It's been a great winter for Common
Scoters Melanitta nigra
off the mouth of the Dee Estuary with no less than seven counts higher
than the previous record number of 5,650 which had been recorded on
5th 2008. But the 27,000
seen from Hilbre on March 3rd this year was one of those great wildlife
spectacles that will always remain in the memory of those who saw it.
There was an exceptionally high spring tide that day together with a
flat calm and clear weather - so seeing conditions
were ideal. As the spectacle unfolded there were hundreds of Scoters
quite close in to the north end of Hilbre in constant motion when
suddenly there was a massive movement of 15,000 all in the air together
flying east, that still left 12,000 in huge rafts on the sea. Awesome!
See Video http://youtu.be/eQr1usVqKME
By any standards this was an
exceptional number, so where did these birds come from? The short
answer is just 20km down the coast in Colwyn Bay where several thousand
are regular visitors. A look at the graphs below show that at both
there has been a definite increase in numbers in recent years and it
would seem likely that the same birds are moving between the two areas.
But we need to put these counts into
perspective. As part of the Envionmental Assessments required for the
then proposed off-shore windfarms in Liverpool Bay a series of Aerial
Surveys were carried out by Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust
between 2001/02 and 2006/07. The average max counts for Liverpool Bay
from those surveys
was around 54,000, including a high count of 79,136 in 2002/03. These
were far higher than any previous numbers recorded simply because a
large number of these birds are out of sight of land
particularly off Blackpool. As a
consequence of these high numbers, plus the presence of over 1,000
Red-throated Divers, Liverpool Bay was declared a Special Protection
Area under the EC Birds Directive in 2010. So it is good to know just
important Liverpool Bay is for Common Scoters, and it is good that
we have been seeing large numbers locally this winter.
Scoters breed across
the western half of Siberia and winter in the Baltic Sea and
on the eastern Atlantic coast from Norway down to north-west Africa,
total numbers are difficult to estimate but the most
recent put them at 550,000, much lower than the 1,600,000
normally quoted. In this country Liverpool Bay is the most important
area for them with the next most important site being Carmarthen Bay
with typically 20,000 present. Counts from the latter site suggest that
birds start to leave there during January and it could well
be that they then move north to Liverpool Bay were max numbers are
recorded in late winter and early spring. As always with
birds the true situation is more complicated and not fully understood,
with 34,049 counted at Carmarthen Bay in March 2011 contradicting the
above theory! The truth is that we know little about the movements of
these birds, but with many over-wintering much further
south than the UK it seems likely that many of these also
pass through Liverpool Bay on their way to breed. It is also noticeable
that we can get high counts in September when birds are
with 3,000 observed from Hilbre on Sep 21st 2013 a good example of that.
Scoters and Wind Farms
In Liverpool Bay Scoters and
Windfarms seem to
be inexorably linked. For example, the above mentioned aerial
surveys discovered a previously unknown flock of
Shell Flat, off Blackpool, and their presence contributed to
cancellation of the proposed 90 turbine windfarm there.
if you look out from Point of Ayr, Hilbre or North Wirral you will see
an ever increasing number of turbines and you might ask whether these
are having a positive or negative effect on the Scoters.
Windfarms can undoubtedly have a
positive effect on the sea life of the
area. Fish numbers increase as they are protected from trawling, in
these days of continuing over fishing that has got to be a good thing.
Additionally, the base of the turbines, which are
by boulders to prevent scouring, act as a new reef where shellfish can
grow and fish larva find shelter. On the negative side birds flying at
rotor height can be killed
although Scoters do usually fly well below any danger. But just the
presence of the turbines and their associated boat movements,
particularly at the construction stage, means birds usually
avoid windfarms and thus a large area is effectively lost to
both as a feeding area and as a migration route.
far as Scoters in Liverpool Bay are concerned the current construction
of the huge 160 turbine Gwynt-Y-Mor wind farm off the North Wales coast
may well be
resulting in birds out there being pushed nearer the land, and perhaps
further east, thus resulting in the increased number recorded from the
shore. However, research in Denmark suggests that the birds do
eventually get used to turbines, although it is doubtful if they would
go close enough to make use of the shellfish growing immediately
underneath. Interestingly, the aerial surveys carried out before
windfarm construction began, indicated that the large majority of
Scoters off North Wales and Wirral were located relatively close to the
and inland of where the windfarms now are.
their presence could be having a major effect on migration routes with
Gwynt-Y-Mor effectively blocking the route between Colwyn Bay and Shell
Flat. Perhaps that is why we are seeing more birds off the Dee Estuary
as the scoters are being forced to go east around the new massive
windfarm. It is a pity the aerial surveys stopped in 2007 as
would have been fascinating to see exactly what effect the windfarms
are having on the distribution of Common Scoters right across the
Liverpool Bay SPA.
Common Scoter resting on the seawall at
Leasowe Lighthouse ©Andy Thomas
Sources of Information
1. Hilbre Bird Observatory - http://www.hilbrebirdobs.blogspot.co.uk/.
2. Richard Smith; Common Scoters, Liverpool Bay SPA and Windfarms -
Estuary Website July 2008.
3. Taej Mundkur and Szabolcs Nagy et
, Waterbird Population Estimates Fifth Edition,
Wetlands International 2012.
4. BTO, WeBS Report Online, http://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/webs
5. Cheshire and Wirral Bird Reports, 1967 to 2012, CAWOS.
6. Clwyd Bird Reports/North-east Wales Bird Reports - various between
1990 and 2012.
Changes in bird habitat utilisation around the Horns Rev 1 offshore
wind farm, with particular emphasis on Common Scoter, University of
Aarhus - Denmark, NERI, 2007.
8. Positive environmental impacts of offshore wind farms, EWEA, 2013.
Liverpool Bay SPA, Advice under Regulation 35 (3) of the Conservation
Habitats and Species Regulations 2010, Natural England and Countryside
Council for Wales.
10. Aerial Surveys of Waterbirds in Strategic Windfarm Areas:2007, WWT
11. Waterbirds in the UK; BTO, RSPB and WWT; Reports for 2000-01 to
12. M.J. Kaiser et al
Distribution and behaviour of Common Scoter Melanitta nigra
relative to prey resources and environmental parameters; Ibis (2006),
Burbo Bank Extension Offshore Wind Farm, Agreed Statement of Common
Ground with Natural Resources Wales and Natural England on red-throated
diver, DONG energy, March 2014.
14. A.J. Musgrove et al
Overwinter population estimates of British waterbirds, British Birds
104 July 2011.
15. David Cabot, Wildfowl, The New Naturalist Library, Collins, 2009.
Madness at Red Rocks - Part 2
For those who haven't already done so I urge you to read my first
article on this subject published in the April Newsletter - Madness at Red Rocks.
have had a temendous response to that article and I know many people
have contacted both Natural England (NE) and Cheshire Wildlife Trust
(CWT) with their opinions - for which many thanks. Many thanks also for
everyone who has contacted myself directly offering support, this is
very much appreciated.
Currently it is fairly quiet at Red
Rocks. We understand that CWT are to review their management plan and
there has been a rather vague offer of consultation at some stage. We
do hope this is a meaningful and full consultation where there is a
full and frank discussion with an agreement at the end of it - and we
would strongly suggest that there must be a full survey of the site
any further work takes
place. We do not want what we got in our meeting in March
there was no consultation and a breakdown in trust - as a direct result
of that farce I wrote that 'Madness at Red Rocks' article. It is also
essential that we see all the relevant documents which NE and CWT have
produced involving this work so we know exactly what was agreed prior
to the work starting in February, and exactly what is planned for the
future. We have asked for these through 'Freedom of Information', the
request was made on April 1st but nothing had arrived by April 30th
which seems excessively slow.
Below are a few extracts from some of the emails received:
To CWT and NE:
"I appreciate that at Red Rocks you
will have management plans to follow and that sand dunes may be rare
habitat on the peninsula but I also think that it is vital for you to
consult with local users of the reserve including the many dedicated
local birders who have helped record birds there over the years as they
will have valuable local knowledge. I recall seeing my first
Wryneck in the bushes you intend to clear and more importantly seeing
breeding grasshopper warblers. In the 1970’s there
were several local areas where grasshopper warblers nested but the
conversion to horse paddocks and general tidying up has meant
that few if any on these areas now remain. Red Rocks is a
vital breeding area for this declining species."
"Picking up on one of the points
raised in the article, I can vouch that the trees you have recently
felled have been there for many years. I recall
them there in the early 1970s and, even back then, Mistle thrushes
nested in them."
"Having spent many hours in the Red
Rocks area as a school child, in the early 1970s, and later as part of
my 'beat' as a new police constable, I have been appalled to read of
the recent felling of the poplar trees."
"I have discovered the joy of bird watching only recently and rely on
the expertise of enthusiasts such as Richard Smith who runs the dee
estuary web site. Richard is seeking to have the site reassessed and to
allow local experts such as himself to impart their unique knowledge of
the site to enable best policy to be implemented. He has the support of
everyone I have spoken to on this matter."
"I have read your shocking article about the damage to Red
Rocks. I had been already aware of this but was shocked to
hear of the absolute lack of any meaningful consultation prior to this
and also the mistruths that have been circulated by the CWT. I clearly
remember birding at Red Rocks as long ago as 1976 and the poplars being
a prominent feature then. I am aware that Nature
England is little more than a government quango but would have expected
better from CWT."
just read the piece about Red Rocks on the Dee Estuary website, I am
staggered by what basically amounts to mindless destruction of a very
important wildlife habitat."
"Your article explaining what was happening at Red Rocks was
read with growing disbelief as my wife and I had recently walked along
the boardwalk and been taken aback at the assault on the poplars. We
assumed that there was a sound reason behind the apparent upheaval but
on reading your beautifully expiated story it became clear that there
"The trees were important not only for the shelter they provided
for birds, but a fine ground-cover of interesting plants was
April Bird News
Male Redstart at Leasowe Lighthous, April 21st © Andy Thomas.
It was a great month for Common Redstarts with a total of 42 records,
this compares to a total of 27 for the whole of the spring last year,
in itself a good number. Although we haven't had a day when there was a
spectacular fall of migrants birds were coming through steadily all
month. We had our first Yellow Wagtails and Lesser Whitethroats on the
11th and first Whinchat on the 15th with 15 Whinchats at Red Rocks on
the 28th an excellent number. The first Grasshopper Warbler
was seen on the 12th and seven were heard reeling at Red Rocks
on the 18th. We are very hopeful some of these Red-listed
birds will stay to breed here this year, although if Cheshire Wildlife
Trust and Natural England have their way it will be the last time they
will. There was a good passage of White Wagtails with 135 on Hoylake
beach on the 11th and 125 at Gronant on the 24th the highest counts. A
Wood Warbler was in woods at Newton at the end of the month. However,
we still wait for our first Cuckoo and Swift.
| White Wagtail
| Willow Warbler
|| 12th March
| Sand Martin
|| West Kirby
| House Martin
|| 4th April
We had some great rarities during the month including a Velvet Scoter
and Night Heron at Leasowe Lighthouse, a Wyrneck at Red Rocks and a
Little Bunting on Hilbre.
Velvet Scoter at Leasowe Lighthouse,
© Jeremy Bradshaw
Other migrants, on their way to Iceland, included Black-tailed Godwits
with up to 970 at West Kirby and Pink-footed Geese with 3,500 heading
north early in the month.
Apart from the large numbers of the afore-mentioned Common Scoters we
also had a good selection of Divers plus an Icealnd Gull and a
Glaucous Gull out to sea. Both Ospreys and Marsh Harriers were seen in
good numbers heading north.
Yellow Wagtail and friend, Leasowe
Lighthouse, April 23rd © AndyThomas
Many thanks go to Mark Tuner, Matt
Hinde, Jane Turner, Dave Edwards, Ian Fleming, Frank
Burns, Paul Mason, David Leeming, Dan
Trotman, Les Hall, Allan Conlin, David
Haigh, Andy Davis, Alan Irving, Mike Buckley, Jeremy
Bradshaw, Alan Hitchmough, John
Jakeman, Steve Williams, Andy Thomas, Ray
Eades, Paul Vautrinot, Mal Sergeant, Bruce
Atherton, Gail Wilson, Chris
Schofield, Nick Hill, Bill Wonderley,
David Small, David Peate, Jeff Stephens, Steve Hand, David
Steve Oakes, Charles Farnell, Leon Castell, Julie Rogers, Richard
Steel, Bill Dickinson, Mike Hart, Bill Keig, Malcol Guy, John Watson,
Chris Smith, Tomy Quinn, George Knight, Sean O'Hara, Tony Edwards,
Steve Hasell, Colin Wells, Lynne Leslie, Janine Johnson, Glyn Roberts,
Jon Greep, Steve Liston, the Lighthouse
and Wirral Birding Blog
and the Hilbre Bird
for their sightings during April. All
are gratefully received.
What to expect in May
May can be particularly
waders and we can get thousands of Dunlin and hundreds of Ringed Plover
passing through, particularly on Hoylake shore and Gronant. By now the
be in full breeding plumage and Grey Plovers, Bar-tailed Godwits,
Black-tailed Godwits and Knots can look particularly stunning. It is
also a good month for rare waders and we've seen both a Broad-billed
Sandpiper and Temminck's Stint in recent years, as well as Curlew
Sandpipers and Little Stints. The Avocets at Burton Mere Wetlands will
be busy nesting and we should have chicks by the end of the month.
to sea we can get large movements of Gannets and given a good blow Manx
Shearwaters as well. Little Terns will return to Gronant and will start
breeding by the end of the month.
The spring migration is
still well underway and we can get some spectacular numbers of
Wheatears, and we can get days when the sky just seems to be full of
Swifts with a total of thousands.
Spring Tides (Liverpool)
1st May, 13.18hrs (BST), 9.3m.
16th May, 12.55hrs (BST), 9.3m.
17th May, 13.39hrs (BST), 9.3m.
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.
Also see 2014 Events Diary.
Saturday 10th May 12:00 noon – 3:00pm
Take Tea with the RSPB:
across the sands to Hilbre Island where the RSPB will be serving tea
and biscuits during the above date and time. They will be on
show you some of the island’s unique wildlife and will tell you about
the work that the RSPB are doing at their fantastic reserve at Burton
Mere Wetlands. There is no need to book, just turn
clothing and footwear are essential for the walk out and please note –
this is not a guided walk. Remember to bring money for the
For further information, please telephone Wirral Country Park on (0151)
Saturday 24th May 10:00am – 2:00pm
Spring on Hilbre:
Join the Coastal Rangers, RSPB and Wirral Wildlife on this low tide
Island. We will see the flowers and plants that flourish on this tidal
island, learn about the birdlife and the island's history.
clothing, footwear and sunblock are recommended for this
lunch and something to drink along with binoculars if you have them.
Places are limited and a suggested donation of £3 will be gratefully
received on the day for this event.
Booking is essential (0151) 648 4371