Saturday, 31 January 2015

The Golden Wellies 2014

Another year of the RSPB’s internal competition to find the best passage wader site, The Golden Wellies, has come to a conclusion.  There are both league and knockout elements to the competition to test good wetland management throughout the year.  Monthly counts of waders are recorded; they have to be ‘feet down’ on a managed fresh/brackish scrape or flood (not tidal).

The Premier League champions are, yet again, Frampton Marsh (photo top). Frampton recorded 33 species, just ahead of Minsmere (31), Deane Valley (29) and Dungeness (29).  The highlights of Frampton’s year included Lesser Yellowlegs, Dotterel, White-rumped Sandpiper (photo above), as well as 4 Pectoral Sandpipers, 6 Temminck’s Stints and both Red-necked and Grey Phalarope.  Frampton had an average monthly peak of 5,018 waders of 25.6 species, compared to Minsmere’s 481 waders of 23.4 species. Snettisham records the most waders monthly – an average peak of 33,000 birds, but only averaging 14 species a month.

Middleton Lakes had a storming year, topping The Championship with 29 species (including Pacific Golden Plover, Pec Sandp and Temminck’s Stint) and winning the ‘most improved site’ prize.   They are promoted to the Premier League along with Blacktoft (29) and Saltholme (28).  Langford Lowfields (22), Ynys-hir (20) and The Reef (18) were promoted from League One.  Middleton Lakes and Dearne (Old Moor) again demonstrate that well managed inland sites can compete with coastal sites in terms of wader diversity and numbers.

In all, 43 species of wader were recorded during the year, with a peak monthly count across all sites of 106,021 birds being recorded in September.  Monthly peak counts included 10,682 Black-tailed Godwits and 481 Whimbrel in April, 14 Black-winged Stilts in May, 288 Greenshank in July, 125 Curlew Sandpipers and 98 Little Stints in August, and 14 Pec Sands and 38 Jack Snipe in September.  

The Premier League and Championship finished like this:

The Premier League                                                The Championship
1.   Frampton Marsh    33 species                             1. Middleton Lakes           29
2.   Minsmere                31                                         2. Blacktoft                         29
3.   Dearne Valley        29                                          3. Saltholme                       28
4.   Dungeness              29                                         4. Arne                                27
5.   Old Hall Marshes   28                                         5. Leighton Moss                25
6.   Exe Estuary             27                                         6. Snettisham                     23
7.   Aire Valley              27                                         7. Mid-Yare                        22
8.   Burton Mere           27                                         8. Loch of Strathbeg           22
9.   Havergate               26                                         9. Campfield                       21
10. Rainham Marsh     26                                         10. Otmoor                          21
11. South Essex            25                                          11. Ham Wall                     20
12. Weymouth Res       24                                         12. Stour Estuary                18
13. Ouse Washes          24                                         13. Belfast Lough                15
14. Conwy                     22                                        14. Fen Drayton                  15
15. Ouse Fen                 22                                         15. Pulborough Brooks       14
16. Titchwell                 22

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Lee Valley

46 years have now passed since I first started recording birds in the Lee Valley; each year with its notebook neatly stacked on the bookshelf.  Over that time I have seen 265 bird species in my rather arbitrary valley recording area that stretches roughly from Ware down to Walthamstow.  In roughly a third of these years I have attempted the traditional New Year list, over the years noting between a feeble 76 and a magnificent 90 species. This years total was a very reasonable 89 species.  Whilst the number of species recorded over the years has kept steady or even increased, the number of birds certainly has not.

This winters mild conditions (so far) are evident by a real lack of wintering wildfowl. Tufted Duck, Pochard and Gadwall are all remarkable by their absence. Four Smew were one of the highlights of the day, but this is a far cry from the 40+ peaks of the 1980’s. Likewise the 4 Goosander noted of the dozen or so currently in the valley is way short of the flocks that approached 100 birds back when we had proper winters.  Despite the mild conditions, 6 or 7 wintering Bitterns are present, one of which revealed itself for the list.

Raven made it onto the list for the first time this year, with 4 birds at Amwell giving a characteristic tumbling display. Others becoming ‘regulars’ in recent years include Ring-necked Parakeet, Little Egret, Peregrine and Yellow-legged Gull.  Caspian Gull would have been added to the list if I had bothered to stay longer watching the gull roost.

Finches and buntings have been difficult to find in any numbers in recent years but this year it is great to see that the Lee Valley Park have retained large areas of stubbles and wild bird crops around Holyfield Farm.  These areas produced 250 Chaffinch, 50 Reed Buntings, 40 Linnets, a dozen Red-legged Partridge, hundreds of thrushes and a Stonechat.

From top to bottom, the highlights were as follows:
Amwell: 4 Raven, Yellow-legged Gull, Marsh Tit, Woodcock.
Rye Meads: Jack Snipe, Shelduck, Pintail, 5 Chiffchaff, 3 Cetti’s Warblers.
Holyfield: Stonechat, Pintail, 4 Goosander, Peregrine, Little Owl, 21 Egyptian Geese.
Cheshunt GP: Bittern, 4 Smew, 6 Water Rail.

Girling Reservoir: 7 Black-necked Grebe, Goldeneye.