The Little Tern colony at Gronant had an excellent season in 2017 with a record number of breeding pairs (161) and the second highest fledgling count of 202.
The increase in breeding pairs, up from 141 in 2016, was unexpected as we had five relative poor years from 2011 to 2015 with fledgling success and in the past that meant a subsequent dip in breeding pairs. For example, looking at the graph you can see two poor fledgling years in 1997 and 1998 resulted in fewer breeding pairs in 2002 whilst a very poor year in 2001 saw less breeding pairs in both 2004 and 2005. The increase in 2017 could be explained by high adult survival in the wintering grounds and on migration, and/or immigration of breeding birds to Gronant from other colonies because of ideal breeding habitat and good feeding. Or maybe the colony is still benefiting from the record breaking season of 2010.
According to the RSPB, Gronant was the largest Little Tern colony, in terms of breeding pairs, in the whole of the British Isles in 2017. But it wasn't the most productive with that accolade going to Kilcoole, just south of Dublin, with 141 pairs producing an estimated 255 successfully fledged young. Kilcoole is only 100 miles due west of Gronant and there appears to be quite a lot of inter-change between the two colonies. We know this because a big effort has been made to colour ring Little Terns over the past two or three years and there were no less than 56 records of birds ringed at Kilcoole at Gronant in 2017, including newly fledged young birds. Colour-ringing is going to revolutionise our understanding of these birds but a couple of fascinating facts have already emerged - a bird ringed as a chick with a black ring in 1991 was recorded at Gronant in 2017 which means it is 26 years old, a world longevity record for Little Tern (previous record was 23.8 years), and the other interesting finding was that several one year old birds, including five ringed at Gronant in 2016, were recorded as well as several two year old birds. Perceived wisdom had it that the first year birds all stay on their wintering grounds off West Africa through the summer, as do most second year birds - well, it seems perceived wisdom was wrong!
Although 2017 was undoubtedly a good year it wasn't without it's problems with some exceptional high tides, gales and not least a fox which got into the breeding pens. Quite a lot of eggs were lost to that fox but it was early in the season so the birds could re-lay but if the wardens hadn't stopped it's activities the whole colony could well have been destroyed. This just demonstrates how vitally important wardening is and, as always, a large proportion of these are volunteers. Anybody can volunteer so if you are interested please contact either the North Wales Little Tern Group by emailing email@example.com or ring Denbighshire Countryside Services 01745 356197. See also Little Tern Events below.
1. Henry Cook, Ben Harrington, Sasha Taylor & Jack Slattery, Gronant Little Tern Report 2017, Denbighshire County Council Countryside Service.
3. Gronant Site Guide: http://www.deeestuary.co.uk/news0609.htm
4. Kilcoole Little Tern Conservation Project - littleternconservation.blogspot.co.uk.
5. Little Terns and Sea Holly, Three
Summers at Gronant Dunes by Judith Samuel.
Colour-rings were also recorded by Steve Hinde, Eddie Williams, Matt Thomas, Steve Williams, Derek Bates, Allan Hitchmough and Tim Kinch.
The spring migration was steady without being spectacular, although there were big numbers of White Wagtails moving through Hoylake Shore with three figure counts on four dates, max 300+ on the 16th. There were also 40 on Hilbre on the 16th, over 20 at Leasowe Lighthouse on the 19th and 30 at Gronant on the 29th.
The table below shows the first arrival of some of our commoner migrants (plus Cuckoo which is now scarce), apart from the early Wheatear arrival dates were not untypical for recent years.
| 7th April
| 23rd April
Wood Warblers are getting quite rare these days so it was good to see a nice showy one at Leasowe Lighthouse on the 15th as the photo shows, first one there for many years. One singing male (there were some reports of two?) was in the wood by the Reception Hide at Burton Mere Wetlands from 20th to 25th. It is always good to see Ring Ouzels and Common Redstarts and we had plenty of both with the first of the former on the 3rd and the latter on the 9th, a lovely male Ring Ouzel stayed at least a week at Leasowe Lighthouse see photo below. The first Whinchats were early arriving on April 9th, Yellow Wagtails were a bit thin on the ground, the first one was seen on the 14th with just one or two since.
A Green-winged Teal was on Heswall Shore from the 19th to 24th giving good views, we think a first for that part of the estuary. A white-morph Snow Goose was on Burton Marsh on the 24th and 25th, with several hundred Pink-footed Geese. Pink-footed Geese are known as 'carriers' for this species so it is a possible wild bird, although it's origin as a feral or escaped bird is probably more likely. Over 8,000 Pink-footed Geese were recorded heading north through the month, mainly at dawn, a spectacular sight. Having been present all winter two or three Eiders were present off Hilbre all month and it was presumably two of these which were seen off Heswall on the 28th. A Long-tailed Duck was spotted off the north end of Hilbre on the 18th.
There were several reports of a single Red Kite over Wirral, both early in the month and in the third week. I'm told they are breeding on Halkyn Mountain (inland of Holywell) so perhaps they are coming over from there. Ospreys were recorded on four dates, including excellent views on two consecutive days at Leasowe Lighthouse including one landing on the shore and eating a fish.
Whimbrels peaked on the 27th with 49 at Heswall and there was a record 155 Avocets at Burton Mere Wetlands right at the end of the month. Out to sea there were three Great Northern Divers and 42 Red-throated Divers off north Wirral/Hilbre on the 17th. The most unusual record of the month was of a White Stork over Burton Mere Wetlands on the 9th.
16th May, 12.28hrs (BST), 9.6m.
17th May, 13.12hrs (BST), 9.7m.
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.
Feel free to just turn up at these events but if you need further details please email firstname.lastname@example.org or ring Denbighshire Countryside Services 01745 356197. For the events actually at the Little Tern colony in Gronant Sand Dunes please park at the car park opposite Crofters Pantry Cafe on Shore Road, Gronant (Shore Road is sign posted 'Lower Gronant/Presthavens' from A548). Walk over the railway bridge and turn left through the five bar gate opposite Presthavens Sands Holiday Park, to the right you will see a footbridge over the river which you walk over to reach the dunes. Also see Gronant Site Guide which includes a map.
Anybody can help with the preparations for the new season at the only Little Tern Colony in Wales, and one of the most productive in the country thanks mainly to the volunteers and wardens doing such a fantastic and important job. I would recommend bringing refreshments, sturdy footwear and warm clothing.
1st - 4th May: 10 am start - Electric fence construction at the Little Tern Colony in Gronant Dunes.
Price: £12 per person (£9.50 RSPB members)
Booking essential - ring 0151 353 2720.
It's International Dawn Chorus Day, so join us at Burton Mere Wetlands to experience the magic of the reserve waking up as the sun rises. With a wonderful mix of woodland and wetlands, there's no better place to experience the early morning birdsong.
An expert guide will help identify the bird calls and songs around you, plus all the other kinds of wildlife that makes its home here. Enjoy a hot drink afterwards in the Reception Hide, then a chance to explore the rest of the reserve on your own before it opens at 9am.
Advanced booking and payment essential.
13th May, Burton
Marsh (RSPB) Birdsong and Breakfast.
Price: £15 per person / £12 RSPB members (includes full breakfast)
Booking essential - ring 0151 353 2720.
Meet at the junction of Station Road and Denhall Lane, west of Burton village.
Join us for this exclusive event as part of Wirral Walking Festival; a gentle walk along the Burton Marsh Greenway as far as Burton Point before retracing our steps to Denhall Lane as far as Nets Cafe for a full English breakfast.
A variety of warblers are busy establishing breeding territories here at this time of year, whilst the marsh is peppered with other summer migrants such as wheatears and alive with the songs of skylarks and meadow pipits. This early morning walk will offer chance to see and hear the marsh coming to life for the day in this busy time for nesting and migrating birds.
The route is along a fully accessible paved track. Booking and payment in advance essential. Price includes breakfast at Nets Cafe.