The Confused Cormorant

We’ve just had a lovely week near Whitby. We’ve been going to the area since I was 6 months old so it always seemed right to take our own kids back there for our family holidays too. It feels kind of like home.

It’s very much a beach holiday. We spend the mornings lazing about in our rented cottage then head to the beach in the afternoon. The boys play in the sand, paddle in the sea and we usually round the afternoon off with an ice cream.

Since I started swimming outside these trips have involved me getting a bit wet too. Last year I sneaked off to jump in a waterfall on my own. This year I’ve mostly been attempting to see how long I can brave the North Sea without my wetsuit.

Other than our summer solstice trip I ditched my wetsuit in May. The water’s been too warm to need it and I’ve got used to lovely 20C+ water just in my cozzy. Alas the North Sea is somewhat nippier! The lifeguards on the beach had it down as 13C. That’s as cold as it was in April back home. I’ve gone soft over the summer, my body’s not acclimatised to cold anymore!

I’d managed a few swims in just my cozzy but after only 20 minutes it was definitely time to get out. Not necessarily because I felt cold but because my arms stopped working properly. I was getting frustrated I couldn’t manage a decent swim. Time to concede to my wetsuit then. I reluctantly squeezed myself back into it, struggling to get used to the restriction and confinement again. I knew it would be worth it though to manage a couple of miles in one go.

Off I went. The conditions were perfect. We’d had a few thunderstorms earlier in the day so the beach was fairly quiet. There was absolutely no wind and the sea was calm as calm can be. We’d been for a walk on the clifftop beforehand and I could see how clear the water was. Every rocky outcrop was visible and it was so calm I’d even managed to spot the unmistakeable break of a dolphin or porpoise fin further out (yes, it was definitely dolphiny not sharky!).

There I was happily swimming along. Watching the jellyfish and sea gooseberries blobbing around. The odd flatfish darted out of the sand as I passed over the top. Crabs of varying sizes were scuttling around on the sandy bottom, some playing dead as I went past, others raising their claws in anger at this strange black clad interloper. Some of the bigger crabs were feasting on jellyfish. It was beautiful, such clear shallow water, still cold, but more bearable in my wetsuit.

I’d got into a lovely rhythm, minding my own business when suddenly something grabbed my wrist. I automatically screamed. Not because I thought I needed to scare something off necessarily but just because I was so shocked. My first thought was that someone had waded out and grabbed my hand. But why would they do that? I’d seen a black shape as the thing grabbed me but what on earth was it?

As I stood up and turned around there was definitely no person but there was a cormorant just taking wing, making a hasty escape. Yes, the thing that grabbed my wrist was a beaky cormorant. It made sense when I thought about it, it didn’t feel like a human hand, what grabbed me had been hard and sharp.

Perhaps the cormorant thought my hand poking out of my wetsuit was a particularly tasty looking fish? Maybe it wondered what this odd black thing with hands and feet poking out at each end and a head in a bright green hat was? Maybe it had just come for a peck to see what I was and whether I might be tasty? Whatever it was thinking it managed to give us both, and a couple of families on the beach, a bit of a fright. My instant scream certainly scared it off.

Once I realise what had happened I started laughing. I have to confess I didn’t carry on with my long swim, the surprise had made me a bit shaky. I swam lazily back to the beach to be met by a concerned lady who wanted to make sure I was OK. I think she was a bit bemused when she realised I was giggling to myself as I left the water.

It seemed like such a ridiculous thing to happen. I’ve always been paranoid about things coming from the inky depths to eat me, it had never occurred to me that I might get attacked from above.

I returned to Paul and the kids for a calming ice cream and an inspection of my very disappointing wounds. All I sustained was a couple of scratches, but they did bear the unmistakable shape of a sharp beaked big bird. Alas, no lasting trophy scar from my wild animal attack! Oh well, at least I’ve written it down for posterity.

I don’t get to sea swim very often, we live too far away from the beach, but it’s always a bit more exciting than our little reservoir. Waves, tides, jellyfish and imaginary sea monsters are always things I look out for but now I can add birdlife to my list.

As my Mum said when I regaled her with the story, my new cormorant friend “Should’ve gone to Specsavers”!

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