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    3rd January 2000
    Wetland bird survey counts
    Latest Bird Counts
    December Bird News
    Forthcoming Events
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 Wetland Bird Survey Counts 


                                 Andy Harmer

Wetland Bird Survey Counts (usually abbreviated to WeBS) are a source of an enormous amount of data going back over thirty years, this is an extremely useful tool for monitoring the nation's wildfowl and waders (shorebirds), including those on the Dee Estuary. The 1997-98 WeBS report has recently been published (obtainable from NHBS) and as usual makes fascinating reading.

The total number of waterfowl on the estuary in 1997/98 was 129,271 - well down on the previous year's 152,076 but still just above the average for the last five years. The number of  species with internationally important numbers* was twelve, second only to the Ribble's fifteen. The Dee had the highest numbers in the country of Pintail (5,954), Redshank (7,570) and Little Terns (160). It was ranked third in numbers of Curlew (5,370) and  Shelduck (10,418). Despite having a record number of Shelduck the Dee was overtaken by the Mersey with a remarkable 14,000+ birds undergoing moult there during August. Of course many of these moulting birds will have come from the Dee as it is only five miles away across the Wirral peninsula. . 

One of the most useful ways of using the WeBS data is to monitor changes to populations over many years. To illustrate this I have taken two species currently under some threat. Most people already know about the large fall in numbers of breeding Lapwing in the UK (for example breeding pairs halved in Wales between 1987 and 1993), perhaps less well publicised  has been the decrease in Mallard numbers with a fall in the UK wintering population of 40% in the past ten years. The two graphs below show the situation on the Dee Estuary, changes to the populations of Redshank and Pintail are shown for comparison.

Changes in population of Lapwing and Redshank (1969 to 1998) - WeBS data

The graph shows that despite the large drop in breeding pairs of Lapwing in the UK this hasn't affected the numbers of wintering birds, at least on the Dee Estuary. In fact the 5 year average is at its highest since counting began. This could be due to a number of reasons such as - large number of wintering immigrants, less disturbance in recent years, under counting in earlier years or changes in weather conditions. Redshank are also at a five year high with the population recovering from a crash in the late seventies/early eighties. 

Changes in population of Mallard and Pintail(1969 to 1998) - WeBS data

The drop in Mallard since the mid-eighties accurately reflects the drop nation-wide. At the moment it is not clear why this decrease has occurred but a possible contribution is that numbers of captive birds released for shooting may well be far less than that previously. Worryingly Pintail also show a decline although the picture here is again complex. There are indications that the whole European population is decreasing but conversely the numbers on the Dee have increased in every one of the past five winters after reaching a low point (4,566) in 1993/1994. However the population in 1997/98 (5,954) is still way below the 10,000 reached in 1991/92.     

*Deemed internationally important if a site regularly holds at least 1% of the total population of a species, or at least 20,000 absolute numbers.

Data were supplied by the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS), a joint scheme of the British Trust for Ornithology, The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Joint Nature Conservation Committee (the last on behalf of the Countryside Council for Wales, Department of the Environment Northern Island, English Nature and Scottish Natural Heritage).

Bird Counts

Inner Marsh Farm  
9th December: Bewick's Swan 17, Tufted duck 3, Shoveler 30+,  Gadwall 5, Pintail 60, Wigeon 400, Pochard 1, Shelduck 4, Smew 1, Teal 100+, Goldeneye 4, Ruff 1, Dunlin 50, Black-tailed Godwit 60+, Redshank 50, Curlew 1, Greenshank 1, Lapwing 2000,  Sparrow Hawk 1.

Wetland Bird Survey Count for Heswall Shore - (Kindly provided by the Wirral Ranger Service). 26th December.
reat Crested Grebe 3, Cormorant 4, Grey Heron 4, Shelduck 1096, Wigeon 4, Teal 976, Mallard 109, Pintail 15, R. B. Merganser 2, Golden Plover 64, Lapwing 350, Knot 200, Dunlin 14, Snipe 22, Black-tailed Godwit 27, Curlew 670, Redshank 330, Turnstone 13
Numbers somewhat down due to a joy riding helicopter pilot
disturbing the roosting birds. The counter, Martyn Jaimeson, had an interesting observation of a juvenile Peregrine attacking a Woodpigeon. It dropped the pigeon which then proceeded to chase the Peregrine. Both birds then went their separate ways.

West Kirby shore high tide roost  - counts carried out by Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens.
The highest count during December (up until the 24th) was on the 12th: Bar-tailed Godwit 20, Knot 5,000, Oystercatcher 50, Curlew 50, Grey Plover 1700, Dunlin 10,000 and Redshank 100. 


December Bird News
If the end of August/early September is my favourite time on the estuary then mid-winter must be my second favourite. Little parties of Knot dot the foreshore, many just a few yards from the beach seemingly unafraid  of the many walkers getting a bit of fresh air and exercise after the excesses of Christmas. Off Heswall and Thurstaston they are often joined by Black-tailed Godwit, together they perform a spectacular aerial ballet when disturbed by the incoming tide. At this time of year many waders feed in the fields surrounding the estuary and the Curlew in particular make a splendid sight during their morning flight inland.  

The Richard's Pipit which turned up at  Oakenholt Marsh  at the end of November stayed all month, although it moved further north along the Welsh coast to Greenfield Dock. The influx of Pomarine Skuas reached here early December with sightings on three different days, the best day was on the 1st when 5 were seen at the Point of Ayr, together with 5 Artic Skua and 4 Great Skua.

At Inner Marsh Farm the pick of the month were Smew and American Wigeon, both drakes. A Ruddy Shelduck and Mauritanian Spoonbill also frequented IMF from time to time and a Little Egret was seen on nearby Burton Marsh. A few miles further north at Parkgate ten Short-eared Owls appeared at the Christmas Eve high tide bird watch. On the Welsh side both Snow Bunting and Shorelarks are wintering at Gronant and Point of Ayr. 


Forthcoming Events
January Highest Spring Tides
22nd January, 1201hrs 10.0m. (all times GMT)
23rd January, 1247hrs 10.0m. 

24th January, 1331hrs 9.8m. 

Young Ornithologists Club at Ness Gardens
See the listing of events for 2000. This group have a most interesting a series of monthly outdoor and indoor meetings for the younger birdwatchers.

Wirral Peregrines Phoenix Group
A group for teenagers jointly run by the RSPB and Wirral Ranger Service.   For all young people (you don't have to be RSPB members) who want to do something to improve our environment and enjoy wildlife. See the year 2000 events

Wirral Bird Club
The Wirral Bird Club welcomes all who are interested in birds, from the beginner to the experienced.  See the complete listing of events for 2000

Forthcoming Events (organised by the Wirral Ranger Service, Flintshire Countryside Service and/or the RSPB):

8th January. Beginners Birdwatch at West Kirby shore. 11am - 1pm.
Join the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens on West Kirby shore. If you have difficulty telling Knot from Dunlin, or Godwit from Curlew, come along and chat to the experts. There will be telescopes to look through with many thousands of waders on view. Meet at Dee Lane slipway and walk towards Red Rocks nature reserve. 

8th January. Birdwatch at Heswall Shore. 9:15am
Waders and wildfowl galore at the edge of the rising tide (HW12:19, 9.2m). Meet at Banks Road car park (near Sheldrakes), Lower Heswall. Further details, Wirral Country Park 0151 648 4371, or RSPB 0151 336 7681.

9th January. High tide at the Point of Ayr. 11:15am
Exciting coastal birds at the RSPB reserve (HW 12:47, 9.2m). Meet at the end of Station Road, Talacre. For further information contact RSPB 0151 336 7681.

                       Species Spotlight

Recent years have seen a welcome increase in the number of records of Shorelark. Several locations seem to be favoured by the species including the shore at Heswall and other Dee Estuary locations. The most consistent location is the saltmarsh around Gronant (just west of Point of Ayr). Last year saw several birds take up residence throughout the winter 1998/99. Like many species that breed on the arctic tundra, its numbers tend to fluctuate on a cyclical basis.

22nd January. High tide Birdwatch at Parkgate. 1030am.
Make it an extra special visit and combine your high tide birdwatch, (HW12:01, 10.0m), by joining us for lunch at the Boathouse Inn. A light lunch followed by a couple of short entertaining talks by local bird experts. Raffle and question time. Tickets 6.50 available from Lynne Greenstreet 0151 648 5011.

23rd January. High tide Birdwatch at Parkgate. 11am
Spectacular weekend birdwatching as the tide covers the marsh at Gayton Sands RSPB Reserve, Parkgate Old Baths (HW 12:47, 10.0m). Large numbers of waders & wildfowl, will be present. Whilst Water Rail, Peregrine, Merlin, Hen Harrier & Short-eared Owl are all possible. Experts on hand to help you make the most of your visit. Everyone welcome.
Meet at the Old Baths car park, northern end of Parkgate prom (near Boathouse Inn). Further information from Wirral Country Park % 0151 648 4371 or RSPB 0151 336 7681. Jointly organised with the Cheshire and Wirral Ranger Services.

6th February. Birdwatch at Heswall Shore. 9am
Waders and wildfowl galore at the edge of the rising tide (HW11:58, 9.3m). Meet at Banks Road car park (near Sheldrakes), Lower Heswall. Further details, Wirral Country Park 0151 648 4371, or RSPB 0151 336 7681.

Note: Species spotlight and forthcoming events extracted from 'Birdwatchers Diary 2000'. Please e-mail me if you want an electronic copy, hard copy available from the visitor centre at Thurstaston, Wirral Country Park 0151 648 4371. Thanks to Tony Broome for the illustration.