Tuesday, 29 March 2016

This winter's "good NEWS"

This winter’s "non-estuarine water-bird survey" (NEWS) was a great success! 

Well done and thanks to the team of observers who covered c. 260 km of the open coast. 122 out of a possible 132 sections were allocated (c. 93%). The only areas that we really couldn't cover were the islands of Skomer, Skokholm and Caldey/St Margaret’s. Despite the terrible weather conditions in late December and through most of January, about 98% of the allocated sections were covered - even if the final few had to slip into February. 

Section Coverage map:

Lower numbers of birds are really to be expected along often difficult to see cliff-sections of mostly rocky coast, with only a limited to non-existent strand-line. None-the-less, this snap-shot survey of the exposed coastal fringes of Pembs (and parts of Carms) recorded almost 18,000 birds of c.60 species (including some additional land birds not dependent on the coastal fringes). In addition, we recorded several mammals including 379 grey seals, several porpoises and an otter.

Here is the "top 20" of bird species recorded:

Species        Total Species        Total
Herring Gull 6,865 Fulmar 201
Guillemot 4,428 Lesser Black-backed Gull 188
Black-headed Gull 1,526 Chough 151
Common Scoter 1,079 Razorbill 123
Oystercatcher 632 Raven 120
Curlew 357 Cormorant 116
Great Black-backed Gull 286 Turnstone 70
Rock Pipit 218 Meadow Pipit 59
Common Gull 214 Shag 57
Kittiwake 208 Stonechat 46

Needless to say some of these birds will have been mobile during a several-week survey period, so we cannot rule out recording some in more than one section. 

Some sections were especially good though for certain species - e.g. c.2,500 herring gulls were recorded in the Pendine area, Carms. Overall, they were found in more than 92% of the sections visited. Guillemot numbers were high due to the coincidence of them being present in large numbers around Elegug Stacks when that section was surveyed in early January. The common scoter total may seem quite modest but bear in mind these birds are often quite a long way out and the sea conditions were rarely favourable!

The oystercatcher total along the open coast was higher than the total recorded in the whole of the Cleddau Estuary this winter (based on Dec and Jan WeBs monthly counts). It was also interesting to record a probable minimum of 38 Great Northern Divers off the coast - including 15 close in offshore in St Brides Bay (all seen the same day). How many more distant ones did we miss? However, numbers of some typical rocky-shore species were quite low (probably lower than we recorded in the last NEWS survey of 2006) - e.g. only 70 turnstones (in a few sections) and just 5 purple sandpipers in one south coast section only - well done Toby for spotting these. 

Some scarcer species recorded included: a fine adult male hen harrier hunting near the coast at St Govan's Head, black redstarts in south Pembs and along the St David's peninsula, a dartford warbler on the north coast, and of course the grey phalarope that turned up at St Brides hung around long enough to be counted in that section.

Overall, the most numerous wader recorded along the Pembs/Carms coastline by the NEWS