Posted by: Ross Gardner | February 20, 2013

Southend Pier – birdwacthing hot-spot?

Turnstone (Arenaria interpress).  Copyright 2013 Ross Gardner.

Turnstone (Arenaria interpress). Copyright 2013 Ross Gardner.

The birdwatcher and author John Gooders once wrote in his ‘Where to Watch Birds’ that Southend Pier “is without a doubt the least likely location to be included in a bird book“.   Unlikely maybe, but nevertheless of enough interest to be included in the said tome.  It is somewhere I endeavour to visit at least once or twice a year, to enjoy what will usually be an interesting selection birds, but also to savour a wonderful and unlikely sense of wide open space so close to the large and busy town at the shore.

Yesterday was one of those February days when it feels like spring has well and truly arrived and is here to stay for a while (today the winter has made its predictable return!).  Southend Pier is the longest pleasure pier in the world, extending into the wide gape of the Thames Estuary for 1.33  miles (2.13km) – long enough to have its own train – and there will often be at least sea breeze, even if conditions inland barely raise the merest gust.  But this time there was hardly even a hint of an eddy in the air and the sea spread away in a faintly rippled sheet of calm water.  This on the one hand makes for good birdwatching, with birds being easily picked out on the water, even at distance.  On the other hand, the birdwatching here is often at its most varied with a bit of inclement weather, especially with stiff easterly encouraging birds into the shelter of the estuary and close to the pier.

All sorts of things can and have be seen from here in due season (essentially autumn and winter.  All three British Divers, for instance.   Regular Guillemot and even the odd Razorbill.  Skuas can be watched from the pier-head in the autumn and the likes of Mediterranean Gull and Kittiwake are regular.  You can even sometimes pick out a Purple Sandpiper among the usual gathering of Turnstone.

Mediterranean Gull (Larus melanocephalus).  Ross Gardner 2013.

Mediterranean Gull (Larus melanocephalus). Ross Gardner 2013.

I was not expecting quite such a variety of birds on this occasion, but there will almost always be some little treat to be had.  Today it was a Red-throated Diver, quite distant, but easily seen through binoculars.  A slender bird with its bill head distinctively upwards compared to other birds, like the gathered Great Crested Grebe fishing alongside.  And there were others.  A small group of Sanderling were busy along the shoreline as we set off.  A few Oystercatcher and Brent Goose alighting from the disappearing mud and passing over the pier and on up-river and  group of Mediterranean Gull were resting on the timbers of a long-disused slipway.

And of course, from late-autumn until the early spring the Turnstone are always there to entertain.  It seems to me that these little waders have become increasingly abiding over recent years.  There are always a few scurrying across the deck, with keen eyes focused towards crumbs and the left-overs from snacking humans, rather than invertebrates beneath stones of the seashore.

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