Tuesday, 3 May 2011

seabirds galore at Severn Beach

Last night was a most astonishing and special experience at Severn Beach, on the Severn Estuary. With
persistent north-easterlies, a rising tide and sunshine in the evening it was perfect conditions for seabird watching.

Flocks of dunlin and ringed plovers busily fed, scattered along the tide line before the water covered any available food. The ringed plovers rested further up the foreshore on the shingle.

Meanwhile, a flock of  over one hundred bar-tailed godwits moved around the coastline, often appearing just in front of me, hanging in the wind with bowed wings. When they landed, the brick-red adults stood out from those still in their grey-brown winter plumage. I never seen this many here before1

Suddenly above the sea, a large swirling flock of a few hundred terns, moved across the sky before drifting further west after they reached the M4 Severn Bridge. A little later, an even larger flock of over five hundred birds stretched low across the water. As they edged closer they gained height, their elongated bodies and angled wings keeping them together as the wind blew them back. Many funnelled down to rest briefly with the roosting bar-tailed godwits before rising again to join the main flock. At the front of the flock a black tern stood out with it's dark, black belly. The flock flew right across the sky hanging on the edge of the estuary over the beach - at one point hundreds hung in the air above me, calling away. Wow! Just amazing!
They moved towards the bridge before drifting west, getting higher and high as they went. They didn't seem to be getting very far!

Meanwhile, hundreds more bar-tailed godwits had appeared - the roosting flock had also been disturbed by dog walkers. A large flock of a few hundred flew overhead and moved in land, calling. Another flock came close overhead - wow! They rested near the dunlin and ringed plovers giving incredible views.

Whimbrels 'bubbled' overhead, again giving wonderful views in the evening sunshine. A grey plover flew singly over the water. Meanwhile, far across the estuary the odd darker gull gliding up and down, using the waves for lift may well have been an Arctic skua or two.

It's incredible to think that just three or four days previous the bar-tailed godwits would have been on the coast of the Gambia or Senegal. They fly almost direct back to their breeding grounds - indeed, the birds I saw weren't stopping for long. I wonder what journey the terns have made? - most were probably Arctic terns having followed the African coast up past Portugal, France and then over the Channel.

What will this evening will have in store?!