30 August 2010

Thames "Odyssey" (UK): 29 August '10

Another quick break from my PNG write up to give a more recent update from my holiday in the UK. On Sunday I spent the day in some of my old haunts in the UK. The Thames Estuary is an internationally important site for migrant shorebirds, and as this is the start of the shorebird season, when "waders" (as they are known in Britain) are on the move once again, we focused on them. I was out with two lifelong friends: Simon Buckell a hard-core wader-watcher if ever there was one, and Pete Alfrey, a driven Beddington birder turned conservationist, who is trying to get that London site made over into an urban nature reserve of note.

As it turned out sites alongside the Thames River this weekend were peppered with waders/shorebirds, including a few scarce ones in the mix. After A brief stop with a loaf of bread and a Ring-billed Gull down on the seafront in Southend-on-Sea, the bird having been regular on and off here for the last 8 years or so (third photo). The American was accustomed by more regular fare too like a number of Mediterranean Gulls too (top photo). The importance of sites that border the Thames has been highlighted in recent years by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds who have been buying up birding hotspots along the river. We started at one of these, and former regular birding patch of mine when I used to live in Essex: Vange Marsh, now an RSPB reserve, that seems to be coming onto the boil, with more than a few classy birds turning up there of late. We soon were locked on to their latest "treasure", a spinning Red-necked Phalarope, while a Eurasian Spoonbill seemed non-plussed by all the fuss over the phalarope, preening away in the middle of the marsh. A Little Stint fed away inconspicuously on one of the muddy islands too. Next up was Oare Marshes in Kent (on the other side of the Thames), where a large high tide wader roost held nothing "special" although held good numbers of Eurasian Golden Plovers, Northern Lapwings (second photo), Black-tailed Godwits, and a Curlew Sandpiper even came in to circle the pool briefly. Last stop was then RSPB Cliffe Pools, also in Kent, where the two headliners were a Kentish Plover and Pectoral Sandpiper. However, arguably the headline of the day was good numbers of Curlew Sandpipers on the move, with 7 at Vange, another at Oare, and a further 19 or so at Cliffe. A classic shorebirders day. In spite of all this tearing around criss-crossing the capital's river to visit a number of hot spots, we of course made time to stop in traditional British Pub, for a traditional Sunday Roast (bottom photo). The question is was the food or the waders the highlight of the day!!!

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