Paul Stancliffe: Mud glorious mud!
While many of us are still waiting for the summer to really begin, for some of our birds it is already over. We are already seeing flocks of wading birds on the move and, if you are out and about in the coming weeks, it’s worth keeping an eye on the skies. Some birds, like Lapwings, will be moving from their farmland breeding habitat to coastal marshes, where they can rest and feed after what has been a difficult breeding season. Other species will have come from much further afield.
A few weeks ago I encountered two flocks of Black-tailed Godwits on my local patch on the edge of the Suffolk Fens. The first, a flock of fourteen birds, took off from a flooded field and headed off west. The second flock, twenty-two birds strong, flew over at quite a height, also heading west. These birds will be failed breeders, here early because they have failed to raise young in Iceland. They’ll most likely have been en-route to the Ouse Washes to begin their post-breeding moult – during which they will replace old and worn feathers – before carrying on, possibly as far south as Portugal.
You don’t have to visit coastal marshes to witness these first signs of autumn migration, waders can, and do, drop in to any suitable bit of mud and marsh, from gravel pit edge to flooded fields, even in land-locked counties. Wood and Green Sandpipers, both Arctic breeders, often favour inland waters, whilst Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plovers are almost exclusively coastal. What all these birds have in common at this time of the year is their penchant for mud, or to be correct, the food that the mud contains. Even small patches of this glorious goo can attract wading birds, so it’s well worth checking out any muddy patches you see on your walks.
As I am writing this three Oystercatchers have just flown over my urban garden, proof that these waders really are on the move.
Paul Stancliffe is a press officer with the British Trust for Ornithology.