At lunchtime on the second Sunday, the terns came to dance. A dozen sandwich terns – with long yellow-tipped beaks and punky black crests – among the hundreds of noisy, manic black-headed gulls on the beach. Their pre-mating bop involved a slow strut, legs bent and raised, and the hooking of wings in order to set off a lovely little pirouette.
I’d never have seen them but for Wesley, the assistant warden. “They came at exactly this time last year,” he said. “Aren’t they beautiful?”
They were, as was everything about tiny Coquet Island, off the wild, wind-ruffled coast of Northumberland, 30 miles north of Newcastle. I had come there neither to dance nor to mate, but as a volunteer with the RSPB on a two-week stint in late March to help prepare the delicate environment for the main summer breeding season.
I should point out that this was not a mission for moral edification but rather because I like islands, love watching birds and fancied a break from sedentary work and the polluted, car-driving overbuilt world most of us live in.
Photo: Guilherme Romano/Unsplash