Friday 17 April 2015

A grand day out!

The days running up to publishing the Wader Quest sponsors' newsletter can be, to say the very least, fraught. As a result of all the pent up stress it is always a good idea to have a day off on the day following publication and distribution, to let the pressure out of my veins and remove all thoughts of editing from my addled brain.

So, what do wader conservationists do to unwind and forget about their day to day troubles? Well they go wader watching of course. This may sound like a bit of a busman's holiday but as we spend some 12 hours of every day cooped up at our computers making sure everything is running smoothly, just getting out into the fresh air is a bonus and instead of hearing all about other people's wader experiences, we go out and have a few of our own; which in this case involved 18 species.

A wader enthusiast's idea of heven, even on his or her day off! Titchwell beach Norfolk, UK.

We drove up to Titchwell on the north Norfolk coast on a whim. Titchwell usually has some waders to look at whatever time of year you go. Today was no exception. The first waders we encountered were on the mud exposed by the drained pool on the left of the path opposite the reed marsh which I now discover is not part of the reserve as I had previously thought. Here we saw a single Northern Lapwing and a distant ringed plover which I couldn't quite identify with just my bins. By the time I had the scope up it had gone and I had missed it in flight. To be honest the water level on the freshmarsh was a little high to be really exciting but Paul Eeles the reserve manager says that this is to help protect the breeding avocets and it will be drawn down for the migration season when it is in full swing. Nevertheless as we walked along the path we stopped for a scan. Out on the marsh there were many Pied Avocets squabbling and chasing each other about preparing for the challenges the breeding season might bring.

Agitated Pied Avocets Recurvirostra avosetta.
There were Common Redshanks in good numbers and a few striking summer plumaged Black-tailed Godwits. These summer birds kept their distance but looked as though they may well have been Icelandic birds. There were some others that came much closer, but none in the flashy summer plumage.

Common Redshank Tringa totanus.

Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa just beginning to moult. 

The single Ruff we saw was also bereft of flashy plumage and likewise the two Spotted Redshanks we came across. The only other waders to be seen on the freshmarsh were a few Eurasian Oystercatchers and a Little Ringed Plover, possibly the bird we saw earlier.

Eurasian Oystercatchers Haematopus ostralegus.

Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius.

After this we headed for the beach and there found the tide was well and truly out. We trudged across the sand to get close to the seaweed strewn rocks that attract the waders there. There were several Grey Plovers just beginning to acquire some dark breast and belly feathers, around 5 smart Common Ringed Plovers were seen and just two Eurasian Curlews prodded about in the wet sand appearing to be very successful on their hunting.

Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola.

Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquarta.

The commonest wader by far was Ruddy Turnstone, with a small number of Sanderlings, around 5 Bar-tailed Godwits around 20 Dunlin and a single, lost looking Red Knot.

Sanderling Calidris alba showing just a hint of the breeding plumage to come.

A selection of the waders found on the beach; Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquarta, Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica, Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola and Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres.

While on the beach I spent some time talking to a lady who had come to Norfolk she said, to see the [Eurasian] Dotterels.  
          "Dotterels?" said I. "What dotterels?" Unbeknown to us there had been a trip along the Docking road out of Titchwell. Sadly it seemed that when the lady arrived that morning, the dotterels had gone; I felt for her, they would have been lifers, and what a lifer Eurasian Dotterel is.

Checking out the waders with the lady I met on the beach.

Elis and I had one of the magnificent scones from the RSPB café, mine cheese, hers with jam and then we set off to return home. We decided to go via the dotterel site, just in case. There were a number of cars still there and we stopped to speak to the first chap we saw.
           "Still no sign?" I casually surmised.
          "Yes actually, I've seen them!" he said and then told us where. We wasted no time in visiting the spot getting further directions from a lady who was just leaving and discovered they were out in the middle of a typically large Norfolk ploughed field.

The dotterels are in the middle of that lot!

Sure enough, shimmering in the heat haze was a congregation of plovers. On inspection we immediately saw many of them were Eurasian Golden Plovers twenty-four (or five) in all, some in splendid summer garb, but in among them we eventually distinguished at least three and possibly four Eurasian Dotterels. A 'Trip' within a 'Congregation'; suggests a slapstick vicar to me.

Heat haze and distance render this photo pretty uninspiring. One (or maybe two) Eurasian Dotterels Charadrius morinellus to the right and three Eurasian Golden Plovers Pluvialis apricaria  to the left.

Any day that has a sighting of a Eurasian Dotterel in it is a good day. I was pleased but the only slight niggle I had was that I didn't ask the lady for her phone number (well you don't do you?) so I couldn't let her know her prize had returned. Just as we were considering leaving, to my delight I saw a figure rushing along the path, it was the lady from the beach and I took great pleasure in setting my scope onto one of the dotterels so she would be able to see it immediately upon arrival without the hassle of trying to find it for herself. A good end to a good day; we drove home satisfied with our day off!

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