At this time of year a number of Lancashire sites both coastal and inland are key staging posts for Whimbrel, a migratory cousin of the more widely known and similar Curlew. For a number of years a couple of coordinated counts have been done about a week apart at these spring roost sites to monitor population trends. I have done the saltmarsh roost at Little Singleton, also known as Windy Harbour depending where you stand, for a number of years.
Today was the first of this year’s counts. Jane and I arguably left it a little bit late to arrive, as we turned Coronation Street off and headed to the car I had a message from Paul Slade asking how many Whimbrel I had. Paul does the next roost down the Wyre at Arm Hill. None of the Wyre sites can compete with the roosts on the Ribble and particularly at Barnacre Reservoir which holds several hundred birds every year.
Several waders were calling but none of them were Whimbrel. Redshank were chasing each other around, sounding quite loud until a pair of Oystercatchers showed them how creating a racket was done. A Common Sandpiper trilled as it skimmed over the river, and a Green Sandpiper’s more ringing notes were heard as it flew downriver over our heads.
Eventually I heard Whimbrel and picked up a group of 25-30 birds. They were quite high as they went over the roosting area, which was soon explained as they kept going north. Paul confirmed that a group of this size appeared soon after at his site to bolster his count. Just as it was looking like my roost count was going to be zero a further 18 came in low and this time they did stop.
I said to Jane it was worth remembering that these birds may have been sharing beaches with us on the Canaries and Cape Verde in the past. They may also be the birds I see when I go to Shetland in the spring each year. If there was any reason to take them for granted the fact that numbers are dropping would caution against complacency. Of eight species of Curlew and Whimbrel that existed two are now generally considered to be extinct, and the others could easily go the same way.