Non-Estuarine Waterbird Survey 2015/16

The Non-Estuarine Waterbird Survey (NEWS) has been carried out once a decade since the mid-80s. Previous surveys had identified declines in wintering populations of Purple Sandpiper and Turnstone. This most recent survey hoped to shed light on how these species are faring now.

For the survey the non-estuarine coastline was broken up into count sectors approximately 2km long, though some were shorter and some longer! The survey ran from 1st December 2015 to 31st January 2016 and just a single count was needed, with all birds and mammals using the sector recorded. The counts had to be carried out at low tide +/- 3 hours creating some difficulties given the short hours of daylight during our northerly winter. [On 2nd February 2016 BTO announced that the deadline for the survey had been extended to 29th February 2016. This was due to the severe weather across the UK during December 2015 and January 2016].

Birds within the sector using the sea, intertidal zone or the land within 100 metres of the high tide line were all recorded for the survey.

Assynt Field Club agreed with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), who organised the survey, to have all 75 count sectors around the coast of Assynt allocated to the Field Club. Count sectors were then allocated to volunteers on request, the hope being that we would be able to complete the full survey of Assynt.

The BTO organised this, the third, NEWS survey based on its partnership with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (the last on behalf of the statutory nature conservation bodies: Natural England, Natural Resources Wales and Scottish Natural Heritage and the Department of the Environment Northern Ireland) in association with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.

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By the end of the survey period 10 Field Club members had managed to survey 73 out of the 75 sectors with the only two not covered being Oldany and Soyea Islands.

A few days during the period were stunningly beautiful, crisp winter days while a few were stunningly wet but all the data so doggedly collected was recorded online via the BTO’s own website.

Below is link to a spreadsheet showing the sectors by grid reference and a brief indicative name for each. The bird species recorded in every sector and the number of each are also shown.

Just a few statistics – the total number of birds recorded was 3687 of 63 species; the three most abundant species were Shag (469 birds), Common Guillemot (665 birds) and Herring Gull (1229 birds). The sector with the largest number of bird species (17) was NC134332 to NC142321 on the west side of Loch Nedd, while only two of the counted sectors had nil returns. The sector with the largest total number of birds (1391) was NC181349 to NC195333 on the west side of Loch a’ Chairn Bhain.

Mammals using the sea or the land were also recorded during the survey with Cattle, Grey Seal, Harbour Porpoise, Harbour Seal, Otter, Red Deer and Sheep noted.

The sectors with grid references in bold had been classed as priority sectors by BTO.

The BTO 2 letter Species Code for the birds has been used and the legend forms part of the spreadsheet.

Assynt’s 2015-16 Non-estuarine Waterbird Survey results

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Recent Sightings

Shag

107 (plus 7 Cormorants) on rocks below Stoer Head Lighthouse (DAH) (22/10)

White-tailed Eagle

single immature bird flying over Clachtoll (AS) (22/10)

Brambling

two at Inverkirkaig with Redwings (AS) (21/10)

Whooper Swan

single immature on Maiden Loch, Clachtoll (AS) (21/10)

Ring-billed Gull

single 2nd-winter bird in with Common Gulls Stoer green (DAH) (21/10)

Moorhen

single adult bird Loch an Aigeil (DAH) (21/10)

Brambling

seven birds, including males, on peanut feeder in Balchladich garden (Gordon and Lesley Sleight). Time to start looking more closely at all the Chaffinch flocks that have appeared in the last few days! (20/10)

Great Northern Diver

four winter plumage birds Bay of Stoer (DAH) (20/10)

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