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A Turnstone Encounter


30th November 2014

Last Updated: 8th April 2020

It was on one of those unbelievably changeable November days – one minute all bluster and shower, the next rainbow and shine – that I had my first experience with a Turnstone.

We were in Brixham, south Devon, for the weekend. The wind was insistently pushing us along the harbour towards the breakwater hidden behind hundreds of fishing boats when I became aware of something speeding towards us at ankle height.  Stopping, I peered between my various woolly layers to spot a small, richly mottled bird. Its peachy orange legs were almost a blur as it weaved its way right towards us.  Being an owner of a small dog I instantly knelt down, and the little bird quickly came within easy reaching distance.

Turnstone visitor

Once there, it began to investigate me. Intermittently circling around, speeding ahead then pausing for a second, continually head bobbing, hesitantly stepping then pecking at the ground, all within a few seconds. It exuded energy and curiosity. Beady eyes delicately ringed with white shined inquisitively up at me.  Its motion coupled with gusts of wind lifted up feathers. A stark white underside contrasted with an inky brown bib. When it stopped running long enough for me to have a proper look, I could see that that each individual rounded feather had a unique colouring. Tan fading to dun, red interrupted by chestnut, and many of them tipped with white – all layered up on one another to create a robust puff of a thing. A tail peaked out, see-sawing up and down as the beak stabbed at the ground. It was fairly small; I fancied it might be a daring juvenile.

I come from Leicestershire, a place about as far away from the coast as you can get. Due to occasional seaside family holidays and my intense love of Springwatch, the bird (and the name, once I found it out) seemed vaguely familiar. What I found interesting was that as soon as I knew what bird it was, I started to notice it more – further along the path, running along the harbour wall, hopping down the breakwater boulders. None were as bold as my first turnstone friend, but without him I may not have even seen them. I believe there is something to be said for how much more an impact nature has when it decides to interact with us, and what that says about humans… but I think that’s a blog for another time.