DESPITE THEIR NAME, I don’t often see Common Gulls in West Yorkshire, or perhaps I mistake them for Black-headed Gulls in winter plumage, so I take the opportunity to draw a birdwatcher’s field sketch when we see one on the sea wall by the old ferry ticket office at Merkinch Local Nature Reserve, where the River Ness reaches the Beauly Firth.

Helpfully a Herring Gull flies down to give us a size comparison. Looking in the book, the only character that doesn’t match is the ‘dark bill’. The Common Gull has a yellow bill in summer but by now this will be getting duller with a darker ring near the tip. I notice that, even in my quick sketch, I haven’t shown the bill to be as dark as the eye or wing bars. Seeing it against the sea might also have made it appear a little darker than it was.

Tidal Pools

Herring Gulls, Curlew, Greater-Black Backed Gull, Oystercatcher and Redshank were amongst the birds feeding, or just loafing about, by the tidal pools of the bay between the old ferry and the breakwater where the Caledoniaon Canal enters the Beauly Firth.

Channelled Wrack

There’s a band of seaweed along the lower half of the sea-wall. At the top edge of this there’s Channelled Wrack, Pelvetia canaliculata, which has swollen ends to its fronds. These are the reproductive bodies. You can see the channels that give this seaweed its name on the underside of the fronds in the lower left of my photograph.

Spiral Wrack

Growing in a band below the Channelled Wrack, Spiral Wrack or Flat Wrack, Fucus spiralis, also has swollen tips but these are usually in pairs. The fronds have a tendency to twist, hence the name and, unlike the Channelled Wrack, they have prominent midribs.

Its tough leathery fronds have no air bladders.

Knotted Wrack

Below the Spiral Wrack, at the foot of the sea-wall, Knotted Wrack, Aescophyllum nodosum, spreads out onto the beach. It is also known as Egg Wrack because of those egg-shaped air bladders.


Looking amongst the Knotted Wrack on the beach, I found this red seaweed growing attached to one of the fronds. The three wracks are Brown Algae but Polysiphonia lanosa (it doesn’t have an English name) is a Red Alga.

Edible Winkle

Lying amongst the Knotted Wrack and Polysiphonia were shells of the Edible Winkle or Edible Periwinkle, Littorina littoralis. This gill-breathing sea-snail (a mollusc that is a member of the subclass Prosobranchia) feeds on seaweed.

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