25 January 2010

An estuary 'full house'

After the snow, some more familiar january weather - overcast, gloomy, still cool but blessedly free of snow, ice or arctic winds.

I took advantage of another family trip to Essex to visit Fingringhoe, the Essex Wildlife Trust reserve which overlooks the Colne Estuary and salt marshes. Famous for its nightingales during spring / summer, the winter outlook focuses much more on the coastal and water birds - a welcome change for a normally landlocked birder like myself.

Today did not disappoint, with the tide out and just about every species of estuary bird I could have hoped for. My haul of nearly 50 species included plenty I would be lucky to find at home, including: knot, redshank, curlew, oystercatcher, grey plover (half a dozen), dunlin (100+), avocet (50+), little egret (4), red-breasted merganser (5), bar-tailed godwits (30+), brent geese (initially a single bird, then perhaps 500 as the rest flew in en masse), and a single ringed plover.

Bird of the day: Grey plover (Pluvialis squatarola), an unusual and unglamorous choice perhaps, but they really stood out among the various wading birds. It is the first time I've really noticed there large size and their lone feeding habits - while the other waders tend to cluster in groups, each grey plover stalks alone across the mud. In some ways their shape and colouring struck me as reminiscent of juvenile herring gulls.

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