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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

WADING BIRDS OF THE SOLENT MARSHES

I am deliberately going to separate the text (here) and my photographs (above) of some of the wading birds we saw on our walk around the Keyhaven marshes, to enable you (should you so desire) to click on my photographs above and enlarge them. The birds I photographed (with Anna's Dad's camera) were some distance away, so in order to see them well, you may may want to click on the images above. (They don't enlarge surrounded by text you see).

Ok then.
In brief...

Little Egret.
A snow white, small(ish) heron, which has become well established in many of our estuaries. Anna and I saw the first breeding pair in London when we were living at her father's place overlooking the Walthamstow reservoirs, and I've heard this year that they have bred successfully, for the first time in Berkshire also.
They, like I said, have become almost common in our southern estuaries though.
They resemble nothing else, apart from possibly the larger, MUCH rarer (passage migrant or rarity) Large and Cattle Egrets.
The Little Egret is easy to identify though, by its dark bill, dark legs and bright yellow feet.
(You can pick out the Egret's feet in my photo above by enlarging the image).
As Anna said at the time, when we watched one of about a dozen Egrets walk around the shallows:
"It looks like he's got yellow flippers on"!
(That's exactly what it looks like)!

Dunlin.
Probably our most numerous wader, and very commonly encountered in large flocks around this time of year, in and around estuaries.
The confusing thing with Dunlin however, is that in common with virtually all of our waders, they turn a non-descript grey colour out of their breeding plumage, but most annoying of all is that they vary considerably in size and colour often.
Look for a very small size (18cm ish) a medium length, verrrrry slightly down-curved bill, a black belly in summer (visible still, in the Black Tailed Godwit photo above), and you'll have a Dunlin identified.
Spot a Dunlin with a white rump, and you've got yerself a Curlew Sandpiper. But don't worry about any of that... your chance are negligible and you'll need a good telescope and the patience of a saint to sift through all the Dunlin in front of you, to find one Curlew Sandpiper!

Oystercatcher
Very distinctive (even in its winter plumage, which isn't that different from its breeding plumage).
A large, piebald wader, with a long red bill and pink legs.
The Oystercatcher is very common in the UK, and you'll probably here them before you see them. Noisy buggers.
They eat shellfish in the main, by rapping the shell on a suitable rock and prising out the soft flesh inside.
I chased the Oystercatcher (above) down the shingle beach on Hurst spit when I took its photo. It was in the process of breaking open some shellfish, and was somewhat preoccupied. Eventually it gave up trying to pretend I wasn't sneaking up on it, and flew off (second photo) with its prize still in its bill, to dine at a more private location!

Black Tailed Godwit.
There are TWO types of Godwit (no-one knows how they got this name originally) in Britain. The Bar-Tailed Godwit and the Black Tailed Godwit.
The Bar-Tailed is far more widespread in the UK at this time of year, but doesn't breed here. The Black-Tailed however, is far scarcer, but when you happen across a "hotspot", chance are you'll see a hundred or so, and there are a few pairs that breed in a secet location in East Anglia.
The Black-Tailed Godwit is an attractive, leggy wading bird, with a very long straight bill and "stilt-like" legs. In summer it is a glorious rufous colour, but again, in winter, it takes on a very dull, grey plumage.
One can tell the difference betweeb Bar-Tailed and Black-Tailed Godwits using a number of field signs, the most obvious of which being that the Black-Tailed Godwits legs are longer - it appears more lanky, and its bill is arrow-straight, unlike the Bar-Tailed, which is verry slightly upturned.
We feel very fortunate to have seen these birds (literally a few hundred of them).
Neither of us have ever seen them before...

Little Ringed Plover.
A tiny plover of shingle beaches - very difficult to see as they are so well camouflaged and are always on the move, seemingly miles away from where you are standing at the time. Photo courtesy of Arthur Grosset.

Curlew.
A very large, (Britain's largest in fact) wader with a very tell-tale call: "COOR-LI"! and the most distinctive of all bills.
The only bird that even resembles the Curlew is a Whimbrel, but that is much smaller, with a smaller bill, a stripe down its head and a completely different call. Not that you'll probably see a Whimbrel ever!

Turnstone.
These little birds do what they promise to do. Flocks of them arrive on our shingly beaches each autumn and turn over stones (and everything else they can) to locate any invertebrates concealed underneath.
Common and obvious thanks to their mottled (in winter) black bib.

Redshank.
Apt name. These are quite upright grey, smallish waders with a red bill and red legs (shanks).
You'll see these on our inland waters (lakes, rivers etc...) as well as our estuaries.
The Redshank is another noisy bird. "TU TU TUUU" is its call. It always seems like a bit of a wide boy to me, a little agressive and confrontational! Photo courtesy of Arthur Grosset.

Knot.
This wader is a dumpy sandpiper, and is a handsome chap in breeding plumage. Its breast is a brick red colour - the reason behind their American name of Red Knot.
In winter however, they are very non-descript. Dull, pale grey, dumpy in appearance, and between the size of a Dunlin and Redshank. Their most obvious feature, I suppose in their winter plumage is a white line above their eyes.
Their name KNOT is either a bastardisation of Canute or more likely a representation of the flight call they make - very short. Their latin name, Calidris canuta, comes from the legendary King Canute, who endeavoured to turn back the tide.
Huge flocks of wintering knot (total winter population of about 300,000 in the UK) will line the estuary shoreline and as soon as they cannot feed any more - ie their feet are covered in salt water, they all leap into the air and wheel about in great numbers, looking for the next spot to feed. Very impressive indeed if you catch a large flock...

Right.
I think that's all the wading birds we saw on the marshes.
Please do click on the photos above - all mine - (the dull, tiny long-range shots!!) unless otherwise stated - and those will be from Arthur Grosset's excellent site and of course are copyright to him. See link.

I will post on the ducks and geese and other delights of the marshes and New Forest area as soon as I get a little more time...

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