“Gille-Bhrìde” is the Gaelic name for the oystercatcher. Jill at Land of the Big Sky has allowed me to use some of her beautiful watercolours to show you the oystercatcher:
As you can see from the painting below, the oystercatcher is a coastal bird. They are a feature of life in Aberdeen, and I have been missing them here in Glasgow. I always used to note when I first heard the cry of the oystercatcher at the start of every new year. That means they are starting to nest, and so spring is not too very far away. They have a very distinctive cry, which in Gaelic is “Bi glic!” (“Be wise!”) I don’t know if there’s a connection, but the motto of the Northern Constabulary used to be “Bi glic!”.
I’ve often wondered about their name in Gaelic, “gille-Bhrìde”. This translates roughly as “St. Brigid’s boy” or possibly “St. Brigid’s helper / gillie”? As you may know, St. Brigid (born in Ireland in 453) was one of the earliest Celtic Christian saints. February 1st is St. Brigid’s feast day, and in Ireland people traditionally made a “St. Brigid’s cross” out of straw or rushes to display inside their kitchen. I wonder if the bird got its name from the fact that it makes itself noisily known at about the start of February?
Oystercatchers like to nest on top of flat rooves, particularly ones covered in pebbles. There are some rooves at the University of Aberdeen which are protected nesting sites for the oystercatcher. Many a spring semester my students and I would follow the progress of the oystercatcher families nesting outside our classroom.
Glasgow must be too far inland for the oystercatcher, unless they have some flat-roof hideout that I haven’t yet discovered here. But I don’t think so. I remember once I was having a phone conversation in Aberdeen, with a colleague in Glasgow. She heard the oystercatchers in the background and sighed, “Oh I can hear the oystercatchers!” I would have that same reaction now if it were me.
Do visit Jill’s blog to see her beautiful art. If, like me, you end up laughing uproariously at some of her jokes (on her recent post “Fit like?” she describes an exercise class where the instructor tells them to “touch your knees to your chest”. She asks, “Couldn’t I just take my bra off?”) – well, don’t say I didn’t warn you!