Country Corner

A sand martin in flight
A sand martin in flight

In Midsummer, returning from a job in the Borders, I was driving past Whiteadder picnic site when I saw a chap beside his car, having pulled in to use his binoculars on something.

Never one to miss a chance of wildlife interest, I too pulled over, grapped my binoculars from the dash and asked what he was watching.

His reply was: “An almost fully leucistic sand martin!”

I suppose an easy way to describe a leucistic is to say it is like an albino, only without the pink eyes.

Sure enough, I was soon watching an almost pure white sand martin hawking for flies overhead.

Although the finder of the bird thought it was a sand martin, I didn’t have the expertise to be certain.

I suddenly realised how much I rely upon colour and pattern to tell apart house martins, sand martins and young swallows yet to grow their tail streamers.

Now, I don’t know if you have ever tried to photograph a flying swallow or martin.

Suffice to say for every useful picture, I got a dozen pictures of blurred clouds and smeared treetops!

Anyway, I had what I wanted and emailed the best of the photos to two eminent birders, who also asked a few other experts for their opinions.

It seems the wee white mite is indeed a sand martin.

I am left wondering where it is now.

If still alive, despite being glaringly obvious to predators,it could have caught the eye of birders,farmers or sailors anywhere between here and Sudan or Gambia!

I can just imagine it zipping through a Berber valley as it traversed the Atlas mountains, leaving some little goat herd boy filled with wonder at such a pristine white passer by.