From late October into the winter months wader watching on the Dee is truly exciting with the arrival of thousands of waders that have undertaken a movement from the east following completion of their autumn moult. We know this because colour ring reading has identified waders, like the Red Knot (Calidris canutus), with histories showing they were moulting in The Netherlands only a few weeks before their arrival here. However, not all Knot migrate such a distance after moulting.
From recent work on Knot that were colour ringed at Altcar, Merseyside in 2017 – 2019, some make a short flight from moulting grounds on the east side of Liverpool Bay into the Dee Estuary. However, some of these ‘local’ Knot also move further afield after moulting. This was shown in a talk on the ‘Origins of Red Knot (Calidris canutus islandica) wintering in Ireland’ presented at the International Wader Study Group (IWSG) conference held 20-23 September 2019 in Morecambe, UK, by Peter Knight et al. Knot are present in November to March in Ireland, mainly on the Irish Sea coast. From colour ring readings he showed that ~30% of the Knot observed in Dublin Bay in February/March 2019 came from the population that moults on Merseyside. The data also suggested that the same proportion were present in the Dundalk Bay flock. Furthermore, many follow-up sightings of the Knot colour ringed at Altcar showed that this population of the Irish wintering Knot returned to the Liverpool Bay area before spring migration in May, revealing for the first time an ‘Irish Sea winter shuttle’. Knot colour ringed elsewhere in their flyway were also encountered in Ireland, but few of these individuals were seen around Liverpool Bay before or after their time in Ireland, suggesting they were members of the population that moves west from the North Sea after autumn moult and returns there before spring migration.
This study shows the importance of understanding the whole flyway of migratory waders like the Knot and raises the importance for wader conservation of knowing which populations of waders are using our estuaries and at what times of year. These results raise further questions. Do the same birds make the post-moult winter trip from Liverpool Bay to Dublin Bay every year? What happens when the winter weather is poor, i.e. when there is a ‘Beast from the East’, do more or different Knot move to Ireland? Where else in Ireland do these Knot go?
At the same meeting a talk by Rose A. Maciewicz et al. on ‘Does arrival
pattern of Red Knot (Calidris canutus
islandica) at autumn moulting
sites reflect departure pattern from breeding sites?’ presented
additional data from colour ring reading on these Altcar Knot. It
previously has been established that Knot have a bimodal departure
pattern from their arctic breeding areas with females leaving the
breeding grounds before the males due to the latter’s greater
involvement in brood rearing. What is not known is whether their
arrival pattern at the autumn moulting sites reflects this.
To study this, intensive colour ring reading was
undertaken between the
Ribble and the Mersey estuaries from July to September in both 2018 and
2019. In 2018, 632 readings were made of 325 individual Knot with
the Altcar orange flags and pale blue or green rings (see photos). In
2019, 393 readings were made of 272 individuals. Using wing
length measured when they were ringed as a surrogate for sex, the
average wing length of each day’s newly observed Knot was determined to
test whether the longer winged females did indeed arrive before the
The first arrivals of red-breasted adult Knot in autumn 2018 were found to have a statistically significant longer wing length i.e. they were predominantly females. As the females arrived early, did this reflect a good breeding year? This can be hard to judge from the number of juveniles seen in the same autumn as juvenile Knot often mix in with the other waders. However data from the June 2019 WeBS counts, when almost all the Knot present would be those born in 2018, showed it to be an average breeding year when compared to the median (4,371 and range 123 to 15,563) of June numbers from the 2003 to 2018 Lancashire Bird Reports.
2019 data showed that the first adult Knot returned about 1 week earlier in the autumn season than in 2018. Early thoughts were that this might reflect a poor breeding year. This was short lived when the analysis indicated a very strong females-first arrival pattern. This was further supported by the observation in late August of exceptional flocks of 1000+ juvenile Knot on Merseyside, as well as reports elsewhere in the UK and The Netherlands of large numbers of juveniles. The exact extent of breeding success will not be known until next June. It is likely that the early return and good breeding success were the results of unusual meteorological conditions: there was a long negative North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) period from 26th April to 23rd June (‘A record-challenging Greenland climate pattern is boosting extreme weather in North America and Europe’ see Washington Post 26th June 2019 https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2019/06/26/record
-challenging-greenland-climate-pattern-is-boosting-extreme-weather-north-america-europe/ that resulted in Greenland’s snow cover melting at an unprecedented rate, thus allowing early nesting and high chick survival. The last time a similar event was observed, 11,000 Knot were reported on Merseyside in the following June.
These two new studies show what can be achieved when
a sample of waders
is colour ringed and then intensively tracked by birdwatchers armed
with sufficiently high-powered telescopes.
For further information about the IWSG and the recent meeting held in Morecambe, UK see https://www.waderstudygroup.org/conferences/2019-morecambe-uk/.
Rose Maciewicz and Peter Knight
1. Richard Smith, 'Among Knots', February 2018 Dee
2. Richard Smith, Colour Ring Report
October 2017 Newsletter,
www.deeestuary.co.uk/news1017.htm. This item gives some background for the 'Altcar Knot Project' including the ringing of the Orange flagged birds in September 2017.
3. Richard Smith, Colour Ringed Knots, June 2010 Dee
The Pink-footed Geese in the photo above had their
neck-bands fitted in Iceland but since then more have been caught and
ringed at WWT Martin Mere and it was two of these that were seen in
October. The Wetlands and Wildfowl Trust say "The goal of the study is
to investigate the interaction of migratory Pink-footed Geese with
man-made structures in the landscape including wind turbines. In
addition, valuable information will be gained on migration phenology
and the routes the geese take both within Britain and between Britain
and Iceland/Greenland." Read more by Clicking Here.
Neckband: VNI on
Ringed at Martin Mere on March 22nd 2018.
Recorded at Gayton (in field close to Boathouse Lane) on October 9th 2019.
Neckband: 59 on
brown band. This bird is fitted with a GPS tracker.
Ringed at Martin Mere on March 22nd 2018.
Docking, Norfolk, on November 30th 2019.
Rockcliffe, Cumbria, on March 25th 2019.
Gayton (in field close to Boathouse Lane) on October 9th 2019.
The map shows the GPS track of '59' this autumn:
Until this year all the colour ringed Little Egrets
the Dee Estuary were ringed as chicks at the breeding colony at
Penryn, near Bangor, with a total of nine birds. This year we've seen
which have originated from further afield showing some interesting
movement across the country, details as follows:
Many of the colour-ringed Cormorants seen around the Liverpool Bay area are ringed on Puffin Island where the SCAN ringing group are involved in the Puffin Island Seabird Research Project, which includes tracking birds with GPS tags. To read more about this fascinating work see http://www.puffinisland.org.uk/home.
However, one of the Cormorants recorded on the Dee Estuary over the past few weeks was ringed in the east midlands before travelling to the south coast, details below:
CX4 on Yellow
Ringed at Attenborugh Gravel Pits, Nottinghamshire, in August 2016.
Essex in December 2016.
Dungeness in January 2019.
Hoylake Shore on July 31st 2019.
Bird found dead
with BTO metal ring 5282622.
Ringed at Puffin Island as a chick on June 22nd 2019.
Found dead on the beach at Red Rocks on September 20th 2019.
ZJP on green ring.
Ringed at Puffin Island as a chick on July 4th 2018.
Recorded at Hilbre on October 11th 2019.
Unusually for October there were no gales, but calm weather meant some good counts of birds on the sea including over 10,000 Common Scoters on the 15th and 154 Great Crested Grebes on the 24th. With much north east/easterly winds there was quite a lot of Visible migration including many Siskins flying through with what we think is a record count of 540 along north Wirral on the 21st. There were several days when hundreds of Redwings and Fieldfares were recorded coming through. Yellow-browed warblers were also observed with a total of seven, compared to 11 in 2018 and 9 in 2017; in 2016 we had a record 35! 460 Jackdaws in fields by the Wirral Way at Heswall was an excellent count.
There were two counts of at least 15 Marsh Harriers
coming into the roost at Neston Reed Bed, and there are at least two
ringtail Hen Harriers and a grey male. Also coming into Neston Reedbed
have been two Bitterns. Out on the marsh and in surrounding fields are
many Pink-footed Geese, just how many I don't know but it wouldn't
surprise if numbers weren't already approaching 10,000. Brent Geese at
Hilbre also increased rapidly with a max count of 253. There were
several double-figure counts of Great Egrets including 23 which flew
into the roost at Burton Mere Wetlands on the 29th.
Raven was another species recorded in double-figures including a remarkable 40 around Decca Pools on the 17th. Rarities this month included a Pectoral Sandpiper in a wet field near Parkgate on the 7th, a Richard's Pipit at Hoylake on the 15th and a brief view of a Great Grey Shrike on the 30th. Single Snow Buntings were recorded at Little Eye, West Kirby and Wallasey and a Black Redstart at Thurstaston.
The spring tides at the end of the month were a bit
of a disappointment due to high pressure and contrary winds, at least
at Hoylake that meant there was room for a wader roost to form through
the high tides although numbers weren't great but we had some good
close views as the photo below shows.
Also see Tides page.
26th November, 10.30hrs (GMT), 9.6m.
27th November, 11.12hrs (GMT), 9.7m.
28th November, 11.53hrs (GMT), 9.6m.
Organised by the Wirral Ranger Service , Flintshire Countryside Service and the RSPB (Dee Estuary): All these events and walks have bird interest, even those not advertised specifically for birdwatching. No need to book for these events unless specified - please check below.
November and Sunday 8th December
RSPB Raptorwatch at Parkgate.
Join us for a chance to see up to seven different birds of prey including peregrine and merlin, plus two types of owl that all make their home on the RSPB Dee Estuary nature reserve. With its panoramic views of the saltmarsh, Parkgate is one of the best places to watch for the birds hunting. Stick around until dusk for a chance to see the graceful and endangered hen harriers flying into roost for the night on the marsh close to the Old Baths car park, plus a ghostly barn owl emerging to hunt. No booking required, come along any time between 1pm and sunset. Dress appropriately for the weather and don't forget your binoculars! Public toilets and various pubs and cafes are situated close by along Parkgate promenade.
Telephone 0151 353 2720 for further information.