Wednesday, 21 December 2016

The Golden Wellies 2016

As another year comes to an end, the results of the RSPB’s internal competition to find the best passage wader site, The Golden Wellies, have just been announced.  The rules are simple: monthly counts of waders are recorded; they have to be ‘feet down’ (no fly-overs) on a managed fresh/brackish scrape or flood (not tidal). The idea behind the competition is also simple: you may not be interested in rare waders on your site but they tend to indicate a well-managed site.  A well-managed site will attract many common breeding and passage birds, rare birds will also tend to arrive at such sites. The better the feeding conditions, the more likely they are to stay. Extra elements to the competition test good wetland management throughout the year and also the accessibility of good birds to weekend birders by having a ‘rare bird Saturday bonus’. 

The Premier League champions are, yet again, Frampton Marsh. Frampton recorded 34 species, narrowly pipping Titchwell (33) who were top of the League for most of the year. The highlights of Frampton’s year included Long-billed Dowitcher, Black-winged Stilt, Broad-billed, White-rumped and Pectoral Sandpipers, as well as peak counts of 258 Curlew Sandpipers and 50 Little Stints.  Titchwell could only muster a feeble Great Knot, Pacific Golden Plover and a couple of Pec Sands.  Frampton had an average monthly peak of 4,856 waders of 25.1 species, compared to Titchwell’s slightly higher Knot-fuelled monthly average of 5,267 waders of 23.4 species.  Minsmere’s much lower monthly average of 526 waders nether-the-less still maintained a monthly diversity of 24.0 species. If only they could record a Temminck’s Stint!  Snettisham records the most waders monthly – an average peak of 39,300 birds, but only averaging 15.3 species a month.

The Golden Wellie also includes a breeding wader productivity award – won this year by Burton Mere Wetlands on the Dee Estuary.  Middleton Lakes (27 species), the Aire Valley (26) and the Ouse Washes (26 species) all again demonstrate that well managed inland sites can compete with the coast in terms of wader diversity if not numbers.  A new entry this year, Wallasea, gained immediate promotion from League 1 with a notable 23 species – what will it get when the site is completed?  In the north and west, Loch of Strathbeg, Conwy and Belfast Lough all perform well given they struggle to record the southern certainties of Avocet and LRP.

In all, 43 species of wader were recorded during the year, with a peak monthly count of 111,719 birds being recorded across RSPB ‘wader scrapes’ in September.  Monthly peak counts included 399 Whimbrel in April, 22 Black-winged Stilts in May, 12 Red-necked Phalaropes in June, 228 Green Sandpipers in July, 16,800 Black-tailed Godwits, 334 Ruff, 411 Curlew Sandpipers and 123 Little Stints in August, and 3,151 Avocets and 40 Jack Snipe in September.  

Although the Golden Wellie has 48 competing sites across three leagues, the top performing 15 sites in 2016 were as follows:
      Site                      Wader spp     Final score incl. bonuses
1.   Frampton Marsh       34                          72
2.   Titchwell                    33                          62
3.   Minsmere                   31                          53  
4.   Cliffe Pools                 28                          46
5.   Snettisham                 28                          44 
6.   Saltholme                   26                          42 
7.   South Essex                27                          41                                    
8.   Dungeness                  29                          38                                                  
9.   Arne                            26                          37         
10.  Exe                             27                           36
11.  Ouse Washes             26                           36             
12.  Loch of Strath            24                          34     
13.  Middleton Lakes        27                          33   
14.  Old Hall Marshes       28                          32
15.  Lodmoor/Radipole     26                          32