Thursday, 1 March 2018

Seaton Snow and Epic Cold Weather Movement

What a day. Truly a day to remember. Here in East Devon we have seen the most significant snow fall that I've ever witnessed (have lived here since 1991) and the reaction from the birds was completely mesmerising.

With only light snow at dawn, I jumped in my car and had a scoot around the Estuary. The tide was in and there wasn't much new obvious, although a pair of Gadwall north of Coronation Corner were new arrivals and new for the year...

A distant pair of Gadwall with Wigeon

Whilst I was out I noticed a few flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover flying over, but it wasn't until I returned home that I realised there was actually a sustained passage of these two species taking place.  A watch from my back garden 08:20 - 11:10 (whilst I wasn't needed indoors!) gave the following incredible totals (all west); 

6250 Lapwing
1720 Golden Plover
5 Snipe
12 Fieldfare
28 Redwing
2 Blackbird
12 Starling
2 Meadow Pipit

So not many passerines, presumably because they were still able to find enough food as we hadn't had any significant snow fall by this time, but the Goldies and Lapwings were just incredible. Flock after flock after flock, many very low, some pausing briefly in nearby fields, but all clearly on the hunt for non-frozen ground. An unforgettable passage.  What's even more amazing is I would have missed so many flocks, I know there were flocks passing out over the sea which I can't see from my house two miles inland. Not to mention the fact that flocks were still passing over right up to late this afternoon, so the true numbers of Lapwing and Golden Plover that have flown west over here today is probably completely mind boggling, If I had a stab in the dark guess I'd say tens of thousands of Lapwing and maybe ten thousand Golden Plover have flown west over here today.


Golden Plover

Golden Plover

And to give a bit of a flavour of this incredible passage, here's a short video clip of some Golden Plover passing over. Love their mournful call...

The time was now about 11:40, and the heavy snow still wasn't in. So I jumped in my car and gave the Estuary another look, and I'm glad I did because greeting me at the lower end of the Estuary was this...

A Spoonbill!

A rather grumpy looking Spoonbill at that - I don't blame it mind!

Spoonbill head on to the cold east wind

What a beaut!

Our first Spoonbill of the year, and not a species I was expecting to see today. Two Avocet were another bonus that briefly dropped in (Ian Mc found these), but despite excellent numbers of gulls, still no white-winger for Steve this year...

So many gulls!

Then the snow really came in. And it didn't stop until about 8pm. Incredible scenes... 

The Co-op car park in Seaton

The Jurassic Play Park in Seaton

From the moment it started snowing heavily, wherever I went Golden Plover, Lapwing, Snipe, Fieldfare, Redwing were flying around.  I even had a Grey Plover fly low west over the middle of Seaton!  But the day ended with a sad note for me, and a reminder that just how difficult this weather is for our birds. All this Goldcrest wanted was to find somewhere warm and dry to rest up after I watched it battle against the wind and snow flying through the middle of town...

This little guy was clearly in real trouble

I felt so sorry for this bird

A timely reminder that however much enjoyment and excitement us birders get from these incredible cold weather movements, at the same time countless numbers of birds will undoubtedly be losing their lives...

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