Friday, 30 January 2015

Cormorants at Hilbre and in the Dee Estuary

Recent years have seen the Obs notice larger and larger numbers of Cormorants leaving the estuary at dawn with recent counts eclipsing previous records (see blogs for 19th and 20th January 2015 with record counts of 3,336 and 3,884 respectively obtained by Obs regular DB).

In fact they've also been observed in the evenings (including from the mainland, AAB et al) but not quite on the same scale; perhaps they fly into the estuary on a broader front than they leave the estuary in the mornings?  We will continue to monitor the situation in order to answer this and other questions.

Cormorants leaving the estuary at dawn - Hilbre (BSB)
We recently pondered on the blog exactly where they were coming from and a discussion between our Secretary and the RSPB Site Manager for the Dee Estuary (Colin E Wells) prompted this response from Colin:

"I was interested to read HiBO’s reports of large numbers of Cormorants leaving the estuary at dawn, this ties in with recent counts I have carried out from Parkgate and the discovery of the night time roost site on the edge of the saltmarsh at Burton (Dee Estuary RSPB Reserve). Over the last couple of years whilst carrying out the Hen Harrier roost survey at Parkgate I have observed flocks of Cormorants flying up stream at dusk, about 2 km out following the edge of the outer saltmarsh and often wondered where they were roosting. Day time high tide WeBS counts have shown that Cormorants are increasing in the North West and internationally important numbers occur on the estuary.

On 16th December 2014, Dan Trotman and I were carrying out the WeBS low water count off Burton Marsh when we came across a large area of white washed pioneer saltmarsh which smelt very strongly of what I can only describe as a fish market on a hot day! Tell tale signs of black feathers suggested that this is the site of a massive Cormorant roost. One late afternoon I located a vantage point along Well Lane, Ness and I was able to see a huge black mass of Cormorants in the fading light at the roost location.

Since then I have carried out counts from Parkgate, birds noted to fly upstream about two hours before dusk, counts as follows: 1,100 on 29th Dec, 1,400 on 2nd Jan, 1,700 on 10th Jan and 2,000 on 18th Jan. It is possible that a lot of birds are missed due to the distance involved and poor light conditions, I have noted that birds are still coming in when it is virtually dark. These circumstances could account for the discrepancy between my counts & HiBO’s.

As far as I’m aware the Hilbre count of 3,884 is an all time record for the UK, the previous record being from the Ribble. 

One would presume that these birds are the same as the one’s I’ve counted from Parkgate and are roosting at Burton. From my research, it appears that the Dee Estuary has one of the largest night time roosts of cormorants in the UK. The big question is "where are they feeding and how far are they travelling to the roost from within Liverpool Bay?”  So hopefully I have answered your question where they are roosting!"

Cormorant (BSB)
Many thanks to Colin for sharing this news with us, so now we know where many of Hilbre's early morning Cormorants that follow a very distinct flight-line have been roosting overnight. Now that it has been found it will be fascinating to correlate our counts with those further up the Dee at the massive roost site.

For interest the chart below indicates the maximum counts each year of Cormorants at Hilbre since the formation of Hilbre Bird Observatory in 1957.

Monday, 26 January 2015

26th January 2015

Weather: NW force 3/4
The male Common Scoter is still close to the island, also a Shag and 2 Little Egrets. The Danish ringed pale-bellied Brent remains amongst the flock. Some picture from today below:
Some of the Grey Seals hauled out on the west hoyle
The west side of Middle Eye from the main island
male Common Scoter
Brent flying up the east side

Oystercatchers on the reef

(DB,AEH,KMc+SD)     photos AEH

Sunday, 25 January 2015

25th January 2015

Sunday was WeBs count day so it was a leisurely start as the high tide wasn’t until 14.20. Arriving on the island in plenty of time it soon became clear there were very few passerines about apart from the usual residents. A Song Thrush was seen but is probably the same bird that has been recorded on other dates recently. A ringed Rock Pipit was seen at the north end. 

As the tide flooded two couples tried to cross from Hilbre to Middle Eye and in the process fell over and got soaking wet. The coastguard was informed and they also received a 999 call from the people concerned as they were stranded on Middle Eye. As a result the West Kirby inshore lifeboat was launched and made two trips to ferry the stranded trippers back to West Kirby marine lake (right).

Common Scoter
 Once this excitement was over it was back to the WeBs count. The sea was disappointingly quiet with only single Guillemot and Red-throated Diver and two Great-crested grebes being seen.  A male Common Scoter came quite close inshore along the east side but the highlight was a party of 4 Goldeneye – probably displaced from the marine lake by the sailing regatta – followed by a single female just after the high tide.

Turnstone colour ringed here in 2010
Before the high tide 8 Purple Sandpipers were seen feeding at the north end. 4 were found roosting on the island with 3 on the west side and one in Niffy Bay. There were good numbers of Redshank and Turnstone roosting in Niffy Bay. One of the Redshank wore a metal ring on its right leg and one of the Turnstone’s was a colour ringed bird from 2010. Once the tide started to recede 7 Purple Sandpipers were found feeding again at the north end so the others must have roosted either on Middle Eye or somewhere inaccessible on Hilbre. A flock of 23 Ringed Plover saw out the high tide on the west side.

Ringed Plover roosting the tide
 Redshank with metal ring
Middle Eye held its usual high numbers of roosting Oystercatchers & Curlew with smaller numbers of Knot and Dunlin also present.
(PSW)     all photos PSW

Friday, 23 January 2015

23rd January 2015

Weather: SE force 4 with significant windchill
A male and female Wigeon were noted, also the male Common Scoter of recent days.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

22nd January 2015

Weather: light air, misty first thing
A group of 434 Grey Plover were near Little Eye today, another increase on recent numbers, and other birds counted on the flood tide were 160 Curlew, 180 Sanderling, 7,000 Dunlin and 5,000 Knot. A flock of 10 Wigeon flew west. Wrens seem to be the most numerous passerines wintering at the moment with 8 recorded today. The resident rabbit has been seen every day this week.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

21st January 2015

 Weather: ENE force 2, showers later
Brent Geese

Grey Heron by the island pond
A Merlin was noted today, they have not been regular visitors this winter, a Rock Pipit was at the north end, 15 Common Scoters included a male that has been around near the island recently. Six Purple Sandpipers and 25 Grey Plover were on the list.
(KMc+SD)    photos  KMc

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

20th January 2015

Weather: SE force 3
The Cormorants exiting the estuary at dawn reached another peak this morning when 3,884 moved out, all this time passing to the east of the island. On the east hoyle at ebb tide 345 Grey Plover and 590 Curlew were counted, the Grey Plover being an improvement on previous counts. Good numbers of Purple Sandpiper again (10) was encouraging in view of the very low numbers so far this winter. sea birds noted included 3 Red-throated Divers, 65 Common Scoter, and 16 Great Crested Grebes.