'Bay Bird Bingo’ around Morecambe Bay this winter

'Bay Bird Bingo’ around Morecambe Bay this winter

Residents and visitors around Morecambe Bay this winter are being encouraged to play ‘Bay Bird Bingo’, by getting the binoculars out and keeping the eyes peeled, for what has been named, in safari-style terms, Morecambe Bay’s ‘Big Nine’ birds.

The initiative, run by Morecambe Bay Partnership, is encouraging everyone visiting and living around the Bay to help protect its precious birdlife, by getting them to learn more about it, value and appreciate it.

To that end, the Partnership has created a leaflet based on nine of over 50 different species that call the Bay home, either permanently or just in winter, when they are escaping frozen tundra and Arctic conditions in locations such as Canada, Alaska, Scandinavia and Siberia.

The top nine species to spot whilst out and about playing ‘Bay Bird Bingo’ are knot, redshank, eider, oystercatcher, sanderling, ringed plover, shelduck, curlew, turnstone and lapwing.  Morecambe Bay Partnership suggests people keen to spot these, and other birds, arm themselves with knowledge of the Bay’s tide times by visiting www.tidetimes.org.uk and pay particular attention to the two hours before and after high tide and then high tide itself.

The opening hours of the birds’ precious seafood bar - the mudflats, sands and rocky skears -occur twice a day, either side of high tide.  At this time there is a plethora of food to be found in the sand and mud and around the shoreline, whether that is a meal of cockles and mussels, or a feast of insects or crabs.  The menu is extensive.

During these hours, the birds may seem to be complete gluttons, never ceasing to peck away and take on board their favourite nibbles, but there’s very good reason for this.  They only eat what they know they require to stay warm and survive during their ‘roost’ – which takes place around saltmarshes, jetties and piers when the tide is in and they can snuggle up and rest.

Their careful calculation of how much food they need to take on-board can be completely wrecked if they have to fly off having been disturbed.  The birds use twelve times a much energy when in flight, so quickly use up the energy bank they had built up when feeding.  For this reason, all users of the sands are urged to take extra care not to startle or alarm roosting birds that may not be very visible from a distance, or even when quite close by if camouflaged. Dogs should be kept on a lead and well away from birds on the sands.

To give Morecambe Bay visitors all the information they need, Morecambe Bay Partnership has brought together a voluntary team of ‘Natural Ambassadors’ who can be found at some of the main roost sites around the Bay at weekends, with binoculars in hand and bright blue fleeces as identification.  They love to share their knowledge and passion for different species and are only too happy to help people spot ‘The Big Nine’ and many other birds.

Additionally, the brand-new leaflet that encourages Bay Bird Bingo highlights the many roost sites around the Bay, where different species might be spotted.  Some key sites are at Morecambe Promenade and Stone Jetty, around the rocky breakwaters and groynes, Potts Corner at Middleton, Red Nab, Hest Bank/Bolton-le-Sands, Walney Island and Canal Foot near Ulverston.  Roosts can, however, be found right around the Bay, in both Lancashire and Cumbria.

The leaflet, which highlights the birds living in one of the top three sites for wintering birds in the UK, has been so well received that a similar initiative in south England has adopted it to use for its own bird protection objectives on the Severn estuary.

Morecambe Bay Partnership’s Sophie Cringle says:

“Our new leaflet is the perfect resource for families, visitors and residents to use when trying to spot precious birds that really need to be protected so many thousands of miles away from their homes in the Arctic, along with those that stay with us all year.  The Bay supports a bird population of over 210,000 birds, which is some indication of how much food can be found at its seafood bars. 

“We know that people will better-protect the birds of the Bay, if they know more about them, so shall be making sure we put our messages out through various means this autumn and winter.”

Anyone photographing the birds is asked to do so from a respectful distance when they are dining or sleeping off that extra bit of seawater-clam ‘pud’ that they took on board! The Partnership would love people to share their photos, however, and tag in @BirdsoftheBay on Twitter or Morecambe Bay Partnership on Facebook.

View Birds of the Bay leaflet here