Thursday, 14 January 2016

All going swimmingly

So, it's a high six metre tide in the late afternoon, and the wind's a strong west-north-west. The Avocets might be going to break the 'mostly' rules. If I type 'x mostly/mainly/usually does y', that means there are exceptions, and they will usually exhibit said exceptions quite soon after any posting.

So yes, I am on record as saying the Avocets will mostly be found in Otterham or on Motney over the tide. But the Otterham roost, though sheltered, goes under on higher tides when the birds move to Motney Saltings. On a six metre tide Motney is touch and go without wind, but today will be onshore and rough, and they'll be under. Birds will ride it out there, but closer to shore. All it takes is one dog walker where they shouldn't be, and the Avocets will head for a third choice roost. I decided to watch close to Rainham Saltings.


The saltings are found between Bloors Wharf and Horrid Hill, and on neap tides provide a useful roost for waders, and a good rest area for wildfowl. However, they can, and frequently do, go completely under, when the duck head for Nor and the waders for Bishop. Today just the barest of slithers would remain dry. The Avocets, having been driven off Motney (I love it when a plan comes together), could only hope for a chance of a dry roost. But with Horrid Hill acting as a breakwater, they could swim out the high tide. I watched them for more than an hour. Only a few tens of birds had any ground to start with. As soon as they could, others would haul out and join them. But the vast majority had to remain swimming for the whole time I was there, apart from the couple of circuits when they spooked and took flight. Both times they quickly returned to the water, there was nowhere else close enough to go.

The other waders that had been pushed off Motney with the Avocets had mainly headed mid-channel for the eastern end of Bishop Saltings, which are relatively protected in such conditions.

Black-headed Gulls had already started a big pre-roost gathering in the bay by mid-afternoon, with more than 3,400 present before the main dusk rush had begun. By the time that started, the flooded saltings of  Nor Marsh had begun to re-emerge, and some dropped in there, otherwise it was straight on to the main roost area in Half Acre. Larger gulls headed out for the more open waters east-northeast of Friars Saltings, to wait for the flats to reappear. They were still coming in as the light gave out.

The afternoon had felt a precursor to cold weather movements, a cold snap moving birds on. Tomorrow could be a long day in the field. I'm going to need a bigger flask.

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