Month by Month Guide to the birds of the Dee Estuary

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January to March
July to September
October to December
The trickle of migrants in March becomes a flood in April. Some significant falls of migrants can occur given the right weather conditions, a light south easterly wind and overcast sky, preferably after a spell of cold northerly winds. Get out early and every shrub and tree will have a Willow Warbler or two, and the beach will be covered with Wheatears and wagtails - if you're lucky! Red Rocks, Hilbre Island and the Point of Ayr usually produce the best spring migrant watching. Hilbre can produce exceptional passages of Meadow Pipits with some days having well over 1,000 passing through.
Raptors are also on their way north with the highlights being Ospreys and Marsh Harriers. Ospreys in particular don't linger so if you see one of the three or four which go through every year you will have been very lucky.
The tern passage gets well under way in April with Sandwich usually the first to be seen followed by Common then Arctic. Whimbrels pass through on their way from West Africa to Iceland, peak numbers on Hilbre are usually in the order of thirty, but sometimes up to eighty or so are counted.  

Both our tern colonies start nesting in May, the Common Terns at
Shotton, and the Little Terns at Gronant - more of those next month. But terns aren't the only birds breeding on the estuary - Shelduck, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Redshank, Sky Lark and others all breed with varying degrees of success. In fact the marshes and sand dunes of the Dee estuary are a stronghold for Sky Lark with many hundreds of pairs present, and the marsh also supports an estimated 200 pair of Redshank.
The spring migration continues in May albeit at a much slower pace. At the beginning of the month we get a pulse of significantly larger Wheatears coming through, these are birds of the Greenland race on their way from West Africa to Greenland.
Although on many days the estuary appears to be empty of waders this is somewhat deceptive as large numbers are passing through - Knot, Dunlin and Sanderling in particular. They pass through quickly, sometimes in flocks many thousand strong. Just stop, think and wonder when you see these flocks - at this time of year it is the birds which winter the furthest south, in West and South Africa, and breed the furthest north on the tundra of Greenland, Canada and Siberia that we are seeing. Travelling half way around the world in just a few weeks, how vital must the Dee and the other estuaries of the west of Britain be to these birds as a refuelling stop after their long journey from Africa, and the even longer trip to come across the Atlantic or up to Siberia.
Wood Sandpipers often turn up in May, just one or two on their way to Scandinavia, they usually drop in at Inner Marsh Farm. In fact May can be a very good month for rarities due to Spring 'overshoots', birds overshooting their normal breeding area. Species seen in the past include Stone Curlew, Spoonbill, Golden Oriole, Serin and Nightingale. 

The tern colonies will be busy with many chicks to find food for. The Common Tern colony at Shotton is the biggest in Wales and goes from strength to strength. Safe from predators they nest on rafts in a lagoon at the steel works and have increased from 301 pairs in 1994 to 555 in 2002. The much smaller Little Tern colony at Gronant is the only one in Wales. Although much more prone to predation this colony is also doing well, thanks to round the clock protection by RSPB voluntary wardens. They have increased from less than 20 pairs when the wardening scheme first started in 1975 to over 80 pairs twenty five years later.
Perhaps surprising to some June can be very good for sea watching with Manx Shearwaters, Gannets, Guillemots and Common Scoter all to be seen in good numbers, best during a fresh west wind. Some years we get large movements of 'Manxies' out in Liverpool Bay, several thousand strong.
Like May the estuary can seem empty of waders, and like May there are a lot more around than you think. Many immature birds stay in their wintering areas - species such as Black-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher and Knot can be present in surprisingly large numbers. Several hundred Black-tailed Godwits over summer, many at Inner Marsh Farm. Oystercatchers don't breed until their fourth year and 3,000 non-breeders stay all summer. Non-breeding one year old Knots tend to stay out in the mouth of the estuary, sometimes several thousand are seen, an odd site in mid June!


January to March
July to September
October to December