Sunday, 10 January 2016

Over the top

Brent beginning to leave the saltings as the tide ebbs
A changing of the guard. Graham, one of the local WeBS counters, was just packing his gear into the boot of his car as I strolled down the hill towards him. He had, once again, carried out his duties with all due diligence, counting his assigned roost on the top of the tide.

We swapped notes. Clearly Shoveler numbers were still sneaking up, and he had a few of the Motney Avocet pinned down as well.

I said I was planning on counting a tad later. I wanted a count for an area just north of his, which holds and hides a lot of waders on this height of tide, so I'd chosen to watch them off. I realised I was being a teensie bit mean, saying how I was looking forward to seeing a good few thousand birds. WeBS counters are a dedicated bunch of volunteers, and Graham had just worked hard for his smaller numbers, with his birds having sat tight at roost.

WeBS is Wetland Bird Survey, organised by the BTO primarily to assess total wildfowl and wader numbers using the UK during our winter months. When you read in the newspapers of birds like Curlew becoming 'red data listed', or of large numbers of wildfowl no longer visiting the UK, it is down to the work of the unpaid army of Grahams.

Now there I was, turning up to enjoy the same view, different spectacle. This is the fun of an estuary, one person can count a spot, then another come and count said same spot an hour later, and the end results will be vastly different.

We said our farewells and I set off to to beat Graham's wader numbers by a fair few thousand. Hollow victory, the value of his counts beat mine hands down. And I never did get anywhere near his Shoveler number.

Slack tide was past and soon birds were moving off certain roosts to head for emerging saltings closer to the awaited mud. The Dunlin were clearly hungry. They had roosted on Bishop, closest saltings to the deep water channel, and were coming, in flights 100, 200, 300 strong, to claim toeholds on Friars', Motney and Rainham saltings. If only some could land, they did, often seeming to fly backwards in the wind to reverse park, but if part of their flock found no room, then the others would take back to the air with them; they were hungry, but they wanted safety in numbers.

Elsewhere in Kent there have been comments about a lack of Turnstone. Certainly here they have not been at their usual roosts close to shore recently, and I began to wonder if they had moved on, but today I noted the old jetty on the north of Nor Marsh was packed tight. Perhaps their usual haul-outs on the wrecks in Sharp's Green Bay and off of the Strand have not felt safe enough?

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