Winter birding bonanza on the estuary

DSC03170 - CopyThe rain had stopped so I headed down to the estuary for a bit of bird watching. What awaited me was a bonanza of winter flocks.

The tide was low, the sun was shining and the wind was pushing me slightly off balance but it was a great day for birdwatching. Setting off, to my right was the huge expanse of estuary, most importantly vast stretch of invertebrate rich mud, and to the left was reedbed with huge fields behind that. This is such a great place as you get lots of habitats and can see everything from the vantage point of the pathway. The resident mute swans were across the estuary, with various gull species, including black-headed and herringDSC03201 - Copyflying around. The first winter flock which I had come to see were the lapwings, with several groups flying about in their characteristic style. The green tinge to their plumage and distinctive crest could be seen while they rested in the field. Several curlew were also towards the back of the field. Brent geese were all about too, with a large flock in the field and some on the estuary. I always look forward to hearing the geese and it is quite astonishing to think they came to England from northern Russia.

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Reaching the first patch of mud, where I usually get first sight of the waders, I heard the unmistakable song of the skylark. Turning to find the speck in the sky, it soon stopped singing and I watched it fly across the field. I wasn’t really expecting that, so it was a nice surprise. Turning my attention back to the walk, I spotted a few redshank on the shoreline, and heard the oystercatchers call but it was otherwise quiet.

DSC03226 - CopyA small brown bird appeared from the reeds and flew to the tree. The reed bunting perched beautifully on the tree branch, with the characteristic stripes on its facial plumage clearly visible, before it once again disappeared back into the reeds. The Coot and Moorhen weren’t shy though and were showing nicely on the water. Continuing on, a dark figure could be seen just above the horizon in the distance. It was a marsh harrier which appeared briefly before disappearing below the opposite bank again.

There were large numbers of waterfowl visible once I walked round the bend in the path, DSC03309including wigeon, teal, and shelduck. Along the shoreline were a flock of black-tailed godwit looking splendid in their winter plumage while they rested, fed and preened. Looking up from the binoculars a flock of distinctive black and white birds flew past, with their characteristic upcurved bill visible – avocets. I lost sight of that flock in the distance but there were still several on the estuary feeding. A male reed bunting then perched conveniently in the tree nearby.

DSC03310Continuing along, a resident cormorant was standing on the speed limit sign, keeping an eye on his world from a good vantage point. Turning another corner on the winding path revealed more large wintering flocks, with dunlin now also visible. More waterfowl as well as redshank were found on this part of the estuary.

After watching the flocks for a time, the cold wind had penetrated the thick winter layers I was wearing so it was time to head back but by no means was it the end of the bonanza. The lapwing and brent geese were close together now and a group of starlings had joined then. While I was wading through the muddy puddles, and getting slightly stuck in the mud, another little bird popped up but this time the characteristic orange chest and black head led me to the stonechat’s identity. It was a first for this patch so that was nice. Before long another appeared and they flew about in front of me for a while. The tide was rising now and a little bird popped up like clockwork, the little grebe. There is usually one just on this corner of the estuary. While trying to get a good view through my binoculars of the grebe, which kept diving under the water at inconvenient moments, a pied wagtail flew past me and onto the rocks along the shore.

Despite the chilling wind it was a great spot for a bit of winter birding.

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