Thursday, 23 November 2017

The Gillingham Marshes Ringed Plover roost

Just west of the Strand is Gillingham Cruising Club, many years ago protected its short approach with a series of sunk barges. At low tide they deserve little attention (unless one of the local Grey Wagtails calls), but on some high tides they provide a useful roost.

Any birds using the barges tend to gather on the outer line, which is easily viewable by 'scope from the shore by the Strand golf course, just east of the Club yard on Owens Way, or from the Waterside green. Fairmile wharf is a little further east, but does give better views of approach lines.

It is one of the larger Ringed Plover roosts on the southern shore, often three figures during the winter months. Today on the rising tide 115 had gathered along the easternmost saltings of Gillingham marshes. As the tide continued to flow the birds followed others to a tight pre-roost on the western edge of the barges, before moving onto the roost itself.

While some spread themselves on the outermost barges, the bulk move to the three central wrecks.

In the UK, the bulk of the overwintering Ringed Plover population is found on non-esturine coasts. Populations on these shores have shown a decline since the mid-eighties, so it follows drops in less favoured habitats should be expected, but this is yet another wader species which has suffered from under-recording on the Medway in recent decades. The dramatic downturn for counts for the whole of the estuary came in the mid-nineties, and WeBS results since the time I returned (2012) have continued to infer much smaller numbers. Today, numbers on the Gillingham roost had increased from that 115 to 152 birds on the barges by the time I left, two hours before high tide, with another 20 seen flying in as I walked by Fairmile, higher than the WeBS estuary total in many recent years. There are other small regular roosts along the southern shore; a handful at Sharps Green, slightly more off of Rainham Docks, at Twinney and above Shoregate, plus Bedlams. Adding in the islands and the northern shore, the Medway wintering figures are clearly not being reflected in WeBS.

One of the reasons is most roosts are not occupied seven days a week. The Gillingham Marshes roost was busy today as there was no-one working in the boatyard. Weekends, when most WeBS counts take place, have the greatest amount of activity and the birds often move off at some point during the flow tide. Birds similarly get moved from those other roosts closest to the shoreline footpaths.

Other species which routinely use the barges are Turnstone, Lapwing and, to a lesser degree, Dunlin. Shelduck sometimes haul out, and oddities such as Knot sometimes show. Rock Pipit, Kingfisher and the aforementioned Grey Wagtail sometimes loiter over the tide.

Where do they end up? Sometimes they flight to a nearby roost, at times of highest disturbance they can head for hard-to-view central roosts (which is mainly weekends, which in the past has been counted mid-week- a reason why counts on any large estuary should be co-ordinated, and why detailed supplemental counts at the various individual sites are useful, whether they be made available to local WeBS organiser, BirdTrack, or a county society).


Finally, nice to catch up with the Sheldwot once more- clearly settled in for another winter off of the Strand.

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