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.

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.

30th January 2015

Weather: NW force 5, squalls
Cormorants numbered 2019 leaving the estuary this morning, slightly down on some previous days, 235 Grey Plover were counted on the ebb tide, also 154 Curlew, 1,500 Knot , 3,000 Dunlin. One of the 3 Dunnocks present today was heard to sing, and there are about 9 Wrens and 4 Robins still present, also the ringed Rock Pipit. The rabbit still looks healthy.

Thursday 29 January 2015

29th January 2015

Weather: NW force 8 with squalls
As so often happens at this time of year, gale force winds do not guarantee many sea birds, and the best was an immature Shag, a Red-breasted Merganser and a sizable passage of large gulls with over a thousand moving south west .Interestingly for the second day running no seals were hauled out on the west hoyle, no doubt due to weather conditions. It was noted that the tide was still in long after expected, reminding us that weather as well as tide tables should considered when going to the islands.

Wednesday 28 January 2015

28th January 2015

Weather: NW force 8, gusting to force 10 or more for a time during squalls
Our intrepid member (DB) walking out to the island in a gale force 8, found it took him more than twice as long as normal when a vicious squall battered him with a near hurricane force wind in which he found it hard to stand and got thoroughly soaked through. The tide came in very early, so check the weather if making a trip! Only a hundred Cormorants flew out today. Thirty Sanderling were in the east gutter, and 25 Ringed Plover by Middle. Three male Common Scoter were on the sea, no Grey seals were visible.

Tuesday 27 January 2015

27th January 2015

Weather: WNW force 3/4
A flock of 140 Pintail were seen coming from well down the estuary and flying north out over the west hoyle. The Cormorant exit count this morning was 2,690. Waders counted today included 250 Sanderling, 45 Bar-tailed Godwits, 340 Curlew, 1,000 Dunlin, 2,000 Knot and 95 Grey Plover. Two Little Egrets and 4 Grey Herons were on the shore.

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.

Monday 19 January 2015

19th January 2015

Weather : N force 2
Cormorants were monitored exiting the estuary this morning from a high vantage point that overlooked both sides of the island, enabling birds to be counted as they approached from the south west. An all time record of 3,336 were noted during a 45 minute period soon after dawn, prompting the question of exactly where they spend the night, as such a massive number have not been reported in the lower part of the estuary. Best bird of the day was a adult male Eider flying passed the north end towards the south west, which had also been seen from Hoylake (AMC, JET). A flock of 7 Wigeon spent some time in the east gutter before flying to Wales, a single Teal had been with them briefly.
Not one Purple Sandpiper could be found at high water, and then suddenly 12 appeared 2 hours later. This is a record for this winter and it is possible they could have been disturbed from elsewhere (New Brighton?).
Purple Sandpiper with Brent Geese

Turnstones numbered 290 at high water. East hoyle counts of waders included 235 Grey Plover and 418 Curlew. Sea watching produced 100+ Common Scoter and 30 Great-crested Grebes. Eight Wrens are about the island so they seem to be surviving well during the cold spell. A good list of 36 species today for midwinter, amongst them an immature Shag, a Peregrine, Sanderling (left), Ringed Plover and 2 Little Egrets.
(DB,CJ)                       photos CJ

Sunday 18 January 2015

18th January 2015

Weather : N force 5
Thirty five Bar-tailed Godwit, 1 Little Egret, 1 Peregrine.

Saturday 17 January 2015

17th January 2015

Weather : W 3, later NW 4/5, sleet squalls
One dark-bellied Brent and 200+ pale-bellied Brent, including 3 colour ringed, 6,000 Oystercatchers, 2,000 Knot, 2,000 Dunlin, 70 Shelduck, 280 Curlew, 70 Grey Plover, 2 Purple Sandpiper.

Friday 16 January 2015

16th January 2015

Weather : WNW force 3/4, later NW 5, squalls of sleet, heavy after 12.00hrs
A flock of 134 Wigeon flew in from the north west and went on down the estuary, previously groups of 2 and 6 had also been seen. A new record of 2,224 Cormorants were exiting the estuary this morning. Six Linnets were at Little Eye. A previously ringed Rock Pipit was noted, a Wren on Middle with at least 4 others on the main island, likewise a Robin on Middle, and 5 others present. Four Purple Sandpipers and 160 Turnstones were logged also a Guillemot, a Common Scoter and a male Peregrine.

Wednesday 14 January 2015

14th January 2015

Weather : SSW force 5
Yet another record for Cormorants leaving the estuary after dawn, this time 2,270 were counted. A Song Thrush was on the island and a Linnet at Little Eye. Amongst the 220 Brent were 3 colour ringed birds including the individual ringed in Denmark.

Friday 9 January 2015

9th January 2015

Weather : WNW force 7 initially, mist
One dark-bellied bird still amongst the Brent flock. A male Red-breasted Merganser was seen. Counts of 236 Curlew (east hoyle), 80 Sanderling near Little Eye and 20 Redshank. Passerines estimated as 7 Wrens, 5 Dunnocks, 4 Robins and 2 Blackbirds.

Thursday 8 January 2015

8th January 2015

Weather : WNW force 3
Flocks of 40 and 17 Pintail were seen going south down the estuary at the flood tide, at which time estimates were made of 258 Curlew (east hoyle), 3,500 Dunlin, 1,500 Knot, 5,000 Oystercatchers, 155 Grey Plover flying north and 1,940 Cormorants flying out to sea. Six Purple Sandpipers was one of the best counts this winter.

Wednesday 7 January 2015

7th January 2015

Weather : WSW force 6/7 squalls
A male and 2 female Wigeon were by the slipway. For a change 1,900 Cormorants were seen entering the estuary at dusk. Five Purple Sandpipers today with 200 Turnstones.

Tuesday 6 January 2015

6th January 2015

Weather : NW force 6/7 early morning with driving rain.
Sea watching conditions produced 7 Red-throated Divers, 10 Great Crested Grebes, 5 Guillemots and 180 Common Scoter. The best sightings however were a single female Goldeneye moving south and a female Goosander flying north. Seven Wigeon, which are a more regular duck species at Hilbre, were flying north. Between the north shore and the east hoyle today were an estimated 5,000 Herring Gulls, 8,000 Knot, 200 Grey Plover and 300 Curlew, while nearer the islands were 180 Turnstones in Niffy bay, also 3 Purple Sandpipers, 60 ringed Plover, 35 Sanderling and 30 Redshank. A Rock Pipit and a Linnet were among the few passerines on the island.

Monday 5 January 2015

5th January 2015

Weather : SSE force 2/3, some mist
The best bird today was a Lapwing that settled on the reef by Middle Eye. Four Red-beasted Mergansers flew north. Sixty Sanderling were by Little Eye, and 168 Grey Plover nearby on the east hoyle. Six Linnets were on Middle Eye.

Sunday 4 January 2015

4th January 2015

Weather : S force 1/2
Two Red-breasted Mergansers, 1 Common Scoter, 1 Little Egret, and a Shag. Curlew numbered 442 on the east hoyle, there were 215 Turnstones including 35 on Middle Eye. There are 8 Wrens and a Pied Wagtail flew in off the sea.

Saturday 3 January 2015

3rd January 2015

Weather : S force 1/2, heavy rain showers
Twenty five Great Crested Grebes were on the sea, with a single Red-throated Diver and a Common Scoter. Four Blackbirds on the island probably mean at least one bird is new in today. Sixty Ringed Plover and 530 Curlew on the east hoyle were logged.

Thursday 1 January 2015

1st January 2015

Weather : SW force 2/3, very mild
A Lapwing present, also 2 Little Egrets, with a Shag and 15 Great Crested Grebes on the sea. Faeces of a Red Fox were found and its den may have been located.