It was the first Wetlands Bird Survey (WeBS) of 2018 and this month I was once again joining the big boys on the Mersey estuary Stanlow Bay for some hardcore counting; a bay which in the winter is a magnitude for waders that hold as many as 68,000 Dunlin. Today however that wasn’t the case as we knew from earlier counts in the winter that the Mersey wasn’t having a good time, but it was only today that the scale of it all hit home hard.
Starting off the day I met up with Dermot Smith, Shuan Hicky, Robert Allcock, Ian Coote & Ruth to cross over onto the marsh (off access to the public!) before we split up into our teams: Shuan & Rob taking Ince, Ruth & Ian taking the point whilst Dermot & I would be making the 5 mile trek over to Manisty point. In order to reach Manisty Point we had to cross Manisty Bay, the bay is a duo of salt marsh and open mud flats which on a normal winter WeBS hold hosts to several thousand birds with Eurasian Teal & Eurasian Wigeon being key species on this part of the Mersey Estuary.
In the time it took us to cross the 5 miles to the point, the bay was relatively quiet with another two hours till the high tide but there was still bits and bobs about: Common Redshank (60c), littoralis Rock Pipit (3), intermedius Lesser Black-backed Gull (1), Common Snipe (15) Jack Snipe (12), Great Egret (1) and a female Hen Harrier being the biggest surprise of the day given how this species of raptor is barley annual to the estuary! It’s worth mentioning in this part that the count on Jack Snipe is a record for the estuary, partly as they’re only found in this part of the estuary and that it isn’t a species we put effort looking into as it’s far too low a number for any conservation measures for the species. Also given how hard a species it is to photograph then I was pleased to manage some record shots, as well as some of Common Snipe to show a comparison between the species.
At the peak of high tide then it all became too real how poor this winter had been for waterfowl and waders alike, Eurasian Teal & Eurasian Wigeon on the entire estuary only just passed double figures, whilst Northern Pintail only reached 34, not quite the 17,000 that used to winter on the Mersey. Looking back over the years of data Dermot and the other BTO volunteers have collected then it’s scary seeing how server some species have fallen, whilst others have sky rocketed such as the Canada Goose with the Mersey being the ‘best’ place in the British Isles to encounter the species with max counts exceeding 10,000!
Once the high tide was over then we joined the others to discover that Dunlin were only 21,000, the Mersey Estuary is for now the no.1 spot in Britain to see Dunlin and 21,000 would be smashing records for most sites. But this is bad, this time last year Dunlin numbered 68,000 and the winters prior numbered between 40,000-60,000 so what has happened?! That is a different subject matter all together and one which people such as myself and others in the BTO hope to understand as with everything, knowledge is power.
Thanks for reading,