WBC Migration Watch
6 September 2009
Leader: Roger Walsh
Report by Stephen Howell
We began our day at the Blyth Estuary just before high tide which is always the best time for observing waders. The rising water level pushes them into tightly bunched flocks and forces them to feed much closer to the shoreline enabling closer views. There was a good selection of waders present and in amongst the more numerous Dunlin, Redshank and Black-tailed Godwits were less common Knot, Curlew Sandpipers, Spotted Redshanks and Common Sandpipers. Also of interest was a colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwit which originated from Iceland and about a dozen Little Egrets.
After about an hour and a half, we moved on to the nearby Hen Reedbeds nature reserve and from the viewing platform here, we saw Marsh Harrier and heard Bearded Tits and Cetti’s Warbler. After this we walked up to the bird hide and from here, we were able to view a different part of the Blyth Estuary and it was here that we saw the most unusual bird of the day (indeed of any day), a Manx Shearwater on the far side of the estuary.
This normally pelagic seabird, which only comes to dry land to nest in large colonies on rocky islands around the UK was a highly unusual inland record. It was probably unwell because it showed signs of oiling. A small oil patch was present on its breast and it had probably ingested some too. It made for a good sighting but it was also somewhat saddening to see what would normally be a true ocean wanderer, shearing effortlessly over the waves, reduced to paddling around on an inland estuary. Observing this bird meant that we stayed in this area longer than planned, but doing so we also added Avocet, Greenshank, 3 Yellow Wagtails and a smart male Sparrowhawk to our day list.
It was almost midday now and we carried on towards Southwold for a quick check for migrants around Easton Bavents and then lunch. It was fairly quiet here but we did see three Wheatears and whilst sitting on the sea wall eating our sandwiches, four Sanderlings flew south just offshore.
Because of the south-westerly winds, which had dominated the weather pattern for the previous few days, it was decided that looking for passerine migrants might prove futile so we decided to visit Covehithe Broad which would me more productive. This proved to be a good decision and as we approached the broad we could see many birds on and around the water. Four Water Rails and three Bearded Tits showed well, feeding out in the open and there were some more species of wader including Ruff, Little Ringed Plover and a Whimbrel which landed on the beach briefly, before continuing its journey south.
We had an educational moment with the waders. When explaining how to separate Black-tailed Godwits from the similar Bar-tailed Godwits, two juveniles of the latter species amazingly flew in on cue and landed next to the already present Black-tailed Godwit, enabling a direct comparison of the two species. Apart from the waders, we also saw a few feral Barnacle Geese, a female or juvenile Garganey which was a pleasing find among the Teal and one each of Arctic and Great Skua. The Skuas were flying past quite distantly offshore and it was good to see everyone getting onto them without difficulty. We ended the day with a cliff top walk back to the road and cars and the last noteworthy bird of the day was a fine first winter Mediterranean Gull offshore.
Of course there are other things to see apart from birds and sharp observers spotted Stoat at Hen Reedbeds, Water Vole at Easton Bavents and Harbour Porpoise off Covehithe.
All in all it was a great day’s birding. The weather was fine and despite the unfavourable wind direction it was certainly was a migration watch producing visible bird movement, lots of young birds and an impressive day tally of 81 species.
Thanks to Roger for organising and leading a superb day’s birding.