Saturday 17th January was the date for another Wetland Bird Survey. This time it was the low tide count around Portsmouth Harbour which takes place during the winter once every six years. It’s just like the usual WeBS except that it takes place at low tide (hence the name!). The idea is to see what is using the harbour at low tide.
The previous low tide count had been at dawn, and very cold, but this time it was a slightly warmer lunch time start. I joined Wez Smith and Louise Maccallum on the boat to cover the parts of the harbour not easy to do from dry land, like the mudflats in the centre of the harbour!
On the chilly December morning when we last went around the harbour, we were surprised to see some sandwich terns so wondered whether there would be any today. We didn’t see any by the time we finished, but it does seem like sandwich terns, and some other species, are taking advantage of the milder winters by over wintering. That said, so far only relatively small numbers of these species have been recorded in recent years but there does seem to be a trend. I suppose that’s inevitable given the warming climate?
Anyway, back to Saturday… Have to say, it was still rather cold despite being midday by the time we set sail. My feet felt the coldest, especially as some water had managed to get into my wellies before we’d set off – d’oh!
Most of our counts consisted of herring & black-headed gulls, dunlin, oystercatchers and curlew. Several mudflats also had numerous common gulls. Ringed plovers and brent geese were present in good numbers too. Near the Fareham side of the harbour, we even had some pintail with wigeon – always nice to see. Other mudflats had redshank and grey plover in addition to the other waders.
It was turning out to be a decent and fairly standard count until we reached Pewit Island. There was a group of around 150 plovers huddled together. At first we were surprised. Those weren’t golden plovers were they? They were indeed, and as it turns out, the 2nd highest record during a low tide count for Portsmouth Harbour. The highest record was 173 in November 2002. (According to Chris Cockburn who organises all of it!)
Sounds like there have been high(ish) numbers at other sites in the Solent too where you don’t often see many, so perhaps it’s been a good year for them? All I do know is that I’ve never seen so many “down south” before!