Friday 18 January 2013

WQ chat with Paul Eeles, RSPB warden at Titchwell

Titchwell is one of our favourite wader watching venues, not least because you can sometimes get very close to the birds and have the chance to really study their plumage, honing ID skills. This is also an ideal way to enthuse other birders who may not yet have 'got the bug' for waders.
Titchwell, a great place to get to know your waders.
In addition it allows photographers to get some 'decent' shots of these wonderful birds giving them the chance to take home some exciting images. Seeing tiny grey or brown dots running around on the mud in the distance is hardly likely to capture the imagination nor entice the would-be wader photographer, but to be just a few feet from a juvenile Red Knot makes it possible to see the beautiful feather detail, an experience that will never let you think waders are boring again.

Superb juvenile Red Knot at Titchwell: August 2012
On the first day of Wader Quest we went to Titchwell to set the ball rolling, unfortunately the water levels were a bit high and therefore not perfect for seeing the birds close up, but the beach was alive with them. Passing through the break in the sand dunes was like opening the door to a surprise party, and just as much fun.

'Surprise party' on the beach at Titchwell 1st November 2012.
When we were there we cornered Paul Eele the warden and asked him a few questions about waders at Titchwell.

WQ: Could you tell us briefly why it is that Titchwell is so good for Waders?

PE: I suppose the main reason really is that we’re on the European flyway for migrating waders, they are coming down from the high arctic to pass the winter in Africa and they are passing through sites like this just to stop off and feed. With the mixture of fresh water and the beach you get a good variety of waders. On a good day in the autumn, August/September time you can see 20, 25 or maybe even more species of wader here.

Spotted Redshank Titchwell 25th August 2011
WQ: On the fresh marsh we only saw one Lapwing out there today, and on the way up here we saw none of the Lapwing flocks we were expecting at all. This is one of the things we are concerned about, the population trends all seem to be down, even for common birds, is this something you have experienced here?

PE: It is, but we don’t have a huge number of breeding waders on the site here anyway so it’s quite difficult to judge with small numbers, things like Common Ringed Plover all along the north Norfolk coast are really struggling: some of that’s down to habitat loss; some of that is down to the climatic storms in Spring and Summer, which we can’t do much about; some of it is down to human disturbance. One of the things we do here and at other sites is protect them by putting out notices and roping off areas to reduce this disturbance; this is one of the elements we can do something about.

Even the familiar Eurasian Curlew is now classified as near threatened.
WQ: Do you have dedicated volunteers specifically looking after that sort of thing? Or do you just put the ropes out and hope that people observe the intent?

PE: We sign it and we do have people around, we have volunteers here talking to our visitors. On busy weekends especially they are out and about on the beach, quite often with telescopes showing the people the birds from a distance, and explaining why we have got the cordons up and what’s going on; it does seem to help.

WQ: From the twitcher’s point of view what do you think the most exciting wader is that you have had here that you’ve seen?

PE: That’s difficult, I’ve seen quite a few now I have to say, but there’s still some big holes in my Titchwell list. I don’t know which was the best one really, probably something like the Broad-billed Sandpiper that was really close to the hides. Or the time I was in the hide in the evening  and somebody said,
“Oh! I think I’ve got a Stilt Sandpiper!” and we looked out and it was like, ‘Blimey, yeah! It is one!’
Broad-billed Sandpiper Lampakbia Thailand November 2012
But there again I find it is seeing big numbers that is most exciting, or seeing the colour-ringed birds, like the Common Ringed Plover that had been ringed in Norway and then a month later it was here, so you have the rarities, but those others things are just as exciting.

WQ: We were here earlier in the year and saw the Baird’s Sandpiper that was found by our friends from The Biggest Twitch, which was fun, but during the summer we were here and saw big numbers of Red Knot, is that unusual?

PE: It is quite unusual but there are quite a few summering in the wash; essentially what it happening is that young birds, that are not breeding-mature, have not gone back to the breeding grounds so they are just hanging around where they’ve been wintering. We had up to about 2 to 2½ thousand, which is nothing compared to Snettisham; but for us they were pretty phenomenal numbers.

Red Knot flock at Titchwell 25th June 2012
WQ: Thank you for your time, I hope you’ll get a few more good waders in the next year and we’ll be able to come and see them.

PE: Thank you, let's hope so, and good luck with your quest, it sounds brilliant.

WQ: Thank you.

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