Dornoch Diaries part 1

Sausage reporting for duty, dusting the cobwebs off my camera, blowing the dust bunnies off this blog, and getting out of what has been a woefully sedentary existence these past months. I am in Dornoch for ethnographic fieldwork and part of the task is to learn about this stunning land. How better to learn than to put on them boots and just walk. I could swear I have walked more in this week than I have in almost a year and am starting to feel somehow more whole, less in-human, calmer. I have seen more birds this week than I have in a long while – not blurry birds miles away either, but confiding birds seemingly happy to share their coast with me.

Being in these spaces are not just perks of fieldwork, they are part of the work itself. Fieldwork can be isolating, frustrating, overwhelming and bewildering, but there is also much joy, creativity, becoming and learning. And the birds, bees, butterflies and seals – I want to call them fieldjoys, the part of the research shaping and altering the ethnographer in happy ways. Here are some of the fieldjoys I managed to photograph, from a short sojourn on Dornoch beach, a long walk past the airfield toward Tain and a separate longer walk along the beach in the opposite direction toward Embo.

A splendid yellowhammer unbothered by the car and foot traffic around a playground.

Linnets were bountiful in and around the coconuty-fragrant gorse.

The intertidal zones and rockpools are full of finds. Starfishes are a bit of a highlight – many are dead but this one was still very much kicking.

An unfortunately dead but surprisingly intact and still beautiful gannet.

Oystercatchers are plentiful here. It is easy to take these bonny birds for granted when here but given I have been down south for ages and have not seen one in all that time, I cannot get enough. I cannot get enough of the bright orange and smart black and white flight, I cannot get enough of that great high pitched whistle call. Why the golden eagle and not the oystercatcher is Scotland’s national bird is beyond me.

The dunlins and turnstones were inseparable, with a lone body-bobbing redshank near – all three species were particularly unbothered by my presence.

Whimbrel were plentiful but far less accomodating, preferring to keep me at least 30-40 paces away. I would intentionally curve round up onto the softer sands to keep my distance but they often wouldn’t have any of it.

This female wheatear was surprisingly approachable, giving me a good 15 minutes of hopping around on nearby rocks.

The eiders were a treat, as much to hear as to watch. The handsome male was displaying and making that distinctive, almost mocking call. It never fails to make me laugh a little, not least since we have always given in to the urge to imitate that wonderful coo.

Further out, as these grainier photos attest, I saw a lone merganser, a lone goosander, and a lone seal. Lone creatures I like to think came along to say hi to a lone fieldworking Sausage.

It does help, to be honest.


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