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 stayed in their wintering grounds off West Africa through the summer, as did most second year birds - well, it seem 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or ring Denbighshire Countryside Services 01745 356197.
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.
and L//L-L (photo)
GP EM (photo)
Knots x 2
Oyc AA (photo) and CA
- note, the Red (R) ring is very faded and could
easily be mistaken for Yellow, see photo above.
Ringed at Sandgeroi harbour, SW Iceland, on 28th May 2013.
Recorded at Hoylake Shore on 3rd March 2018.
Also recorded at Hoylake in early Nov 2014. All other records are from Formby Point and Ainsdale Beach usually in March/April and August/September so we don't know where it spends the winter, but it was at Formby Point on 17th February 2018.
P (P= pale blue)
Ringed on the Alt Estuary (Sefton coast) on 22nd September 2017.
Recorded at Formby Point on 6th October and 4th November 2017.
Between 20th February and 19th March 2018 it was recorded eight times on the mud just by the southern end of West Kirby Marine Lake.
- on tibia.
Ringed at Dynjandisvogur in NW Iceland on 25th May 2014.
Recorded at Meols Shore on 20th March 2018.
This bird was recorded at Southport in April and October 2016, and again there in March 2017. It was at Crosby on 2nd September 2017.
So this bird has only been sighted in Spring and Autumn, where does it spend the winter?
Colour-rings were also recorded by Steve Hinde, Matt Thomas, Les Hall, Steve Williams, Allan Hitchmough, Manu Santa-Cruz, Jason King and Charles Farnell.
The 'Beast from the East' was in full swing early in the month with the coldest prolonged spell since December 2010. Cold weather movements included 11 Shoveler at Hilbre (rare here), up to seven Scaup both at Hilbre and West Kirby Marine Lake (probably the same birds), movements of Redwings and Fieldfares were noted and there was a notable influx of Jack Snipes and Woodcocks. Although probably not related to the cold weather over 20 Brent Geese started feeding on West Kirby Marine Lake, these were often close to the Scaup making for an unusual spectacle - they certainly made for some nice photos.
Because of the cold weather everyone thought that the first spring migrants would be severely delayed but the first Wheatear was one of the earliest we've ever had, and, although later than 2017, the other species were not unusually late. Continuing poor weather did mean migration was very slow but that isn't unusual in March, lets hope for some better weather in April!
The table shows the first date each migrant species was seen.
|Wheatear||9th March|| Leasowe
|11th March||23rd March|
|White Wagtail||14th March||Hilbre||4th March||15th March|
|Sand Martin||15th March||West Kirby||11th March||16th March|
|Willow Warbler||27th March||Greasby||17th March||29th March|
|Swallow||29th March||West Kirby||14th March||24th March|
|House Martin||27th March||7th April|
||17th April||13th April|
|Swift||19th April||22nd April|
||24th April||21st April|
Out to sea the first Sandwich Tern of the year was spotted from Hilbre on the 30th and there was a small but steady passage of Little Gulls, max 24 on the 26th. The over-wintering flock of Eiders was present all month, reaching 12 on the 24th. Common Scoters reached 15,000 on the 7th but didn't seem to stay long, when I saw them they were an awful long way out into Liverpool Bay. A Velvet Scoter was recorded from Leasowe Lighthouse on the 5th.
A female Merlin seemed to take up permanent residence in a tree next to the reception hide at Burton Mere Wetlands, with one or two recorded elsewhere on the estuary.Large numbers of Pink-footed Geese were seen including two counts of at least 10,000. Knot numbers were high during the cold spell with up to 30,000 early in the month but most had disappeared by the month-end, either flying east to the Waddensea or north to the Ribble. Avocet numbers were exceptional at Burton Mere Wetlands with reports of a record high number of 122 on the 18th.
Scarcer birds included regular reports of one or two Water Pipits at both Neston Old Quay and Burton Mere Wetlands, up to four Mediterranean Gulls at Burton Mere Wetlands, two reports of over-flying Red Kites, a Black Redstart at Hoylake andreports of Cetti's Warblers at various locations.
of Twite at Connah's Quay and Flint haven't been quite as high this
last winter but there were at least 60 at the end of the month. These
days Great White Egrets are ever present with six the highest count on
the 25th, we can but hope that they'll breed here this summer.
1st April, 12.41hrs (BST), 9.7m.
2nd April, 13.18hrs (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 email@example.com 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.
6th April:7 pm - 8:30 pm Gronant Little Terns, an illustrated talk by Henry Cook, (previously a Little Tern Warden at Gronant) Gwaenysgar Village Hall, LL18 6EL 7 pm - 8 30 pm.
23rd - 27th April: 10 am - 4 pm
Construction of the hide and perimeter fence at the Little Tern Colony
in Gronant Dunes.
1st - 5th May: 10 am start - Electric fence construction at the Little Tern Colony in Gronant Dunes.
25th April and Sunday 29th April, Bluebells and Birdsong
at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands.
Price: £10 per person / £8 RSPB members
Booking essential - ring 0151 353 2720.
us for this guided walk through Gorse Covert, a semi-natural ancient
woodland at Burton Mere Wetlands which happens to be one of the best
bluebell woods in the area. Admire the beautiful spring spectacle, and
learn about other woodland plants, whilst being serenaded by the array
of birds noisily defending territories for nesting.
Stick around afterwards to enjoy the rest of the reserve, and even lunch or a snack in the Reception Hide.
Sturdy footwear and a reasonable level of fitness is required. Advanced booking and payment essential.
6th May, Dawn Chorus at RSPB
Burton Mere Wetlands.
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.