Spurn Part Two – Shore and water birds

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.

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Grey Plover

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Grey Plover? Or maybe Golden?

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Grey Plover, that might be a Golden Plover

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Definitely a Grey Plover

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Almost certainly a Grey Plover

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:

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Dunlin?

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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:

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Redshanks

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Redshank

Turnstone, mid-moult

Turnstone, mid-moult

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.

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Curlew
Spurn, October 2013

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Curlew
Spurn, October 2013

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Curlew
Spurn, October 2013

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Curlew
Spurn, October 2013

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:

Curlew, ready to hunt Spurn, October 2013

Curlew, ready to hunt
Spurn, October 2013

However, what he didn’t realise was that he had competition:

Little Egret Spurn, October 2013

Little Egret
Spurn, October 2013

They soon spied each other:

Curlew and Little Egret Spurn, October 2013

Curlew and Little Egret
Spurn, October 2013

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:

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Waders at low tide, Hull in the background

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Waders moving to shore as the tide rises

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:

Waders in the air

Waders in the air

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:

Shelduck Spurn, October 2013

Shelduck
Spurn, October 2013

There were also several small groups of Brent Goose, a bird I’ve not seen in a while:

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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…

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I welcome thoughts, comments and questions, so please feel free to share anything at all. Thanks, David

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