Both the local and national Wetland Bird Survey Reports for 2015/16 have been published and here I give a brief summary. It is always fascinating to see how our wetland birds are doing and whether trends are due to local factors or reflect what is happening on a national scale.
Although the autumn of 2015/16 was nice and settled it has to be said that the winter was a bit of a miserable one with rain and winds. Weather certainly has an effect on bird numbers and generally wader counts on the Dee Estuary were low but wildfowl didn't do too badly - perhaps it was a case of 'nice weather for ducks'.I've picked out six species to go into more detail:
There continues to be a large flock of this species off North Wirral, present throughout the year apart from the breeding season. Highest counts for 2015/16 were 961 on October 10th and 749 on February 25th. Conditions have to be very settled, and the sea flat calm, in order to obtain a good count; for that reason counts are not usually carried out during the official monthly Core Count day and are therefore submitted for WeBS as supplementary counts. The five year average of 849 means that the North Wirral foreshore is the second most important site in the country for this species, although nowhere near the massive numbers at Dungeness and Rye Bay where they had 2,420 in January 2016.
Shelduck are undergoing a slow but steady decline both nationally and locally after peaking in the UK in the 1990s, and on the Dee Estuary in 2004/05 with 13,334. After a very low peak of only 5,061 in 2013/14 numbers have increased since with 6,947 in 2014/15 and 7,171 in 2015/16. The five year average of 6,720 makes the Dee the second most important site in the country with the adjacent Mersey Estuary the most important where there was a count of 10,667 in 2015/16. The Mersey is a post breeding moulting site (numbers peak in August) and undoubtedly many then make there way to the Dee Estuary where peak count is usually in September or October.
Peak count of Teal was 6,839 on September 13th, and this was the third ever highest WeBS count for this species on the Dee Estuary; the highest being 10,715 in December 1991 followed by 9,825 in December 1989. The Dee Estuary 2015/16 max was the third highest in the country for that year although the most important site, Somerset Levels, did have rather more with 30,313! The birds were obviously moving around a lot that year as, although the WeBS count for Nov 15th was only 3,391 for the whole estuary, there was a very high count of 8,000 at Burton Mere Wetlands just a few days earlier on Nov 8th. In the country as a whole Teal are doing well with counts having plateaued out at the turn of the century at a high level after a steady increase for the previous 30 years or so.
There was a very worrying drop in Oystercatcher numbers on the Dee Estuary in 2015/16, you could almost call it bizarre. You can see from the above graph that once birds return from breeding in August numbers don't vary a great deal right through to January after which birds then disperse again to breed. The previous two years were very typical with counts pretty close to the average for the previous 35 years. Oystercatchers are very site faithful so you wouldn't expect very much in the way of month to month variation or even year to year variation. But 2015/16 counts were not only less than half the previous two years but numbers actually decreased through the winter, instead of the more normal small increase.
So what went wrong? The reasons for the
drop are likely to be
complex but a major issue would seem to be lack of food
brought about by the decision to open the cockle beds during the
critical autumn arrival. The Dee Estuary Cockling Order is supposed to
guarantee enough food for the birds whilst maintaining a sustainable
cockle fishery, something seemed to go badly wrong in 2015!
Two bits of good news, the first is that numbers recovered somewhat in 2016/17 with a max of 20,857 in November. This is still well below the previous two years but nevertheless a welcome increase. Secondly, the Dee Estuary remains the third most important site in the country for this species behind Morecambe Bay and Solway Firth.
We've had a couple of relatively good years for Dunlin with the highest August count since the 1970s in 2014 (24,232) whilst the peak winter count has increased for the third year in a row and was 18,419 on Dec 13th 2015. Nationally, numbers have stabilised after a decline since the early 1990s put down to birds 'short-stopping' when they tend to stay in continental Europe due to mild winters. But the big story in 2015/16 was a record breaking count on the nearby Mersey Estuary with 68,334 in December. This was the highest ever count for the Mersey and only ever bettered nationally at the far larger Morecambe Bay when there were two years in the 1990s when counts reached over 70,000. There must have been a big movement westwards in December 2015. The Severn Estuary had 34,489 on the same day as the high Mersey count, which was their highest count for many years, as well as the Dee Estuary's peak winter count of 18,419.
The Icelandic sub-species of
Black-tailed Godwit (islandica)
Iceland and winter mainly in the UK, Ireland, France and
have increased rapidly since the early 1980s although numbers
plateaued out in the past three to four years. The rise in numbers on
the Dee estuary has been particularly spectacular having increased from
three to four hundred in 1985 to 6,159 counted on October 18th 2015,
consequently the Dee is currently the third most important site in the
this species, both in 2015/16 and over the five year average.
Although the October count in 2015 was high, over the following winter counts were actually quite low. It was very noticeable on Thurstaston Shore, where numbers are usually around the 2,000 level in November and December, that as soon as the gales and heavy rain arrived in early November the godwits just disappeared. However, they don't seem to have flown very far and there was a massive count of 6,680 at Marshside RSPB Reserve on the Ribble Estuary in December and counts were high on the Mersey Estuary in the second half of the winter - we know from colour ringing that there is much interchange between these sites and the Dee Estuary so it seems very likely that's where many of 'our' birds went.
1. Frost T.M. et al. WeBS Report
Online: Waterbirds in the UK 2015/16. BTO, RSPB and JNCC in association
2. Neil Friswell and Colin E. Wells, Dee Estuary and North Wirral Foreshore: WeBS Annual Report 2015/16.
3. Lancashire Bird Report 2015.Top of Page
An interesting month, particularly with colour-ringed terns of which more below. With so many gulls turning up after breeding it was no surprise to see a ringed Black-headed Gull, another one ringed in Essex but where do these breed? Given the large number of Oystercatchers on the estuary we see surprisingly few ringed ones, so it was nice to spot one at Hoylake. Large numbers of Black-tailed Godwits were returning from Iceland through July reaching over 2,000 at Caldy by the month-end - in total we saw 14 different colour-ringed birds and I give details of three of these below.
The Dee Estuary is one of the most important post-breeding sites in the country for this species. The colony at Cemlyn Bay (Anglesey) is the nearest breeding colony but strangely there is no evidence that any come from there, however there is evidence from ringing returns that birds come from Ireland including the two colour-ringed juveniles below together with one from the same colony last year.
- black on yellow ring.
Ringed as a chick on Ladys Island Lake, County Wexford, Ireland, on June 21st 2017.
Recorded close to Little Eye on July 20th 2017.
- black on yellow ring.
Ringed as a chick on Ladys Island Lake, County Wexford, Ireland, on July 3rd 2017.
Recorded close to Little Eye on July 20th 2017.
Colour-rings were also reported by Matt Thomas, Steve Hinde, Alan Hitchmough, Jack Slatterly, Henry Cook and the Gronant Wardens.
Waders returned in good numbers and there was a good passage of Whimbrels around the third week of the month with 36 at Gronant on the 19th, and 42 at Heswall and 21 at Hilbre both on the 21st. Black-tailed Godwits had reached over 2,000 at Caldy by the month end, a very good count for July, they roosted at high tide in a private Wildfowl collection and fed on the estuary between Thurstaston and West Kirby at low tide. The first juveniles were arriving by the month-end, the earliest we've ever seen them. Other notable counts of waders included six Common Sandpipers at Heswall on the 4th and 212 Sanderling at Gronant on the 19th.
Two or three Great White Egrets were recorded all month at Burton and across to Shotton and Connah's Quay, peaking at the Connah's Quay Reserve with four on the 31st. Another notable record at Connah's Quay was of three Red Kites flying behind the reserve on the 25th.
There was a report of a 'probable' Lesser Yellowlegs below the Dee Bridge by Connah's Quay on the 14th (but news was only released three days later), with a claimed 'confirmed' sighting on the 21st on Outer Burton Marsh. I don't know the full circumstances of the first record but was contacted directly by somebody on the 21st who said a 'Verifier' who wished to remain anonymous had confirmed the ID, but no details of the exact location or circumstances were forthcoming. I regard the record on the 21st suspicious, indeed highly improbable, which in turn must put the initial record in doubt.
22nd August, 12.21hrs (BST), 9.5m.
23rd August, 13.03hrs (BST), 9.6m.
24th August, 13.42hrs (BST), 9.5m.
Organised by the Wirral
Ranger Service , Flintshire
Countryside Service and the
RSPB (Dee Estuary):
All these events and walks have bird interest, even those not advertised specifically for birdwatching. No need to book for these events unless specified - please check below.
1 pm start.
Price: Free (normal reserve entry charges apply to non-members).
Join one of our friendly, knowledgeable volunteers for a leisurely amble around much of Burton Mere Wetlands, including the unmissable viewpoint at the end of the Hillfort Trail on Burton Point. Take in the sights and sounds, learn more about the wildlife that thrives here, the work we do to give nature a home and the remarkable history of the estuary.
Great for first time visitors or those looking to brush up on their identification skills; with constant changes as we move through the seasons, it's impossible to predict what might be seen. Summer may be a quieter time for birds since they finish defending territories as breeding season ends, but the growing avocet chicks and fledged little egrets and herons loafing close to the hides are great to watch. Warm sunny days will bring out the various dragon and damselflies that make their home on the reserve, along with butterflies and basking common lizards! Some birds begin their return migration just as we are getting settled into summer so sometimes unexpected birds may be found.
No booking required, just turn up on the day. A reasonable level of fitness and sturdy footwear are required. Walks typically last up to 3 hours, weather permitting.
Ring 0151 353 8478 for further details.
WIRRAL WADER FESTIVAL September 8th to 10th 2017 - Further details will be published in September Newsletter on this website but here are a few highlights:
8th: Iolo Williams Friday Evening Talk - Wildlife of the
Where: Heswall Hall, Heswall
Time: Doors open 7.00pm for 7.30pm start. Cost £15. Booking
Parking: CH60 0AF (for sat nav use CH60 4RH). Nearby municipal car
parks free after 6.30pm
September 9th: Sunset walk to Hilbre Island.
Saturday 5.30pm-8pm. Booking essential. £3 fee
Jo in Wirral Rangers and Cheshire Wildlife Trust o n a magical w alk to Hilbre
Island. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to book and for meet ing details.
(Composting toilet available on the Island, no other facilities).