Bird tracking and associated vegetation surveys

Bird tracking helps us to understand how selective and mobile birds are, especially where they are using patchy habitats and where outside pressures like disturbance and tidal cycles affect their behaviour. The British Trust for Ornithology will lead the ECHOES project bird tracking, working closely with stakeholders and will tag and track two species: the invertebrate-feeding Eurasian Curlew and the grazing Greenland White-fronted Goose (GWfG), in both Ireland and Wales.

Using this approach, we can minimise disturbance while keeping a close eye on what habitats the birds prefer and, importantly, better understand their food supply within habitats like mudflats, saltmarsh and pastures. Informed by both the tag data and direct observations, the molecular biologists at Aberystwyth University will collect goose droppings for analysis with DNA meta-barcoding to identify the plant species consumed by individual geese.

Field botanists from Aberystwyth University will survey the occurrence of plants that feature in GWfG diet and gather evidence of particular plant parts consumed at foraged locations, guided by the tracking information and field observations of GWfG. The nutritional value of samples of each kind of plant material will be analysed using biochemical techniques in the Aberystwyth University Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences laboratories. Invertebrates will be surveyed in soil and mudflats to generate similar information for Curlew.

Information generated by the ECHOES project will be very useful for site managers and scientists in understanding the location, extent and contribution to diet of the different habitat patches. This will inform them as to how the vegetation might best be managed to help ensure healthy and viable populations of these wintering birds, and to mitigate impacts on key intertidal habitats that may be subject to projected sea level rise.