Wednesday, 20 February 2008

How to be a Bad Birdwatcher (2)

A while ago I wrote about birdwatching and remarked how, despite enjoying it, I was resolutely bad at it. We are off work this week, so the other day we drove out to the vast muddy expanses of the Ribble Estuary to survey the massed ranks of winter waders there to enjoy the succulent treats to be probed from the Lancashire sludge.

I much prefer this stark open landscape, where the sea has retreated revealing a sticky grey mud, to the sandier more popular northern side of the Fylde coast (think Blackpool). From Lytham centre we strolled along the pebbly edge of the Ribble picking our way between piles of driftwood and other seaborne detritus; and the promise of flocks of wading birds wasn't a hollow one, as thousands upon thousands of waders spread out before us waiting to be identified.

So now you want to know what we saw don't you. Ah, well, remember the bit about being a bad birdwatcher? I am fairly good at identifying birds with which I am familiar: ask me to identify more or less any woodland bird and I can - many by song. But get me away from my comfort zone to somewhere like this where despite quantity many of the two legged long beaked things look remarkably similar and I am struggling.

For help I relied on my Collins Bird Guide that told us that the Dunlin is the benchmark of small waders in that they are the most common and that if there are huge flocks of small waders with shortish (for a wader) bills, they are probably Dunlin.

So, we saw loads of Dunlin. Equally easy were the flocks of Shelduck (easy to identify: they are big and colourful, shaped somewhere between a goose and a duck). Redshanks are easy - they have bright red legs (hence the name) as are Curlews and Turnstones but then when you scan the flocks and see the array of others that are clearly not the aforementioned and are obviously one of the other many possibilities suggested by the Collins Guide, I scratch my head.

After a cappuccino in the Lowther Pavilion Cafe we had one final walk out across the mud along the Lifeboat jetty. This afforded us our best view yet because the jetty stretches out to the centre of the Ribble, presumably to allow the launch of the boat at low tide. Far out on the mud we had close views of even more waders in the beautiful afternoon sun.

Usually fellow birders are helpful, knowing that one day they might need someone else's help to identify some nondescript brown bird or other. On this occasion I was rather intimidated by the only other birder: a callow but brainy looking youth with an Opticron spotting scope on a tripod (in truth I was a little covetous of his equipment); so I gave him a wide birth to resist the temptation of shoving him in the mud.

Still, it was a lovely day.

I borrowed the photo of the jetty from Bay Photographic's site on Flickr where there are many other seaside sites to see.

1 comment:

misterwoppit said...

I generally use the time-honoured art of creative bullshit. This also applies with plant identification, and is fairly easy to combine with ornithology. Viz:

"Look over there! A narrow-throated gubbin, just next to that clump of pearly starwort!"