Autumn Gold | Rye Harbour Nature Reserve

Autumn Gold

Monday, 20th September 2021

Autumn Gold
Golden Plover © James Tomlinson

Graham Appleton started birdwatching and ringing at school, as part of a bird club originally founded by Bill Oddie. He has loved waders for 47 years now and writes a blog about them called WaderTales  

Here he tells us about Golden Plovers:

The southeast corner of England is a winter home to Golden Plovers from the continent, with thousands of birds found in the worm-rich, grazed pasture of Romney Marshes. Most feeding is at night, with birds gathering in undisturbed roosting sites, such as the fenced area of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, during daylight hours. Prolonged frosts make it hard to find earthworms and other invertebrates but such conditions are rare in coastal Sussex.

No British-ringed Golden Plover has ever been found in Sussex, but ringed birds have established links from Belgium and the Netherlands. It is quite likely that these birds, ringed in these countries in autumn and spring, will have bred further north, in Scandinavia.

Golden Plover is the most commonly encountered breeding wader in surveys undertaken across Norway, Sweden and Finland, as you can read in the WaderTales blog Fennoscandian wader factory and thousands of these birds spend the winter in Britain and Ireland. When you add in Icelandic Golden Plovers, which are generally found in the west, it is estimated that these islands may be a winter home for over 500,000 Golden Plovers. There is no indication of a change in numbers and the species is not currently considered to be a species of conservation concern.

Graham appleby

Most Golden Plovers that arrive in Rye Bay are wearing spangled winter plumage by the time that they get here in October and November, having moulted before crossing the North Sea. They are on a different annual schedule to most waders. Adults of species such as Bar-tailed Godwit and Sanderling migrate after breeding, leaving behind the arctic tundra and reaching Sussex in July and August. Estuaries with rich supplies of worms and shellfish fuel the energetically expensive business of changing their feathers. Golden Plover have a different approach; they start to moult their main flight feathers during the summer, while incubating their eggs. They are not going to be flying anywhere for a while so it seems like an efficient strategy! For Scandinavian birds, moult is a two-stage process, with completion generally taking place in southern Sweden or northwest Europe, but possibly also in Sussex. This would explain why a few summer-plumage birds turn up at Rye Bay in July and August. There’s more about Golden Plovers in the WaderTales blog Starting moult early

Graham Appleton has written over 100 blogs about waders.

This post is also available on Sussex Wildlife Trust website

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