Saturday, 23 July 2016

The sum of all parts

On the way out to today's chosen viewpoint I was overtaken by a couple of lads I didn't recognise, with buckets. Got chatting. This pair of crabbers were on their way to rocks along the northern edge of the RSPB reserve at Motney. No, they didn't know the saltings were a nature reserve, yes they've cut over them for years, and yes they'll carry on doing so.

To be able to obtain such honest answers needs a bit of empathy. These clearly were locals (they knew where the professional diggers go, they steer clear), they knew their Codes of Conduct for their activities (hate the 'shop gangs' coming through, turning rocks over and not putting back, killing the seaweeds) and they knew their tides (planning to be clear way before the tideline covered the flats). They knew these saltings go under on spring tides. They knew their stuff.

Of course, they knew it meant fewer birds around there today. But it's a big estuary, after all.

Any birds pushed off would normally be out on the central oozes and oysterbeds. I say normally. Today, these were being visited by two groups of personal hovercraft users. As always, heard a couple of miles off before they were seen. Thankfully they can only get so far up onto these particular beds it seems, but one group hauled off on the mud of Bishop ooze after a run by several of their craft up and back down South Yantlet creek. The second group headed along the northern side of Stoke Ooze and landed on Hoo Flats at the mouth of Damhead Creek on the northern shore.

Lesson in progress, Bishop Ooze. Second class on way to Hoo Flats behind.

Essentially birds retreating from Bishop Ooze and Bartlett Spit would have a choice between the northern shoreline or south towards Motney. Northern shoreline today had that second group of hovercraft cutting it off, and there were the two crabbers by the Motney roost. For the Oystercatchers and Curlews, no choice but to head towards the island complex.

The distant gathering on Hoo Flats

The Whimbrel did one of two things. Move out into the water at the very tip of Bishop or, as most chose, head up high and continue south overland. The Little Egrets did the same, move to the tip or head high back to the colony roost slightly inland.

The Hoo Flats hovercraft then made their way up Damhead creek, on the flats themselves. Cue the exit of the Bee Ness jetty Cormorant roost. One to each lamppost on nearby Nor, or off south in a v formation.

The crabbers, oblivious to all this, did exactly as they planned, getting clear way before the tide came in. But no Oystercatcher or Godwit roost today on the RSPB reserve.

And as I left the seaplane was practicing circling over the head of Otterham creek, about to head for the islands.

I made a mental note to self. BTO's algorithms are probably right designating the south Medway as 'inland' rather than 'coastal' on their computer systems, perhaps why coasting waders seem to turn up in bigger numbers along the Thames and Swale in autumn. But is that the only reason?

A sum of all parts. All the various small-scale activities add up. The lack of undisturbed feeding sites add in. The lack of properly protected safe roosts, offshore and onshore, all add up.

On the way home I bumped into some local bait diggers coming off of Rainham creek. No, it hadn't been a productive dig. And yup, they'd seen fewer birds today but, hey, it's a big estuary after all.

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Postscript

It seems other interested locals also spotted these craft out at Deadman's Island yesterday, and were quite taken aback by size/scale of it all. As I'd given them info and links to promotional material about these operators a couple of summers back and no comment came back, I find it a tad disappointing it takes two more breeding seasons to see with their own eyes before believing it. If they check that correspondence, they'll find link still works. Here's a screengrab from it, Deadman's in view, promoting these vehicles as "the perfect vehicle for environmentally sensitive areas". If they've lost the correspondence, if they let me know I'll send on, privately, again.


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