I’ve chosen the oystercatcher as my bird of the month for April.
I’ve always loved oystercatchers. They were my Gran’s favourite bird (and I have a Mairi Hedderwick oystercatcher print that was hers). They are seaside nostalgia. They are noisy and bold and a bit extra. They eat cockles like Londoners. There’s nothing not to love.
In the springtime the usually coastal oystercatchers sometimes come inland to breed. They move along linear waterways to find breeding grounds. One particularly popular spot is the roof of our local hospital – the Borders General (BGH). They entertained my dad while he was on a ward there 10 years ago. He could see them through the window near his bed. And then two years ago there was one particular oystercatcher at the BGH who became important to Ross & I.
Exactly two years ago was my son’s due date. He took his sweet time though and 14 days after his due date I was induced. When we were walking into the hospital that morning – overnight bags in our hands with tiny babygrows inside, the car seat fitted in the back of our car – there was a particularly big and offensively loud oystercatcher on the hospital roof. He was huge. We joked that he was the BGH version of a stork and we named him Eamonn (Ross’s choice, no idea why). The induction process is quite slow. First they monitor you for a while to check that baby is happy. From the window by my bed we could see the black and white form of Eamonn strutting about. Then they insert a pessary with a gel that tells your body to start the labour process. Once that has happened you are free to go for a wander for a few hours. There’s a road up behind the hospital known as ‘induction hill’ which has seen many a couple pace up and down trying to jiggle the process along. On our way in and out the hospital we saw Eamonn. He seemed to be watching over us. We got quite attached to him. We walked up and down the hill, did some bird watching (saw 13 different species in the hospital grounds), had lunch (I had, I remember clearly, a veggie haggis lasagne which was weird but brilliant. I love canteen food) and then went back to the ward for more monitoring. Not too long after this, the baby made it very clear that he was unhappy. His heart rate dipped alarmingly and big red buzzers were pushed. A hoard of medics appeared out of nowhere and I was wheeled along corridors while being prepped for theatre. Then all of a sudden baby’s heart rate stabilised and the panic was over. Over the next few hours this pattern repeated until we did eventually end up in theatre. The baby was born while I was under general anaesthetic as they didn’t have time to wait for a spinal to work. The last thing I heard before I went under was the consultant saying the terrifying phrase “We’ve got two minutes to get this baby out”. An hour and a half I woke up to discover that we’d had a perfectly healthy, absolutely furious baby boy who was manically trying to feed on his dad’s collar bone. He had fat little sausage legs and made hilarious piglet noises in his sleep. Once the midwives had settled him on me, Ross went out to the car park to get signal to phone our nearest and dearest to let them know. Eamonn was out there, peep-ing in the dwindling light. Our guardian oystercatcher-stork.
So that is the story of why I love oystercatchers so much (and one in particular). I’ll always connect almost losing Piglet with that big oystercatcher. Two years later we still tell each other if we think we’ve seen Eamonn out and about. The oldest ever recorded oystercatcher was 40 years, one month and two days old. I hope Eamonn lives that long. We thought we saw him yesterday chasing a jackdaw away from his nest site down by the Tweed. Our feisty, orange-beaked, monochromatic hulk. We could do with a bit more Eamonn in our lives at the moment. We’ve been trying to make a sibling for Piglet but so far it has been a heart-breaking process. Time to get involved with your good luck Eamonn!
The UK has a significant oystercatcher population. Forty-five per cent of Europe’s population chose the spend the winter here. There has, however, been significant decline in Scotland in the past few years leading to them being Amber listed. We can’t take them foregranted.