After talking shrikes this morning, I’d like to talk about the birds we saw along the shore and mudflats now.
I have a strange relationship with waders. I love them as a case study in adaptation and evolution. By looking at the size and shape of their bills, the length of their legs, the position and size of their eyes, you can learn almost everything you need to know about their feeding strategy. Lots of vaguely similar, related birds, and yet such subtle variations make such a difference.
But I hate identifying them. The variations you can get in the plumage between male and female, adult and juvenile, summer and winter, and all the various moults in-between make them a minefield of misidentification. So don’t be shocked if anything I say here is wrong! (Please do correct me via the comments).
This difficulty is perfectly illustrated by several images here.
You’d be forgiven for thinking there were 3, 4, even 5 different species represented here. But I’m pretty sure they are all Grey Plovers (though it’s possible 2 and 3 are Golden Plovers).
I was on similarly dodgy territory with what I’m pretty certain are Dunlin:
The first of these pictures in particular really threw me, and I’m still not that happy with my IDs. I was however on much safer ground with Redshanks and Turnstones:
That said, even the Turnstone is slightly misleading as it is between its summer and winter plumage.
Fortunately there was one wader out in force that wasn’t remotely misleading or open to interpretation. The Curlew.
It’s been a while since I saw so many Curlew, so openly, in one place. It was wonderful. I love these massive waders, with their scalloped plumage, long, curved bill, and fantastic call.
I followed one particular bird for quite a while as he washed, preened, then prowled off to a spot he’d marked out:
However, what he didn’t realise was that he had competition:
They soon spied each other:
I doubt there was any real sense of competition there, as the Egret prefers fish and the Curlew invertebrates. But once they spotted each other, the Curlew backed off pretty quickly.
The Little Egret is another bird that can’t be mistaken. A large, pure-white heron with a black/grey bill (which distinguishes it from the Great White and Cattle Egrets).
One great thing about these sites and wading birds are the vast roosting flocks you get:
When a flock takes to the air, it can be spectacular, as the birds move in unison, similar to a Starling murmuration. I managed to grab some photos of exactly this, and even a tiny snippet of video:
Apologies for the dodgy camerawork, it’s handheld, in the wind, with a compact! Hopefully you can make it out. There are a couple of other videos HERE.
It wasn’t just waders though, there were also Shelduck:
There were also several small groups of Brent Goose, a bird I’ve not seen in a while:
As geese go, they are a smart-looking bird and have a nice variation in plumage while remaining distinctive.
That brings part two to an end, tomorrow I’ll wrap up with various birds seen around the thorn bushes on land, and the real highlight of the trip…