Earlier this month brought a spell of ideal conditions for sea-watching; strong winds blowing onshore from the Irish Sea, offering the opportunity to get close views of migrating seabirds that would otherwise be passing by far out to sea. It just so happened that I had previously arranged to meet a new species protection warden volunteer at Point of Ayr on one of these days wild days, and what a day it was!
We were lucky enough to see gannet and Manx shearwater at unusually close range, the latter normally only glimpsed soaring over waves in the offshore wind turbines miles out to sea! It was a sight that made being blasted by sand worthwhile. Also notable was the growing numbers of wintering waders that had built up since my last visit. Curlew and oystercatcher were present in larger numbers - upwards of 200 - and there was a good mix of small waders, such as dunlin and ringed plover that attracted a brief visit from a peregrine.
The new volunteer I was showing around will become a member of our team of voluntary wardens who protect the site from human disturbance (there's not much that can be done about hungry peregrines and merlins!). Waders use Point of Ayr as a vital safe haven over the winter months, feeding across the vast mudflats at low tide and roosting on the raised shingle during high tide, and are protected by these wardens during periods when they are most vulnerable. During high tides disturbed birds use up excess energy when humans, dogs, and horses get too close, so by protecting these areas the wardens maintain safe roosting sites as well a great place for people to see vast numbers of waders - why not pop along to see for yourself or join the volunteers. For more information click here.
Sea chamomile - Image by John Langley Sea mayweed - Image by John Langley
When I was walking around that day, I also noticed signs of summer clinging on trying to resist the first storm of autumn. The sea aster was still in flower, turning the saltmarsh purple, as well as late flowering sea mayweed and yellow wort providing an important late nectar source for insects and butterflies. Its fair to say though that autumn is winning as the leaves around Burton Mere Wetlands are starting to turn yellow and fall to the ground. A perfect excuse to go on a 'crunching' walk through the gorse covert woodlands to see the wonderful natural autumn colours!
Elsewhere around the estuary autumn is becoming more obvious with the increasing numbers of teal, wigeon and pink-footed geese who can be heard 'wink-wink' calling as they fly between the reserve's barley stubble, saltmarsh and surrounding farmland. Even more exciting though is the excellent variety of migrant waders on show across Burton Mere Wetlands, taking advantage of the extensive fresh mud exposed since the ditch maintenance work explained in Al's recent blog; this week we've had up to 10 little stints, 5 curlew sandpipers, 6 green sandpipers plus single wood sandpiper, greenshank, spotted redshank and plenty of ruffs. Don't hang around if you want the chance to see these brilliant, dainty birds as they often only stay in one place for a day or two!