Recent Sightings - late April to early May – Wader season and the Seven Whistlers - thanks to volunteer Phil for his update and photos.
Since my return from my annual Scottish holiday 3 weeks ago I’ve seen several interesting waders dropping in to the reserve on the Spring migration. These include greenshank, green sandpiper, common sandpiper, avocet, black tailed godwit and there have been reports of wood sandpiper and ringed plover.
However, by far the most interesting is a group of whimbrel (up to 7) which have stayed for nearly 2 weeks. They appear to have a liking for the grassy fields around West Mead pool and in this photo can be seen on the far edge of the pool from the hide.
This is the first time I have seen whimbrel on the reserve, although a few longer serving volunteers say that it is not so unusual in Spring. Whimbrel can be distinguished from their close cousin, the better-known curlew, by their slightly smaller size, proportionally shorter bill, and a pale stripe above the eye.
A visiting volunteer from Pagham Harbour and Medmerry informed me that sometimes whimbrel are called “seven whistlers” due to the number of times the notes in their typical whistling call are repeated. It was interesting to hear this because it completely explained an unusual call that I’d heard while passing Redstart Corner a few minutes earlier. I can’t help suspecting that sometimes the birds don’t quite count to 7 correctly, but it’s a good enough approximation.
Whimbrel are long distance migrants from Africa, unlike curlew which are much shorter distance migrants. They don’t breed in the South of England but head for the far North and I became very used to spotting them in Shetland on a Summer holiday there last year. The fact that this group has stayed so long at Pulborough has led to some speculation that they may be young non-breeding birds.
We are now well into the season for our breeding waders and several lapwing chicks have been observed at West Mead and Winpenny in recent weeks.
These have kept the adults busy seeing off various predators. In the course of my work on the breeding wader monitoring team I have observed lapwings chasing off various birds. Most often crows are attacked, but large birds of prey such as marsh harrier and buzzard don’t escape, and grey herons are also a target. You have to admire the lapwings’ feisty nature but at the other end of the scale I also witnessed a lapwing chasing away a much smaller little ringed plover which seemed a little unfair. It is of course also unfair to project our own sense of fairness on wildlife struggling for survival.
The most spectacular encounter I’ve witnessed occurred recently at West Mead where there was a sustained divebombing attack by an adult lapwing on a little egret.
I can’t recall ever seeing a normally elegant little egret looking so ruffled before. It finally moved away and then the reason for this attack became very clear when a small lapwing chick appeared nearby.
Little ringed plovers are being seen distantly on the North Brooks but sometimes much closer at West Mead around the islands and the muddy area on the near side of the pool. They appear on the reserve every Spring and Summer and we assume that they nest here but have never been able to prove this.
We always live in hope that snipe will breed on the reserve, but they are so well camouflaged and secretive that we’ve not had confirmed breeding for many years now. Nevertheless, unlike previous years, I have disturbed a few snipe during my lapwing surveys on the South Brooks, and one bird has actually been observed “drumming”, something I’ve personally never seen or heard. It is caused in a rapid descent flight by the vibration of the outer tail feathers which are splayed out and react to the air rushing over them. Most often these displays take place at dusk and as far as I know are unique to snipe.
Redshank are definitely nesting on the reserve and can be quite easily spotted from West Mead and Winpenny.
However, their nest sites are never seen because, unlike the lapwings which nest very openly and rely on their feisty nature to repel predators, redshanks choose places hidden in the abundant rush around the site. Whereas breeding lapwings appear to occupy particular areas and when flying will usually return to roughly the same place, redshank can often be seen flying very directly and landing in different places around the reserve. I’ve often wondered if it’s part of a strategy to divert attention away from nest locations.
I thought I might have spotted some well grown redshank chicks in what seemed like a family group near Winpenny Hide recently. Adult redshanks on the ground are usually seen busily feeding on water margins, but 2 birds in this group seemed to be much less mobile than usual. Juvenile redshanks have yellow legs which is a useful distinguishing factor from the carrot colour of the adults, but only if you can see the legs, which is becoming more difficult as the vegetation grows. This photo of a juvenile taken at WWT Slimbridge shows the leg colour.
Shortly after hearing the seven whistler at Redstart Corner I spotted my first dragonfly of the year, a hairy dragonfly female, flitting around the pond, and a sure sign of the season moving on.
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