Thursday, January 25, 2007

Merseyside Ringing Group published its 2005 Annual Report yesterday. It was another successful year with, for the third year in a row, over 20,000 new birds being ringed (of 95 species, 54 of them also as pulli).
Besides the usual Ringing totals, retraps, recoveries and site reports (Shotton, Woolston, Pandy, Glyn Arthur, Marbury and Anderton) the report also contains articles on 'The return rates of territory-holding Willow Warblers on Woolston No 3 bed, 1981-1990' 'The Waxwing Winter' of 2004-05, and a detailed study of Pied Flycatchers at Prion, Denbighshire 1986-2005. All in all a good read on these, still, (cold) and dark evenings.

Declining Waterbird Populations

BirdLife International released a new publication on the 23rd revealing the continued declines in many waterbird populations across the world. The report was based on annual field surveys by 15,000 voluntary expert observers across hundreds of sites worldwide, many of them Important Bird Areas (IBAs).

The report, the fourth edition of ‘Waterbird Population Estimates’, presents estimates and trends of 878 waterbird species spread around the world. Of these 44% of populations for which trend data were available were found to be decreasing or have become extinct since the last edition was released in 2002.

The new publication highlights how human impacts like reclamation of wetlands, increasing pollution and illegal hunting as well as expanding “urban-sprawl” are factors behind the reported population declines.

Asia continues to be the continent of most concern; 62% of waterbird populations were found to be decreasing or have become extinct.

The report is not free – thus if you wish to follow this up it means parting with some cash. The picture? - Spotted Greenshank - unfortunately not at Marshside.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Little Ringed and Ringed Plovers.

This year these single species surveys are being undertaken to record their breeding presence and distribution (see September Archive). The sites requiring coverage within the region have now been chosen - after researching previous surveys, bird reports and suitable habitats. In all there are 10 core and 6 sample tetrads for Little Ringed, and 18 core and 3 sample for Ringed.

The map – crude but quick – shows those tetrads that require coverage. Anybody want to pick a penny? I’m not sure what the survey details are as yet but it will require a couple of visits to ascertain if there is any evidence of breeding.

Before anyone asks the yellow blobs are some of the BBS squares in the region.

Heronries Census 2007

The survey documents for this year have just come through my letter box. If anyone wanted reminding that a new year is under way then this is it; as, according to data analysis herons are now nesting 28 days earlier than they were in 1968. The average nesting date now is March 12 – so time to get a move on.
As with Lapwings and Golden Plovers heron numbers are also decreasing. Since about 2000 there has been a slow decline in the number of breeding pairs reported (see graph).

In Merseyside there were seven recorded heronries within the Heronries Census, but two of these – Scarisbrick Hall and Formby Hall - are now extinct. Of the remaining the Moss Wood /Ince Blundell Hall collection is the oldest, recorded from pre-1863, while the heronry at Knowsley Hall is dated from 1872. The former site is noted as ‘slowly increasing’ while Knowsley is ‘stable’.

Most of the regions Heronries are covered by the South-West Lancs Ringing Group who annually record the number of active nests. Ringing is not undertaken with the same gusto as previous years due to the lack of an experienced climber. The Knowsley Hall site is visited with special permission from Lord Derby.

All records of breeding herons - from anyway - gratefully received.

A Plea - Winter Plovers.

The graph shows coastal and inland trends for Lapwing and Golden Plover. It needs little explanation – numbers have been falling at all sites from around 1998. In order to ascertain whether this trend is continuing is why the winter Lapwing and Golden Plover survey was initiated. One of the main aims of this study is to nationally co-ordinate counts on specific weekends so as to exclude problems due to moving flocks.

Additionally supplementary records were invited, at all times, so as to achieve maximum winter flock counts.

The map shows the most recent plot of these 'supplementary records' for Golden Plover – spot the deliberate mistake! There are no records outside of the main study dates from Marshside – I hope this is an oversight. Could I ask anyone who has any Lapwing and Golden Plover counts from this site, and/or elsewhere, please take the time to submit them (either direct to me or via the BTO website ) so we can accumulate as complete a picture of these birds as is possible. Thanks.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Brockholes Wetland Nature Reserve

This is a little late – I knew a couple of weeks ago – but good news is good at any time.

Following its appeal in order to purchase Brockholes Quarry, The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside has declared the appeal a success; as the required £50,000 was raised, within the deadline, enabling the Trust to go ahead and purchase what will now be called the Brockholes Wetland Nature Reserve.

Brockholes is a 106-hectare site made up of former gravel workings located to the north-east of junction 31 of the M6. The site will be the hub of a network of wetland sites linking a mosaic of wildlife havens in the Ribble Valley. In all the Trust will be managing 190 hectares.

The site is already home to a fantastic variety of birdlife including Lapwing, Sand Martin and Kingfisher, together with more vulnerable species such as Whimbrel, Skylark and Reed Bunting. In the future it should become one of the major birding hot-spots in the north-west and, given its closeness to the motorway network, is likely to attract many human as well as avian visitors.

Interesting - be afraid, very afraid...

This is an interesting bit of news which I find significant – indirectly it affects birds, oh, and us.

There is something called ‘The Doomsday Clock,’ a symbolic time-piece that was (is) used to monitor global security issues. Historically it visualised the perilous state of the world when nuclear technology was used to ‘sabre-rattle’ political intentions in a game of one-upmanship. The closer the minute hand got to midnight the more likely our demise via a nuclear holocaust. (The closest it got was two minutes in 1953 after the USA and USSR, as was, both detonated hydrogen bombs).

Anyway, to the point of this post.

The clock has been advanced by two-minutes (now standing at 5 minutes to midnight) because of our headlong race into a period of unprecendented collective impacts on the biosphere, climate and oceans due to our unrestrained use of carbon-emitting technologies. This is the first time, following periodic reviews of issues of global security and challenges to humanity, that climate change has been included as an explicit threat to the future of civilisation. The clock’s ticking…

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Ness was Buzzin'

As part of my ringing I colour-ring Robins and Blackbirds at Ness Gardens for a PhD student who is undertaking a project to discover just how unpalatable a food source has to become before birds will stop eating it; and whether this limit changes under times of stress e.g. less food about, or hungry mouths to feed. So, noticing a brief respite in our current poor weather I managed a visit this weekend.

Four new Blackbirds and two Robins were colour-ringed with one bird, an adult male, BGW (blue green white) being recaptured (it being ringing initially on 17th Nov 2004 as a juvenile). This was a good return on two hours netting for these target species. We also caught a female Blackcap, several tits and a wren.

However, a moment of lasting memory was created on our last but one net round when we found this character in the net (see photo). We determined it as a juvenile male – hatched last year – and, for me, was my first handling of a free-flying buzzard.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Alt an icon?

The River Alt in Merseyside is amongst dozens of nominations to find the most iconic symbol of our environment.

More than 50 public nominations – including species, habitats, places and manmade icons – have joined 12 original Icons of the Environment shortlisted by the Environment Agency’s 13,000 staff in celebration of the organisation’s 10th anniversary.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

More winners and losers...

Whatever, the birds are the winners.

CJ WildBird foods, a 'local' birdfood supplier near Shrewsbury, has laid off more than 20 people after a slump in sales - the reason - the mild winter (as well as economic recession and inflation rates). While this is obviously a very sad incident for the employees affected, for the birds at least it does reflect the fact that the mild winters are maintaining natural food supplys which, for them, must be a good thing.

However, while watchers of garden birdtables and ringers complain that the birds are 'just not about', they being more widely dispersed in the countryside, stop and think - is this really a bad thing?

CJ's website can be found at: and, before anyone has a go at me for free advertising, I only include this as CJ's are sponsors of the BTO's Garden Birdwatch Scheme.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Winners and Losers (thus far)

Preliminary results have been released from the CES ringing project. CES stands for Constant Effort Site and consists of ringers setting the same number of nets, in the same place, for the same period of time for 12 ‘sessions’, at predetermined intervals, throughout April to September. From this ‘enforced’ standardised ringing the resultant number of birds caught each year can be used to monitor changes on previous years. Nationally CES has the ability to monitor changes in population size, breeding success and, for more common species, adult survival rates.

The early results from data submitted for 2006 appear to indicate that Robin (14%) Blackcap (10%) Blue Tit (22%) and Bullfinch (14%) are all statistically significantly down on adult numbers compared to last year, while Whitethroat (58%) and Greenfinch (27%) are up.

For breeding productivity Wren, Dunnock, Cetti’s Warbler (61%) and Chiffchaff are all down, with Blackbird, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Blue (69%) and Great Tit significantly increasing. Long term productivity trends are slightly different - Cetti’s Warbler (55%) and Chaffinch (39%) show significant increases but, more worrying Linnet (56%), Willow Tit (49%) and Willow Warbler (12%) declining. Lesser Whitethroat (21%) and Goldfinch (28%) are also declining but these values do not reach statistical significance for these species.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Happy New Year to you All

So, what did Santa bring you for Christmas? For some of you that I met over the holiday period you managed to get a 'pass-out' to go and see the Palla's Warbler up at Hightown Dunes, Sefton. Someone I know even managed to acquire a full set of BWP - I didn't like to ask how much but hundreds I'd imagine.
Myself, I followed up on the rather foolish promise granted by my wife and swopped my 10x50 Bushnells for a set of Leica 8x50BNs. I did the rounds - shops, Martin Mere, Focalpoint and www and couldn't get them for less than a grand in the UK. But then the dollar/pound exchange rate came to my aid and, even getting them from the States with postal charges, insurance and import duty I still managed to save myself £400 - so a very merry christmas thank you!

Anyway the new year is here and it'll soon be time for the end of year reports, the beginning of year meetings, and this year's survey work. In the next week or so I'll bring you up to date on the BTO National Atlas, the local Lancashire and North Merseyside Atlas, the results of last years national Constant Effort Site ringing (received today) and, of course, how MRG fared in 2005.