Saturday, 25 September 2021

Listing to one side

After last Tuesday's talk to the local RSPB Group on the estuary I made a rash promise to someone that I'd expand on one slide I'd shown about the species recorded officially on the Medway. Because, as per norm, I'd tried what to many is unconventional. Instead of showing a species list total, when I came back I made a Medway list that instead looked at percentages in comparison to adjacent areas. And highlighted the blanks.

The slide shown is reproduced below.

Yellow column, the Kent list.

Grey, the whole of the north Kent marshes.
Then subdivided to Thames/Medway (light blue) and Sheppey/Swale (light green)
Both these sectors then subdivided again so I could find a Medway list and compare to the neighbours.

(Before anyone asks, I gave all land inside of the sea wall along the north Medway to 'Thames'. I'm sure the Hoo listers wouldn't have it any other way.)

I was after percentages. As a whole, north Kent has recorded more than 83% of the Kent list. We're good up here. Sadly, the artificial inland estuary that is the Medway has only scraped together some 61% of the county list. We're the poor relation, and I wanted my table to show me why.

Let's take ducks. So many missing dabblers. When the estuary was discussed at Ramsar in 1971, we had some pretty good habitat for dabblers. We were #1 for Teal in Blighty at the time. Exactly 50 years later, reclamation and development have done for such claims, as well as a lack of decent reserves and shooting levels. Yet you'd think someone would have turned up a Green-winged Teal by now? Are birders looking hard enough? 44 square kilometres with limited shoreline access? Perhaps you could say we deserve a break, but even so.

Similarly the waders suffer some big, obvious gaps. Give us a hide with a freshwater scrape and then maybe, just maybe, things will change. 

Choose any seabird group and the large gaps shine out. We're not a real estuary and we're inland, with only a tiny mouth. Of course we're never going to do as well as other north Kent coastal areas. 

And let's not get started on passerines. North Kent has always had a reputation of being the rump end of Kent for passerine migrants. We come out looking like a fistula on the rump of Kent. We're just not well positioned to receive many waifs and strays.

And yet...

There is still more than enough here to entertain, more than enough to study, more than enough to survey. Sure, we're never going to have huge numbers of rares/scarces. But if that really is your bag, then you can still make a name for yourself in north Kent. Sheppey calls.

I don't keep formal year lists. (I don't keep any formal lists.) But I can check my totals. And yes, mine might look high but that's because I'm out birding every day. However, first year I moved back, I didn't bird hard during first three months as sorted the house out, and only covered St Mary's Island to Chetney. Without trying for a high score, without rares/scarces, I still clocked up 193 species.

Never mind chasing around the country for a 'My' 200 list, 200 should be quite possible to achieve just in north Kent.

So many times down the years I've suggested to the county society that providing an official list for each of its recording areas might help provide additional data by encouraging recording area listing, plus in this day and age, perhaps help towards lower carbon birding. One day they might take me up on it.

In the meantime the ongoing Swanscombe is a prime example of what could happen without local focus. This year, with a little lockdown help, locals have produced a lot of additional useful data.

Here on the Medway we could, just could, get a sniff of that sort of percentage return if more birders focused in on the local. And the likes of JNCC and NE are still hoping more effort can be made in getting surveys done consistently here. Heck, they'd love us to manage the bare minimum.

The original question on Tuesday night related to providing a figure for a fun shorebird league table doing the rounds on twitter. Trust me, if we entered, right now we'd be mid-table mediocrity at the very best. If I'm brutally honest, for size/scale, we'd deserve to be relegated.

The tables that really matter are the ones that ensure our protection levels aren't likely to be weakened. They hold the data key to preserving our estuary, at national and international levels. If we still can't get manage minimum coverage for things like that, we deserve to be docked points and banned from all twitter Superleagues for now.

Positive news - things are getting better in the national/international departments. Saving that for some upbeat posts in the run up to the all-important January counts (the ones used for the international returns). Onwards and upwards.


Pedant's corner:

Of course, my silly percentage table, my silly rules. Someone'll spot the holes, so I'll get retaliation in first.

Take that one species in the first pic which shows as being on the Kent list but I've not bothered to show as  recorded in north Kent. Which some say it is.

Snow Goose.

I started work on that percentage list back in 2013, and I'd obviously had a reason back then for deciding no deffo records in north Kent, but of course staring at it now I'm reminded there's one very famous record, and it took me a while today to recall why I'd struck it off.

Snow Goose.

Category A and category C of the BOU list.Rare vagrant and established feral population.

Brown and Grice, in 'Birds of England', confirmed that wild vagrancy had been proven for Europe courtesy of a flock in the Netherlands in the spring of 1980 of which one bird had been ringed in Canada. But no claim of any acceptable vagrancy record for England.

Certainly no mention of Kent, yet our Society had said a 1980 north Kent sighting was that very Dutch flock. Seen over a month before, a flock of similar (but different) number/make up had passed through our Thames recording area. No ring seen. But these Snow Geese were counted as category A in that year's County Report.

A few years later one north Kent birder did an awful lot of research and found a feral population in the home counties from which, a day or so before the Thames sighting, a small flock had been recorded flying towards London.

The acceptance of the record as category A was queried, but they were told the record would stand as genuine vagrancy for our county. Does Snow Goose deserve to be on the county's A list? There really was no proof that the ringed bird was ever here.

Grice and Brown could have championed that ringed bird as being a Kent record, but chose not to, concluding "Clearly, unless ringed birds are involved, the origins of all Snow Geese recorded in England, even those consorting with other migratory wildfowl, must be suspect."

Who knows? Last KBR I have with a county status listing for Snow Goose still says 'rare vagrant', but where is a list of the accepted vagrants for the whole county? Nothing on the dropdown list on the website.

If anyone's bothered in Kent purity listing, they can check the rest of the county's accepted records; for my own personal fun and games SnoGo was deleted from north Kent calculations as that record (as well as any other here) could just as easily be E as A. One time a landowner had tried to keep a free-flying feral flock here. No chance to see if self-sustaining, the wildfowlers whittled 'em down.

Nope, circumstantial and unproven. Lists, eh? Snow Goose is gone. (Just until I get one.)

And no moans from the Hoo crew. As I said earlier, I'd already given them all the Medway's north shore land records in my calculations. You're so far ahead. Give us plebs a break.


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