Country diary: pub quiz and osprey in one fell swoop
Findhorn, Moray: Each evening we sit by the harbour wall to watch them fishing, sometimes three at a time
Findhorn village stands on a hook of land between a wide shallow estuary and the long expanse of Burghead Bay. The cottages of fishermen who worked in the herring trade run at 90 degrees to the harbour, reached by what are known as stryplies. Along these grassy vennels, gardens have been made. Even the tiniest strips between fence and lane grow aquilegias and lavender, meadow annuals, sedums, herbs and seaside plants such as thrift and rosemary. To the south is the eco-village of the Findhorn Foundation.
Burghead beach, 11 miles long, is scattered with tank traps from the second world war, their concrete scarred and encrusted with limpets and seaweeds. Common terns, slender and graceful, rest on a half-submerged pillbox. Behind the bay is a hinterland of old dunes that are gradually being vegetated. Among knolls of Scots pines and bell heather, sandy glades hold resinous and heady scents. Butterflies abound – small heath, meadow brown, ringlet, common blue, speckled wood – and in the dark conifer branches are yellowhammers and siskins. Sand martins swoop in from their nests in the cliffs facing the beach, and orchids – pale and ethereal creeping ladies-tresses – emerge through the litter of pine needles.
On this changing coastline, the sandbar at the estuary mouth where seals lounge narrows the entrance to Findhorn Bay. We look across the water to Culbin Forest, planted by the Forestry Commission in the 1920s to stabilise the dunes. On the sandflats in between are curlews, oystercatchers, herring gulls and herons. And there, flying over the far pines, an osprey. Each evening we sit on a bench above the harbour wall to see them fishing, sometimes three at a time.
We watch one hovering and peering below, dark feathers splayed, waiting, judging. It folds back its wings to stoop arrow-like, powerful legs extended, plunging into the bay with a backlit splash, clasping a fish in scimitar talons. Harassed by a gull, it manages to hold its prey before disappearing over the line of trees. It’s a strange juxtaposition, overhearing a football question on a pub quiz while watching the drama of an osprey catch its evening meal.