they can find. Should you rustle a bush as you slip along the path, a dozen chaffinches and greenfinches will tumble out.  MD