Site menu:

January 2018 Newsletter

Marsh Harriers on the Dee estuary.
Colour Ring Report.
December Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
Past Newsletters.

 

  Marsh Harriers on the Dee estuary 

 A Marsh Harrier dropping into the Neston Reedbed roost Richard Steel
http://wildlifephotographic.blogspot.co.uk/


There has been exceptional numbers of Marsh Harriers on the Dee Estuary over the past couple of years, particularly over the winter. This increase appears to have happened quite suddenly, coinciding with the establishment of a winter roost site in Neston Reed Bed. Quite how many birds are involved is difficult to say as roosts are notoriously difficult to count with birds, already counted once, flying up from the roost as other birds fly in - but the general consensus is that it is in double figures. I've been fairly conservative with my estimates in the graphs below but there have been counts from some as high as 26! Analysing the records it seems pretty obvious there was a big increase last winter (2016-17) when no less than 35 times groups of two or more birds were seen in the air together on the estuary - compared to 18 times the previous winter, 15 times in 2014-15 and NONE at all in 2013-14 and 2012-13. So my conclusion is that a roost was probably first established in 2014-15 although, interestingly, the only birds reported coming in to roost that winter were at Parkgate. The max roost counts I've used in the graphs was 12 for the winter of 2016/17 and 15 for the current winter (Dec 2017), actual numbers may well be considerably higher.

                              
The second graph demonstrates that something dramatic has happened since the beginning of this century. The blue line is a classic annual distribution (the sum of six years data) clearly showing peaks during spring and return migration,  but with NO records in winter. By 2016 birds are ever present and actually peak in the second winter period, presumably when the roost got really established. As you can see below it was only as recently as the winter of 2002/03 when we had the first winter records on the Dee estuary.
The monthly max in this second graph is the max count of birds seen in the air together at any one time, not totals of birds coming in to roost. 

Where have all these birds come from? As you will see below numbers of Marsh Harriers have shown a huge increase in the UK since the low point of 1971, locally they have started breeding at nearby Frodsham Marsh as well as further north in Lancashire where between four to five pairs breed regularly. But a few birds sighted which have been wing-tagged in Norfolk hint at a westward movement from their stronghold on the east coast.   

To put all this into perspective here are some UK and Dee Estuary highlights and lowlights over the past 50 years or so (note that number of breeding females are usually used to quantify numbers breeding as males are often 'paired' with two or three females) :

1966 to 1978 - birds recorded in just five of those 13 years on the Dee estuary, all singles.
1971 - just one pair bred in the UK.
1979 - records become annual on the Dee estuary from 1979 onwards.
1981 to 1984 - as few as 10 birds were wintering in the UK over this period.
1987 - first breeding at Leighton Moss (Lancs).
1995 - at the time a record breaking year for the Dee estuary with 20 records, all between April and September.
1995 - a National Survey finds 156 breeding females in UK, all on east coast apart from Leighton Moss.
2002 - first Dee estuary record of three in air together (June).
2002/03 - first winter records on the Dee estuary, one in December and one in January.
2005 - a National Survey finds c400 breeding females in UK.
2007/08 - first winter on Dee estuary when one to two birds stayed the whole winter with multiple records.
2007 to 2011 - some winter roost sites in East Anglia and SE England hold up to 100 birds.
2010 - first breeding at Frodsham Marsh (just off Mersey estuary), one to three pairs have bred every year since.
2012 - first Dee estuary record of six birds present (August), two of which are juveniles tagged in Norfolk.
2014 - a pair showed signs of breeding at Neston Reedbed, but attempt was abandoned.
2015 - Rare Bird Breeding Panel estimates total of 435 breeding females in the UK.
2016/17 - first winter when it became obvious that there was a sizeable wintering roost at Neston Reedbed with at least 12 birds present. 

                              Juvenile Marsh Harrier over Burton, tagged in Norfolk in 2012  Matt Thomas

References and Further Reading:

1. Latest Sightings - Dee Estuary Birding Website (1998 to 2017).

2. Cheshire and Wirral Bird Reports 1966 to 2014, CAWOS. 
 

3. D. Norman, Birds in Cheshire and Wirral  (2004 to 2007 Atlas), CAWOS.

4. BTO Bird Atlas 2007-11.
 

5. British Birds December 2017 (RBBP 2015 Report).

6. Rare Breeding Birds Panel Reports (on-line) - see www.rbbp.org.uk.
 

7. Study Tracks Harrier Migration, Hawk and Owl Trust, August 2012.

                                    Marsh Harrier chasing a snipe off Parkgate Roy Lowry

Top of Page

Colour Ring Report


Clockwise starting top left: Sanderling G4BWGB (Elliot Montieth), Oystercatcher with light blur 'bar code' ring (Richard Smith), Common Gull 2E23 (Elliot Montieth), Black-tailed Godwit OL-RZ (Richard Smith).

Sanderling

G4BWGB
Ringed on Sandgeroi beach, SW Iceland, on 24th May 2017.
Recorded at Leasowe Bay on 2nd December 2017.
Good to see another colour-ringed Sanderling after a couple of poor winters.

Oystercatchers

Light blue ring with bar code '110' (see photo above).
Ringed at Arkholme on the River Lune, Lancs, on 12th June 1993 as a chick, and subsequently bred at the same location including May 2017.
Recorded on Hoylake Shore at least five times during Sep to Dec 2017.

Left tarsus light blue ring with bar code '100' and dark blue ring on right tibia.
Ringed at Arkholme on the River Lune, Lancs, on 10th June 2003, as a breeding male on the nest.
Recorded on Hoylake Shore on 6th November 2017.

There are very few schemes which use these bar code rings, and this particular scheme wasn't on the latest version of the on-line colour-ring register, so took some tracking down. Turns out the scheme was never transferred from paper to electronic form. Thanks to Richard du Feu for managing to contact the ringers.

Common Gull

2E23 - black on yellow ring.

Ringed on the Isle of Arran, Ayrshire, 7th July 2014 as an adult.
Recorded at Hoylake in November 2014 and August and September 2015, and at Leasowe Bay on 2nd December 2017.

Black-tailed Godwit

OL-RZ - ringed in southern Iceland on 4th July 2012 as a breeding male.
This bird shows some interesting movements when away from Iceland, it returns to SE England in the late summer/autumn before heading north-west to the Dee estuary for the winter, it then heads back to SE England in March and April before flying to Iceland to breed. This winter it turned up at the Caldy Wildfowl Collection on December 14th.

Richard Smith.
Colour-rings were also recorded by Steve Hinde, Matt Thomas, Les Hall, Colin Schofield, Elliot Montieth and Charles Farnell.

Top of Page

December Bird News


                                  Stonechat in the snow, Burton, December 10th Elliot Montieth
                                                     elliotsbirdingdiaries.wordpress.com/


Wildfowl were in the news with a record count, for Hilbre, of 360 Brent Geese towards the end of the month (highest count for the estuary as a whole was set last winter with 402). Two Goosanders were on West Kirby Marine Lake for several days, perhaps the same ones as last winter? Nine Greenland White-fronted Geese were on Warren Farm Fields at Talacre for several days and the Eider flock at Hilbre had reduced from 10 to five. 

After two winters of very low numbers it is good to see large flocks of Knot on the estuary, probably at least 30,000 for the whole estuary including a regular roosting flock just off Thurstaston Beach of over 20,000 - the noise these make on a still day when flushed by the tide is just astonishing. Strong winds during high spring tides resulted in 12 Purple Sandpipers on the pontoon on New Brighton Marine Lake, flushed from the rocks by the waves. A Little Stint and a late Avocet were at Burton Mere Wetlands.


                            Knots at Thurstaston as the tide comes in,December 20th Matt Thomas
                                              www.fromthemuddybanksofthedee.com


Marsh Harriers feature in the main article, above, and max counts were both at the Neston Reed Bed roost with 12 on the 2nd and 14 on the 11th. Two Grey male Hen Harriers are still around although I'm not sure how many ring tails there are - probably two or three. Disappointingly, the high tides didn't produce any Short-eared Owls at Heswall but there were plenty at Burton and Neston with at least 10 on the 18th. A Bittern was flushed by a Marsh Harrier at Parkgate early in the month.


                                  Kingfisher at Burton Mere Wetlands, December 1st Roy Lowry


There were several reports of single Kingfishers including this one above, making for a splendid photograph. Other notable birds were two Snow Buntings at Leasowe Bay, a Black Redstart at Hoylake and an Iceland Gull at Burton Mere Wetlands.

Many thanks go to Mark Woodhead, David Haigh, Steve Hinde, Jeremy Bradshaw, Matt Thomas, Chris Butterworth, Roy Lowry, Elliot Monieth, Paul Shenton, David Leeming, Alan Hitchmough, Steve Williams, Les Hall, Jeff Cohen, Dave Edwards, Derek Bates, Eddie Williams, Allan Conlin, Karen Leeming, Geoff Robinson, Julie Rogers, Colin Schofield, Charles Farnell, Paul Ralston, Alan Irving, Sheila Ryde, Eric Burrows, Ryan Williams, Frank Burns, Gail Wilson, John Wright, Ian Fleming, Carole Killikelly, Ian Galt, Richard du Feu, Mal Hawkins, Tim Kinch, Phil Boardman, Julia Neal, Dave Harrington, Nicholas Montieth, Lauren Witter, Sean O'Hara, David Thompson, David Saunders, Stan Davidson, Pamela Davis, Richard Whitby, Steve Hart, Phillipa Skinner, Janet Vickers, Paul Vautrinot, Paul Corns, Peter Atherton, Hugh Stewart, the Lighthouse and Wirral Birding Blog, the Dee Estuary Wardens and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during December. All sightings are gratefully received.

Top of Page 

What to expect in January

Given some nice still cold days sea watching can be surprisingly good in January with thousands of Scoters and hundreds of Great Crested Grebes, plus Goldeneye, Scaup, Long-tailed Duck and Red-throated Divers. 
Waders will be present in their thousands, particularly Knot which should give some spectacular displays at the roost sites at Hoylake, West Kirby and Point of Ayr. The pontoon on New Brighton Marine Lake is a very reliable spot to see Purple Sandpipers, perhaps reaching 20 or more on a windy day when waves force them off the rocks at high tide.
Keep an eye out for Water Pipits around the Neston Old Quay area - over the past couple of winters we have come to realise there are more there than previously thought with up to four regular, plus one or two at Burton Mere Wetlands. 
There are some big tides due early in the month which should result in quite a spectacle if there is a west wind which pushes it over the marshes giving great views of Short-eared Owls, Marsh and Hen Harriers as well as thousands of wildfowl and waders.

Top of Page

Forthcoming Events

January Highest Spring Tides (Liverpool)

Also see Tides page.

3rd January, 11.45hrs (GMT), 9.9m. 
4th January, 12.33hrs (GMT), 10.0m.  
5th January, 13.21hrs (GMT), 9.8m. 

Forthcoming Events

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. 

Thursday 4th January, High Tide Raptor Watch at Parkgate.
10.30am to 1.30pm.
Free.
For further details ring  0151 353 8478.

Come along to the car park at the Old Baths for the chance of seeing a range of birds of prey hunting over Parkgate Marsh. Harriers, peregrines and merlins all spend the winter months on the estuary and this is one of the best places to watch them, plus short-eared owls if we're really lucky. This biggest tide of the month is 10.0metres around 12.30pm which, if there is low pressure and a westerly wind, could push the wildlife in close. Also chance of seeing a range of ducks, geese, wading birds and egrets as they are pushed upstream by the rising tide.
There is free public parking at the Old Baths car park (CH64 6RN) at the north end of The Parade, and the Wirral Country Park car park on Station Road (CH64 6QJ). There are public toilets at Mostyn Square in the middle of The Parade, and a number of pubs and cafes.

Sunday 14th January, Big Farmland Bird Walk at Burton Mere Wetlands.
8-10am.
Price: 10 per person (8 RSPB members)

Booking essential, ring: 0151 353 8478.

Join us on this exclusive early morning, behind-the-scenes walk to get closer to the managed farmland parts of the reserve and hopefully find a range of songbirds alongside large flocks of others you might see on your Big Garden Birdwatch.
Large flocks of small farmland birds - particularly linnets and reed buntings - feed on our bird cover crop, along with flocks of gold and greenfinches and other more familiar garden birds. These in turn attract merlins, sparrowhawks and hen harriers to hunt.
The nearby wet pasture and barley stubble offer excellent natural grazing for the geese and swans spending the winter on the estuary and this walk should provide closer views particularly of the swan flock on the neighbouring Shotwick Fields.
Please note this event is weather-dependent. A cold, hard winter will push more birds to the west coast, so we'll keep our fingers crossed!
Wear wellies and warm, waterproof clothing, and bring binoculars if you have them. Price includes a hot drink in the Reception Hide afterwards. Places are limited so advanced booking and payment are essential.

Friday 2nd February, High Tide Raptor Watch at Parkgate.
10.30am to 1.30pm.
Free.
For further details ring  0151 353 8478.

Come along to the car park at the Old Baths for the chance of seeing a range of birds of prey hunting over Parkgate Marsh. Harriers, peregrines and merlins all spend the winter months on the estuary and this is one of the best places to watch them, plus short-eared owls if we're really lucky. This biggest tide of the month is 10.0metres around 12.20pm which, if there is low pressure and a westerly wind, could push the wildlife in close. Also chance of seeing a range of ducks, geese, wading birds and egrets as they are pushed upstream by the rising tide.
There is free public parking at the Old Baths car park (CH64 6RN) at the north end of The Parade, and the Wirral Country Park car park on Station Road (CH64 6QJ). There are public toilets at Mostyn Square in the middle of The Parade, and a number of pubs and cafes.