11:19- A first view of the Oystercatcher roost. This regular high-tide spectacle was what I was here to see, but though I knew the birds would be there, that first sight always brings mixed feelings. Firstly there’s relief that things are as they should be, which is quickly followed by the delight of witnessing a truly amazing sight. The numbers of overwintering Oystercatchers are the reason that Traeth Lafan holds the status of Special Protection Area (SPA), which in theory means that measures are put in place to protect populations of specific species of birds of European importance. How that works in practise and what the measures taken are, I’m not too sure. According to Natural Resources Wales, there can be somewhere in the region of 5,000 Oystercatchers present over the winter months, which is at least 0.5% of the wintering Europe and North & Western Africa population. On the same basis as the SPA, the birds are also a qualifying component of the site’s SSSI status.
As I’ve confessed before, I’m not good at counting large numbers of birds at the best of times and these were packed tightly together with more out of sight over the far side of the raised spit, so I’m sure they number in the low thousands. Oystercatchers don’t always roost tightly packed together, so it was interesting to see how in this photograph a lot of the birds are pressed together and standing neatly in straight horizontal lines, particularly those on the outsides of the flock.
This roost wasn’t entirely about the Oystercatchers either; a number of Curlew were squeezed in amongst them and Redshanks had tagged on too. The Redshanks were the first ones awake and back in action at the very instant the tide turned and the water started to recede. I imagine the Oystercatchers resting more peacefully with Redshanks present which will sound off alarms at any potential threat.
A Shelduck was standing on the sandy edge of the stony spit enjoying a lengthy thorough preening session.
Once it had finished it too waddled into the shallow water to begin again the endless quest for food. Shelduck are surface feeders, taking mostly animal food from mud or shallow water.
The Redshanks were joined by a flock of Dunlin and Ringed Plovers that flew in and scattered along the freshly exposed sand; quite possibly these were at least some of those that I saw back at the beginning of my walk.
A little further inland at the back of the Oystercatcher roost I’d spotted three ducks resting on a stony bank. There was one dark-headed male and two with reddy brown heads that I took to be either females or juveniles. They were quite a distance away and as they were sitting I had no idea what they were, then they got up and headed into the water.
On land the birds had seem plump and awkward, but out on the water they became elegant, gliding across the water and diving effortlessly and often. Based on the appearance of the male I thought Goosander, but then doubted myself as this species of diving duck usually prefer freshwater lakes and don’t often swim in the sea. If I’d only seen the females I would probably have thought they were Red-breasted Mergansers, which often swim on the sea and are associated more with this location. The females of both species look similar, but there’s definitely no red breast on this male.
The female Goosander has a similar brown head to the Red-breasted Merganser female, but the Goosander has a flatter crown.
Walking back the water had already almost completely drained from the channels that cut through the marshland.
Hearing a Redshank making a loud and insistent racket I walked towards the sound to see what was happening to alarm it. There was nothing I could see, but I was treated to a charming display of it stamping and dancing in the mud, which it accompanied with some loud piping.
Curlews were also still resting in the sunshine.
But the sheep were on the move, I met them head on as they were walking in single file back in the direction of the field the Curlew were in. I stood to the side so they could pass in peace, they startle quite easily.
On the seashore a few waders were already out searching for shellfish in the still-soft damp sand.It’s fascinating watching the birds in action, the Curlew with its long curved bill can probe deeply into the sand.
Oystercatchers walk slowly over damp mud or sand probing their bills into the sand right up to the base if necessary in search of shellfish. This one seemed to be doing well; I watched it retrieve several mussels as I watched it. Different individuals use differing techniques to get the animals out of their shells, some like this one, stab the muscle that holds the shell halves together and retain their pointed bill. Others take a less delicate approach and hammer the shell open, often on stones or rocks, which blunts the end of their bills.
A Little Egret stalked close to the shore. Gorgeous views of the sunlit bird against the steely blue seawater.
And to finish on dry land, lovely views of a pair of Mistle Thrushes also out hunting, this time on the damp ground of the grassy field. It could well be that they are preparing for nesting; the Mistle Thrush is one of the earliest species to breed, some nest as early as February.
The Mistle Thrush has the most upright stance of all of the thrushes and moves around with bold heavy hops. Unlike the more secretive Song Thrush they like to feed out in the open in large grassy spaces.
Sightings summary over two consecutive days: Goosander; Pintail; Shelduck; Mallard; Mute Swan; Wigeon;Teal; Grey Heron; Little Egret; Curlew; Redshank; Greenshank; Oystercatcher; Turnstone; Dunlin; Ringed Plover; Herring Gull; Black-headed Gull; Carrion Crow; Jackdaw; Mistle Thrush; Chaffinch; Dunnock & a lot of sheep