RINGED PLOVERS BREEDING AT SEAFORTH DOCKS COMPLEX IN 1985 J.

Taylor
In 1985, the BTO requested data on all wader pulli ringed during the breeding season. The information required was, bill length and types of habitat to enable survival rates to be estimated. Comparisons between different regions, habitats and years could also be made. The provision of these data by the SWLRG was an opportunity to estimate the breeding population and survival rate of Ringed Plovers at Seaforth Nature Reserve and the adjacent area to the west. Prior to the breeding season, the northern section of the complex. Of which the reserve is part, was designated a Freeport zone for industry and a substantial fence was erected to isolate the area. With human disturbance in its many forms thought to be a major influence affecting the breeding success of birds on the reserve, it was hoped that disturbance would be considerably reduced. Ringed Plovers were the first breeding birds to colonise the area in the early 1970’s. Since then they have bred or attempted to breed most years. The population has increased to 5 – 7 pairs but there are little data on whether the numbers vary from year to year or how successful they are. Prior to 1985 there is evidence of breeding for 7 of the 10 years between 1975 and 1984. A summary of the numbers of chicks ringed and the brood size, if known, is shown in Table 1. Table 1 – Number of chicks ringed and brood size pre 1985 Date of Ringing 27.05.75 14.07.75 09.06.76 29.05.77 22.04.78 23.06.79 22.05.83 25.05.83 31.05.83 04.07.84 04.07.84 Number Ringed 3 1 1 1 0 1 2 3 3 2 1 Brood Size 3 unknown unknown unknown unknown/3 eggs unknown unknown/4 eggs unknown/4 eggs 3 2 1

In 1984 the BTO conducted a Ringed Plover census and Seaforth was included in the site list by M.G. Pennington. He found that 4 pairs definitely bred plus one pair that probably did so. Of these 4 pairs only one did not have to re-lay to produce fledged young. This pair produced a single fledgling seen on 19th June. Of the other re-lays, one pair had an almost fully fledged chick on the 4th July which was ringed and presumed to have fledged. The same pair was incubating 3 eggs on 19th April which were presumably predated. These birds were still showing anxiety on 29th June and 4th July and were assumed to have had chicks. The fifth pair is counted as probable because birds were seen in the area on several occasions and children reported “a nest on the ground with eggs in” although no nest was found. In April, May and June 1985 a thorough surveillance of the nature reserve and adjacent areas was made to locate breeding birds and their nest sites. Follow-up visits were made to check on progress with the aim of following each brood through to fledging. Due to the

close proximity of a road, a car was used as a hide. This helped to keep disturbance to a minimum as the birds were used to the occasional passage of vehicles. All chicks were ringed and bill measurements taken. All nests located were entered on BTO nest record cards. Habitat Description and Nest Locations Most of the reserve is thickly grassed mounds and flat areas and not suitable breeding habitat. However, adjacent to the reserve to the west and north-west is an area of compressed stone and brick rubble with sparse vegetation which proves to be to the birds liking. The area to the west designated “A” (see Fig 1) is just outside the reserve boundary and is where several pairs have nested in most years. There are two roads passing through this area giving access to the pump house and the radar tower in the north-west corner. One road runs parallel to the sea wall and the other closer to the seawater pool. In the area between the two roads, four pairs were located with eggs and one pair with two chicks several days old. The chicks were found 7 metres south of the pump enclosure fence and had probably hatched inside the enclosure, a site known to have been used in the past. The adults were engaged in a territorial dispute with another pair which had a nest 75metres sought of the fence. North of the pumping station is an area which extends for about 150m and which is used for the tipping of scrap timber. No nests were found in this area although it formed part of the territory of 2 adjacent pairs. In the area between the tip and the radar tower fence, 3 pairs were located, all incubating eggs. This area extends for about 150m and 2 pairs had their nests within the first 50m. The nests were only 20m apart and the closeness may have been influenced by the fact that the 3rd pair had an established territory a further 70m north and were incubating eggs two weeks before the other pairs had laid. It was familiar sight for a time, when eggs had hatched and chicks became more mobile, to witness territorial disputes in this area. The north-western area of the dock, designated “B” (see Fig 1) consists of an area of hard clay with bricks and rubble and sparse vegetation. In the wet winter months it becomes waterlogged and muddy, conditions which persist well into spring and therefore the area is not used by the Plovers for nesting. However, at each end of the area are slightly higher and therefore drier patches and pairs were located on these. One pair with three chicks was found by the radar tower and may have nested within the enclosure, a site use previously. At the opposite end, a pair was found to have a nest which contained four eggs. Unfortunately these disappeared and with no signs of chicks it was assumed that the nest had been predated, probably by humans. This was the only nest to be totally predated. Although the birds stayed on territory, no evidence was found a re-lay.

At this time a large hole was found in the wire link perimeter fence. Attempts were made at every visit to close it, only to find at the next visit that it had re-appeared. It was also a regular occurrence to ask children to leave the area to avoid disturbance to the reserve. It was whilst repairing the fence that two Ringed Plover were seen 150m into the reserve, area “C” (see Fig 1) in longer grass. Closer observation revealed two quite well grown chicks. These may have hatched on the north end of the causeway, another site used in the past, or

possibly just into the reserve beyond the fence. A male had been seen on the north end of the causeway earlier in the year but with no sign of a female. It was thought that there was a possibility that the nest which was presumed to have been predated might not have been after all! If they were the same pair, it did not explain why a pair were still on the original territory the date the eggs disappeared, or why they had moved so far. No other birds had moved so far from their breeding territory, even though at least two pairs were able to. The two chicks were also larger than others on the site so it was concluded that they were a separate pair that had bred earlier, most likely on the reserve. A total of eight pairs was located breeding or attempting to breed. Of these, five nests were found with the birds incubating eggs. Nest record cards were completed with the relevant details. All nests were the usual scrape, lined with small stones. It was not4ed that all five scrapes were positioned next to an obvious object: two next to bricks slightly raised from the ground approximately 59mm, two adjacent to pieces of wood measuring about 300mm x 50mm x 25mm, and one by a very obvious, bright blue cloth which although weathered to the ground was still raised. Although the site is littered with debris this may be of significance as the site has other areas which did not contain nests where there were no such markers. Hatching Success Three nests contained clutches of four eggs and two of three eggs giving an average clutch size of three, six eggs. One clutch of four eggs was fully predated, another, found with four eggs was visited three days later and no birds were seen on territory. However a check on the nest revealed that there were only three eggs. At the time it was thought that the bird had deserted but the next day all was well as the bird was seen incubating. Two chicks were eventually hatched, the other egg being infertile. All of the eggs in the other three nests hatched giving a success rate of 66.6% of all eggs laid, this gave an average brood figure of 2.4 chicks per nest. (See Table 2.) Table 2 – Hatching Success No. of Clutches 3 x 4 eggs 2 x 3 eggs Total eggs 18 Predated 5 (27.8%) Infertile 1 (5.5%) Hatched 12(66.7%)

Average brood size = 2.4 Hatching Dates From the known hatching dates for the four successful broods, first egg dates were estimated by allowing 28 days for laying and incubation and subtracting this from hatching dates. This gave dates of 19th and 23rd April, and 5th and 8th May. The remaining three pairs were located with chicks and consisted of two broods of two chicks each and one of three chicks. Two of these broods were estimated to be between two and five days old. The other, of two chicks, was obviously older with primaries out of pin by 7-8mm. Their age was estimated at 12 – 15 days and first egg dates between 17th and 25th April. The average brood size where the hatching dates were not known was 2.33 chicks, this is slightly lower than that for when the dates were known. This is to be expected due to mortality in the first few days after hatching.

Post Hatching A total of nineteen chicks were ringed, fifteen within 5 days of hatching. A further two would have been ringed within this time but for the fact that on two occasions they ran beyond the perimeter fence, out of reach. Within the first six days most of the chicks, when alarmed, would either crouch motionless or run a short distance and crouch adjacent to a small object. Up to fourteen days old they moved around more independently and when alarmed would run to the cover of larger objects. One chick was seen to run about 40m to the sea defence wall in a surprisingly short time. Once older than fourteen days the chicks were rarely seen. An occasional sighting was made, usually in slightly thicker grassed areas nearer the water. These areas probably provided more food as well as more cover. Table 3 illustrates this with only two chicks re-trapped more than fourteen days old. At twelve days of age thirteen chicks (68.5%) gad survived to be re-trapped. It was thought that the greatest mortality would occur within the first few days of hatching so to have had this number surviving to twelve days was considered a good omen for their future survival. Estimating Survival to Fledging The first 5 broods ringed were used to estimate the survival to fledging rate for the whole site. It was thought that with all of the broods having first egg dates between 17th and 25th April, similar growth rates, and all having been sighted and re-trapped for 12 days, surviving chicks would be seen around the time of fledging. The total number of chicks from the first 5 broods was 13, of these 8 were located when fledged indicating that 61.5% of hatched chicks survived to fledging. To have waited for the 2 later broods, which had first egg dates 2 weeks later, would have made things more difficult. In the meantime chicks from the first 5 broods could have moved off territory making it difficult to establish their origins without re-trapping. At fledging the chicks were seen in the open more often. This made it easier to assess where each brood was. They seemed to stay on the parent birds territories for a few days and then disperse to feed elsewhere on the site. Fledged young were seen especially around the water edges and on the causeway between the 2 stretches of water. Occasionally they were seen to land on the territories of the 2 later broods where they were quickly driven off by the parent birds. The survival rate seemed high in comparison with what was known of the site in previous years. Although it was known that 5 to 7 pairs had been breeding, very few juvenile Ringed Plovers had been seen on the site in most years. Also, no recoveries of any birds hatched and ringed on the site had ever been recorded. It was assumed that in the past, disturbance, due to public access to the site had affected breeding success. At the beginning of 1985 a 9ft high fence was erected, keeping out all but the most determined. In consequence the area has suffered very little from disturbance. This seems to have been the major factor contributing to a more successful breeding season. In August 1985 a full time wardening scheme was started on the nature reserve. This should be of further benefit to the success of the birds in the future. Casualties Two casualties occurred before fledging, 1 chick from brood 1 was found heavily oiled and dying. It had apparently walked into a pool of waste oil which had been dumped and was almost totally covered. It was found by chance when an adult bird was heard calling to it, obviously trying to encourage it away, with another chick, to an adjacent part of the territory. Another post-fledging juvenile was later seen with its breast, belly, undertail and

parts of its wings covered in oil. It was able to fly far enough to evade capture but its survival was rated very low and it was not seen again. The oil was subsequently covered with debris as was another pool found later, to avoid more accidents. These pools of oil must look very inviting to waders, especially at night and therefore must be covered. The second pre-fledging casualty was a chick hatched with deformed legs and unable to walk properly. It vanished within 3 days and was assumed to have perished due to its lack of mobility. The last known casualty was found half-flattened on the roadway. Whether it was a road casualty or had died from some other cause and had then been run over was not known. Very little traffic uses the roads and that which does is slow moving so it presents little hazard to the birds. Casualties are to be expected when birds colonise industrial areas but they could be minimised with more liaison between industrialists and conservationists. The deaths of the 2 birds from oil spillage could have been avoided by enclosing the area where rubbish is burnt with a small wall. The area has been designated a report zone for industry so the land adjacent to the nature reserve where the Plovers breed, may well be developed in the future. This would affect seriously the success of the birds at the larges known breeding site in the area. If development does go ahead then alternative areas of suitable habitat should be provided, preferably on the nature reserve where protection is afforded. This would probably increase the survival rate both before and after fledging and avoid some of the hazards of breeding within this industrialised area. Table 3 - Age at ringing and subsequent retrapping 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 X X O O X X X X X X X O X X X O X 2 birds O---------O sighted

X X X X X O X X O O O O O O 66 67 68 69 70 71 2+ O O 84 85 3+ 90 91 92 4* 94 95 5* O O 96 6+ 97 98 99 900 7+ O O O O

951 1*

Legend O = known or estimated age when ringed ( days ) X = age when retrapped ( days ) + = brood from known nest *= brood from unknown nest

Acknowledgements I would like to thank C. Fisher, D. Messenger and P. Kinsella for their help in obtaining sightings of ringed birds. Fig. 1. Map of Site