Friday, 12 February 2016

Fifty Shades of Purple...

The Purple Sandpipers and I are waiting.

The incoming tide has us stranded in benign isolation on Hilbre Island. I say benign isolation because in a few short hours the way back to shore will be uncovered again, so while cut off from civilisation we are not so far removed for it to be a problem if I run out of snacks. Hilbre is agreeably remote, but not Greenland glacier remote.

The Purps are waiting for the tide to recede so they can resume feeding amongst the seaweed covered, barnacle encrusted rocks that fringe the island.

I am waiting for the tide to rise to its full height, high enough for them to be pushed in range of my telephoto lens.

We are all perched precariously on the sandstone cliffs on the north end of the island. Reinforced in places they are still quite sheer and although not all that high, they are high enough to quicken the pulse as I peer over the edge at the murky swirl of water sloshing around Shell Bay some 30 feet below.


I'm also waiting for the light. I have an idea of what I want to record today. I want to see the purple iridescence on the feathers of the sandpipers. At first glance these birds look a dour grey but in the right light they shine with subtle indigo brilliance.

The clouds are thick and as grey as the birds in places, but they are broken allowing the sun through for brief periods. I just need the tide to continue its steady rise and pretty soon the birds will be close enough.


The tide obliges and the birds skip from the lower part of the cliffs to just in front of me.
Now I just have to wait for the light.

The Purps hunker down, each finding a sheltered spot to see out the tide. The eroded ripples, fissures and cracks provide a myriad of sandpiper sized nooks and crannies where they can rest in safety while the tide covers their feeding areas. They settle in for the wait.


I settle in to my nook, or is it a cranny? Is there a difference between them? Thoughts like these often occur to me when I am in quiet mode, close to my subject, away from people and noise. Whatever I am sat in, I adjust my position to get as comfortable as possible and manipulate the settings on the camera to get a decent exposure. Now I just need to wait for the light.

Some have a quick preen before adopting the classic head-under-the-wing roosting pose and have a sleep. It is then that the sun emerges from the clouds and the grey shines violet, just what I am after.


It is not a massive change but it is enough to make you realise why these birds are called Purple Sandpipers. It is not too showy either, not at all over the top - less is more. I love these birds.

I reel off dozens of pictures then take a break and just observe as the Purps wait for the tide to go out. As I watch I think about other conundrums similar to my earlier nook/cranny debate and it occurs to me "What do Purps think about while they wait for the tide to drop?" They must think. They must. Perhaps not abstract or massive profound existential thoughts (like the difference between a nook and a cranny!) but they must think about what matters to them. Food, shelter, sex.

The sun warms me a little, sitting for a long time crumpled into a nook/cranny has made me cold and I'm getting pins and needles in my left foot.

I have enough images of the Purps so I just sit and wait for the tide to drop. If I leave now I will scare them from their perches and that really wouldn't be on. We all sit on the cliff, thinking. Waiting.

As soon as the tide has dropped enough the birds are off to the water's edge, picking at barnacles, flipping seaweed fronds. I am free to move.

As I climb the cliffs I notice one has remained roosting on a small ledge. The sun shines, it glows indigo and I can't resist a last photograph before I start the long walk home.


Hilbre Island - benign isolation and subtle brilliance in shades of purple.

3 comments:

  1. Excellent shots Matt, of a beautiful bird.

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  2. Lovely photos, I never even knew they had purple iridescence! I've only ever seen the species once.

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  3. Impressive photos and talented ideas of casual snaps. Thanks for sharing these photos.

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