Tuesday, 9 February 2016

The Coastal Life by Dan Rouse


Having lived near the coast all my life, I couldn’t imagine living more than a ten minute walk from the nearest estuary or beach. I’ve grown really fond of birds such as auks and seabirds, with my favourite group being waders. Having said that, the decline in certain wader species such as Curlew, Oystercatcher and Redshank means that I see less of them on my stretch of heaven in South Wales.
Oystercatcher ringing by Dan Rouse
Oystercatcher ringing
by Dan Rouse

I’ve just entered my second year in the “Patchwork Challenge” on my WWT Llanelli patch and have recently acquired a second patch called Morfa Bacas, on the Burry Inlet. Oystercatcher once thrived on this estuary in the 1950’s but a cull was authorised in the 1970’s and the population was reduced almost to extinction on the estuary. Since then, there has been a growth in the numbers and in the 1990’s a project was set up on the roosting areas to ring these bird and monitor the growth in the population. In October, I helped with a catch of 501 birds which was amazing. What was more amazing was to see how the numbers of Oystercatchers had grown - to a roosting flock of around six thousand birds on one stretch of beach! The data collected and analysed showed amazing results with some birds being ringed back when the scheme first started. I took a shine to one particular bird which was ringed on my birthday (1996) and we were lucky enough to catch another bird which was originally ringed in Sweden.

View from Morfa Bacas
View from Morfa Bacas by Dan Rouse
Last November, I was passed the baton and took up the role of WeBS counter for the Morfa Bacas sector of the estuary. I was thrilled to have been given this opportunity since this sector and the estuary itself has a special place in my heart. I will do anything that I possibly can to protect it and WeBS counting is a brilliant way of monitoring the bird species found here. Once a month I venture out to Morfa Bacas, usually at around 8 or 9am to get a consistent count going. Once parked, I walk up the cycle track until I see the estuary. On the site there are three brilliant vantage points through the trees and brambles (which provide excellent birds for my Patchwork Challenge score!). I peer onto the estuary in the hope of getting a decent count and spotting the usual suspects such as Goldeneye, Brent geese and Pintail all of which are featured species on the RAMSAR designation for this site! However, my November 2015 count featured 2 Great White Egrets! Now, these are not uncommon for the estuary but it was the first time I had seen them and the first time they were recorded on the WeBS count date.

Great Norther Diver by Dan Rouse
Great Norther Diver by Dan Rouse
WeBS is an extremely fun way to get to grips with an area and it does feel like you belong there. There is one main counter for each sector but more can take part in the count. I know that some groups do a group count for the sector and this is a brilliant way of encouraging younger people to one day take up the role of WeBS counter. It really helps you to get to grips with what’s common and uncommon for a site and know whether additional information needs to be given, such as filling out a rarity report for the County recorder.  These mentoring activities will mould young people into brilliant data collectors and improve their ID and knowledge dramatically. I would definitely encourage people to offer opportunities for young people to join them on their birding activities so we can learn how to do these things and one day return the favour by encouraging and helping others.

This year, the NEWS surveys has been running and is a perfect first stepping stone to start on. I took
on five sectors including two priority sectors at Rhossili, a place famous for its tourism and beauty. My counts were rather low as we’ve had some dreadful weather for January and I got blown to bits as well as struggling with a cold! A nice Great Northern Diver is always good to see, but I will definitely be returning again to carry out additional counts on a day where there will be more than a couple of species of birds. These are another brilliant group count and a chance to explore other areas that you don’t visit every month. I can’t say that I will apply for the same NEWS sectors as I had counted this year but I will definitely be continuing my counts on the Swansea and Carmarthenshire coast line. Also, there is an open invitation for anyone visiting Swansea/Carmarthenshire area to come on a count session with me!

Dan Rouse, @DanERouse

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