Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Rights of passage

Passage B-t Godwit, Ouse pool with waders, Cranes - "don't look now but is that a Fox?"

Look, all I want to do is go out locally, visit a little muddy pool and see a few passage waders. Is that too much to ask? Well evidently it is. The water is either too high or too low, or it’s bone-dry, or overgrown.
Travelling around a number of sites over the last week, I was struck by the lack of good quality wet habitat for waterbirds at the current time. Okay, it has been a dry spring and water is in short supply despite the recent rain, but there seems little or no attempt to even try and create shallow wet habitat with muddy margins.

Have we forgotten about the importance of feeding stop-over locations for passage waterbirds?

Food-rich, shallow wetland habitats are important for wetland birds prior to, or during, migration. Birds have differing migration strategies and will use these wetlands in different ways. This was clear during the recent trip to the Netherlands when Jan van der Winden's discussed his fascinating research into Purple Heron ecology. After breeding, Purple Herons spend a month or so in a favoured feeding area to put on weight before migration. They remain within this rich feeding area, roosting nearby. With a fast, long-distance flight to follow, good feeding areas are critical at both ends of the journey. Other species will use wetlands to ‘re-fuel’ along the way, with shorter flights between stop-over sites. Birds that reach the most productive of these sites may move on in a relatively straightforward manner towards the wintering areas. On the other hand, birds that miss the main sites or encounter difficulties in ‘re-fuelling’ , either because of low quality habitat or food depletion by preceding birds, need the option of alternatives before moving on. A complex of stop-over sites through the flyway is therefore essential.

Okay, so there are a number of large, mainly coastal, sites that cater for passage birds (not necessarily all in good condition), but the range of alternative options in the wider countryside is sparse. Yet on nature reserves that might be expected to provide such habitat, provision seems mostly incidental rather than a deliberate and thoughtful attempt to provide good quality habitat. It does not appear to be a conservation priority. Surely this is wrong.

A visit to the Ouse Washes at last delivered some reasonable habitat. A muddy pool supported 24 Ruff as well as Avocet, Dunlin, Redshank, Lapwing and Green Sandpiper. The next pool had Shoveler, Garganey and Teal. Nearby, 3 Cranes eyed-up a young Fox before chasing it up the bank.

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