Sea Birds 
Birds of the open ocean, seashore and estuaries around the British Isles

Photograph by Kelvin Jones

Ivory Gull investigating a dead Harbour Porpoise as a food source
on Blackrock Sounds, northern Cardigan Bay, north Wales
Photograph by Kelvin Jones

State of the Nations Birds (Book)

State of the Nations Birds (Search)

Common Tern (Photograph by Nick Jouault)11 June 2001
Offshore from Brooklands Boating Lake, Common Terns, with their distinctive forked tails, swept low over the sea that was showing the first signs of white horses, and descended to take a feed from just below the surface in one swift swoop. Black-headed Gulls, in breeding livery with a completely dark (brown) head, were attempting the same manoeuvre without the same elegance. A half dozen Cormorants congregated around the post marking the outlet pipe, occasionally diving under. This is a regular flocking area for these fish eating birds with frequently up to 29 birds that can be quickly counted. 
Sea Birds Portfolio (Photographs by Nicolas Jouault)

The Ringed Plover reveals itself by its swift running over the shingle. Without moving it is too well camouflaged and difficult to spot. The summer residents birds and much plumper than the lean winter visitors. As the tide ebbs and the water recedes, more (a half dozen in 50 metres of sand) of these small birds appear on the emerging sand flats.

Pink-footed Geese

One of the most fabulous wildlife spectacles in North Norfolk are the massive flocks of Pink-footed Geese, Anser brachyrhynchus. This is a fairly recent phenomena. In the seventies only a few thousand wintered in the whole of Norfolk.
The nineties saw the largest leap in numbers with an estimated 76,000 in North Norfolk alone in 1997-98.

Birdline East Anglia Report (extract) for December 1999 by Robin Chittenden

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Bird News

Ringed Plover

Hello Birders,

I am trying to investigate the reason why the Ringed Plover often fails to bring up its young in the vicinity of humans.

Ringed Plover

It is a shingle nesting bird. Several possibilities have been suggested:

Humans get to near the nest, frighten the bird off a or trample the eggs. I would expect this to occur when public pressure on the beach is too great.

However, often this little bird persists quite near seafront houses and other possibilities I wish to consider.

These include:

1)  Dogs sniff out the nest.
2)  Cats catch the birds or find the nest.
3)  Crows find the nest and eggs.
4)  Foxes get the nest and young.

Does anybody know of any research that has been undertaken on this subject, or failing this, has anybody got any anecdotal observations.

The nests are difficult to discover, but sometimes small indentations in the shingle are all that remains of an attempted nest site. Often, the first indication is the feigning behaviour when the Ringed Plover attempts to distract anybody or any animal that ventures too close.


Andy Horton

Ringed Plover nests are susceptible to many predators, but fox, badger and carrion crows are probably the major problems here at Rye Harbour.  Barry Yates ( Rye Nature Reserve)
Rye Harbour Nature Reserve

I would put the most likely causes of Ringed Plover breeding failure, as seen from our windows overlooking the shingle beach, as 1. CROWS, 2. Foxes, 3. Dogs, 4. Human disturbance, 5. Other reasons.  David Wood (Shoreham Beach)

Hi Andy,
I saw your message about Ringed Plovers on the BMLSS forum page.
I've just been working as a warden on a reserve monitoring breeding success of birds: amongst them ringed plover.
I found that even if predators do not find the nest, and it is not trampled on, the birds often failed to raise young in areas with a lot of disturbance because of their method of trying to protect their nest. a good example of this is a bird who nested outside my caravan right on the footpath across the island. Every time I stepped outside or walked past my window, the bird got off it's nest so causing chilling of the eggs. Eventually, after a longer than average incubation time, 2 eggs did hatch, but every time a person was near, the parents would run off down the beach doing a broken wing act worthy of an oscar nomination but completely abandoning the chicks and leaving them at the mercy of predators. The parents spent so much time doing this that the chicks did not have enough feeding time, I don't think, and did not survive long. 
Hope that is of some interest. I'd love to know your findings. I'm constantly battling with fishermen and dog walkers trying to prevent disturbance.
Good Luck
Jenny Holden

November - December 1999
Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia, is a regular at Rat Island and for the last 8 years they have been wintering on the Lynher, Cornwall. The best places to see them are Whacker Quay and Sconer. 

27 November 1999
An American Wigeon and Spoonbill are seen on the Hayle Estuary, Cornwall. 

Reports from Vince Smith, Joe Higman, Vince Smith's One-List/Cornish Wildlife
Send a message to the list at:

15 September 1999
A Spoonbill was seen at Sidlesham Ferry, Sussex. (from Sussex Ornithological Society)

Little Egrets, Egretta egretta, in Cornwall

We certainly do get Little Egrets here in Cornwall, my own experience is on the Helford River, where I am the KDC Water Bailiff. On one day during the summer I counted 49 over 3 sites, at Calamansack, Polwheveral Creek and at Bonallack, near Greek. They also seem to be spreading down the river towards the entrance. I have also seen the odd bird inland at Stithians Reservoir. Other places with multiple occupancy are The Truro/Fal Rivers, Hayle Estuary and on the Fowey River. Most of these sites are only visible from the water, particularly on the Helford.  I am sure that other subscribers will let you know of other sites.
Nigel Knight"

Nigel Knight and Jon Makeham have also reported Little Egrets regularly from Hannafore Point, Looe.

The maximum number of Little Egrets on the Tamar/ Lynher complex is 230, this was about five years ago. Since then numbers have peaked at around 160-170 mostly in September when the post-breeding dispersal takes place.
As for wintering birds, around 30-40 spend the winter on the estuary and are best seen from Wacker Quay or Sconner Corner.
Darrell Clegg  1999
City of Plymouth Library and Information Services
Report posted on Vince Smith's One-List/Cornish Wildlife

Little Egret in the Adur Estuary
Little Egrets (RSPB)

Sanda Island   Scotland

The little island of Sanda sits at the convergence of the Irish sea and the Forth of Clyde, just to the east of the Mull of Kintyre. The island is only about 1/2 mile in diameter, there are two land falls, one on the north by the house and the other by the unmanned lighthouse at Prince Edward's rock. 

Birdwatching on the Dee Estuary

Recommended Pages.  Lots of information and photographs. 

30 November 1999
Barry Collins reported a roost of 146 Little Egrets, Egretta egretta, on Thorney Island in Chichester Harbour. This is large number for a bird that is not even included in most modern bird books for Britain and Ireland.
More Information (Brian Fellows site) Little Egret in the Adur Estuary

Up until a few years ago they were vagrant, occasional visitors to the south of England only, but they have been especially numerous this year, no doubt attracted by the large shoals of young Bass around this autumn.
This bird has been recorded since 1826 on the south coast.
A Black Brant (Siberian Brent Goose), Branta bernicla nigricans, has also been reported from Langstone Harbour. Havant Nature Notes

October 1999
Birds on the lower Adur estuary, West Sussex (click on the text for some interesting local nature reports).

31 August 1999
Kingston Beach, Shoreham
Another humid heat wave, but it was cool enough to be pleasant at 8.30 am at the lowest point of the spring tide. At Kingston Beach the tide had gone out so the tide marker at Chart Datum showed the depth at zero.  The sea was as still as a mill pond and clear. The seagulls, mainly the Black-headed Gull (with red legs, the heads are mostly white), Larus ridibundus, were resting on the sea and flying around and squawking. The numbers and the abundance was unusual so there had to be a reason. Terns dived into the sea, so there must be shoals of fry numbering millions of small fish.

25 August 1999
3 Little Egrets, their distinctive all white colouring stood out from the greenery (Glasswort) and they were right in the middle of the Adur mudflats, Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex,  (between the footbridge and the Norfolk Bridge), sometimes hidden in the dips of the channels. The tide was low in the mid-afternoon. In addition 7 Grey Herons were perched as still as statues. All the birds were too far away for photographs even with a 500m mirror lens. The light was poor in the middle of a thunderstorm and a downpour.
There has been abundance of small Grey Mullet in the river this year.
Egret Information Update

22 August 1999
David Roberts (Shoreham Beach) reported a Little Egret, Egretta garzetta, from the mudflats near the houseboats. It was on the remaining mud at about the maximum low neap tide (minimum range, high tide 4.7 metres) at 3.00 pm BST.

15 June 1999
Common Crane, Grus grus, was spotted at Aith in the Shetland Islands during the evening. On the 22th it was seen at Eswick on the East Mainland (of the Shetland Isles).
This bird species has been seen feeding on the salt marshes of the River Adur, Sussex,  in the past.

June 1999
An Osprey, Pandion haliaetus, is hunting around Thorney Island, (the peninsula sticking out in the middle of  Chichester Harbour, West Sussex) near where there is a roost of 10 Little Egrets, Egretta egretta.
Havant Nature Notes

31 January 1998:  A Common Gull, Larus canus, was observed by Andy Horton (it was pointed out to him) through a powerful telescope, at Widewater Lagoon near Shoreham-by-Sea, Sussex just after midday standing on a pole in the brackish shallows. This particular bird in adult plumage was distinguished by a  prominent black tip to its beak on the left side, and a lesser smudge on the right beak. The legs of this bird were bright yellow. The black beak markings of the juveniles are not included in most popular books with the notable exception of the Reader's Digest Nature Lovers guide. The clearly viewed markings on the right hand side of this bird were consistent with the Common Gull and not the ringed bill of the rare American vagrant the Ring-billed Gull, Larus delawarensis. This vagrant bird has been reported on six occasions from Sussex during the 1980's.

NB. I am second thoughts about the identification; the bright yellow legs were most distinctive!
On the third thoughts, the Hamlyn Guide to British & European Birds, shows a much thicker bill for the American alien. I stick with my original view. The black markings on the beak are not diagnostic enough on their own. This particular bird, a Common Gull, squawked when it flew. The bird resembles Common Gulls I have seen since.

NB: I am not so sure now. I have just discovered a photograph that looks a bit like the gull on Widewater (except for the eyes).

January 1999.  Another Ring-billed Gull has been reported from the coast east of Brighton, Sussex.

Separating adult Common and Ring-billed Gulls should be straightforward.  I don't have much experience of R-b Gull in the UK (I've seen it four or five times) but I've seen plenty in Canada.

R-b Gull is generally a larger and bulkier bird than Common Gull and resembles a small Herring Gull, with a paler mantle and different mirror pattern from Common Gull.  Common Gulls do sometimes show yellow legs.

R-b Gull also has the same fierce facial expression as Herring Gull, rather than the "big-eyed" look of Common Gull.  The bill is a different shape too, its blunt and the top and bottom are parallel, Common Gull has a more pointed, needle-like bill.

On the closed wing Common Gull shows a wide crescent of white before the black tip while R-b Gull has a neater, arc.

Try the Macmillan Guide to Bird Identification for more detail.


David Kelly
Lothian Bird Recorder & Editor Lothian Bird Report
Prestonpans  East Lothian  Scotland


The first few months of 1998 were rather sparse as far as the life on the Sussex shores were concerned. The low spring tides occur at dawn and dusk and in the low light even the bright red beaks of the Oystercatchers as they probe in the sand are not very clear. At Kingston beach, Shoreham-by-Sea by the Lighthouse, these birds have a choice to probe amongst the mussels, or even stab these stationery bivalves to get at the rich orange flesh, or to unearth the cockles beneath the surface, or to feed on small crabs or winkles. However, it is rather disappointing that the visiting birds always seem to occupy the sand and mud flats where they feed on worms. They are more likely to be seen on inland playing fields than amongst the mussel beds.

    All illustrations by Chris Hicks (Northolt, Middx.).
  • Black Guillemots breed in Bangor Harbour, Northern Ireland. 
    22 July 1998
  • Little Egrets, Egretta garzetta, spotted flying over Brighton, Sussex. These birds are an unusual occurrence on the northern English Channel coast (Sussex) but reports seem to becoming commoner.
  • Egret on the River Adur  (by  Andy Horton) 
  • From Ian Lawes (Compuserve Forum).  Could have been a Cattle Egret.

  • This bird is not included in some general books of British Birds; it should be! 
    Underwater Predators:
    A Seal (Tenby) and a Porbeagle Shark (Channel Islands) have been reported feeding on a seagull on the surface of the sea.

  • White-tailed Eagles are breeding on the Isle of Skye, but they are rarely seen. On the Isle of Mull they have developed a taste for fit and healthy young lambs. The eagles are breeding and the numbers have increased to 200 from the 150 originally introduced. They compete with Golden Eagles for prey.
    • 8 November 1997. A White-tailed Sea Eagle, Haliaetus albicilla, is spotted by Andy Fitchett in the Shetland Isles. For more information access:
    • Shetland Islands Wildlife News

    • 5 December 1999
      BBC 2 Television
      Simon King's  Living Britain
    • included some splendid film of theWhite-tailed Sea Eagle on Skye.
    • They followed the fishing boats for a free fish meal.
    December 1999
    A White-tailed Sea Eagle, Haliaetus albicilla, was observed out of its normal range (re-introduced to Scotland) on several occasions throughout the month,  in Norfolk.

  • 29 September 1998
  • Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia, was spotted on the small flooded area next to the ferry terminal at Symbister on Whalsay, Shetland Isles. This large and very white bird with its characteristic large spoon-shaped bill was discovered during the early evening and was happily 'spooning' through the water right alongside the road. It is only the fourth record of the species in Shetland and only the second record this century.

  • More information on the Shetland Wildlife News Web Site

    The bill shape is the real give away, as there are no similar species visiting our shores. All the other large waders, such as egrets and herons, have a more conventional profile. Even juvenile Spoonbills retain the distinctive bill (a paler scaled down version). The non-breeding plumage is pure white, but the breeding birds exhibit a sandy bib and rather eccentric looking crest, and the juveniles have black wing tips. In flight they are slow and graceful, with necks and legs outstretched. 


    Although a rare visitor, it turns up fairly regularly in suitable habitats, where there are large areas of shallow water and reed beds. The RSPB reserve at Minsmere often plays host to one or two adult birds during the summer months, when it is fairly conspicuous, as it is not a bird that tends to skulk around the undergrowth like some of the shyer waders. 

    by Chris Hicks (Northolt)

    DEFRA Cormorants page

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    1 August 2000
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    Whereas all reports on this news page have to be checked for their authenticity, as far as possible, speculative discoveries like a Dolphin Fish in the Camel estuary can be entered on the forum, and also discussions, queries, questions etc.

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