Posted 22nd Jan 2018 by Peter Byrne
The public are being encouraged to keep an eye out for the amazing wading birds and wildfowl over-wintering around the Bay, by creating a 'Bird of the Month' initiative which will encourage an ongoing 'Big Bay Bird Watch'
The spotlight has fallen on the instantly recognisable oystercatcher, which is easy to identify for anyone who spends time around the Bay's shoreline either side of high tide.
This is partly down to its glamourous colour and build. Large and stocky, the black and white wading bird has a very long, bright orange-red bill, reddish pink legs and red eyes with orange eye-rings. Morecombe actually boasts an amazing 50,000-strong winter population, the largest concentration of the species in Britain.
The Morecambe Bay Partnership is looking for families and schools to get out and keep an eye on this bird - gaining pleasure from watching a star of the Bay. If you do manage to see one, people are being encouraged to post the picture on social media using the hashtag #OurBirdsOurBay and tweeting it to @BirdsOfTheBay.
"The oystercatcher can almost always be seen, so It’s easy to raise a child’s interest in it. Making it the bird to kick off our Big Bay Bird Watch celebration in 2018 was an easy decision" said Morecambe Bay Partnership’s Waders and Wildfowl project manager, Annabelle Kennedy.
As well as bring an amazing sight, the bird is also fascinating.
It uses its unique physique and features to make the most of Morecambe Bay's seafood bar, which is both appetising and irresistible for the species. Oddly enough, it doesn't eat oysters, but it has a penchant for mussels and cockles, which it finds in plentiful supply.
The oystercatcher's parents will teach it how to tackle its prey's shell - each bird will acquire a technique, which is passed down through the generations, and will typically employ one of three tactics; hammering its beak through the shell, bashing the shell on rocks, or prising two halves open.
However, should wet weather prove an issue and make the food scarce along the shore, the oystercatcher will simply adapt its bill and move inland to live on earthworms.
It has a distinctive and shrill kleep-kleep noise, and will be especially loud at breeding time. Oystercatchers will build a very shallow, simple nest in shingle, and line it with a few pebbles or shells. By April and May, the female will lay around three eggs, which both parents will keep warm until the chicks appear.
The oystercatcher is also a unique wading bird, as it's the only one to feed its chicks in the nest, as opposed to supervising their feeding after having ushered them to the shore. Both parents will take it in turns are feeding their young ones, and are also very attentive when their well-camouflaged chicks begin to explore, which will happen remarkably quickly upon feeding them.
The oldest known oystercatcher was ringed as a chick in 1970 and was last found in 2010 on the same beach. At that point, it was already 40 years, one month and two days old. Despite this, the oystercatcher is a vulnerable species and is Amber-listed in the UK - this is part of the reason why the Morecambe Bay Partnership are looking for people to spot it, cherish it and to help protect it.
Annabelle Kennedy, says: “We want to create a world of wonder around our amazing birds, so we can together protect them and the oystercatcher is just one of the big personalities to put on your radar.
“If you struggle to spot one of our Birds of the Month, you can always ask one of our Natural Ambassadors volunteers to help you, if you see them at a site around the Bay. They wear easy-to-recognise blue fleeces and will pass on interesting facts about the various birds on show, helping you to get closer to them through binoculars or telescopes."
You can find out more here.
Image courtesy of Ken Smith