Coastal waders with a non-wader lifer

I should have prepared more carefully my moving to England. I still cannot explain myself why I did move to an almost wader neutral area of the United Kingdom. After dropping my daughter off at the airport I decided to visit the closest coastline to treat myself with wader watching.

Map showing a part of the Colne Estuary Natinal Nature Reserve. Copyright Google

Map showing a part of the Colne Estuary Natinal Nature Reserve. Copyright Google

Following Chris Baines, local birder’s recommendation, I first drove to East MerSea. This island is located south of the River Colne estuary which seems to be a perfect place both for waders and other waterbirds. As predicted the weather wasn’t really pleasant. When I climbed the seawall, in twilight, I faced the incredibly strong wind and rain. I tried not to be a pussycat and continued walking and enjoying what the site offered to me.

This grassland isn't only offering a feeding site for waders but functions as a roosting site at high tide. © Gyorgy Szimuly

This grassland isn’t only offering a feeding site for waders but functions as a roosting site at high tide. © Gyorgy Szimuly

This flooded grassland is a very nice part of the complex habitat. © Gyorgy Szimuly

This flooded grassland is a very nice part of the complex habitat. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The other side of the sea dyke shows the damaged sand dunes. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The other side of the sea dyke shows the damaged sand dunes. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Tidal surge eroded coastline. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Tidal surge eroded coastline. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Damaged sea wall by the tidal surge hit the east coast in December. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Damaged sea wall by the tidal surge hit the east coast in December. © Gyorgy Szimuly

The reserve is a mix of different habitat types divided by a dyke. The intertidal zone with extensive mud flats, the sand dunes and salt marsh together provide feeding areas and roosting sites for the birds. Apparently, at least this time of the year, the Eurasian Wigeon looked to be the most abundant wildfowl in the area. About 700 birds fed on the grassland behind the dyke with a few Eurasian Teals, Tufted Ducks and Northern ShovelersBrant Geese were continuously flying towards their western coastal feeding sites. I also spotted six Anser geese flying over the area. I suppose they were PINK-FOOTED GEESE. The head was quite dark and small, the bill was short (definitely not greylagish), the wing covers were greyish but not Greylag Goose-like light grey and wasn’t strikingly paneled. The underwing was dark without any markings and the they looked ‘white-tailed’, apparently by the broad white band on the tip of the tail. The Bean Goose group has darker tail. They were silent and flew in a southwest direction. This species I have wanted to see for such a long time. I still want to see them feeding on the ground or swimming but I liked what I saw today. When it comes to a lifer I’m always careful. As heard from Chris this is a good record for Essex as the Pink-footed Goose is scarce despite thousands winter in Norfolk. My life list is still under revision but at the very moment the Pink-footed Goose is the 2.176th lifers.

Northern Lapwings feed on the grassland but roosted on the mud. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Northern Lapwings feed on the grassland but roosted on the mud. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Large European Golden Plover flock against the dark clouds. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Large European Golden Plover flock against the dark clouds. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Sometimes taking a photo of a large bird flock is the best way to count them more precisely. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Sometimes taking a photo of a large bird flock is the best way to count them more precisely. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Nicely illustrated information board for the visitors. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Nicely illustrated information board for the visitors. © Gyorgy Szimuly

As the high tide approached, and the Sun was shining more and more European Golden Plovers, Black-tailed Godwits and Northern Lapwings arrived to the grassland and actively fed. In the last phase of the tide Dunlins and Northern Curlews joined the large flocks. By this time the high tide pushed the birds closer to the shoreline. Eurasian Oystercatchers, Black-bellied Ploverss, Red Knots, Common Redshanks and Ruddy Turnstones provided very nice views. The feeding and obviously roosting waders on the grassland was suddenly disturbed by a juvenile Merlin but hunting was unsuccessful. As a result all the Dunlins flew away towards the sea.

Eurasian Oystercatcher is a loud member of the feeding bird community on the  of the mud. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Eurasian Oystercatcher is a loud member of the feeding bird community on the of the mud. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Dogs unleashed obviously disturbed the swimming Eurasian Wigeons. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Dogs unleashed obviously disturbed the swimming Eurasian Wigeons. © Gyorgy Szimuly

At the end of the 3 and half hours birding larger Red Knot flocks flew to the southwest. It was interesting to see how perfectly shaped they are for migrating. A flock including a Bar-tailed Godwit took off at the same time from the mudflat and in just about 10 seconds the Red Knots made a gap of about 10 meters ahead of the Bar-tailed Godwit. The Godwit visibly struggled with the strong facing wind while the knots have built up an even larger gap in an additional 30 seconds.

By the unfortunate incident with my boots I had to leave for home as my socks got completely soaked. The whole area is definitely worth a second visit including other parts of the estuary. The salt marsh and tidal flats around the bridge of The Strood looked to be very promising as well.

After eleven years of service my HanWag boots have retired. © Gyorgy Szimuly

After eleven years of service my HanWag boots have retired. © Gyorgy Szimuly

Birds counted:

Pink-footed Goose 6
Brant Goose 142
Mute Swan 2
Common Shelduck 18
Eurasian Wigeon 720
Mallard 24
Northern Shoveler 4
Eurasian Teal 105
Tufted Duck 4
Great Cormorant 8
Little Egret 2
Eurasian Moorhen 7
Eurasian Oystercatcher 73
European Golden Plover 250
Black-bellied Plover 6
Northern Lapwing 156
Common Redshank 65
Eurasian Curlew 31
Black-tailed Godwit 260
Bar-tailed Godwit 1
Ruddy Turnstone 9
Red Knot 340
Dunlin 480
Black-headed Gull 8
Mew Gull 1
European Herring Gull 18
Lesser Black-backed Gull 3
Great Black-backed Gull 1
Sandwich Tern 1
Merlin 1
Rook 6
Carrion Crow 6
Eurasian Skylark 6
Eurasian Wren 1
Eurasian Blackbird 2
European Starling 190
White Wagtail (British) 1
Meadow Pipit 10

Just after leaving the reserve I found a large Brant Goose flock flying over the fields. I counted 650 birds.

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