Monday 30 January 2012: Sea pie and cockles
No, not on the menu at the local chippy.
These birds are known nowadays by the name oystercatcher but formerly as sea pie. Note that they are black and white like the magpie.
(Sea pie was also layered meat pie guaranteed to fill the belly of any famished sailor.)
These specimens of Haematopus ostralegus were filling their own bellies on the mud flats around Newport/Trefdraeth today, not on oysters (there is no evidence they can manage those robust bivalves) but on smaller shell fish such as mussels, winkles and cockles.
Such is their appetite for the latter, using their pronglike bills to extract and open them, that at one time the cockle pickers of Glamorgan, Lancashire and Norfolk were granted permission to slaughter oystercatchers in large numbers. It seems a shame because they are handsome birds and make a striking sight gathered on the shore. In summer they always seem to arrive in the late afternoon just as weary families are leaving the beach. The birds reclaim the strand and make the place their own again. Their piping whistle is instantly evocative of those quiet moments at the end of the day.
A short video clip conveys something like this taking place in Norway - about halfway through you see and hear the birds in flight.
It was bitterly cold on the coast today and snow has fallen in the hills.