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17 September 2014
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Estuary Activities - Birding and rock pooling

Oystercatchers c/o Richard Smith

Estuaries provide great environments for autumn wildlife because of their complex ecosystems.

Take to the beach for a great rock pooling and nature watching experience for all the family.

Birds in flight at the Dee Estuary.
Photo - Richard Smith

Bird watching

Oystercatcher c/o Richard Smith Estuaries with acres of mud are ideal feeding grounds for birds especially waders and wildfowl such as Oystercatchers, Godwits, and Redshanks.

During the autumn the numbers of migrant birds swell along the coast with the arrival of birds from the continent.

High tides can be brilliant for birding in the autumn - as the tide comes in, the waders on the mudflats are pushed closer and closer towards the shoreline as they continue to feed.

Good places for estuary birds include the Dee Estuary (North West England and Wales), Lough Foyle (Northern Ireland), Caerlaverock (Scottish Borders), Swale Estuary and Montrose Basin (Scotland).

* Don't forget to take binoculars or a telescope for a bird's eye view of estuarine wildfowl.

* Check bird sightings on local bird forums and reserve websites before you leave home. Look out for arrival dates of migrant birds during the autumn months.

* Remember to take a bird identification guide - many wading birds can look similar from a distance.

Rock pooling

Britain's rocky shores provides fantastic opportunities for rock pooling and discovering animals and plants in their natural habitat.

Good places for rock pooling include the Dee Estuary (North West England and Wales), Helford Estuary (Cornwall), Lindisfarne (Northumberland), Culzean (Ayrshire) and Wembury (Devon).

Sea shores are classified into three levels:

- the lower: uncovered during spring tides.
- the middle: uncovered and covered daily.
- the upper: only covered by spring tides.

Limpets c/o Natural EnglandSome creatures prefer exposed shores (e.g. Barnacles and Limpets, smaller and tough seaweeds) whilst others like sheltered shores which are often covered in mud and silt (e.g. brown seaweeds, crabs, mussels).

Autumn is a great season for rock poolers because the tides go out further so there is more space at low shore where all of the good finds are to be made.

Rock pooling tips

* Tides are very important if you're thinking of going out rock pooling. Don't leave home without checking tide times carefully. Get a copy of the tide times from the tourist office, the BBC or Admiralty websites.

* The best time to go rock pooling is during ultra low tides or spring tides, which occur twice every month.

* Don't forget your Wellington boots, a plastic container, a net and a good guidebook.

* Make yourself an underwater viewer using a plastic drinks bottle. Cut it in half, put cling film over the bottom and immerse so you can see everything clearly.

* Use a net if you're worried about putting your hands in the rock pools.

* More intrepid adults should get kitted out in wet suits and snorkelling kit.

* Zonation is important for what you see - the higher up a shore an organism lives, the less time it's covered by sea water. Some creatures and plants are able to survive longer out of water, and this will influence what you see and where it is

* The middle shore gets the fiercest battering from waves so Barnacles and Limpets are well suited to survive these conditions.

*Always place marine creatures and seaweeds back where you found them and don't take them home. Always make sure that creatures are returned the right side up.

* Make sure a shell is empty before taking it home.

* Safety first - be careful of the slippery rocks near the shore, check the tides and keep away from cliffs.

Starfish c/o Natural EnglandMarine life

Common rocky shore inhabitants include:

* Starfish, Sea Urchins and Brittlestars - these striking creatures are symmetrical with arms radiating out from a central body. The Purple Henry also belongs to the Starfish or Echinoderm family and is easily identified from its purple colour and five arms.

They feed on plants and animals on rock surfaces and are often seen on lower shore areas.

* Sea Squirts - these creatures are characterised by their soft bodies and can be seen attached to rocks on lower shores.

* Sea Anemones - another soft bodied creature which can be found attached to rocks.

* Crustaceans - this group includes Lobsters, Crabs, Shrimps and Barnacles. They are relatively common on rocky coastlines.

* Molluscs - these include Sea Slugs, Mussels and Limpets, and are characterised by their soft bodies, although some also have hard shells.

* Bristle Worms - often seen attached to rocks or seaweed.

* Limpets - easily identified by their dome like shell which resembles a Chinese hat. Often attached to rocks.

* Shore Fishes - look for these in rock pools and damp crevices.

Typical plants include:

* Seaweed is a type of algae with no real roots, leaves or stems. There are three main types:

- brown: large and leathery with an olive green or brown-black colouring. Varieties include Oarweed, Egg Wrack and Bladder Wrack.

- red: smaller and more feathery ranging in colour from pink to red-brown. Often found in rock pools and lower shore areas. Varieties include Coral weed, Irish Moss, Dulse and Ceramium.

- green. Varieties includes Gut Weed, Sea Lettuce and Cladophora.

Photo credits

Bird images courtesy and copyright of Dee Estuary Birding and Richard Smith.

Limpets and Starfish images courtesy of Natural England.



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