Saturday 17 September 2016

The rain bird does its trick! But couldn't pour cold water on a Wader Quest field day.

We are thinking of hiring out Wader Quest events to drought stricken regions of the world; months can pass with little or no rainfall until we pop up, then we get a months worth of rain in a single day!

A soggy  RSPB Titchwell Marsh.

But should we have been surprised? Perhaps not.

Our English word plover is derived from the 12th century Old French word plovier presumably coming over with the Normans, which by the 13th century had become pluvier. This derives from the common Latin word plovarius which means 'of rain or belonging to rain' which refers to a connection between these birds and rain.

Eurasian Golden Plovers, or Rain Birds, living up to their name.

The Latin word for rain is pluvia so the connection is evident, and the tundra plovers, all three golden and one silver (which reads like an hour in the life of our successful ParalympicGB team), are given the scientific generic name Pluvialis as a result.

Golden Plovers (and others) have traditionally been known as Rain Birds, quite why is not certain, but it has probably got something to do with them appearing in Europe from their Arctic breeding grounds as autumn approaches bringing cooler and wetter weather. On the other hand it could possibly be due to a perceived restlessness in them before or during rain. This latter idea was certainly born out by our observations during the maelstrom that was Plover Appreciation Day at RSPB Titchwell. During one particularly heavy squall the birds certainly became restless and started raising their wings and flapping wildly, some so much so that they took off and flew a metre or so backwards blown by the wind, they almost seemed to be revelling in the downpour and playing with the elements.

Golden Plover 'playing' in the wind and rain.
Despite this treachery by the met office, ordering beastly weather on another of Wader Quest's special field days, we had a fine time and met some wonderful and hardy visitors to the Parrinder hide.

During the day we saw all four species of plover expected from the hide. There were the aforementioned golden rain birds, a single example of their silver cousin the Grey Plover and several Common Ringed Plovers rushing about on the islands, which visibly shrank during the day as the rain added to the volume of water in the fresh marsh. Surprisingly and indeed disappointingly, during the whole day only a single Northern Lapwing was seen on the fresh marsh an indication of their dreadful decline, although a flock of some twenty or so were seen flying over Titchwell Village or perhaps the fields beyond.

Grey Plover and Common Redshank.

During the day we were ably and heroically assisted by Ian Dearing, one of our steadfast Trustees and volunteers for events, he spent the day huddled in a leaky and draughty gazebo manfully watching over our Wader Quest goodies forlornly watching the few visitors to the reserve enter via the shop sheltering from the deluge neatly bypassing his spot by the centre cafĂ©.

Ian enjoying the excitement of the day.
The Ringed plover on the chalkboard was drawn by guide and artist Nik Borrow.

We were also joined by Allan Archer another of our Trustees who spent most of the day with us in the hide generously showing people the assembled plovers and other waders through his telescope.

Allan Archer (left0 keeps his Bird Track up to date while a visitor uses his telescope. Photo Elis Simpson - Wader Quest
As.for those other waders, what were they? As you'd expect on a fresh marsh close to tidal beaches, the content of the birds visibly changed throughout the day depending on the state of the tide. Constant companions were the 'sentinels of the marsh', the Common Redshanks, Dunlins which were mainly juveniles pottering about on the mud around the islands, at least three neat juvenile Little Stints, probing Black-tailed Godwits one or two Pied Avocets, Ruffs and Reeves and Common Snipes.

Juvenile Dunlins

Every now and then a Eurasian Curlew would fly by giving itself away by calling, such a beautiful sound, some would stop and loaf for a while and preen, but they did not feed moving instead to the brackish marsh or beach for this activity. Twice a Common Greenshank revealed its presence with a 'teu teu teu', alerted we 'd catch it in flight, the first flying straight through, the second landing long enough to make its mind up it wanted to be elsewhere and leaving with a further 'teu teu teu'.

Eurasian Curlew
 All day long we searched for Curlew Sandpipers, but most visitors left the hide disappointed, two were seen in flight but they landed behind vegetation and either were subsumed in the mire or left unnoticed while eyes were concentrated elsewhere. A report of a Pectoral Sandpiper had many eyes scrutinising every wader on the marsh for a while, but it was not seen again.

As the tide rose a few Red Knots started to appear, two early individuals didn't stop long, but they were there long enough to enjoy the striking juvenile plumage of the species. Bar-tailed Godwits tend not to feed on the fresh marsh and none were visible for most of the day. Elis found two on the brackish marsh behind us and one of those was the first to arrive at the fresh marsh followed shortly, as the tide swept away their feeding area, by more and more which arrived to preen and wash the salt out of their feathers their numbers building to around fifty by the time we left. The rising tide brought in Eurasian Oystercatchers too but their numbers remained low at around twenty or so. Two Ruddy Turnstones spent some time, keeping quite separate, at the islands' edges and were later joined by three more from the beach.

Bar-tailed Godwit

One of the great highlights of the day was a visit from Ali Hillyer, her brother Rod and mother Andrea. Ali won the plover identification competition at the Bird Fair and came along, braving the elements, to finally receive her prize; a pair of Opticron binoculars. 

Ali Hillyer receiving her Opticron bins
The trio stayed in the hide enjoying the birds and Ali enjoying her new bins, until we all left together. They were three of only four birders remaining in the hide when a Curlew Sandpiper finally put in an appearance and settled where it could be enjoyed.

Curlew Sandpiper (right) with Eurasian Teal.

We always relish sharing our passion, meeting people and helping them to find and identify waders, we thank those that came especially to meet us and look forward to the next opportunity for a Wader Quest field day, weather permitting, which may be Frampton this weekend all being well.

An unusual, yet appealing, picture of  a juvenile Dunlin.
Our thanks go to the RSPB Titchwell team for their kindness and hospitality, special thanks are due to Carrie Carey, and volunteers George and Dave who helped us a great deal trudging back and forth in the rain on our behalf. Thanks again to the Wader Quest crew, Ian (for his tenacity) and Allan (for the bacon butties)  and everyone who made our Plover Appreciation Day so special.

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