Tuesday, 12 January 2016

What's in a name?

Sometimes the sheer scale of the estuary puts people off counting. It doesn't really help when the names for certain areas get muddled Over the years, birders have noted their counts from along the Funton road as being at either 'Funton', 'Funton Creek' or 'Bedlams Bottom'. Does this matter?

Well, if you want to understand why the birds use certain parts of Funton more than others then, yes, it does. On a morning like today, it helped me break the mudflats down into more easily countable units, and I can make a stab at why the birds are where they are.

The Funton road runs for some 1.8 km alongside the hypotenuse of this large triangle of flats. There is little chance of the muddy habitat being uniform throughout, and the birds are attracted to certain parts at different times of the year.

Maritime and Coastguard agency approved maps tend to use many more place names than the Ordnance Survey maps will quote, for good reason. Not so freely available for use on blogs as Google Earth, I've roughed out the main areas on the picture below

Starting from the west, in yellow is Funton Creek. A supply of fresh water. Why so many waders and wildfowl are found on the curve of the outlet when uncovered. The flats here are some of the last good feeding areas to go under on the rising tide.

In green, Funton Reach. It helps to know that a reach is a straight stretch of river. Tide flows fast in such channels and often reaches have steeper banks than elsewhere. This is why many of the duck hole up in Funton Reach at this time of year,usually along the the southern bank, out of reach (pun intended) of the wildfowlers' guns.

Funton Reach then turns into The Shade (orange). This is the opening joining the Funton complex to Stangate Creek, a major creek in the eastern basin of the estuary, deep, fast-flowing and mainly channeling into/from Twinney and Halstow Creeks. The Shade can be appealing to wildfowl and grebe seeking respite.

To the south and east of Funton Creek is Bedlams Reach (you may know this name from the riding school on the southern side of the road). Why Bedlams? This old creek had not been running with any strength for a few hundred years, and not at all for the past century. The creek has been (and still is) silting up, which is why Bedlams Bottom represents the end of the line for any boat willing to risk the channel (except for the Sheerness lifeboat, which occasionally trains for mudflat rescues here). So Bedlams is a dead creek. Less oxygenated, uncovered for longer periods, there will be a big difference in prey abundance, especially in the 'true' Bedlams Bottom (why on autumn passage few waders feed there, preferring the Funtons).

Bedlams creek from Bedlams Bottom

Each species has it's own story as to why they use certain parts at certain times of year, and I'm certain these stories will be a mainstay of this blog in the future. Just one quick example, from late December onwards, as prey stock becomes exhausted elsewhere, birds waders will start to feed more on Bedlams. But when the first smaller flocks of the annual December Knot influx arrive, they will often settle mainly on Bedlams first for a short while at first as there is less pressure from other species and prey abundance in those other areas is leveling with Bedlams. Once Knot numbers rise they start to use other areas more.

It is of course all a lot more complicated than this! The purpose of explaining the names of the Funton Complex is simply to help people bird these mudflats more easily.

If all those names are too hard to remember, you can always get a little help from the Kent Wildfowlers. They own the roadside saltings here and have divided them by a much simpler straight line method into two shoots, Funton West and Funton East. Hence those big cut-out letters on their signpost by the main lay-by. Just remember, much of the east is pure Bedlam.

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