Whilst the island is still shut to the general public bird life on Havergate has continued. Highlights so far include wintering spoonbills, shorelarks and short eared owls.
Its interesting how spoonbill wintering ecology in Suffolk is beginning to change and especially in the Alde- Ore estuary.
Spoonbills are well known as a common summer visitor in the estuary and a scarce spring migrant but normally with the exception of a few late stragglers by mid October the birds are normally departed to wintering grounds in southern Spain and northern Africa.
However, last year began a small but notable shift in the local ecology. Last year one hardy soul stayed in the area to winter favouring Orfordness and spending time with the little egrets. This year up to 4 have stayed in the area, to add an extra element of interest two of the birds are ringed (having been ringed as chicks on there breeding grounds) this means there life stories can be tracked. It may be a coincidence but both these birds are from the newly established German spoonbill colony in the Wadden Sea (Niedersachen). Whereas the ringed birds that come through earlier tend to be Dutch birds.
Not unsurprisingly these birds raise hopes of a future breeding attempt. What will be more interesting to see is how these birds cope with winter here. It may mean that come spring there are in poorer conditions than the birds that have migrated or it may be that like little egrets, Dartford warblers and cetti’s warblers to name but a few that have become winterers and breeders.
Shorelark’s ever elusive and enigmatic have become increasingly common on Havergate in the last couple of years. January and February of 2011 where especially memorable thanks to the 23 that stayed on Belpers throughout late winter and early spring.
The shorelarks on Havergate are likely to be from Scandinavia and are heading south to avoid the worst of winter weather in northern climes. They are an unpredictable migrant, with some years being better than others. 2010/ 2011 for example was a very good year, however 2011/2012 is shaping up to be a much less productive year. As of the time of writing the 9 in December and the two over the Christmas new year period are the only records in Suffolk and 9 is the biggest flock in the country since spring 2011.
I’m fairly certain I have spoken about short eared owls before on the blog. However since Havergate must rank as one of the top places in Suffolk to see them at this time of the year, I see no harm in mentioning them again.
So far as a peak count 3 have frequented Havergate this winter. Like the shorelarks these are likely to be birds of Scandinavian origin having fled north to avoid the worst of winter. At least one is still present on site. These will linger on site well into April, offering unparalleled views.