Saturday, 9 April 2016

Murder on the high seas

The Safari has been looking forward to today since this time last month, it's the biggest spring tide of the year and in April that means a good chance of a local speciality, Water Pipits
Arriving on site we saw we weren't the first, a car load of local birders was already parked up and the occupants eagerly scoping the rising waters. 
Over on the far side of the river we saw thousands of gulls go up and a few minutes later picked up a Short Eared Owl (128) on our side of the river way out by the channel where it upset the gulls here too.
Several late flocks of Pink Footed Geese were flying around, mostly going north. In the really heat hazy distance we counted at least 14 large wobbly white blobs which could well have been the 17 Whooper Swans counted by the others yesterday. It really was that difficult scoping in to the distance!
We had a bit more luck with the Avocets, only three today and plenty of Little Egrets, we didn't do a proper count of these but maybe as many as 20. It was like the Carmargue out there, without the warmth - how long before these pools have Greater Flamingos striding around them?
Behind us in the hedge a Song Thrush sang, over the rapidly disappearing marsh Lapwings displayed, Redshanks chittered and Skylarks exalted on high while Meadow Pipits parachuted all over the place. 
The water got nearer and the birds either dispersed or got concentrated on the remaining land in front of us depending on species. The Meadow Pipits, Goldfinches and Reed Buntings were working their way through the dead grasses washed up by last night's high tide. A Short Tailed Field Vole was washed out of its grassy tunnels and made a swim for shore, it didn't make it, a Back Headed Gull soon spotted it and that was the end of it. A second was more fortunate making the little island that was all the dry land left out there and hiding in the clumps of ?Sea Purslane.
The same island showed a bit of movement on the near side and that movement was a what we thought was almost definitely a Water Pipit but we didn't get a long look at it before it hid behind the longer grasses, we didn't see if it's flanks were streaky or not. When it reappeared others got on to it and it was deffo a Water Pipit (129) and a real Bobby Dazzler at that. 
We fired off a few shots at the little island - it was a bit far away - in the hope of fluking the Water Pipit in the frame. We didn't manage it but reviewing the  pics back at Base Camp we did find something we hadn't seen..can you see it?
Looks like a Jack Snipe to us. We did see a couple of Snipe but this one seems to have a short beak, any thoughts anyone.
We'd been joined by a couple of newby birders who enjoyed the Water Pipit as a lifer and were hoping for a Water Rail which IB had seen yesterday. There'd been no sign of one but while we were scoping the island for signs of the Water Pipit one swan past just behind, it must have come from the now well flooded patch of taller grasses a bit further out. We weren't expecting what happened next.
A Herring Gull appeared, hovered over the Water Rail then stooped and grabbed it from the water, not once but twice, perhaps it thought it was a mammal but then changed its mind about swallowing it. Now back in the water the Water Rail resumed its swim to somewhere drier - a lucky escape.
But no! not a lucky escape at all, a Moorhen which had been minding its own business pecking around the perimeter of the island swum out to it and proceeded to give it a right pasting for absolutely no good reason at all. The Water Rail escaped a couple of times but was soon dragged back by the bigger and determined Moorhen - why didn't the Water Rail try to fly off? The Moorhen eventually got a good hold and dunked the unfortunate Water Rail under the surface until the bubbles stopped coming up. At times we saw it stab the drowning Water Rail, or try to peck its eyes out or something equally grisly. whatever was going on the Water Rail never resurfaced and after a couple of minutes the Moorhen gave up its gruesome business and went back to poking around the edge of the little island as innocent as you like. What a shame but that's nature.
At the time we took this pic it had already survived the Herring Gull attack but we had no idea it would be murdered within two minutes.
Where to next? The nature reserve beckons, will there be any summer migrants in?
In the meantime let us know who's committing the murders in your outback.

1 comment:

cliff said...

I wonder why the Moorhen did that? I'd have thought that, other than the occasional squabble, coots/moorhens/rails would largely tolerate each other & coexist :(