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  • Julie Muller

BOTHERED BIRDS AT BOULMER - A Walk Between Boulmer and Alnmouth



A black and white dog sits on wet sand rippled by the tide. a large rock pool behind and the tide a long way out. Sky is grey and cloudy with a chink of light
A dull day on Boulmer Beach - with a chink of light in the sky

Unusually for us, we didn’t choose a particularly sunny day for our next foray along the Northumberland coast, but it would certainly take a lot more than a dark grey sky and a cold, gusty wind, to dampen our enthusiasm.

 

When we arrived at Boulmer there was just one solitary car in the car park. The beach was empty apart from a tractor and trailer, and this was manoeuvring a large boat moored just off the shore. The tide was the furthest out that we had ever seen it, and this meant that the beach was humongously vast. Bruno and I hopped, skipped, jumped and chased each other in excitement.

 

Just a few weeks ago, Julie, Bruno and I came to Boulmer to meet Katherine who is one of three Space for Shorebirds beach rangers. We were keen to find out what she and her colleagues did – and more importantly, how we, dogs, could help to protect the many shorebirds that visit Northumberland every year.

 

Apparently, the Space for Shorebirds project which was launched in 2020   has two main aims and we dogs, and our humans can easily help with both of them –

 

Firstly, we can help by being aware of all of the birds that share the beach with us.

 



a red dog runs towards the camera - the vast sandy beach behind him and the buildings of Alnmouth  on the horizon - the tide is a long way out and the sky is grey
Whatever the weather - the beach is great fun!

We dogs like nothing better than to run and play on these magnificent beaches, but the birds have much more important things on their minds than playing. They need to find food to refuel after their long journeys, to locate and meet up with their life-time partner, and then to raise a family together.

 

It is most important that we give them space to do that. Otherwise, they could waste so much unnecessary time and energy just trying to avoid us!

 

The Space for Shorebirds Rangers patrol the Northumberland coast all of the way from Seaton Sluice up to Berwick upon Tweed, and so they have an enormous patch to cover. To help them, they are recruiting dogs like Bruno and I to be dog rangers.

 

We felt very proud to join the dog rangers’ team - especially as we were given special tags to wear on our collars.

The human beach rangers work very hard - sometimes they have to put out signs to tell dogs and their humans where they should be especially careful.

 

There are some birds, like the ringed plover, that lay their eggs in very vulnerable places. They make shallow depressions in the shingle and lay small clutches of very camouflaged eggs – these are so hard to see – and so easy to tread on.

 

In order to protect them further, the beach wardens are building small wire cages around each nest which make them very conspicuous. However, the adult birds can easily get into their nests, whilst   any opportunistic predators are kept well at bay.

 

Raising a family on the beach is challenging to say the least, and, as we trundled down towards Alnmouth we became even more aware of the dangers that they face.

 

This three-mile strip of beach boasts a wealth of habitats that can support a huge variety of birds and, each species has particular needs for food, shelter and suitable nest sites.

 



Two dogs - a red dog and a black and white dog, stand on a coral coloured rocky pavement  - in the background the tide is a long way out and the rocks are clothed in bright green seaweed - the sky is grey and cloudy
Bruno and Shep trundle across the rocky pavements

In places, the vast beaches on which we walked, were interrupted by extensive rock pavements, which were coloured coral pink, sand and black and these pavements reached far out into the sea. There were huge boulders of black coal which littered fields of rock, and, between them, sun-heated rock pools had collected.

 

Some of these pools were so big that you could paddle – or even wallow in them - much to my delight – (I do recommend a good wallow!)  and the rocks surrounding them were festooned in bright green thickets of weed.

 

This seems that it could be a paradise for the birds – and indeed the rocks were alive with bird activity.

 

But, very worryingly, there were also very large numbers of menacing black crows which had gathered, and they didn’t like us at all!  Time and time again they flew up into the air, swearing at us and bickering with each other.

 

I can guess why they are here….

 

Crows are excellent at combing the beach for food, and the thick wet carpets of seaweed always provide particularly rich pickings.  But, at this time of the year, the crows have their sights set on much more succulent offerings and it is highly likely that eggs and chicks are very high on their menu - I am so glad that we disturbed them!

 

The carpets of seaweed were deep and damp to our paws and we breathed in the delicious tangy smell which contrasted so starkly with the sweeter smell of the meadow sweet growing at the base of the cliff.

 

A couple of herons wheeled high over our heads – they too are partial to a chick or two – The poor shorebirds really do not have a very easy time of it.

 

We walked all of the way to Alnmouth before retracing our steps to Boulmer – the tide had turned, and tongues of water were reaching towards us. Bruno couldn’t resist a quick dip, but he didn’t paddle for long. It was just too cold.

 

The crows were still hanging around in gangs – and now they had been joined by squadrons of chittering starlings.  In contrast, a curlew flew silently away to the furthermost rocks – far away from the cacophony.

 

As we approached the car park, we looked down the beach and we could see a black labrador trundling through the rocks at the water’s edge – its humans were lagging behind on the beach.  We kept our paws crossed that the shorebirds would stay safe and so were especially relieved when the humans recalled their dog and it obediently trotted back to them.

 

It was time for home for all of us – It had been another lovely morning.

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