Friday, 1 October 2021

Why don't you turn off your mobile phone (and go and do something more local instead?) - October

 At the Medway RSPB talk I promised a series of monthly 'what to do' blogposts to supplement the revamped 'where to watch pages'. A teaser slide went down fairly well... let's see how the full suggestions go down:


A Medway October

> Wader numbers race up; stage-moulters from higher up the flyway start to arrive to over-winter.
> Wildfowl continue to use the Medway as a hub. Numbers might seem static, but turnover is high.
> Diurnal migration builds throughout the month. In the western basin the estuary and the southern shore's remaining patchwork of fields funnel birds west. In the eastern basin the Callum ridge from south of Chetney to Lower Halstow can offer big numbers at low heights, whilst at the estuary mouth Sheerness always provides in-offs.
> Cloud arriving in the two hours before dawn can ground nocturnal migrants.
> Pale imitations of larger seawatching totals are possible out towards the Deep Water Channel off Sheppey. For any chance for scraps in the estuary itself, pray for rain and low cloud.

Tide sites of the month

  1) A spring covering at Queenborough. A chance of a big Brent Goose movement, and Thames refugees as the Grain roosts go under.
  2) A neap high tide at Riverside saltings. With wildfowling underway elsewhere, duck numbers rise in the RCP, and a fair number of waders also sit the top of the tide out at binocular range - try just east of the main car park before Mariners slipway.
  3) An ebb off Nor. As the tide falls below the five metre mark, flights of waders start to probe out from roost to the southern shore, and a big surge day always causes extra flighting; waders have an inbuilt tidal clock that can be fooled by waters held up by low pressure, leading to much to-ing and fro-ing (all best watched from Horrid Hill)

My perfect October day would be...

 - Morning: Eastcourt Meadows/ Horrid Hill. Working the scrub for nocturnal migrants, watching the sky for visible migration.
 - Mid-day: Queenborough/Rushenden. Signs of estuarine migration, more scattered bush bashing.
 - Late on: High up on the Callum ridge, watching over Barksore 'til dusk - raptors, wildfowl/wader flights, checking out a favourite Stock Dove roost.

Brent Geese arriving, Oct '15

Top 10 tips for October:

General birding:

1) If trying Viz Mig (visible migration)- do be out watching over the golden hour - the second hour after dawn. Movement is usually at its peak. And remember viz mig improves as the month marches on. Keep at it.

2) Look for signs of 'winter migrant shorebirds'. (I like some Americanisms.) October means the end of the stay for many staging waders that have used us as a stop-over, replaced by a build of bird numbers here for the winter. Day-to-day counts help confirm patterns, but watch for flocks of 10s, 20s, 30s (or more) that show signs of being arrivals. Sleeping out on the flats early in the uncovered part of the tidal cycle, birds that show a hesitancy to follow others up with the, only moving when the waters reach their belly feathers, flocks that come down from height.    

3) Winds in the north but rain in the face? Bartons Point for lazy seawatching. Sure, never as much on offer as at the north Kent honeypots, but you can still park on the bank at the right angle to watch out the car window (remember to do an extra low-carbon walk in the month to cover your carbon costs).

4) Go teen dating. 13th-19th a prime time for sibes. And keep checking up on the calls before going out.

5) Late in the month, start searching out local passerine roosts

Tips for adding value:
BTO WeBS Alerts are issued for those species for which a site was nationally/internationally important at the time it became protected (the 'designated features'). Of our 15 designated features here, at the last formal calculation (for 91/92- 16/17) 10 had High Alerts issued, 2 Medium Alerts. 
All counts for any of these species can prove useful data. Check the excellent interactive webpage out for full details, species accounts and graphs:

6) Make your Ringed Plover count:
High alert (for long term trend)
Short-term (5 years) +72% Medium term (10 years) +42% Long term (25 years) -72%
Boat surveys are now picking up autumnal migrant flocks more regularly, but numbers around the shoreline remain low and any October counts of roosts will prove useful data, especially at those sites only suitable on neap tides.

7) Make your Redshank count:
High alert (for long term trend)
Short-term (5 years) +24% Medium term (10 years) +4% Long term (25 years) -77%
Although Redshank numbers usually peak in September, October is still an excellent month to obtain high counts as feeding remains relatively easy and so birds tend to still congregate together for pre-roost assemblies. Any October count over 100 is meaningful, especially if assigned to a specific creek.

8) Make your Wigeon count:
High alert (for long term trend)
Short-term (5 years) -37% Medium term (10 years) -30% Long term (25 years) -71%
Wigeon numbers can be easily overlooked in October. Often eastern basin birds remain out more central, off of Ham Ooze/ in among the islands. Often few counts are submitted other than the WeBS in the western basin, with few for loafing numbers at low tide. Any three-figure October count within a specific creek is useful data.

9) Count a 'non-bird': Little Grebe
'Non-featured species' on WeBS Alerts are those for which we do not hold 'important numbers' but for which trends can be monitored and black= bad - in this case, declines in all periods:
Short-term (5 years) -67% Medium term (10 years) -76% Long term (25 years) -77%
Another species where an improvement is being seen thanks to increased coverage, but still overlooked. Latest five year average for the whole of the estuary is just 15. Any site-specific October count should prove useful data. 

10) And this month's whacky suggestion is:
Befriend a bait-digger. Ask how the digging's gone and can you have a look in their bucket. We're two user groups sharing the same area, after all.

Hot off the press for 2021:

 - Sadly, someone's gone and stolen the Ham Green Little Egret roost. It should peak around now, but went missing about a week ago. If anyone sees 250-ish Egrets where they haven't had them loitering before, get that data in.

Oct '19

For those who keep score, this month's potential:

(Since moving back in 2013, checks at the end of each year have shown annual totals in the 180s, 190s. That's helped by my birding daily here, but a north Kent 200 should be on for someone willing to chase it. This might help incentivise.)

October? Though never reaching totals as high as September/May, 110 species for the month should be an achievable target.

If you're aiming high, but birding purely the southern shore through the year, based on my numbers you might be past 165 by now and if you've been cheekily been including that estuary extension of the Deep Water Channel, you could be topping 180.

And finally, something for the listers: what's Medway missing?

This month's top three dreams:
  1) Our north Kent neighbours Thames and Swale have both bagged Little Bunting. (The cover crops call.)
  2) Surely time for a Penduline? (Motney reed bed calls.)
  3) A stain on the list is the Oakham's American/Pacific Golden Plover. Time to get specific. (Chetney calls.)

That's it for this month. Time to get out there and look, so...

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