By Denis O’Connor

Wharfedale Naturalists Society

IN mid-July my wife and I transferred our lockdown from Otley to the village of Boulmer on the Northumbria coast. From there it was possible to walk along either the coastal footpath or the beach which, at low tide was a fascinating mixture of sand, mud, rocks and pools dotted with waders and ducks.

The iconic coastal ducks are the eiders, although by then the males had moulted from their pristine breeding finery into strange mixtures of black and white.

Shelducks had nested in holes somewhere behind the low cliffs and several pairs were accompanied by two to four ducklings (pictured a female with a duckling). At one point two adults swam past leading a flotilla of no less than 20 tiny fledglings.

Shelducks operate a crèche system in which they lead their young to a nursery area where they look after them for a week or two before leaving them in the care of one or two of the more diligent parents.

Meanwhile, most of the adults migrate to an area of shallow sea and sandflats off the German coast to carry out their annual moult during which they lose all their flight feathers.

One of the principal attractions of the Northumbria coast is Coquet Island, an RSPB reserve a mile offshore from the small port of Amble. It is home to an incredible 40,000 nesting seabirds including 32,000 puffins, 400 kittiwakes, 400 eiders and 4,400 terns. There is no public access to the island and, due to the pandemic, even the boat tours round the island were not operating.

From the shore, using a telescope, it was possible to pick out the black and white puffins but the gulls and terns were simply white dots below a swirling mass of birds coming and going.

I spent several evenings on a projecting piece of shore watching 500 terns an hour stream past, doing my best to sort them into Sandwich, Common and Arctic with a very occasional Roseate Tern although, with only 120 pairs on the island, these were few.

On the island the RSPB has set up nest boxes to encourage the breeding of the Roseate Terns and have installed three cameras, including one inside a nest box, that supply live images. At the time of writing, with breeding over, the tern activity is dying down although big numbers of puffins are still present. The site for the free show is at