Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Seawatching at Severn Beach

Yesterday evening after work I headed over to Severn Beach in South Gloucestershire following a call at lunchtime by Bristol naturalist Ed Drewitt that the evening before hundreds of terns, godwits and other waders had flooded the sky en-route to their breeding grounds further north.

We had all been reading for the last few days amazing reports of 1500 'commic' terns, 4-500 godwit flocks, whimbrel, dunlin and even 40 dotterel in summer plumage passing through. In recent days strong easterly winds had blown many migrants westwards, rather than following their usual route along the English Channel. This spring has been a fantastic time for sea watching up the River Severn. So after work, I joined Ed and another colleague and we sat down in the shingle awaiting the arrival of high tide, and the birds of course, while admiring the charming view of the massive Avonmouth industrial complex a few miles down the coast. Lovely. But the birds don't mind.

Soon the rising tide pushed up a smallish flock of bar tailed godwits who began feeding just in front of where we sat, joined by a lone knot (centre of picture). I've never seen these birds in summer plumage and they were stunning with their brick red bellies. What is amazing is that only 3 days or so these godwits would have been feeding in West Africa and in a few more days will be in the Arctic tundra. Bird migration is amazing.

We then had some whimbrel who warbled their wonderful flutey call as they restlessly skipped about in the rising water, followed by 12 black headed gulls on migration, quite a few swallows and house martins flying through, a sanderling, a couple of ringed plover and a few dunlin in their fantastic summer plumage with golden top and black bib belly.

But sadly nothing like the numbers Ed had experienced the evening before where the Severn Bridge, a well know barrier to bird migration had stopped 500 terns in their tracks and they then wheeled round to gain height right over Ed's head. We did however really enjoy the 2 hours out there on a glorious spring evening, such a nice thing to do after work, and we did have the godwits above fly low over our head calling.

And so as the sun set, the temperature dropped quickly. It was therefore time to go home from this wild feeling place, just on the outskirts of Bristol, and have a cup of tea.

I'll finish though with one amusing thought. As we sat there Ed's phone rang, another birder he knew was a mile or so down the coast and sending reports. Ed's phone rang a second time, another group of birders further north reporting sightings. Through binoculars we could see most of these birders from our vantage point, which added to the excitement having these updates from north and south of us. Mobile phone reports of those wild birds being very mobile themselves on migration.


  1. I used to spend childhood holidays at Severn Beach, you brought back such happy memories for me.

  2. Glad I brought back happy memories for you toffee apple.

  3. some fantastic photography on this blog