Ringed Plovers

Time for buckets and spades again because the North Ayrshire coast is our place for Ringed Plovers. I’m very fond of this species. They’re such an endearing shape, with great colours, and the wing feathers have that wonderful scaly quality which is (to me) one of the most appealing features of waders. They turn up along the usual Troon-Stevenston-Saltcoats stretch. One cold day several winters ago, we saw hundreds standing on the remains of the Lido at Saltcoats, waiting out the high tide. No camera, alas. I often see them with Sanderlings but what a contrast in terms of general level of animation. They usually seem to be standing about and not doing too much of anything.

The Lido was quite a thing back in the day attracting thousands of visitors daily. This piece in The Scotsman (as it carries The Court Circular, I assume it is the Torygraph in disguise) speculates on a possible future refurbishment, given the current enthusiasm for Wild Swimming (or swimming outside as it used to be known). The wind fair rips across that stretch of Firth of Clyde and I do associate being in Saltcoats with being quite cold (while being quite happy). I imagine generations of Scottish children gradually turning blue in that water before being dragged in a frenzy of reluctance back to boarding house or caravan.

In Troon, there is a stretch of shingle in the shadow of the Harbour Master’s Portakabin. On one visit, we’d looked around the harbour and I’d taken a picture or two; we were met by the Harbour Master who was clearly wondering why someone was taking pictures of his boats. Our local fish man gets most of his stuff from the Troon day boats.

 I imagine there used to be some sensitivity about comings and goings (of shady characters, money, guns, and drugs) to the smaller west coast Scottish harbours before the Good Friday Agreement. Anyway, I indicated our interest in birds and the Harbour Master invited us up to his office to get the view down onto some Ringed Plovers. I guess he decided we were harmless. This isn’t a great image but it shows that it’s quite easy to lose birds in repose against the shingle.

I’m interested in how the eye is confused in a situation like this. The distinctive white collars seem to help the birds to blend in better rather than making them stand out. I remember watching a BBC documentary (which I cannot now find) which said that Peregrine Falcons have about an order of magnitude more digital resolution than humans. It seems that there is a complex interplay of factors which determine how well raptors can see. It might be that raptors are going to struggle in a situation like this where there is a very complex pattern of pixellation and little colour contrast, unless they flush the birds and can then hit them in flight.

How do birds work out where to stand? We’ve noticed a similar thing with Golden Plovers and their choice of rocks (I hope to post about this beautiful species in the future). A crawl along the shingle afforded some slightly better images in profile without disturbing the birds, but my best natural habitat stuff comes from The Ballast Bank, slightly to the south. Against a green background, these birds look much more vulnerable

I also have one zoo picture from the Waterscapes Aviary at WWT Slimbridge. This is a such a useful space for image capture; the birds are relatively used to people and cannot escape across the Severn. They don’t even seem to notice old blokes looming with large cameras. There was one Ringed Plover in the collection and I hope it wasn’t lonely. There were Redshanks, Ruff and Avocets for it to roost with so fingers crossed.

The BTO has its usual very useful pages on the species, including this: “When nesting, individuals will feign a broken-wing to draw predators away from the chicks. The chicks are perfectly camouflaged against their sandy substrate, so will sit and ‘hide’ if they can as they are near impossible to spot.” I found a short video on YouTube showing this distraction behaviour beautifully.

I don’t imagine this feigned broken-wing jazz gets them anywhere with the Hedgehogs introduced (rewilded? Hmm) to the  Outer Hebrides, which are apparently eating plover eggs and having a big impact on breeding success. Doesn’t Mummy have some plover’s eggs sent to the young Sebastian in Brideshead Revisited? Bless. I’d rather a Hedgehog had them any day.

The breeding population seems to be quite small (ca. 5000 pairs) with of the order of 40000 pairs visiting in winter. The species is now red listed. The Troon group higher up the post which was shot in September clearly contains a mixture of young (paler) and mature (more coloured) birds, so either they are managing to breed on this coast, or they are incoming for the winter. I think my favourite images are of this young bird on the shore at Aberlady Bay.  I am getting wet in the sand for this one and the bird is pottering towards me and feeding.

Which brings me to the Scottish Seabird Centre just along the coast from Aberlady in North Berwick – they are involved in a drive to raise funds under a matching scheme with Aviva. If anyone is interested in supporting their work, you can find the details here.

I will also mention the Flamingo Land Mark III proposal at Balloch – some of you may have seen the earlier versions of the proposal. Scottish Greens are taking the lead in opposing this very large intrusion on the Trossachs National Park.

There is a confusion species – the Little Ringed Plover – and they’re gradually spreading north. I see nothing in my images to lead me to think that I’m seeing them but I live in hope that some will turn up in Ayrshire and in front of the camera.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: