Tuesday. A trip to Heysham, Lancashire, to watch a bit of mud in front of the Nuclear Power Station. Birding. This was a work day. I accepted the invite as it was an opportunity to brush up on my winter wader identification skills with some experts. Many of the wader species lose their summer plumage, and therefore their identifying features, in the winter.
Well, we saw lots of good stuff. Though they did all happen to be species I know rather well already. Even in the winter. But it made me decide to write about those snazzy bits and bobs that made those birds so distinguishable.
Black-tailed godwit. Well this is one of those waders that is easily recognisable in the summer, with such an orange-ginger plumage (as in the photo), but become an ordinary brown/grey in the winter. So look out for the exceedingly long bill, it really is quite special.
Curlew. Our curly-billed large wader. Brown, with a very specialist-feeding curly bill curls right under. The curlew has a beautiful almost haunting call (unless they are moaning at you for being too close to their chick).
Oystercatcher. The clown-bird of the waders. Black and white with an enormous red-orange bill, (honestly I don’t know how the chicks stay upright with such a magnificent bill on their face!) and legs to match. They are also quite noisy fellas.
Redshank. aka Disco legs. A brown, medium sized wader, with bright orange legs. They like to make their legs visible by standing on fences or gates. The bill is the same colour, though toned down a tad with a black point.
Snipe. I love this bird. Quite short legged. Brown plumage with golden-colour stripes. And wait for it – a long yellow and black bill, and a short neck, which somehow always resembles a very nice mosquito to me.
Turnstone. Their name gives the game away. They usually hang out on rocks and stones (unlike the one in the photo, who was on the sandy beach in Bonaire hoping to share my sandwich). Russet plumage turns to grey/brown in the winter. They are short, and round, with stumpy orange legs. They wear a black bib and have a very bold white tummy.
And a few non-waders were there too.
Shelduck. A large white duck, with a black head, upper neck, and wing edge, and a thick chestnut necklace below it’s white lower neck. Oh, and that wonderful bright red bill. Both sexes are the same, though the male does have a nobbly bit at the top of his bill.
Widgeon. These ducks have really round heads. To me the most distinguishing feature is the yellow patch on the top of their chestnut head, but this disappears in the winter, so stick with the round head! The Americans affectionately call their Widgeon the Baldplate. They are mostly a lovely pinkish colour merging into grey, with white bits and black wing and tail tips. The females are brown (but they still have that very round head). My favorite thing about them is their call “wheeel wheeel”.
Little egret. Easy peasy. Black legs, flourescent yellow feet (honest – the guy’s in the photo are muddy). Just watch them long enough, they’ll show you a foot.