The local WeBS set up is in the process of being revamped. For many years the three hugely important estuaries of north Kent, the south Thames, the Medway, and the Swale, have had just one Local Organiser, working without a nominated assistant. Doing a sterling job, but one ultimately better suited to three individual L.O.s with each eventually, hopefully, having their own assistant. The relaunch has happened, and good luck to those involved.
Although on the outside looking in, it has been good to be involved in the debate over the past couple of months leading up to the change. Plus there was a longstanding invite from some of the counters to come and talk at one of their WeBS meetings.
The talk was originally to be about several Medway species but, after discussion, most of the talk was revolved around how to overcome some 'technicalities' in counting to help improve WeBS coverage locally; illustrated by one species- the Redshank. Priorities then evolved based on needs, and much of the talk switched to how to interpret WeBS online data online. Another story in itself for another time, right now though, here's the full Redshank story..
The first draft was written as a gale blew, on an afternoon many roosts would have been going under on high spring tides. The differences between the highest and lowest tides always impresses. Just a week before the Redshanks were loafing on the saltings during mundane neaps. On and on the cycle goes.
Spring tide- a tide just after a new or full moon, when there is the greatest difference in tidal height between high and low water.
Neap tide- a tide just after the first or third quarters of the moon when there is the least difference between high and low water.
Redshank activity on both neaps and springs differs greatly, but difficulties for both ensure it is difficult to get an accurate estimate. It is incredibly easy to lose large numbers out and around the Medway for long periods of the tidal cycle.
This snapshot will be for the autumn. The productive time of year for Redshanks on many estuaries around our coast. Daylight hours are still quite long, giving the birds a minimum of one full tidal cycle to feed. Feeding should be good; the mudflats teeming with new life, prey should be plentiful where able to reach it. For Redshanks on the Medway, searching, in the main, for the tiny amphipod Corophium volutator and (just as tiny) young crabs, the wet edge of a creek or tideway is as good, if not better, than any open flat; the prey are more likely to be near the surface where water meets mud.
Often musing on the reasons behind low counts, I first appreciated that Redshanks retreat deep into our creeks under windy conditions, I did not immediately register they would hole up for much of the time during good weather. As well as feeding along the creeks, why not loaf there? Out of sight of many predators. It enables a Redshank to save energy- and at certain times of the year this is vital. Winter, to be fit enough to survive the extremes. The balmy autumn? Just as vital.
Do Redshanks truly flock?
The behaviour section in 'BWP' opens with 'not highly gregarious'. What? Really?
Peer in a tideway and find a few dozen close together, glance at a flat with a few hundred gathered, and it sure looks like they do. But this is a loose flock, many will be keeping a fair distance from others present. Those still feeding do not want others interfering. Small 'tight' groups may well be individuals tolerating each other; those perhaps preening or loafing. Watch long enough and these too will show aggressive behaviour towards each other if, say, one shuffles too close. And there are some that will hold a territory and will defend it until the flat is covered by the tide; no gatherings allowed here, thank you very much.
Throw in a threat, and suddenly they're together, racing in a narrow cluster to cover. This is still every 'shank for himself; you only have to outpace one other, say a dumb young 'un in his first autumn who didn't pick up on the threat as quickly...
Then you start to register they not only hug the creeks, they hide in the cord grass.
Many adults on the Medway go through their annual complete moult in the autumn. They need to put a lot of energy into feather regrowth, so any unnecessary flight is costly, having as they do a fairly sizeable 'hole' in their wing while their flight feathers regrow.
In any moderately large species, an annual moult has to be long. It will take over three months to grow a new set of feathers. It has a cost, so there has to be a balance. They need to be able to fly still, so flight feathers are replaced slowly, in sequence, pushing a gap, a 'window' down the wing (why many birds at rest show a white flash during autumn- the secondary trailing edge can be seen because there is a window in the primaries).
This slow moult approach allows a wader options. Some species hold their ground for the duration, others might travel short distances south and west, others might start, then halt the moult (known as arresting), fly south with a mix of old and new flight feathers, then restart.
And different populations of a single species might well do different things. They certainly do in Redshanks.
Residents vs. passage birds
"It is well known that when fully fledged the young Redshank disperse from the breeding grounds to the coastal areas and that, in the full winter period as long as weather conditions permit, large congregations resort to the estuary saltings and mud-flats where, in company with Continental and Icelandic immigrants, they spend the time until, with the onset of spring, pairs form and the birds return to their nesting territories..." Bannerman, 'The Birds of the British Isles', v.X (1961)
#1: Local residents
Come the end of the breeding season (late June onwards), Redshanks are on the move. 'Our' breeding birds might not go far. Although only ringing here on the s. Medway for a couple of years now, already there is a record of a female ringed as a youngster in the nest from the Thames (Cooling) spending her adult moult period here on the Medway. Why might this be? Well, the s. Thames did lose a large percentage of saltings when the raised sea wall went in after the floods of 1953 when a large volume of the cord grass saltings was lost. Nowadays there there simply might not be enough left to support a large safe moult core area in recent years. The Medway may well be of importance to the Thames birds.
#2: Other 'Brits'
One of Kent's greatest ornithologists, Norman Ticehurst, author of many of the migration outlines in Witherby's Handbook, summed up 'British' movements well 80 years ago. While a fair proportion of Britain's Redshanks remain relatively close to home, more than half move to winter here in the south, or just over the Channel and would be well on their way to, or in, their wintering quarters by September. So, not-so-local Brits, say, from north of the border, might also make the relatively short migration to the south of England, increasing numbers to a peak.
#3: Continental cousins
Cue the Migration Atlas. The rest of continental Europe is also of our race, the nominate totanus but, within a race can be many populations, doing their own 'thing'. The smallest totanus Redshank, from northern Scandinavia, move the furthest- south into Africa for winter. That population might well be using its own flyway down the Atlantic coast. Another population, say, the Danes, might well just go south overland to the Mediterranean and miss us out. It is complicated. But it is fair to say the nominate, our local Brits and just over the Channel, winter fairly close to home.
West-central European birds fan out in winter, in a spread thought to be from the English Channel down to Senegal. Do they come and stay here? Nigh-impossible as it is to tell populations apart, worse for telling races apart. They are even hard to tell in the hand (unless, like many a mad ringer, you are willing to collect piles of biometrics and even then the results might not be definitive, just indicative).
The texts suggest most moult on their wintering grounds. At the same time some studies have shown some birds can move while in moult to their moult in sunny Africa. This all adds to the Redshank autumn peak in England, which then drops somewhat at the start of winter.
So on the Medway, in autumn, we have residents, staying for the winter.
Birds from other parts of the local population, staying.
Birds from other parts of the national population coming, and perhaps stay
Birds from perhaps several different groups from within mainland Continental populations coming and possibly staying, or coming and possibly going.
And to add to the mix...
#4: Our friends from the north
The largest race, the Icelandic breeders (robusta), winter farthest north, including here around the North Sea. Once again, they are hard to split even in the hand- tonnes of biometrics are needed, including the relatively-recently found to be vital 'toe-tarsus' measurement (yup, if the shoe fits...). The Icelandic robusta finish their moult here in the UK and stay for the winter, keeping total Redshank numbers high.
When you look at the Redshanks on the mud, you are looking at an international mix. The Medway plays home to a minimum three recognised races of a minimum four populations of the two races in any autumn through into winter. Phew. Now you might want to try to see them, and the differences in racial appearance might seem fairly easy if you only go by some texts. But best not to. The reason a separate British race was held as valid for some years was because, in the simplest terms, measurements were more like continentals with plumage closer to Icelandic. That was finally seen through. Too much clinality. Though they look the same, take my word, these birds really do have interesting back stories.
Getting the mix right
A few years ago a paper was published that found the north Kent marshes were important for the nominate race, including the smaller near continental birds, and concluded that "Icelandic birds form an insignificant proportion of the population of Redshank to be found in north Kent in autumn".
That study centred on the Swale. Icelandic birds can and do visit the north Kent marshes, as proven by ringing. There have been recoveries on both the Swale, and the Medway. Medway measurements are suggesting a higher than 'insignificant' proportion of Icelandics. The more data you have, the more detailed the findings. This is not to say that paper's conclusions are wrong for the Swale; it might just be the Swale is better positioned to receive more Continentals on passage. The conclusion that Swale reflected north Kent as a whole might well need refining. It could well be the Medway has the better conditions for moulting birds, and in larger amounts.
No need to memories all this. Just remember whenever anyone tells you we know enough about the birds already, we really don't.
So, when late 80s/early 90s WeBS counts showed an autumn peak somewhat higher than the national average, were they reflecting numbers of continental birds short-stopping to refuel, or even stopping for the primary moult duration? Moving on south, to the Mediterranean basin, leaving a mix of sedentary locals, Icelandics and Contis? Could the fact there was then a massive drop on the Medway and not elsewhere in the south-east be answered by different populations?
If moult staging, then the 4, 5, 6,000 birds of the early 90's hinted at the Medway being an internationally important site for 4, 5, 6,000 birds needing a safe site for (three months) to change their flight feathers.
Redshank can, and do, migrate during primary moult. How much extra energy that uses, how this affects length of interim flights, is not known. But it could have been the Medway acted as a vital refuelling site for many more birds as stopover for a few days; 10,000, 20,000 passing through? Who knows?
This is why the size of the crash in Redshank numbers caused concern to the likes of the BTO and (now) Natural England. But before we look at what they did about it...
The changing room
It makes sense to go through the most costly period of moult in a safe spot. The most important thing to now understand is cord grass distribution. Medway has it in spades. Swale has quite a fair bit. The Thames on the Hoo Peninsula lost nearly all after the sea walls were replaced following the 1953 floods.
Redshank love it as a safe roost. Tall enough to hide a leggy wader, not too dense so as to hinder easy movement as the tide progresses. Around the Medway, many preferred roosts are in cord grass. Once fed, large numbers loaf pre-roost close to these sites. And similar numbers are seen most days on each creek- the core areas are indeed small.
Looking at the autumn Redshank peak numbers around the north Kent Marshes, the three estuaries have had different patterns.
Pre-crash, Medway showed a trend that matched the national trend- a big autumn peak, moulting and transit birds. A sizeable wintering population.
Post crash, the autumn peak is gone.
Post crash, the autumn peak is gone.
The Swale? A tad erratic, but, yes, a bit of an early autumn 'bump'. It's been mentioned how some texts hint that many Redshank leave breeding grounds and reach their wintering ground before moulting there. Is there enough 'safe moulting space' on the Swale to hold numbers that might be moulting and staying, moulting and moving on? Perhaps not. The Medway is looking more attractive, habitat wise, for biggest numbers. Or was.
If the drop shown in Medway WeBS counts really reflect reality, the Medway crash is devastating.
But did it happen?
Constant effort? The 22967 dollar question: was there really a ruddy great fall in numbers?
The collapse in numbers sounded alarm bells. Reports were written.
Numbers were crunched.
And conclusions were drawn.
For Redshank, one odd thing stood out- how localised the decline was.
Hoo, Nor, Bishop, Copperhouse.
On the BTO WeBS pages, it has always been possible for anyone to drill down and find recent count numbers (of actual counts being carried out, not bird totals). The latest upgrades now only allow a ten year drill down, but back when I returned to the Medway in 2012 you could go further. And it made interesting reading.
The Medway should be one of the best estuaries in the UK for wader numbers. Anyone glancing at WeBS totals won't appreciate that. It appears that for a long time it has been woefully under-recorded.
Under-recorded since about the time of that collapse in fact.
Obviously statisticians can do wonderful things with small datasets and create the most probable models. Something could have happened here to move so many birds elsewhere, to switch estuaries. Estuary habitat (say, the ongoing collapse of Nor marsh, or the reclamation of the Lappel Bank), estuary quality (food supplies)...
I could go on. But for this blogpost, habitat focus will be on one aspect- cord grass. The habitat needed for the highest safe roosting numbers during moult. Has that habitat been wrecked? Has it disappeared in large swathes? Using Google earth's excellent historic imagery, no, not really.
1940: lack of cord grass following the die back of the native species
1960: the hybrid replacement has spread
1990: a slow loss.
Thank heavens for Google earth. (A fine example of why annual 'fixed position habitat shots' from land can be useful as well.) And of course, this is only one train of thought. Many others were explored in that extensive BTO report, which is well worth a read.
But that drop in counter effort? Was that the cause of the numerical drop in the results?
Birdtrends confirms a national decline started around 2001, later than this Medway blip.
In the mid-nineties EBCC came in with a population guesstimation of just under 350,000 for the whole of Europe. And in recent years, those numbers are thought to have rallied further. The Medway counts remained low.
Do birds change creeks around the Medway?
Let's start with that question because it is already known Redshank are loathe to change estuaries. Once a young bird finds their first wintering ground, they to stick with it. They know it, they know their way around it. Cold weather escape flights can happen, but history shows us birds will often try to ride out intense winter weather- and birds will die. But they stay because they know that estuary well.
Here, this drop was localised within the estuary. How often within an estuary, might a bird switch core areas? They could, but they usually don't. Colour-ringing shows they are happy to call a small area home. (Habitat creation alongside Cardiff Bay to provide new habitat when the barrage was built didn't work; the birds didn't switch, and numbers dropped.)
Low tide feeding? They have preferred creeks, but will switch short-term. Weather, disturbance. Some are extremely loathe to leave (especially those that defend a small territory). And if they go, they are back after a day or so.
Safe roosting might mean a Redshank's core area includes two, three WeBS count areas. Example- birds from Rainham Docks East can and do cross to Otterham, in ones/twos over the reedbed on the peninsula, usually to carry on feeding. Disturb an early roost at RDE, they will head for Motney or Rainham Saltings. On a spring, to Nor/Friars/Bishop- but they will soon change back to their favourite safe spot. A big disturbance can rock things for a while; late October/ early November many birds switch due to fireworks disturbance (the urge to set off rockets from the sea wall is too much for some).
After the autumn moult, individual core area patterns change. During the moult, the core area is kept small. Enough food, save energy- tolerate your fellow 'shanks a little more. Afterwards, being able to respond to threats at peak performance, adults might be prepared to go further to feed, might be prepared to roost more in the open. By winter a number of birds are prepared to commute to mid-estuary during the tidal cycle. They might also push youngsters out of their loose assemblies, out towards the less safe areas; better an unproven youngster get taken by a local predator than a proven breeder.
This means the end of the moult period is the start of a bit of hike on the detectability scale; small discreet roosts scattered around a salting, more feeding birds out mid-estuary. Some spread towards areas little used during the moult, such as the head of the estuary at St. Mary's/Upnor. Much harder to count (just as the WeBS core season starts; the Medway is not usually counted over the summer). So counts go down, but perhaps by more than the number that have actually just moult staged here and moved on. Could it even be that the majority of Redshank do stay on after their moult, a shallower percentage drop more in line with, say, the nearby Swale? More questions to answer.
First though, can we find some of the missing birds? In the years prior to my return, peaks had supposedly just been in the low hundreds.
Right from the moment of my return in many spots you could beat that number in just one scan of the binoculars at the right time of the tide, if you timed things right. Time it wrong, and there's simply not that many in view. High tide is certainly a wrong time for peaks. And for many years of late only a small part of the estuary has been counted at high tide.
So, how to see the biggest numbers:
Getting out up to three times a day I get to take 70, 80, 90 snapshots a month, at the times of my choosing. Much easier to see trends. WeBS is about one high tide snapshot a month. The answer, for recording peak numbers, is not the WeBS high tide count. The birds are hidden up in the cord grass. It needs supplemental counts.
And the WeBS scheme allows, actually encourages, supplemental counts.
The WeBS dilemma
The best conditions are, roughly, three and a half hours before high tide. Birds are being pushed up the creeks. The last covering by the tide might take around half-an-hour from this time so the optimal count time is outside the official WeBS guidelines (being ideally within two hours either side of high tide, pushing it for three). On a neap, the optimal count time can often be nearer four hours prior to high tide.
The answer has to be a supplemental count. The trick for one visit perfection on a count day could be, perhaps, to arrive early and get in a supplemental then. And then have a full WeBS count scheduled for, say, h.t. -2 hours.
Tough work, but the more supplemental counts collated, the easier it would be for an analyst to crunch those numbers. Make the most of your WeBS count. Arrive for the 3.0 metre mark (or 2.5 where applicable around here) and get in a quick count, see where they go in to roost, note where they might switch to. Then bash the bushes for half an hour (or go grab a coffee) and come back within the allocated WeBS count time period to get another number. You have a supplemental count, and an official count. Strong data. Heck, do you count with a chum? Perhaps take it turns for the early shift, both do the main? There are all sorts of options- if there is the will. Perhaps the County Society could be encouraged to promote the WeBS count sectors to their members, then their database mirrors and provides additional supplemental counts? All sorts of options.
This approach I've been using is what I've termed a 'partly through the tidal cycle count'. Full TTTCs are loved by consultants. 4,5,6, even 10, 11, 12 snapshots taken in one long visit. All sorts of tidal usage picked up. But just two counts of on one day can yield a lot of info.
When counters all know each others' areas (photograph the boundaries and share), then even a full coordinated supplemental becomes an easier option by calling on more from within the team. Once tried, you might find you enjoy it.
The BTO, Natural England, need robust data. At the moment, for Redshank, existing data might not even be robust enough to qualify as 'grey data'. How can we expect to argue against future developments if the BTO and County Society don't hold data fit for such purpose?
If you think I'm saying to local counters 'you're bad at your job', you're wrong. Nearly every counter I've talked with up and down the shoreline these past six years has clearly rightly held a pride in their efforts. This is about being more effective. Understanding the objective. Getting the best result you can. Guidance, logistics, communication, all need to come together. The Medway is Internationally Important. It deserves best effort.
Redshanks are cowards. Noisy cowards.
This, to me, is why somewhere like Oare nature reserve works for birders. Waders will tolerate close observation there, even though wildfowlers can and do shoot from the adjacent wall. Simply put, the reserve area has a central point far enough away from the punters so alarmists like Redshanks can (and usually do) roost at their safe distance. Most of our onshore Medway roosts don't have a protective boundary, and much of the estuary is not yet automatically thought of as a protected conservation zone, but somewhere that acts as a nice backdrop to many a recreational behaviour.
Part of why I don't encourage sane birders to the Medway seawall. The best place for large numbers of birders are the reserves, designed to cater for them. I do encourage birders I meet on the seawall. They've made the effort to discover the estuary, the fools(!). Hopefully they'll be the ones who'll appreciate there is a need to bird this estuary with a high level of fieldcraft.
Because our relatively low numbers of birders (in respect of total estuary visitors) have already been shown to cause more disturbance per head than most groups. We increase the number of visiting birders, we increase the volumes of disturbance exponentially.
Dog walkers cause the big percentage of disturbance flights, and are a big percentage of estuary visitor numbers; a good place for work of limiting disturbance to start (good luck Birdwise North Kent!) but we birders can start thinking of ways to limit our own disturbance levels. We may choose to disbelieve the figures obtained by consultants, but we should not lose sight of the fact that when questioned, north Kent WeBS counters fed back that the main disturbance was from aircraft, etc. Second? WeBS counters said birdwatchers.
Natural England miss the old approach to disturbance monitoring built into WeBS; if they do not get to hear about the problems we encounter, how will they know?
A 'typical' Rainham tide
The Redshank will slowly come together from throughout the Rainham 'bay'. They congeal in the creeks, often out of sight. A bobbing head might give one away, but often you'll miss the half-dozen with it. Not until the creeks have nigh-filled do most stroll out and start thinking about safest roost. Rule of thumb, Redshank feeding/loafing on the western side of Rainham creek head straight for Rainham saltings, to the east, they will probably do the same.
But early morning, few people creating a threat, a fair number might risk Rainham Docks East. Not as much good cover as Rainham saltings, but close to their feeding. If they cannot settle peacefully at RDE, you'll see them flight west to the saltings.
Those saltings hide birds like a poacher's pocket. They'll be hidden in the central channels, they'll roost on the steeper sides, out of the wind, out of sight. Those that miss out on the best spots might end up on the top of the saltings, where we can count them. But you'll need to be there at the top of the tide to see the largest numbers as they emerge from the submerging tideways.
They might, just might, ride the tide out there. But they'll often have to use another roost if disturbed, or if the tide is a spring.
The edges of the RSPB Motney Hill might then come into play, and birds will flight there. It can be a safe spot, but is all too often disturbed. If quiet for a few days (rare) then east Rainham Creek birds might actually make it the choice of roost over Rainham saltings. But doesn't happen that much. And besides, there's a catch. These saltings have few areas that don't flood on a spring. So if the waters push the Redshanks out of Rainham saltings, they don't try Motney.
Instead they head for Friars and Nor. And, once again, hide up from shoreline observers. Even from boat-based ones- many head into the large creek just behind the southern wall. You have to get these birds in flight to get a good number.
Higher springs, much of Nor goes under, they might then retreat again, to Darnet/Bishop. And if, as is happening more often, storms, surges and rising sea levels put these under pressure the Redshank might try Folly Point or even aerial roost for a short period over the tide.
The Rainham Bay complex is, well, complex. A single bird could easily use three different roost points during one tidal covering period.
The same for points west of Horrid, around Copperhouse. Similar for Otterham, though they have a relatively safe inland roost site. The third 'clump' is based around Lower Halstow, preferring Twinney Wharf saltings but all-too often having to flight to the edges of Barksore, or the often watery Millfordhope/Greenborough. Funton birds stay mainly in Funton. If they have to leave, they'll jump the wall to the large fleet on east Barksore.
So, the number of the beasties?
These are the core groupings.
During an average autumn moult period, one day's count conditions might reveal 300, 400, 500 of the Copperhouse roost.
You might get a similar number for Rainham Bay.
Otterham can give up 200, 300 easily on a good day.
Halstow? Under 500 is a poor showing, over 700 a good day.
Funton? 300 and you've missed a lot of the show. 400, 500, 600, you've seen a fair proportion.
Throw in Queenborough/Rushenden on the 'Swale' which WeBS calls correctly as being Medway, you've got another 300 birds easily countable on an average tide.
If you've get a count of, say, 2,400 along the southern shore, you've got a fairly reasonable count. And that's the Internationally Important criteria hit, right there. Heck, if we really are a vital moult/staging area, we should be seeing these numbers. Get timings perfect, you are going to break the Internationally Important criteria. For the southern shore alone.
Hoo Flats birds? Oakham? Stoke? Even those Thames' Roas Bank birds that can often move in to roost? Birds further down Long Reach, Horse Reach on the Swale?
Will we reach the huge totals seen pre- drop? Well, my gut says no. Because as much as there has been under-counting of late, over-counting has to be considered for back then. If the shoreline counters went, as they did, to get a count on the covering tide, and the boat went out on the high, then double-counting is possible. In recent years, similar things have happened, but the boat has gone out on a different day, on the highest tides. The sort of height when birds might disappear onshore to sites like Barksore and Horsham, or head for the hidden high ground on the north side of Hoo. The boat also goes out during the week, to avoid weekend disturbance. Different factors are driving roost choices. Such adjustments need to be considered before accepting the high counts at face value.
Why the BTO stresses for any large estuary synchronised counts are imperative.
I had the chance to call in on the WeBS team up at Thetford a couple of months back, and had a brilliant chat about such matters. This message was the clearest; counts have to be synchronised and the boat needs to be out counting the islands the same time as the shoreline roosts are counted.
Seasonal migrations, daily variations
On the interactive WeBS page, you can pull up a whole series of interesting charts of trends. That high pre-drop autumn peak. Was it really bigger than WeBS 'England' trend? Are we a highly important staging ground for moult? What then happens, do they move on post-moult?
The drop off during the winter. Steeper than 'England' trend. A true reflection? Does it mean Medway punches above its weight? Was it at core carrying capacity, unable to support quite so many birds through the winter?
These are just the start of a long list of questions trends raise.
The BTO tried to answer questions raised by the drop, mainly based on the starting premise the data was valid. A worthy starting point, but for it to work, methodologies had to be right.
If a layman were just to look at figures for one bay from, say, county databases, many of the snapshots will be away from the optimum count time. It will look as if there really aren't many there. Where a visiting birder hasn't 'connected', they'll hold an image of smaller numbers. The full picture becomes obscured.
Do the geographical challenges of this estuary make clear 'snapshots' impossible? Counting the islands from shore is tricky. It can be done. Best counters, watching for the whole four hours around the high, could well pick up and identify a large percentage of any roost put up by the tide. How would such an effort pan out against the boat count?
There is a need to get sorted one way or another, as quickly as possible.
What was the true loss in numbers from the reclamation of the Lappel Bank? We missed a trick there. What will be the knock on from any port extension at Rushenden? From increased shoreline access c/o the imminent Coast Path. Possibly could be missing recording that to the gaps in recent years.
Can counters be encouraged to go for year round coverage, as other estuaries do? Or supplemental annual Low Tide Counts, as some do? LTCs are actually extremely easy to manage. Two or three counters could do over a couple of weeks, much as several other large estuaries now do. Can the local Society get right behind correct recording by, say, encouraging members to adopt the core count sections as recognised areas for informal ad hoc counts?
The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that the BTO report covered more than simply Redshank:
Just how many of these species had true declines at the time is a series of similarly long stories, each for another time. For now, the main thing is to recognise how count effort has had a big effect on the snapshots being used for all of these species listed- by ornithological bodies, by developers, everyone.
So, the new Local Organisers have set out two initial objectives and are busy selling these to their existing counters, seeking input and agreement- and many more counters!
1) Full coverage during the priority winter season
- Achievable, but only partly at present as e.g. some industrial sites may be impossible to access at weekends. Medway full coverage might have to be "90%", leaving these places until such time arrangements change.
- an aspiration for '18-'19, as the priority counts have already started for this winter. A significant achievement will be a full (90%) count in the most important month this coming season, the month for international returns: January 2019. Additional helpers for the Sunday 20th would be most welcome.
2) Simultaneous counts imperative
- from our planning debates on the Medway, best to target for 2018-19. The boat is booked for this winter. There is time to get counters on board (pun intended) with various ideas (perhaps an additional 'supplemental' full estuary midweek count with boat midweek or attempt a 'full island count from land'). Be open with counters as to opportunities/threats to consider, and see what all feel achievable.
The north Kent marshes deserve full and thorough coverage. So, good luck to all those involved with the relaunch on the Medway; onwards, and upwards.
At a recent meeting with Natural England, I had the chance to mention the planned changes; very much welcomed, very well received. NE wished all involved the very best. I asked for a message I could quote at the relaunch meeting, and was told "..consistency for trends should be the goal, not simply peak counts. Robust data which enables better monitoring of trends at regional level would be a great asset..."
Bob Knight is the new Local Organiser for the Medway. Please do get in touch, via BTO WeBS pages, if you feel you can help in any way.