Watching the terns

clouds and sea

I stood, a small static spot in the wide sweep of
the white sand and seething sea, amazed by
the show as terns flew above the shore and hurtled
into the waves below.

J.Audubon 'Birds of America'

J.Audubon ‘Birds of America’

These agile artists etched erratic silver
streaks into the deep blue canvas of the
sky; haphazard strokes connecting sunlight to salt grey
water, then dissolving.

Sometimes my slow eyes could only catch the quick
flick of sea foam as these sea swallows plunged beneath
the waves, creating sporadic explosions
of stippled spray.

The bravura patterns of moving light, made from these
acrobats’ sheer steep falls from the air, are seasonal star
performances within the eternal drama of sea and sky unfolding
on Embleton sands.

But these winged artists also use a different set of rules to
draw on land, I found, while loitering along the shore and
snooping into rock pools. At the water’s edge I saw
a pair of terns begin their act.

First they faced each other, then
each turned to sketch a perfect
circle on the wave polished sand.

Facing each other once more
they dipped their heads and brought
the tips of their beaks together,
before each carefully stepped out
and round their circle again,

incising their spiked claw prints,
firming, confirming, returning.
Finally they stood close together
looking out to sea, two small grey
backs resolutely excluding me.

from the International Bird Collection

from the International Bird Collection

The nonchalant ease of their plummeting sky falls and careful
courtship circles kept me returning to these sands, trying to
interpret these abstract forms produced from
their briny elements.

sea and skyI watched these terns on Embleton Sands, Northumberland, but I was so busy ‘snooping’ that I didn’t take photos while there.  For this post I have used photos of another sea on the opposite side of England, on Morecambe Bay.  There are no terns here, sadly, but there are shorelines, sands, clouds and big skies.  The photo above was taken, not by me, but by a friend (thanks Mary) on a a late afternoon walk we shared, walking around just one small part of it.


2 thoughts on “Watching the terns

  1. Thank you – really enjoyed reading and looking at this – love how you have put the different elements together and your contrasting observations of the terns.

    Do terns ever come to Morecambe Bay, I wonder?


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