Breeding wader conservation in West Pomerania

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By Stephen Inglis, RSPB

From 10th – 17th June 2019 myself and colleagues from other Scottish conservation NGOs took part in a course on managing wetlands in Poland. The course was developed by ARCH and funded by Erasmus+. During our visit we were hosted by Society for the Coast and visited various sites across West Pomerania, the north-western section of the country.

Several of the wetland sites that we visited were breeding sites for waders and I took the chance to find out about the conservation issues that these birds are faced with in Poland. In West Pomerania breeding waders include Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus, Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago, Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata and Common Redshank Tringa totanus. Although the wader breeding season was drawing to a close at the time of our visit we were still able to see the habitats where the birds had recently been breeding and learn of the threats they are faced with.

Predation

Similarly to Scotland, we were informed that one of the largest pressures on breeding wader productivity was failure due to high levels of predation. With large populations of non-native American mink Neovison vison and racoon Procyon lotor widespread across the region and increasing red fox Vulpes vulpes numbers, mammalian predators are an increasingly important driver of low levels of productivity.

Despite the negative impacts of mink and racoon our tour guides explained that significant control of their populations is considered unfeasible given the current size the populations. At Ujscie Warty monitoring is carried out using floating platforms in addition to weekly roadkill counts on the two main roads on either side of the park. Both suggest that populations are increasing despite removal of both species at the start of the bird breeding season.

In recent years fox numbers are thought to have increased as a result of reduced hunting pressure in the absence of demand for fox fur coupled with a decline in the prevalence of rabies – the latter has been achieved via the distribution of vaccine laced baits. Very few foxes appear to be taken by hunters and in national parks such as the Wolinski National Park, with an area of 110km2, a limit of 5 foxes are permitted to be removed each year. In contrast to Scotland where sheep farming is common, sheep are largely absent from West Pomerania, and as a result of this reducing fox numbers is unlikely to receive as much interest from landowners.

Water management and weather patterns

Although many of the breeding waders present on the wetland sites we visited typically nest on islands created by high water levels, in recent years unreliable rainfall levels have resulted in nesting areas being increasingly accessible to these mammalian predators. At the Ujscie Warty National Park where breeding waders including Lapwing and Redshank usually do well, this year breeding success has been extremely low. Following a year of low rainfall in 2018, water levels in the wetland during spring 2019 were several metres lower than what would be expected and as a result foxes have been able to den on the islands where waders are usually able to nest safely. This, in combination with the impacts of other predators has resulted in very few chicks making it to fledging. Indeed, during our boat tour of the Ujscie Warty our tour guide remarked that a juvenile Lapwing we saw may have been one of the only ones from this year.

In addition to the lack of rainfall, our tour guides often mentioned that when rain does occur it more often occurs as extreme rainfall events and this also causes problems for breeding waders. At Ujscie Warty our tour guide told us of how a Redshank nest that they had been monitoring this year was flooded out following one such rainfall event this year. Wader conservationists in the UK are familiar with this phenomenon as well, as it is a key cause of breeding failure for Black-tailed Godwits Limosa limosa nesting on the washes of the south-east of England.

The Odra Delta Nature Park is fortunate in that water levels in the past have been able to be controlled through the use of water pumps but in recent years this power has been removed by the government. This has resulted in lower water levels and reduced winter and spring flooding but it is hoped that in future years some compromise might be able to be achieved.

Grazing management

Grazing management in Poland currently appears to be wader friendly and it was encouraging to hear that many efforts are being made to make sure grazing is appropriate. At Ujscie Warty, large extents of the park’s floodplain meadows are rented out to local farmers for cattle grazing. Although farmers are keen to get stock out onto the meadows as soon as possible, the park authorities make an attempt to prevent cattle introduction until the second half of June to reduce trampling risk to wader nests but also prevent excessive damage to soft wet ground.

At the Odra Delta Nature Park Konik Ponies and Highland Cattle are being used to mimic the grazing style of the extinct Tarpan or Wild Horse Equus ferus and Auruchs Bos primigenius in order to create the swards necessary for the range of breeding meadow birds present including several breeding wader species. Managers of the park aim to achieve a density of roughly 0.5 animals per hectare but in recent years the herd size has increased well beyond the desired levels due to high levels of productivity. Our tour guide explained how they are starting to resolve this problem by a combination of selling and donating stock to other projects across Poland where there is a need for conservation grazing.

In Scotland sheep are often considered an issue for nesting waders as high densities can result in unsustainably high levels of nest trampling and very short uniform swards but in Poland the absence of sheep means this is not an issue. It was very interesting to hear of the lack of interest in sheep farming in West Pomerania – despite trials suggesting that some species rich grassland sites might benefit from light sheep grazing farmers who were offered sheep refused to keep them. A stark contrast to the uplands of Scotland!

Monitoring

Another realisation from our visit was that many of the conservation projects aimed at breeding waders in West Pomerania don’t have the resource or funding to allow for detailed monitoring of the impacts of such management. I feel that the scale of the management occurring on sites such as Ujscie Warty and the Odra Delta Nature Park could provide excellent case studies into how best such large sites can operated to achieve the greatest results for breeding waders.

Bird list of West Pomerania, Poland 10th-17th June 2019

Comments are included for species which are less common or absent in Scotland or for which are of particular significance in a Polish context.

1 Mute Swan

Common species found at most open water bodies. Several breeding pairs with young broods at Ujscie Warty National Park

2 Greylag Goose

3 Mallard

4 Gadwall

Found in low numbers at most open water bodies.

5 Teal

Single figures seen at Ujscie Warty National Park.

6 Garganey

2 individuals seen along a channel of Szczecin Lagoon from the boat.

7 Goldeneye

Several individuals seen at Czajcza Lake in the Ujscie Warty Landscape Park.

8 Little Grebe

9 Great Crested Grebe

10 Cormorant

Very large numbers found at the Szczecin Lagoon, with a large breeding colony with 100s of nests on one of the islands there.

11 Great Egret

A couple of individuals seen at the Ujscie Warty National Park.

12 Grey Heron

13 White Stork

A widespread species with many foraging at Ujscie Warty National Park and several seen foraging in fields whilst driving along roads. A pair were present on a specially constructed nesting platform outside the hotel in Namislyn.

14 Black Stork

A couple of individuals were seen at Ujscie Warty National Park where this species forages.

15 White-tailed Eagle

10+ individuals of varying ages seen well at Ujscie Warty National Park where a nest was also observed. 10+ individuals also to be seen when visiting the Szczecin Lagoon by boat as well as a few individuals in other locations.

16 Red Kite

Several were seen at different sites, often in 2s or 3s.

17 Marsh Harrier

2 individuals seen hunting over farmland whilst driving and another hunting over reedbed in the northern section of Odra Delta Nature Park.

18 Buzzard

A common and widespread species but not seen quite as often as in most of Scotland.

19 Kestrel

One bird seen hovering at Poznan airport on the evening of our arrival.

20 Moorhen

21 Coot

22 Crane

First encountered at Ujscie Warty National Park where around 10 pairs breed at least another 10 pairs were seen foraging in fields visible from the roads we travelled through the week including two pairs with single well-grown chicks.

23 Oystercatcher

A single bird seen at Ujscie Warty National Park where 2 pairs were thought to have nested this year. An uncommon breeding species inland in Poland unlike Scotland where the species is very common.

24 Little Ringed Plover

A single bird seen at Ujscie Warty National Park and a pair showing signs of breeding in short vegetation beside Czajcza Lake in the Ujscie Warty Landscape Park.

25 Lapwing

A common breeding species Ujscie Warty National Park where 40+ individuals were seen including a juvenile bird.

26 Green Sandpiper

A single bird seen at Ujscie Warty National Park and another seen at Odra Delta Nature Park.

27 Redshank

A couple of pairs were seen showing signs of breeding at Ujscie Warty National Park.

28 Black-tailed Godwit

2 birds seen at Ujscie Warty National Park.

29 Ruff

1 individual seen at Ujscie Warty National Park.

30 Black-headed Gull

The commonest gull we encountered across West Pomerania.

31 Herring Gull

32 Lesser Black-backed Gull

33 Little Tern

Several individuals seen foraging at Ujscie Warty National Park and a large nesting colony at Czajcza Lake in the Ujscie Warty Landscape Park.

34 Common Tern

Several individuals seen foraging at Ujscie Warty National Park and a large nesting colony at Czajcza Lake in the Ujscie Warty Landscape Park.

35 Black Tern

Several individuals watched foraging at Ujscie Warty National Park, along channels of the Szczecin Lagoon.

36 Whiskered Tern

At least 1 individual seen foraging with Black Tern along a channel of the Szczecin Lagoon.

37 Feral Pigeon

38 Woodpigeon

39 Collared Dove

40 Cuckoo

A fairly common species heard and seen at most sites we visited in West Pomerania.

41 Swift

A common species in good numbers at the majority of towns and villages we visited.

42 Green Woodpecker

1 individual seen along the Odra River in the Cedynski Landscape Park.

43 Great Spotted Woodpecker

44 Skylark

45 Sand Martin

46 Swallow

Nesting at most human settlements in numbers greater than what would generally be seen in Scotland.

47 House Martin

A large colony nesting on a large road bridge over the Warta River at the Ujscie Warty National Park and well recorded from towns and villages.

48 Meadow Pipit

49 Tree Pipit

Several singing at the heathland reserve near Cedynia.

50 White Wagtail

51 Yellow Wagtail

Several individuals seen on the meadows of the Ujscie Warty National Park and 10s of individuals in similar habitat at the Odra Delta Nature Park.

52 Grey Wagtail

53 Robin

54 Nightingale Heard only

Heard at several locations across West Pomerania.

55 Redstart

Several pairs breeding in a park in Szczecin and a few birds seen elsewhere.

56 Black Redstart

Fledged juvenile seen near the hotel at Namislyn with sightings at most towns and villages where singing males were conspicuous.

57 Song Thrush Heard only

58 Fieldfare

Several pairs breeding in a park in Szczecin with fledged young being fed.

59 Blackbird

60 Blackcap Heard only

61 Lesser Whitethroat

62 Whitethroat Heard only

63 Sedge Warbler

64 Savi’s Warbler Heard only

Heard at Ujscie Warty National Park and the Szczecin Lagoon.

65 Reed Warbler

Encountered often at wetland sites.

66 Marsh Warbler

1 individual watched singing beside the car park of the heathland reserve near Cedynia.

67 Great Reed Warbler

A couple of individuals heard singing at Ujscie Warty National Park and another couple heard at Lake Morzycko.

68 Willow Warbler Heard only

69 Wood Warbler Heard only

Heard singing at the beech wood reserve near Szczecin and in forest bordering the Baltic Sea in the Wolinski National Park.

70 Chiffchaff

71 Wren

72 Spotted Flycatcher

73 Great Tit

74 Blue Tit

75 Crested Tit Heard only

1 heard looking out over the northern section of the Odra Delta Nature Park.

76 Nuthatch

77 Treecreeper Heard only

78 Red-backed Shrike

One pair seen along the Odra River in the Cedynski Landscape Park.

79 Magpie

80 Jay

81 Hooded Crow

82 Raven

83 Starling

84 Golden Oriole

Heard at the peat bog reserve Borgbagno Mialka, and several individuals along the Odra River in the Cedynski Landscape Park.

85 House Sparrow

A very abundant species of villages and towns.

86 Tree Sparrow

Breeding around the hotel at Namislyn and possibly nesting in the base of the White Stork nest beside the hotel. Also nesting in nest boxes provided for Goldeneye/Goosander at Ujscie Warty National Park.

87 Chaffinch

88 Linnet

89 Goldfinch

90 Greenfinch

91 Serin

Singing males recorded at several sites particularly when close to villages.

92 Common Rosefinch Heard only

Single bird heard singing at the Ujscie Warty National Park.

93 Reed Bunting

94 Yellowhammer

Seemingly a common and widespread species recorded at most sites.

95 Corn Bunting

Recorded at several sites and seemingly quite abundant including beside Czajcza Lake in the Ujscie Warty Landscape Park.

Comments on Butterflies in West Pomerania 10th – 17th June 2019

During our visit a large Painted Lady Vanessa cardui influx was occurring, possibly in association with the weather patterns which had resulted in the above average temperatures which Poland was experiencing. Wherever suitable food plants were available, such as Viper’s Bugloss Echium vulgare, the Painted Lady could be seen in large numbers forming light clouds when disturbed. Other butterfly species to be seen included Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae, Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta and a probable High Brown Fritillary Argynnis adippe but these were by far outnumbered by the mass of Painted Lady. Bumblebees were a scarce sight but this might have been due to the high day time temperatures suppressing foraging activity.

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