When you see birds roost... do not dis­turb

Midweek Visiter - - The Sefton Coast -

BALMY sum­mer days when the wild calls of Sand­wich Terns jar against the sim­mer­ing hori­zon off Ains­dale beach seem as dis­tant as the terns them­selves are now.

Writ­ing this in De­cem­ber, with a chill draught seep­ing through the win­dow seal and rain sluic­ing down the pane, it is easy to fig­ure out why our sum­mer vis­i­tors un­der­take per­ilous jour­neys to warmer win­ter­ing grounds.

Many of th­ese spec­tac­u­lar birds, which spend July and Au­gust roost­ing on the sands at Ains­dale, will have made the jour­ney south to Sene­gal and Gam­bia in western Africa by now, with some even fly­ing as far away as Namibia for an eas­ier life, and more abun­dant sup­plies of food.

The con­trasts be­tween the blind­ing sun of Africa and its high tem­per­a­tures, and the Sty­gian black­ness and buf­fet­ing winds of an Ains­dale evening in win­ter were ob­vi­ous when I met with vol­un­teers to dis­cuss the re­sults of our third an­nual sur­vey of the terns re­cently.

Thanks to our ded­i­cated team of vol­un­teers, 26 counts were made of the roost in July and Au­gust, with the team con­cen­trat­ing on the pe­ri­ods over high tide.

They also recorded the types of dis­tur­bance the birds suf­fered, for un­for­tu­nately there are still folk who don’t see a prob­lem with flush­ing th­ese birds and the thou­sands of waders that seek refuge on our coast­line dur­ing mi­gra­tion pe­ri­ods.

It is im­per­a­tive that all hu­man vis­i­tors give th­ese birds a wide berth when they are try­ing to rest on a jour­ney that most of us would strug­gle to com­plete, es­pe­cially as their roost sites lie within the Sefton coast Site of Spe­cial Sci­en­tific In­ter­est.

One of the rea­sons the Sefton coast en­joys the pro­tec­tion of in­ter­na­tional law is the large num­bers of mi­grat­ing birds that stop off here.

Many hu­man vis­i­tors, un­aware of the dam­age their ac­tions can cause to th­ese roosts, are mor­ti­fied when they learn how the birds quickly be­come ex­hausted if forced into the air when they should be rest­ing and con­serv­ing en­ergy.

This year our coun­ters recorded a to­tal of 4,040 Sand­wich Terns in the roost at Ains­dale, com­pared to 9,945 birds in 2017, but the number of scaly young birds was up from 102 in 2017 to 257 this year.

The max­i­mum daily count this year was of 840 birds, well down on the peak of 1,500 the year be­fore, which was also down on the sum­mer of 2016, when 2,734 were counted on one vol­un­teer visit.

Why do num­bers ap­pear to be fall­ing?

Dis­tur­bance is cer­tainly a fac­tor, with dog walk­ers, horse rid­ers, kite surfers, walk­ers and pho­tog­ra­phers all recorded dis­turb­ing the roosts this year, and the number of dis­tur­bance in­ci­dents were up on pre­vi­ous years.

Fluc­tu­a­tions in food sup­ply off­shore may also have an ef­fect on the number of birds, as could weather con­di­tions.

This year’s count is still much higher than records from as re­cently as 2012, when the Ains­dale roost amounted to just over 300 birds.

Hope­fully next year’s counts will add a fur­ther piece to the tern jig­saw puzzle, but with the balmy sum­mer days a way off yet, all that re­mains is to sin­cerely thanks all our vol­un­teers who took part in this year’s sur­vey.

We hope to see you (and the terns) all again next year…

Above, the terns rise from the Ains­dale roost against a stormy sky

Left, three Sand­wich Terns – in­clud­ing a ringed bird on the leftBe­low left, vol­un­teers count the Sand­wich Tern roost at Ains­dale

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