For what it is worth, here is my take/humble opinion about the recent incident of disturbance to the wader roost at Hoylake....
thousands of waders congregate on the beaches and intertidal mudflats of the
Dee estuary and north Wirral coast during the winter months.
birds have to survive here until spring, but not only survive; they must also gain
enough weight to migrate to distant breeding grounds, some species making
arduous flights over huge tracts of open ocean. Also, they need to arrive in
good condition so they can successfully breed in a brief arctic summer.
survive our winter they must avoid death by starvation, disease or predators
and there are factors that will exacerbate these risks to their survival. A key
one is disturbance.
natural forms of disturbance. Raptors such as Peregrines will kill very few of
these birds but the repeated attacks will disturb their foraging.
to foraging can cause the birds to fly up and sometimes leave the feeding area
altogether. This will lead to the unnecessary consumption of precious energy
and repeated incidents of disturbance can reach critical levels for the
survival of some species.
also cause the birds to move to less suitable feeding areas where there maybe
increased competition between them and other shorebirds for food. If
disturbance on prime feeding and roosting sites is frequent and prolonged then
movement to the less desirable feeding areas increases and prey will be
depleted faster leading to more competition and an overall reduction in fitness
of the birds.
also possible that these areas may be more vulnerable to attack by predators or
may be more polluted thus increasing the chance of sickness and disease.
not my opinion, the above information was gathered and analysed by fair
scientific tests and the article that I read it in was independently peer
reviewed before publication in a leading scientific journal. What we can take
from it is that disturbance to wading birds in the winter can damage their
fitness and in some circumstances can reach levels that are potentially fatal.
In my opinion I believe that unnecessary disturbance is a bad thing and should
be avoided if at all possible.
from predators is unavoidable. From humans though, it is.
Sunday there was an awful lot of unnecessary disturbance to the waders trying
to roost on Hoylake beach and some, but by no means all, was by people who
should have known better.
I am not
saying that we should close the beach to people/dog/horses/kites etc so that
the birds can have a nap. I am more than happy to share the beach with others
and respect their right to exercise animals and pursue beachside hobbies
different to mine!
only really a few times during the winter when tides are high enough and fall
in the middle of a busy weekend day when large numbers of birds will be
competing for space with us humans.
Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens do a sterling job in informing visitors about the
birds on the beach and the effects of disturbance on them. Happily, many people
do respect the birds whilst using the beach, some who are unaware of the damage
done to the birds when they are disturbed are happy to look out for them in the
future after talking with the Wardens.
some people who will never alter their behaviour to stop scaring the birds and
while I find it a little selfish, I can accept this.
find unacceptable is disturbance from people who should know better, those who
should be setting an example. By this I mean birdwatchers and photographers. I
am both of these things and feel let down by those who behaved poorly at the
weekend. Getting too close to the birds is not on and neither is using the odd
irresponsible dog walker as cover for walking up to roosting birds, they are
not a shield to deflect criticism of bad practice and lazy fieldcraft.
I was out
that day, walking from West Kirby to Leasowe as the tide rose, enjoying the
sun, the wide open beaches and spending time with my wife and the birds along
picture above we are on the prom. It is possible to get some good pictures from
here without having to drop down on to the beach and get, ultimately, too close
to the birds. All of the pictures in this post were taken from the prom.
wandered down in the direction of the lighthouse we passed a thin finger of
rock armour poking out into the sea. On it was a mix of shorebirds roosting
while the flats were being refreshed by the now risen tide.
broke over the tip of the groyne birds were pushed closer to our vantage point
on the embankment.
sitting quietly on the pathway I was able to get a few pleasing shots of the
bright sunshine was allowing me to shoot at fast shutter speeds, freezing the
birds in flight.
happy with the results I got from my time with these birds, no doubt I would
have obtained better if I had got closer to them, but then I would have run the
risk of disturbing them and cutting short my photography session and, more
importantly, causing the birds to burn off vital fat reserves.
staying on the prom I also got to talk to the occasional passer-by about the
birds. People were curious about what species were present and why they were
resting on the rocks. It was good to show them these special birds, either
through my binoculars or on the rear review screen of my camera.
something else that I like about birdwatching. It is very democratic and
largely co-operative. The birds are there for us all to share and enjoy,
information on what’s about is distributed by word of mouth or via the
internet. This makes the actions of some birders/photographers even more
frustrating. Others will have missed out on photo opportunities or sightings
due to their actions. This selfishness has no place in our hobby.
following day I am told of some Waxwings close to my house. As I pack my kit to
go and look for them I am nervous. I shouldn’t be but I am. I’m apprehensive
because if the birds are there I will want to photograph them, but because of
the actions of others I will be scrutinised to see if I am behaving properly.
If I do get the chance to get some pictures I will be wondering if anyone is
watching me, thinking that I am going to disturb the birds so I can get that
killer picture. Their gaze burning into my back as the shutter fires. I know
you shouldn’t tar people with the same brush but it is inevitable after
incidents like Sunday. As it turns out the Waxwings have left by the time I
arrive and my camera stays in the bag. Strangely I am almost relieved; it feels
like a bad time to be a wildlife photographer this week.
photography has taught me so much about the natural world, above all the need
to conserve it. We can all do our bit, locally, nationally or internationally.
all have total respect for these birds.