Wednesday, 21 March 2012

WeBS; migrants

I spent a while today covering someone's Wetland Bird Survey count on Dawlish Warren - an hour-long snapshot of the waterbirds present on the site, my contribution to the network of surveyors looking at the Exe today, themselves a contribution to the national WeBS survey data collected each month for the British Trust for Ornithology, who use it in part to gauge trends in waterbird populations.

Being a sunny day and a mid-afternoon count in mid-March, I wasn't expecting a great deal out of the survey, and add to the mix the fact that today was Mothering Sunday - and you can see that there was plenty of potential for people to be out and about on the beach. Sure enough, when I arrived the beach was packed to the gills; a few hardy souls even in the water. The northerly wind was keeping the swell down to nothing though, so checking the sea was a cinch - and there were only just more birds than waves. A measly half-dozen Great Crested Grebes was it...

On down to the pond beside the visitor centre, where in addition to a fine drake Teal with three females, a Chiffchaff sang lustily from the high willows, whilst another called quietly in the willows just in front of me. Buoyed by this sign of a rapidly-turning season I headed on to the main wader roost. Nothing much along the seafront - two Knot roosting on a groyne the best of it - and plenty of people walking the beach even this far up. The tide was still some way off the bight, so after a rapid scan of the waders there I headed off to check the end of the sandspit.

Here was another sign of spring arriving: a fine male Wheatear flipped off ahead of me, from behind a mix of stone-grey, black and white, then a rich apricot-buff when he turned to check whether I was still walking his way. The point proved as enduringly birdless as the rest of the beach, and so I headed back towards the main roost along the riverside. An immediate reward came in the shape of a small flock of Sanderling, still in their silver-grey plumage and without any hint of the freckly ginger-rust they will develop soon for their summer plumage, who skimmed along the waterline and landed within a couple of metres of me. Heads bobbing with initial alarm, they soon settled down and began trotting along the water's edge, dipping erratically to grab small invertebrates as the waves washed across the sand.

Sanderling, trotting gently along the sands. Perhaps having wintered in South Africa, and on the way to the high Arctic to breed.
On to check the bight again, where the main wader roost usually occurs on the Warren. Not many birds, as most of them have headed off towards their breeding grounds - but there was a massed pack of Oystercatchers, all black backs spiked through with orange bills, a couple of Curlew sauntering impassively along the edge of the water in search of a tasty crab, and a fringe group of small waders - Knot and Dunlin - silver-grey, picking daintily into the shallow water for crustaceans and molluscs. Lurking on the fringes were a trio of Ringed Plover, all black bands laid across white and brown, a huddle of Turnstone on a fishing boat and a lingering group of Brent Geese - another of the species which has pretty much gone for the summer now.

Brent Geese - the last few lingering on the Exe will soon be heading off to the tundra of Arctic Russia, via the Waddensee - a massive area of intertidal mud between Germany and Denmark.
Most of the waders and almost all the wildfowl have now gone north, perhaps to Scotland and northern England or to staging posts on their way to the Arctic, but for a month or six weeks yet we'll see a gradual turnover of birds which wintered further south still: Ringed Plover, Turnstone and Sanderling, Bar-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel which have avoided our gloomy winter and lived it up on the sandy beaches of western and southern Africa.

True to spring weather form, the rain began as I headed back to the car, so only a cursory check for interesting plants on the way back - one day I will spend  little more time looking through the dune grassland to see what I can find lurking...

1 comment:

sylvia.simmons said...

Went on Monday bit quieter than Sunday . Had hoped to see the sand crocus but too early but lots of whitlow grass in flower. Hope Sabina is ok.