Ring Ouzel in a horse paddock at Leasowe
Lighthouse © Steve Round
2019 has seen the best spring passage of Ring
Ouzels for the past 15 years. Not only have we had the highest spring
total over that time, 43, but also the highest single site
count with at least
10 at Leasowe on April 18th including a flock of seven.
The bar chart above shows the sum of
records for each year - 2005 to 2019. As you can see there appears to
be a cycle peaking every
three years with only 2015 spoiling the picture. To my mind the pattern
make any sense! As we see only a tiny proportion of the birds which are
through the country, or indeed up the west coast, you would have
thought numbers here should be governed solely by weather
as wind strength and direction, cloud cover, amount of early morning
mist etc. and therefore would be purely random and not show a pattern.
Steve Stansfield kindly sent the Ring Ouzel spring records from Bardsey
Bird Observatory (2006 to 2017) and these show no discernible pattern,
and, in contrast to the Dee, 2019 has been a poor year for them with
just six records up to
April 26th, compared to 45 in 2015 but only five
in 2013 when
we had 38 - i.e no correlation whatsoever between the Dee and Bardsey.
So it remains an intriguing mystery. I would have liked to have gone
further back but unfortunately my records are incomplete prior
Two of the flock of seven
Ring Ouzels at Leasowe, April 18th © Steve Williams
Nearly all our Ring Ouzels come through
in April with just a handful in March. The early ones are likely to be
British breeding birds whereas the large majority of those in April
will be on their way to Scandinavia. In any particular year most birds
pass through in just a few days but the timing of this peak can differ
- so in 2015 25 birds were recorded in the second week of April, in
2016 we had 17 in the first week and in 2019 25 in the third
I finish the article with some thoughts
from local birder Eddie Williams who has been following the migration
of Ring Ouzels both here and in North Wales for a good number of years:
I do have a few thoughts
on the migration of Ouzels through our region based on my own
The nearest main traditional spring stopping off points for migrant
Ouzels (vast majority being Scandinavian birds) are along the Clwyd
Hills just across the Dee from us. They run as a south-north axis along
their route and contain prime Ouzel habitat, although they no longer
breed here. I get up there about once a week during spring migration
and in about 70% of visits connect with Ouzels, usually in small groups
of between 3 and 8 birds, although double figure flocks are by no means
uncommon. As an indication of the large numbers passing through; On the
8th April last year their were separate flocks of 16, 6 and 9 on
Penycloddiau with another group of 5 on neighbouring Moel y Parc, 36 in
a morning! The whole area is hardly covered by birders so the numbers
going through unnoticed must be huge. Birds only seem to stick around
for a day or so before moving on, similar to the Wirral coast.
Most records of Ouzels on the Wirral seem to consist of single birds in
contrast to the Clwyd Hills where records of singles are in the
minority. It seems to me that a few birds choose to follow the coast
rather than the traditional route, with others becoming slightly
displaced. Displacement I think is the reason for many of
the records we have seen on Wirral this spring. On 18th April in
particular 10 birds were at Leasowe, inc flock of 7, and another group
of 3 on Red Rocks with singles on Hilbre, Ness and Caldy. The weather
conditions that morning were slightly misty. This mist would have also
obscured the Clwyd Hills for any Ouzels either heading north or
intending to stop there, forcing them to re-orientate along the nearby
coast, with some stopping off. Hence the numbers I would usually
associate with the Clwyd Hills being present on the Wirral coast on
By the way the situation is completely different in autumn when
Scandinavian Ouzels follow a far more easterly route south and are
extremely rare on the Clwyd Hills then. Birds seen then on Wirral are
more likely traditional 'easterly drift' migrants.
Eddie makes the point that the vast majority of Ring Ouzels seen both
along north Wirral and the Clwyd Range are Scandinavian breeders. I
asked him if we knew that for sure and why couldn't some be Scottish
breeding birds. He replied:
Unfortunately I have no
hard evidence to support this i.e. colour ringed birds etc and there is
no racial difference between British and Scandinavian breeding Ouzels.
I have plenty of circumstantial evidence though.
1. I have noted numbers and dates through the Clwyds for last 11 years
visiting regularly once a week during spring passage. The volume of
passage has been heavy and constant, showing no reduction in numbers
which would be reflected if these were Scottish breeders due to recent
big declines there. This decline is not reflected in Scandinavian
populations, which remain healthy.
2. The actual number of birds involved in the passage indicates
destinations other than within UK as our native population is
small. There is also recognised evidence that Ouzels take a more
westerly route in spring, this including Scandinavian birds.
3. The timing of the sightings are relevant. Most British Ouzels arrive
on breeding grounds late March to early April but I am getting large
groups still passing through in last week of April into early May. e.g.
9 on 28.4.08, 6 on 28.4.13 and 5 on 6th May, these groups still contain
good proportions of males which would usually be first to arrive on
territory. Weekly totals are fairly constant throughout April.
Scandinavian breeders arrive later on their breeding ground due to
later snow melt.
While there are likely some Scottish birds involved in the passage,
especially some recorded late March to early April, I believe the
majority are Scandinavia bound. I am hoping for a colour ringed bird
Ring Ouzel at Leasowe Lighthouse,
8th © David Haigh
Ring Ouzel Status
British breeding birds are declining
such that they have at least halved in number over the past 30 to 40
years and probably currently down to 5,000 to 6,000 pairs. As Eddie has
already mentioned numbers in Scandinavia seem to be stable although
exactly how many there are is not really known, one source said the
number of pairs in Norway was anywhere between 10,000 and 100,000
pairs! Even in the UK, where there have been regular surveys, their
habitat of rocky mountain crags and steep slopes means accurate
counting is very difficult and you can certainly imagine the problems
of trying to estimate numbers in the mountains of Norway even if you
could get the volunteers to do it.
Ring Ouzels used to breed in the Clwyd
Hills, probably up to the 1980s, but there could still be one or two
pairs in the eastern hills of Cheshire, down from the four pairs
estimated during the Cheshire and Wirral Bird Atlas surveys (2004 to
a few more pairs are said to breed in Derbyshire just across the
border. According to reports several years ago Ring Ouzels are doing
well in Snowdonia with around 160 territories. Why British breeding
birds are declining is not fully
understood but climate change, change of land use and French
hunters during migration are all likely
News... I hear that 2019 seems to have
been a good breeding season in Yorkshire where in one 15 mile valley
out of nine pairs two nests fledged six young per pair, whilst at Capel
Curig in Snowdonia two nests each fledged four young (info from Paul
Sothern). Hopefully the good weather for most of April means it has
been a good breeding season elsewhere.
References and Further Reeding
1. Latest sightings from 2005 to 2019 on http://www.deeestuary.co.uk/
thanks to all those who contributed.
2. Allan Conlin, Eddie Williams and
Steve Williams (pers.comm. April 2019).
3. Ring Ouzel Study Group http://www.ringouzel.info/index.html.
This website has much useful information and links to other sites.
4. European Red List of Birds published
by BirdLife International, Turdus
torquatus (Ring Ouzel), supplementary Material, 2015.
Ring Ouzel at Leasowe Lighthouse, April
Colour Ring Report
A Mediterranean Gull bonanza
at Burton Mere Wetlands including this one with a colour ring
© Carole Killikelly
on white ring.
Ringed on De Krepel island, Ijsselmeer, northern Netherlands, on June
Easington, Yorkshire, on September 27th 2017.
Slimbridge WWT, Gloucestershire, on April 4th 2018.
Titchwell RSPB, Norfolk, on April 20th and May 2nd 2018.
Griend island (Waddensee), northern Netherlands, on May 28th 2018.
Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB, Dee estuary, on April 13th 2019.
De Krepel is a small artificial island and nature reserve in the
This bird was certainly doing a lot of flying last spring being seen at
the famous bird reserves of Slimbridge (on the west coast) and
Titchwell (on the east coast) before flying to the lonely island of
Griend on the Waddensee where many knot are colour ringed by the Dutch
and seen here on the Dee estuary.
Avocet YB-BG just after being ringed at
Rutland Water NR
Ringed at Rutland Water NR on July 15th 2015 as a chick, one of a brood
Recorded at Summer Leys LNR, Northamptonshire, on March 24th 2017.
Recorded at Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB on April 17th and May 3rd 2018,
and on April 1st 2019.
© Phil Woollen
T231 - on
Ringed on Meland Island (just north of Bergen), Norway, on July 19th,
Recorded at the ringing site in August 2017.
Recorded on Hilbre on April 16th 2019.
I expect we get plenty of
Oystercatchers here which breed in Norway but this is the first
colour-ringed bird from there we've seen.
over Orange left leg, Light green over light green ring enscribed with
Ringed on the Tagus estuary, Portugal, on January 7th 2019.
Recorded at Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB on April 4th 2019.
It was August 2013 since we last saw a Portugese ringed Black-tailed
Godwit (ringed by Jose Alves) although we have seen a few ringed in
Spain during that period.
Tibia: white ring with black lettering FAC reading upwards. Left
Ringed at Haapavesi, Kyokyla, Finland, on July 6th 2017, as a juvenile.
Recorded on Heswall Shore in June and July 2018.
Recorded on Heswall Shore on April 17th and 29th 2019.
As a one year old this bird over-summered on the Dee Estuary in 2018,
in 2019 we would expect it to return to Finland to breed.
In March we had our first colour-ringed Shelduck - L3 on a lime green
ring. That bird has since been recorded a further six times in March
and April on Heswall shore, and has now been joined by a second one.
IT on lime green ring,
Ringed at Martin Mere WWT on November 19th 2018.
Recorded at Martin Mere WWT in February and March 2019, last seen ther
eon March 8th.
Recorded on Thurstaston Shore on April 13th 2019.
Colour-ringed birds were recorded by Steve Hinde, Phil Woollen (Hilbre
Bird Observatory), Dave Winnard, Colin Schofield, Carole Killikelly and
April Bird News
Wow! What a month for Yellow Wagtails.
As some may be confused with talk of Channel Wagtails, Blue-headed
Wagtails, Spanish Wagtails, flava and flavissima there is an
excellent article on BirdGuides called 'Focus on: shades of Yellow
Wagtail' which explains it all. Click
here for this Yellow Wagtail Article.
Hopefully the photos below will also help.
Wagtails on Hilbre on April 23rd © Steve Williams
flava flavissima - regular summer visitors to the UK
The bird bottom right in the above photo has a noticeably
grey mantle and wide white wing bar.
This could be a natural
variation in Yellow Wagtail plumage or perhaps a hybrid of some sort.
Photographed by Steve Williams on Hilbre on April 23rd.
A 'Channel Wagtail' by Leasowe Lighthouse on April 28th ©
In northern France there is an area where Yellow Wagtails and
Blue-headed Wagtails ( Motacilla
flava flava) regularly interbreed producing the so-called
Spanish Wagtail Motacilla
flava iberiae on Kerr's Field by Leasowe Lighthouse
April 28th © Carole Killikelly
It's been a great year for Yellow
Wagtails with a max count of at least 40 at Leasowe
Lighthouse on the 22nd. Hilbre rarely gets more than ones and twos as
most fly over, so it was fantastic to have 23 on the island on the 21st
and 31 two days later. Channel Wagtails (Yellow/Blue-headed
intergrade - M f flava x
favissima) are unusual here, and we rarely get more than the odd one,
so to get seven records was great. Two turned up at Burton Mere
Wetlands on the 14th and later in the month we had a few at Leasowe
Lighthouse. But the sumptuous icing on the cake was the arrival of a
Spanish Wagtail (Motacilla flava
iberiae) found by Stan Davidson in Kerr's Field at Leasowe
on the 26th, despite
gales and rain on the 27th it was still present on the 28th and briefly
the next day. Although it will be a while before we know if it has been
accepted all the indications are is that it will be, only the second
for the UK and thus becomes Wirral's rarest ever bird!
The spring migration was more or less
on schedule as you can see from the table, that is except for summer
weather in February.
Apart from the Ring Ouzels as described
in the above article, and a good number of Common Redstarts and
Wheatears (100+ on the 19th) the most remarkable birds were the 17
Mediterranean Gulls which turned up at Burton Mere Wetlands, easily a
record count for the Dee estuary area. I'm not sure how many are
actually breeding but the first successful breeding took place only in
2017 and that was just one pair.
Mediterranean Gulls at
Burton Mere Wetlands, April 13th © Carole Killikelly
The first Sandwich Terns arrived on the
2nd, the first Common Terns on the 14th and Little Terns on the 18th.
There was some good seawatching towards the end of the month including
over 300 Gannets and 600 Sandwich Terns seen from Hilbre.
Highest counts of Whimbrels was 79 at Heswall on the 24th, more
unusually has been a small flock feeding in the horse paddocks at
Leasowe. Otherwise the estuary has been fairly quiet with regards
A Black Tern at Burton Mere Wetlands
and five Crossbills at Thurstaston rounded the month off nicely.
Black Tern at Burton Mere
Wetlands, April 30th ©Mark Woodhead
Thurstaston Hill, April 30th © Clare Shaughnessy
thanks go to Mark Turner, Jane Turner, Mark Gibson, Eddie Williams,
Carole Killikelly, Jeremy Bradshaw, Jon Ashton, Geoff
Robinson, Richard Steel, David
Hinde, Matt Thomas, Chris
Butterworth, Bruce Atherton, David Wilson, David
Hitchmough, Paul Mason, Steve
Edwards, Richard Whitby, Linda Platt,
Mark Peers, Steve Hart, Julie
Rogers, Charlie Lowe, Charles Farnell, David
Thompson, Gail Wilson, David Roe, Roger Jacobs, Dave
Harrington, John Watson, Bill Owens,Clare Shaughnessy, Peter
Janine Johnson, Graham Connolly, Colin Spencer, Eric Burrows, Elliot
Montieth, Les Hall, Rod Bell, Brian Rimmer, Chris Wilding, David
Thornby, Rob Creek, Jean Bishop, Peter Nicol, Stephen Burke, Paul
Rutter, David Peate, Alister Sclater, David Small, Richard Speechley,
Peter Humphrey, John Rowlands, John Johnson, Phil Corns, Martin
Kalaher, Stephen Downig, Will Jones, Mike Hart, Paul Granby, the Lighthouse
and Wirral Birding Blog
and the Hilbre Bird
for their sightings during April.
are gratefully received.
What to expect in May
will still be in full swing, specially for the first week in May, and
waders will be passing through all month and even into June. Look out
for Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Sanderling all of which will be on their
way to the high Arctic. We often see a few Little Stints and Curlew
Sandpipers, and Whimbrels could reach three figures at Heswall and
Thurstaston. We had a bumper wader breeding season at Burton Mere
Wetlands last year, so lets hope for another one.
Any fresh westerlies should see good numbers of Gannets, Manx
Shearwaters, terns and skuas.
May is a particularly good month for rarities and just the past two
years has brought in Iberian Chiffchaffs, Ring-necked Duck, Gull-billed
Tern, Spotted Crake, Sub-alpine Warbler, Shorelark, Hoopoe,
Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Turtle Dove and Roseate Tern.
Hilbre in May 2017 © Steve Williams
Spring Tides (Liverpool)
18th May, 11.32hrs (BST),
19th May, 12.15hrs (BST), 9.5m.
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.
Gronant Little Tern Colony Tasks
To find out more about the Gronant Little Tern colony click
, see the Little
Tern Facebook page
or the North Wales Little Tern Group
Website - https://northwaleslittleterns.weebly.com/
Monday 29th April to
Thursday 2nd May.
Gronant Little Tern
. There is over a kilometre of electric fencing to
construct to protect
one of the largest Little Tern colonies in Britain and Ireland. Meet at
the new 'shelter' at the end of the old boardwalk 10:00 am, next to the
beach. There is a car park opposite the
Crofter’s Cafe on Shore Road, Gronant
For further details ring 01352 810614
or 01745 356197
Sunday 5th May, Dawn
Chorus at Burton Mere
Price: £15 per person / £12 RSPB members (plus Eventbrite booking fees)
In celebration of the RSPB Dee Estuary reserve's 40th anniversary, and
to mark International Dawn Chorus Day, join us on a guided walk around
Burton Mere Wetlands to experience the magic of the reserve waking up
as the sun rises. With a wonderful mixture of woodland and wetlands,
there's no better place to experience the early morning birdsong.
An expert guide will help identify the bird calls and songs around you,
plus all the other kinds of wildlife that makes its home here. Enjoy a
hot drink afterwards in the vistor centre, then a chance to explore the
rest of the reserve on your own before it opens at 9am.
Wear sturdy footwear and warm, layered clothing appropriate for the
weather on the day, and bringing a waterproof layer is always wise.
Don't forget your binoculars if you have some, otherwise you can hire
from us on the day.
Advanced booking and
payment essential, via Eventbrite: https://deedawnchorus.eventbrite.co.uk
Telephone 0151 353 2720 for further information.
Saturday 11th May, Burton
Marsh Birdsong and Breakfast.
Price: £15 per person / £12 RSPB members (plus Eventbrite booking fees)
In celebration of the RSPB Dee Estuary reserve's 40th anniversary, join
us for this 'not-quite-dawn chorus' with a difference; a gentle walk
along the Burton Marsh Greenway as far as Burton Point before retracing
our steps to Denhall Lane as far as Nets Cafe for a full English
A variety of warblers are busy establishing breeding territories here
at this time of year, whilst the marsh is peppered with other summer
migrants such as wheatears and alive with the songs of skylarks and
meadow pipits. This early morning walk will offer chance to see and
hear the marsh coming to life for the day in this busy time for nesting
and migrating birds.
Price includes breakfast at Nets Cafe. The route is along a fully
accessible paved track. Toilets available at end of walk.
Advanced booking and
payment essential, via Eventbrite:
Meet at the junction of Station Road and Denhall Lane, west of Burton
village. Nearest postcode CH64 0TG.
Telephone 0151 353 2720 for further information.