Wintering Waterbirds on their way – Can you help them along?

It’s the time of year that some birds leave our county and some others arrive here for a winter stay to join our resident bird population. MEG member Liam Murtagh says that some bird species are in significant decline and we can monitor what is happening locally by participating in various surveys organised by Birdwatch Ireland, like the 2013/2014 one on wintering waterbirds that is about to commence

Sunday the 22nd September brought us an ’Indian Summer’s’ day, and as it was the Autumn Equinox there were equal hours of daylight and darkness. The autumn colours are only beginning to appear in our countryside but many of summer visiting birds such as the Swallow are about to leave us to head south to warmer lands. While these birds leave us there are about one million winter visiting birds such as Whooper Swan and Curlews arriving here from latitudes further north. Both sets of migratory birds can cover thousands of miles. While one may marvel at the homing instinct of these birds and their ability to fly such vast distances we hear that there has been a 23% decline in long distance migratory birds in Europe over the past 30 years. The number of farmland birds is also in sharp decline across Europe. In Ireland the barn owl and the summer visiting corncrake are now very rare. There are various causes, but loss of habitat is one of the main ones.  It is just one aspect of the various aspects of biological diversity on the planet that are under threat.

The Curlew pictured above is a winter visitor to our wetlands. In the past we also had  resident Curlews breeding throughout Ireland but their numbers have been in significant decline in recent years. In 2012 only one breeding pair was recorded in Co Monaghan.

The Curlew pictured above is a winter visitor to our wetlands. In the past we also had resident Curlews breeding throughout Ireland but their numbers have been in significant decline in recent years. In 2012 only one breeding pair was recorded in Co Monaghan.

Ireland’s wetlands and their waterbirds are currently monitored as part of the Irish Wetland Bird Survey (I-WeBS) being organised by Birdwatch Ireland. The 20th season of the Survey is about to start and BirdWatch Ireland would very much welcome your help. I-WeBS is the nationwide scheme for monitoring non-breeding waterbirds – largely the swans, geese, ducks and wading birds – that migrate to Ireland each winter. Whether you are an experienced birdwatcher or interested in finding out how you can contribute to conservation, you can help. You can take on a site yourself or opt to learn the ropes from someone who already participates, but the organisers are always keen to bring new participants on board.

I-WeBS involves conducting counts of all waterbirds at wetland sites once per month from September to March on predefined count days. The counts are recorded on the count forms provided by the I-WeBS Office or entered onto the online data entry system at the end of each visit. Wetland sites range from small ponds and river stretches with small numbers of birds that can easily be can covered by one observer with a pair of binoculars to large complex estuaries that hold thousands of birds and require a team of experienced observers with telescopes.

If you would like to get involved, contact iwebs@birdwatch.ie  letting Birdwatch know where you are based and whether or not you have a telescope. They will find the right site for you. If you would like to be involved in a range of bird watching activities locally you could join the Monaghan branch of Birdwatch Ireland. See www.birdwatch.ie for contact details and also for details of other bird surveys conducted by Birdwatch Ireland.

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