23.08.12. Birdlog

23.08.12. Birdlog

An evening watch saw waders coming in from the river during high tide and although in low numbers they nevertheless produced 2 (juvenile) Sanderling, a single (juvenile) Little Stint, 300 Dunlin and 100+ Ringed Plover. 2 Common Sandpiper on the eastern edge of the tank whilst 2 Greenshank choose to keep instead to the flooded vegetation areas on the western side.

A Short-eared Owl on No 5 tank was notable. The fragmented flock of Goldfinches saw 300 perched on poplar trees bordering this tank.

A female Sparrowhawk kept below the radar and was noticed by the high numbers of hirundines over the marsh.

Observers: Paul Crawley, Arthur Harrison, the Chester Boys, WSM

22.08.12. Birdlog

22.08.12. Birdlog

Morning Watch: 500 Canada and an assortment of Greylag and Greylag mutants with 224 Curlew on No 5 tank. A juvenile Curlew Sandpiper and 4 Common Sandpiper on No 6 tank.

Observer: WSM

Evening Watch: 45 Ringed Plover, 3 Black-tailed Godwit and 4 Dunlin. 64 Teal, Sparrowhawk and Peregrine. The gull roost included a 2nd summer and a colour ringed adult Mediterranean Gull, 240 Black-headed and 50 Common Gulls.

250 Swallow and smaller numbers of House Martins and an impressive flock of 500+ Goldfinch were dancing through the thistle heads on No 5 tank.

Observers: Paul Crawley and WSM.

Part of the 500 strong flock of Goldfinches over No 5 tank. Image by Paul Crawley

Sparrowhawk mobbed by hirundines over No 6 tank. Image by Paul Crawley

Stop Press: A colour ringed Black-tailed Godwit recorded on No 6 tank in late July was ringed in Iceland as a chick this summer. Details to follow when they arrive.

21.08.12. Birdlog

21.08.12. Birdlog

An adult and 3 Water Rail chicks, 3 Snipe, 2 Green Sandpiper and 1 Common Sandpiper, 5 Black-tailed Godwit, 3 Whimbrel, 7 Ringed Plover and interestingly 80 Golden Plover flying to the Score from the south-east (MT). A juvenile Mediterraean Gull came into the gull roost (IL). 3 Yellow Wagtail and 4 Swifts moving through.

Water Rail chick. Image by WSM.

A Hobby chasing Swallows over Godscroft Lane was a welcome surprise for the observer (PC), and close by but just outside this area was a Tawny Owl caught in the beam of my car headlights (JS,WSM).

Observer: Paul Crawley, Arthur Harrison, Ian Igglesden, Mike Turton, Sparky, WSM.

How to Score on Frodsham Score again!

Cheshire has lost one of the UK’s top ten wetlands!

 It is true that Cheshire used to have 2 of the top ten wetlands in the UK for overwintering wildfowl and waders.  For many years the Dee Estuary has been the 7th or 8th most important wetland for waterfowl while the Mersey has ranked 9th in country.  However, as table 1 shows, since 2007 the Mersey has dropped out of the top ten and is now ranked 17th, while the Dee has remained at number 7.

Table 1 5 yearly average of waterfowl on the Mersey Estuary and Dee Estuary

Mersey

Dee

Year

Average

rank

Average

rank

2009-10

63,865

17

113,182

7

2008-09

67,789

17

119,813

7

2007-08

79,504

13

129,271

7

2006-07

85,801

11

134,002

7

2005-06

94,025

10

148,003

7

2004-05

100,923

10

148,986

7

2003-04

105,976

9

144,365

7

2001-03

104,218

9

125,623

8

2000-01

108,635

9

123,010

8

1999-2000

104,784

9

121,954

8

1998-99

109,475

9

128.341

7

1995-96

99,448

9

123,855

7

 At the CAWOS meeting on the 7th October 2011 Neil Calbrade (WeBS Reserarch Ecologist, BTO) gave a very interesting talkspeculating about why numbers of birds on the Mersey seem to have fallen recently.  Between 1996 and 2006 I helped with the monthly waterfowl counts on the Mersey so I was keen to find out why the numbers had fallen so sharply since I’d stopped, surely I wasn’t to blame!

 Neil said that there had been an increasing general trend for birds flying from Siberia and Europe for the British winter to stay on the east coast rather than move onto the west coast.  This is probably due to milder winters meaning it no longer pays to move to the west coast, and this could be the reason why numbers of birds on east coast wetlands have increased while those on the west coast have fallen.

 How do we know this?

We know this because each month, on a particular day, birdwatchers count the waders and ducks present on every wetland in Britain.  The counts, known as the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) are coordinated by the BTO and provide a massive data set.  (see http://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/webs/publications/annual-reports) .  Each year they produce an annual report that summarises for each species and wetland the numbers of birds present each winter and gives a rolling 5 year average for sites and species.  This means that the affect of unusual events or counts do not distort the data.

 I have used the WeBS count data to look at the top estuaries and tracked the number of wintering birds from 1995-96 to 2009-10. There is a clear trend: west coast estuaries have been losing birds, while those on the east coast now hold more birds.  Table 2 shows Britain’s top wetlands and how those rankings have changed since 1995-96. Two estuaries on the east coast, North Norfolk and Breydon Water, have shown a remarkable 143% increase while two wetlands in the west, the Mersey Estuary and Lough Neagh, have shown very significant declines. So it would seem that there is a clear trend and the Mersey is being affected by this, more than most other west coast estuaries.

 Table 2 Britain’s Top Wetlands

Site

1995-96

rank

2009-10

Rank

coast

Change

Wash

522,521

1

387,024

1

East

20%

Ribble

269,132

2

236,881

2

West

-12%

Morecambe Bay

221,251

3

202,735

4

West

-8%

Humber

161,973

4

150,192

6

East

-7%

Thames

151,578

5

180,681

5

East

19%

Solway

136,132

6

98,631

9

West

-28%

Dee

123,855

7

113,182

7

West

-9%

Lo.Neagh/Beg

102,541

8

52,441

20

West

-49%

Mersey

99,448

9

63,865

17

West

-36%

N Norfolk

83,590

12

203,480

3

East

143%

Breydon Water

43,281

26

105,070

8

East

143%

 Why are Bird Numbers Falling on the Mersey?

Since the CAWOS meeting I have rejoined my friends counting on the Mersey and they have confirmed that several species have shown very significant declines.  Table 3, below, shows that species like Wigeon, Pintail, Golden and Grey Plover have declined and are no longer of national importance.  Other species like Teal, Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank and Dunlin have all declined significantly but are still of international or national importance.

 Table 3 Bird Species of National importance that use the Mersey estuary

95-96

rank

2009-10

rank

Great Crested Grebe

126

 *

 *

Canada Goose

3,015

1

Shelduck

5,039

5

16,163

1

Wigeon

11,752

7

 *

 *

Teal

11,667

2

6,397

3

Pintail

2,744

4

 *

 *

Golden Plover

3,070

19

 *

 *

Grey Plover

1,012

20

 *

 *

Lapwing

11,680

11

5723

 *

Dunlin

44,300

2

35,549

2

Black-tailed Godwit

1,480#

6

1,465

14

Redshank

4,689

4

3,039

12

*No longer of national importance

#1999-2000 figure

 The BTO are concerned about these declines and have issued alerts for 11 of the 12 key species that winter on the estuary. (see www.bto.org/webs/alerts ) No one knows why the declines have occurred.  We know that over this time period pollution levels have fallen.  Has a cleaner estuary meant fewer birds?  Cleaner water should mean more fish and we know that salmon have now returned to the River Mersey to breed, so it is surprising that a fish eating species like Great Crested Grebes have also declined.  There may be other man made factors that we cannot detect, or perhaps just natural changes in the proportions of saltmarsh and mudflat and their position the estuary.  Certainly the main channel is very active and since my visit in January 2006 and my last visit in October 2011 the spartina in Manistay Bay has increased at the expense of mudflat.  It is hard to see that recreation has had much impact as the south side is still cut off from the outside world except for a few wildfowlers and the monthly duck counters.

 We do know that there is much interchange of birds between the Mersey and the Dee (and to a lesser extent, the Ribble and Alt estuaries). I have compared changes on the Dee with the Mersey. Figure 1 shows that, although the Dee has shown a boom in recent years while the Mersey was decreasing, the Dee is also now falling and at the same rate as the Mersey. It may be that there is a wider issue with the Cheshire estuaries and it is just that the Mersey started to decline first.

How to Score on Frodsham Score again!

The fact that is causing me most concern is that when I went on the count in October I was 30 years younger than the next youngest person!  There are 3 or 4 dedicated duck counters; some, like Graham Thomason, have been doing it since the 1960s while others have been doing it for a mere 20 years.  The group in October were all over 70 years old and most have at least one of their joints replaced, but they still turn out each month! Looking back at the WeBS records recent counts on the Mersey are often in brackets which means an incomplete count.  Therefore it could be that some of the decline is not an actual decline but a reflection of a lack of coverage. The existing team cannot cover such a big estuary and so we desperately need help.  The lack of counters is not the main reason for the apparent decline in the Mersey but it is a concern, and without reliable and complete counts it is hard to assess the issue fully.

 The Mersey Estuary needs you! Despite the decline it is still an internationally important wetland and there are still spectacular numbers of birds, with over 30,000 Dunlin.  Whooper Swans have been increasing recently and in amongst the Canada Geese that I saw in October was a Barnacle Goose and two Egyptian Geese.  Birds of prey are common with Peregrine always present and Merlin seen on most winter counts.  Hen harriers sometimes winter on the Mersey Estuary and the Frodsham Marsh Harriers also hunt the area.  Little Egrets have increased and there is usually something out of the ordinary like Snow or Lapland Bunting or Wheatear.  I have even had a Redstart on passage.  Some of you might remember Frodsham’s purple patch in 1999 when a Terek, and then Broad-billed Sandpiper turned up within a couple of weeks of each other.  Where did they disappear off to? The Mersey Estuary.  So rarities do turn up and if you find one then you can have it to yourself as no one else will be able to get there until next month! What’s more is you can get closer to the wader flocks than you can on the Dee Estuary.

 We desperately need new birders.  There is no public access to the South side of the estuary, except once a month when we go through Stanlow Oil Refinery and get the ferry across the Manchester Ship Canal.  We then count all the waders in Manistay Bay, at Stanlow Point, in the River Gowy and at Ince and Frodsham Score.  Although the winter counts are the most important there is a count each month.  Counts in July and August in the late 1990s and early 2000s revealed a build up of up to 20,000 Shelduck making this most important moulting site in Britain for this species.

 The next count is on December 11th.  We will meet at 8am at entrance number 4 off Oil Sites Road, Stanlow Oil Refinery.  If you want to come please ring Graham Thomason on 0151 424 7257 or email me

dermot.smith@fsmail.net, or find the Mersey Estuary WeBS on the Facebook page. It is a big place and, although flat, walking to Frodsham Score is an 8 mile round trip so the counts usually takes about 6 hours from meeting to departing. We will publish the 2012 dates when available on the CAWOS website, in Bird News, on Facebook and wherever else we can.

 Please put your birding to good use and help us to maintain coverage of one of Britain’s best and most inaccessible wetlands.

Mersey WeBS 2012

Meet at Stanlow Oil Refinery visitors’ entrance, off Oil Sites Road.  Travelling from the East turn first left to the visitors’ entrance, under the railway line, left at the roundabout and we meet in the car park on the left at the following times, all dates are Sundays:

15th Jan 12noon tide 9M

12th Feb 10.30am 9.6M

11th March 9.30am 9.9M

8th April 9.30am 10.0M

20th May 8.30am 8.7M

24th June 11.30am 8.6M

22nd July 10.30am 9.1M

19th Aug 9.30am 9.4M

16th Sept 08.30am 9.5M

14th Oct 7.30am 9.3M

18th Nov 10.30am 9.4M

16th Dec 9.30am 9.9M

Bring warm and water proof clothes, wellington boots and your lunch.  Counts usually take about 6 hours and there are NO toilets!

If you want to come please ring Graham Thomason on 0151 424 7257 or Dermot Smith 01925 602397.

Dermot Smith

Graham Thomason – Pioneers of Birding

Pioneers of Birding – Frodsham Marsh style

Graham Thomason


Graham Thomason at the MRG 50th anniversary. Image by (Chris Benson/Kenny McNiffe. Merseyside Ringing Group)

Frodsham Marsh 1953

My first visit to Frodsham Marsh was to No 4 tank Sludge pool (now referred to as tanks) was on 26th September 1953, and during the rest of that autumn I saw all the expected waders-Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Ruff, Greenshank etc which were all new birds for me.

During the winter of 1953/54 I continued my visits most Saturdays and duck numbers built up, giving me my first Wigeon, Pintail and Shoveler and birds such as Short-eared Owl, Peregrine and Merlin.

On Saturday 13th February 1954 I was cycling along the road on the south side by, what was then, the old farm building, when I heard calls of Wigeon just over the bank.

Dropping my bike in the grass I walked down the track and climbed up the bank. On reaching the top I peered through the grass, to see a sight that is still vivid in my mind today. Below me, at very close range, the ducks were spread out on the water-20 Mallard, 200 Teal, 70 Wigeon, 32 Pintail, 28 Shoveler, 17 Tufted Duck, 22 Pochard and 2 immature male Smew-not more than 60 ft away! I lay there admiring my first Smew, watching them diving and surfacing with small fish, before swallowing them.

After cycling round to the north side of the sludge pools I later returned to have another look at the Smew, before I headed for home but there was no sign of them.

At this point I thought of the Weaver estuary a place I had not been to before, and had no idea how to get to! However, I set off, pushing my bike across No 1 sludge tank until I stumbled across the River Weaver. Just as I dropped my bike down and looked across the river 7 Smew flew passed me flying up river-4 male and 3 female together with a female Goosander. Also on the other side of the river, on Weston Marsh (before it became another sludge pool) 47 White-fronted Geese were grazing. In those days White-fronts were regular visitors and although they usually spent the day on the Dee meadows, they nearly always flighted back to the Mersey to roost-often up to 3-400 birds.

That evening I telephoned R.H Allen and arranged to meet him the following morning. He informed Major A.W Boyd and the next morning we all met up to look for the Smew, which was the biggest flock in Cheshire for over 20 years.

By then their numbers had dropped to 3 birds a single male and 2 females but the Goosander was still present and 2 female Scaup had appeared. Not a bad weekend for a beginner!

Graham Thomason

20.08.12. Birdlog

20.08.12. Birdlog

The juvenile Curlew Sandpiper continues its stay on No 6 tank sharing it with 120 Ringed and 1 Little Ringed Plover, 19 Black-tailed Godwit (including a colour ringed bird), 3 Dunlin, 1 Green Sandpiper and a Peregrine surveying the proceedings. A male Marsh Harrier moving through was  suggested to be a migrant passing through? The Water Rail and her two chicks were again viewable in the warmth of the evening sunlight.

9 Common Sandpiper on Weston Marsh side of the Weaver Bend and along the hedge rows were a single Willow Warbler and 6 Chiffchaff.

Observers: Paul Crawley, Peter Twist, Arthur Harrison, WSM.

19.08.12. Birdlog

19.08.12. Birdlog

The juvenile Curlew Sandpiper continues to feed in the shallow waters of No 6 tank . Also present is a single Little Stint, Avocet, 2 Spotted Redshank, 3 Green Sandpiper, 3 Ringed Plover, 50 Curlew and 4 Black-tailed Godwits and a late Cuckoo.

The two Water Rail chicks were again present.

Paul Crawley, Frank Duff, John  (Telford birder).

Willow Warbler Image by Paul Crawley.

Curlew Sandpiper (juvenile). Image by Alyn Chambers.

18.08.12. Birdlog

18.08.12. Birdlog

A juvenile Curlew Sandpiper was the first of its age this year. 4 Common and a single Green Sandpiper were on No 6 tank. 45 Ringed Plover, 25 Dunlin and a single Sanderling came onto the tank during the high tide on the River Mersey.

A juvenile female Peregrine and 2 Marsh Harriers, 3 Kestrel and a young Sparrowhawk were present during the watch. 660 Canada Geese were again on No 5 tank.

A fine male Redstart at the viewing area on No 6 tank. Also, 2 juvenile Whitethroat, a Lesser Whitethroat and Garden Warbler by the Weaver Bend. 30 Swifts moving south were signs despite the exceptionally warm weather that summer migrants had an urgent agenda ahead of them.

Observer: Frank Duff, Paul Crawley, Alyn Chambers, WSM.