Skua Newsletter Skua

Map of the Estuary
Tide Table
English Shore
Welsh Shore
North Wirral Shore
Latest Sightings
Bird Counts

Nearby Sites

Birdwatching Walks
When to go




1st January 2002
John Gittins Tribute.
WeBS data 2000/2001.

Latest Bird Counts.
December Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
Latest Newsletter.


         Purple Sandpiper

John Gittins 1928 - 2001

John Gittins


John Gittins, who died on 9th December 2001, was founder member of the ringing group on Hilbre Island in 1957 which later became the Hilbre Bird Observatory. He was one of this country's ringing pioneers at a time when little was known about the precise destination of the birds leaving our shores. He had a real love of Hilbre Island and it's birds, visiting the island at least once a week for 50 years. One of his favourite birds was the Purple Sandpiper, and he was particularly pleased that it was a bird ringed at Hilbre which was the first foreign recovery of a British ringed bird, shot by an Eskimo in Greenland.

Regretfully, despite knowing of John by reputation for many years, I actually only met him for the first time just over three years ago. I was with a group of birders (who I had met through this web site) on Hilbre and there was John cracking jokes and pointing out twenty Purple Sandpipers I had completely missed. His joking is legendary, usually told with a flat tone and deadpan expression - so sometimes you weren't quite sure if he was joking at all! He gave regular talks about Hilbre illustrated with his slides. One he was particularly proud of was of a Robin. But it wasn't just any old Robin, but a chocolate Robin, but not any old chocolate Robin - it was a photo of a chocolate coloured Reliant Robin he had seen in West Kirby, always caused a good laugh.  

Shortly after I first met him, and despite knowing little about the internet, he very kindly agreed to give me all the weekly bird records from Hilbre for my latest sightings page and newsletter. Even in the last few weeks of his life when he must have been feeling pretty rotten, he would note down every bird seen from the previous seven days then trek back across the sands before ringing me in the evening. How I looked forward to his weekly phone calls!

His home town was West Kirby where he was known as the Hilbre Birdman. Everyone seemed to know him, you would see him walking down the street and anybody who passed would stop and have a chat and chuckle (or groan) at his latest joke. The shopkeepers always said that he brightened their day when he came in.

As well as being a very knowledgeable birdwatcher, indeed a true ornithologist, he was a lovely man and will be sorely missed.



Wetland Bird Survey Counts for 2000/2001


`The 2000/2001 WeBS (Wetland Bird Survey) counts  for the Dee Estuary are now available - for both Wildfowl and Waders. The counting area is the whole of the Dee Estuary plus the North Wales shore between and including the Point of Ayr and Gronant, and also the North Wirral shore. The WeBS counts from 1997 to 2000 are still on the web site and can be seen via the Bird Counts page.

The table below shows the maximum counts for the past four years (April to March) for some of the most important species on the estuary.
  97/98 98/99  99/00 00/01
Shelduck 10418 5634 8814 11572
Wigeon 5366 3302 2751 4681
Teal 6254 4544 5185 5622
Mallard 1615 1734 868 2237
Pintail 5954 5659 2356 4216
Oystercatcher 25142 18932 14889 26713
Dunlin 30318 31619 21627 41656
Knot 14000 6675 8683 5672
Black-tailed Godwit 1642 1602 2543 2145
Curlew 5370 4490 4250 5837
Redshank 7570 9780 7328 11991

The 12 months from April 2000 to March 2001 were excellent for bird numbers on the estuary and for most species an increase on the previous 12 months. Amazingly we had record numbers of three species, Shelduck, Dunlin and Redshank (1). Oystercatchers showed a welcome increase after quite a steep decline since the early 1990's, this appears to be due to a recovery of at least some of the cockle beds(2). One species not doing too well is the Knot which reached a new low. However, it should be noted that low water counts are much higher suggesting that the birds are roosting outside the estuary (e.g. on the Alt estuary). Two other species not listed above have also shown similar declines to the Knot - Bar-tailed Godwit and Grey Plover. Again indications are that low tide counts are much higher but it is pleasing to note that high tide counts for all three species have increased dramatically during the current winter - 2001/2002.   

A much more detailed and comprehensive account of the WeBS counts for 2000/2001 is given in the Dee Estuary WeBS annual  report, available from Colin Wells, Burton Point Farm, Station Road, Burton, Cheshire for 4.50 including P&P, or 4.00 from the reception at Inner Marsh Farm. Please make cheques out to the RSPB, for more details ring 0151 336 7681. 

Note that the table above gives the maximum numbers for the whole 12 month period, including both the winter and  passage (autumn/spring) periods - in the annual WeBS reports Wader maximum numbers are usually just given for the winter (November to March).

1. Cheshire Bird Report  2000 (published by CAWOS).
2. Neil Friswell and Colin Wells. Dee Estuary WeBS Annual Report, winter 2000/2001.


Bird Counts


Wetland Bird Survey Count for Heswall Shore - (Kindly provided by the Wirral Ranger Service). 16th December. 
3 Great Crested Grebe, 5 Cormorant, 3 Grey Heron, 3,384 Shelduck, 200 Wigeon, 399 Teal, 102 Mallard, 250 Pintail, 1 Scaup, 11 Red-breasted Merganser, 2,130 Oystercatcher, 39 Golden Plover, 1 Grey Plover, 630 Lapwing, 310 Knot, 480 Dunlin, 1,806 Black-tailed Godwit, 446 Curlew, 2 Spotted Redshank, 950 Redshank, 1 Merlin and 2 Peregrine Falcon.

Maximum Wader counts for December at West Kirby High tide roost (date in brackets), counted by the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens.
2,900 Oystercatcher (1st), 40 Ringed Plover (12th), 320 Ringed Plover (3rd), 8,000 Knot (12th), 30 Sanderling (18th), 10,000 Dunlin (15th), 160 Bar-tailed Godwit (18th), 210 Curlew (12th) and 500 Redshank (15th).

North Wirral Shore Low Tide WeBS count, 9th December, kindly provided by Carl Clee.
3,624 Oystercatcher, 1,682 Grey Plover, 4,644 Dunlin, 5,835 Knot, 170 Sanderling, 7,525 Bar tailed Godwit, 134 Curlew, 1,476 Redshank, 277 Ringed Plover, 408 Lapwing and 217 Turnstone.
Note that the numbers for North Wirral shore are the sum of several sites counted. No allowance was taken for birds moving between sites during these counts (this is normal practice for low tide counts). Consequently it is possible that some species may be either over or under estimated, except the Bar-tailed Godwits which were all counted in one area at the same time.

December Bird News


wader roost
                                                                                          Jane Turner

The above photograph is just a very small portion of the high tide roost at Hoylake, off Kings Gap, showing Dunlin at the front, Knot in the middle and Bar-tailed Godwits at the back. On the 16th December Wetland Bird Survey a phenomenal 54,000 Knot were counted here, so on this single sand bank we had a quarter of the country's wintering Knot (based on typical December figures). On top of that we had large numbers of Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit and Grey Plover, a welcome improvement on the previous four years. Another wader doing well is the Black-tailed Godwit with up to two thousand seen at low tide busy feeding on the mud between Heswall and Caldy, sometimes just a few feet from the beach - with similar numbers on the welsh side at Flint and Point of Ayr.

Brent geese numbers have reached twenty seven so far, they seem to be all pale-bellied but with possibly one or two dark-bellied about too. Seventy five Bewick's Swan spent a lot of time on the salt-marsh at Shotton, and five Whooper Swan at Burton. The drake Smew returned to Inner Marsh Farm on cue, and for a time there was also another drake and red-head. Up to twenty one Goldeneye, twenty Red-breasted Merganser and two Scaup have been on West Kirby Marine Lake giving excellent viewing especially on a calm day. Two rare duck have been seen, a drake Green-winged Teal  briefly at Inner Marsh Farm and a female Red-crested Pochard on one of the pools in Greenfield Valley most of the month.

As well as the waders at Hoylake plenty of other birds have been seen along the north Wirral coast including a Mediterranean Gull (see photo), Short-eared Owls, a Slavonian Grebe, 4 Stonechat, 1 Snow bunting and 20 Common Scoter - all these from the Leasowe lighthouse area. 

Med. Gull
Thomas Giles

The Greenfield Valley bird survey for 2001 is now complete. The total was 92 birds. Click here for the complete list.

What to expect in January: Both Mute and Bewick's Swan peak in January, see them on the marsh between Burton and Connah's Quay. Expect to see over a hundred of each together with a handful of Whoopers. Small flocks of between fifty and a hundred Pink-footed Geese are often seen feeding in fields at Burton or Shotwick.  

This time last year we had an invasion of Waxwings into the country, some of which reached Wirral. These irruptions, as they are called, only occur every few years and are caused by a good breeding season followed by a shortage of food in their more normal wintering area, Scandinavia. It is probably too much to hope for to have another irruption this year, but you never know your luck!

Other than that expect to see much the same as December, although the exact numbers of waders is very much dependent on the weather - we can get large cold weather movements if there is a hard winter on the continent. Look out for huge clouds of Knot way out in the estuary at low tide, each one 10,000 strong. Lapwings can suddenly appear in their thousands if inland fields are snow covered.

Many thanks go to Colin Wells, Dave Wilde, Paul Swales, Alan Jupp, D Kilby, 'Ernie', John Baker, Colin Jones, Martin Walls, Mark Feltham, Thomas Giles, Randal Hughes, David Steer, John Clarke, Mike Hart,  Frank Huband, John Kirkland, Eoin Jennings, Jeff Clarke, Chris Butterworth, Bill Owens,  Cathy McGrath, David Esther, Dave Harrington, Martyn Jaimeson, Carl Clee, Jane Turner, Brian Roberts, Gareth Stamp and the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens for their sightings during December. I rely on the goodwill of people like this, unlike some commercial sites I cannot offer financial inducements!


Forthcoming Events


January Highest Spring Tides
30th January, 1216hrs 9.8m. (all times GMT)
31st January, 1301hrs 9.9m. 

Forthcoming Events (organised by the Wirral Ranger Service, Flintshire Countryside Service and/or the RSPB):
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.

Saturday 19th January 12 noon Birdwatch at Banks Road, Heswall
Witness the fantastic array of waders and wildfowl that gather along the banks of the Heswall Gutter. Highlights include Black-tailed Godwits and Golden Plovers. No need to book. Meet at Banks Road car park, near Sheldrake's Restaurant. For further information tel. 0151 648 4371/3884.

Saturday 2nd February 12 noon High Tide at Flint Foreshore.
Superb coastal birding with potential for Twite and large flocks of Black-tailed Godwit. Warm waterproof clothing is recommended. Wellingtons are essential. (HW 14:33, 9.7m). No need to book. Meet at Flint Lifeboat Station car park. Further information from RSPB tel. 0151 336 7681.

Sunday 17th February 11:15am Birdwatch at Banks Road, Heswall
Witness the fantastic array of waders and wildfowl that gather along the banks of the Heswall Gutter. Highlights include Black-tailed Godwits and Golden Plovers. No need to book. Meet at Banks Road car park, near Sheldrake's Restaurant. For further information tel. 0151 648 4371/3884.

Note: Many of these forthcoming events are extracted from 'Birdwatchers Diary 2002', which covers both the Dee and Mersey regions. Copies available from the visitor centre at Thurstaston, Wirral Country Park 0151 648 4371 or by from myself.