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3rd January 2003
Month by Month Guide.
Wirral RSPB.
Latest Bird Counts.
December Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
Latest Newsletters.

Newsletter Index.

The Dee Estuary - Month by Month.


This is a guide to the birds you may expect to see on the Dee Estuary, month by month. It has not been easy to write as the birds on the estuary change not just monthly but day by day and year by year. One thing you can be sure of is that any day on the estuary will be unpredictable; depending on weather conditions - here and on distant migration routes, breeding success, disturbance, tide heights, availability of food and sheer chance. But it would be boring if we always knew exactly what we are going to see every time we went out!

Here is the guide split into quarters, the first half of the year in this newsletter, and the second half in February's newsletter. After that I will put a link to the guide from my home page, I will update the guide from time to time.

January to March.
April to June.
July to December to be printed in the February 2003 newsletter.


Wirral RSPB


Many of you will know Martyn Jaimeson, head Ranger of the Wirral Ranger Service, among the many different hats he wears he has recently become group leader of the Wirral RSPB members group. Martyn informs me that the group has an excellent programme of indoor and outdoor meetings and anybody wishing to join the group will be very welcome. Full details are on the Wirral RSPB website, but you can also contact Martyn at the Thurstaston Visitor Centre by phoning 0151 648 4371, or the membership secretary on 0151 639 1853.

To get a feel of the programme on offer here are a few examples:
June 5th - Geoff Simpson, Wild Britain, indoor.
October 2nd indoor - Alastair Moralee, The RSPB on Anglesey, indoor.
September 14th - Estuary Birds and Autumn Migrants (Hilbre), outdoor.
November 9th - Wildfowl, Martin Mere trip, outdoor.


Bird Counts


Wetland Bird Survey Count for Connah's Quay and Flint - (Kindly provided by Brian Grey), 8th December.
4 Great Crested Grebe, 38 Cormorant, 3 Grey Heron, 7 Mute Swan, 39 Shelduck, 402 Wigeon, 3 Gadwall, 387 Teal, 76 Mallard, 2 Tufted Duck, 6 Moorhen, 46 Coot, 210 Oystercatcher, 1,260 Lapwing, 15 Knot, 1,120 Dunlin, 48 Black-tailed Godwit, 100 Curlew, 1 Spotted Redshank, 218 Redshank.

Wetland Bird Survey Count for Heswall Shore - (Kindly provided by the Wirral Ranger Service), 8th December.
5 Great Crested Grebe, 29 Cormorant, 1 Grey Heron, 1,542 Shelduck, 910 Wigeon, 662 Teal, 140 Mallard, 540 Pintail, 5 Red-breasted Merganser, 5,050 Oystercatcher, 41 Golden Plover, 398 Lapwing, 50 Knot, 1,100 Dunlin, 1,520 Black-tailed Godwit, 900 Curlew, 1,210 Redshank. 1 Merlin and 2 Peregrine also present. 

Waders on the West Kirby Shore high tide wader roost, counted by the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens. Maximum counts for December, dates in brackets.
3,000 Oystercatcher (24th), 9,000 Dunlin (24th), 1,900 Bar-tailed Godwit (23rd), 635 Curlew (3rd), 800 Grey Plover (23rd), 250 Sanderling (23rd), 5,000 Knot (2nd), 100 Ringed Plover (7th) and 380 Redshank (8th).


December Bird News


A drake American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal and Smew were all at Inner Marsh Farm at the end of the month, the Green-winged Teal having been present all month.   American Wigeon

26 Goldeneye and 14 Red-breasted Mergansers were the maximum counts on West Kirby Marine Lake, a slight increase of the former and decrease of the latter compared with December 2001. Brent Geese (all pale bellied) reached a maximum of 24 during the month, seen on Hilbre, Little Eye and West Kirby Shore. Also seen from Hilbre was a Velvet Scoter. An unusual spot for a sea duck, the rifle range pool at Shotwick held an immature Long-tailed Duck for several days. A small flock of 7 White-fronted Geese spent several days at the Warren fields near the Point of Ayr.

The cold weather in the middle of the month brought in plenty of waders with some spectacular views of large flocks of Dunlin and Knot. A count of 1,850 Black-tailed Godwits off Caldy was the highest count this winter on the English side of the estuary, and along that same stretch of shore 18,000 Oystercatchers were a magnificent sight at low tide. 20 Purple Sandpipers on Hilbre on the last day of the month was the highest count so far this winter, up to 8 more were seen at Wallasey. Also at Wallasey have been between 3 and 4 Snow Buntings, remaining very faithful to a small patch of beach and sea wall, just beyond the Lifeguard Station. 1,900 Bar-tailed Godwits was a high count for the roost at West Kirby although larger numbers have been seen at low tide at Leasowe.

The bird of the month was an immature Marsh Harrier at Parkgate, very unusual in winter. My records indicate the previous latest Marsh Harrier in Cheshire was on 1st December in 1994, the one this year first appeared on the 20th and stayed until Christmas Eve. Roosting nearby was a Hen Harrier (ringtail), which stayed all month giving great views as it came into roost in the reed beds. In recent years Hen Harriers have become quite scarce on the estuary, although there was one last year seen quite often hunting on Burton Marsh, but its roosting place was never discovered.

What to expect in January.
Large numbers of waders still present on the estuary and if we get a cold spell expect to see a good influx of Knot. A great place to see waders at low tide, including over 10,000 Oystercatchers and 1,000 Black-tailed Godwit is from the steps at Caldy Shore. Last winter was a poor one for Purple Sandpipers on Hilbre but there are signs that this winter is better, and they may reach as many as forty, if you can spot them among the rocks and seaweed!.

We have already had good numbers of Brent Geese on Hilbre last month and if they follow the pattern of the last two winters we would expect them to reach the high thirties, including a handful of the dark-bellied race. The drake Smew at Inner Marsh Farm will probably be joined by two or three more birds, including a redhead. We should be getting more Red-breasted Mergansers on West Kirby Marine Lake, may be as many as thirty on a good day.

Flint is a good spot to see birds at low tide with over 1,000 Black-tailed Godwits and many duck, mostly Wigeon and Pintail, loafing on the sand banks. Look out to for Twite and Ravens, both seen regularly at this location.

You might think it is a bit odd that I've written this after just writing a month by month guide which includes January. However, I thought I would still include this section as I can then put it into context with the previous month, and the same month last year - rather than a more general overview which the guide is meant to be.

Many thanks go to Alan Jupp, Bernard Machin, BK & W Hassal, Roy Palmer, John Ferguson, Paul Vautrinot, Kevin Hayes, Frank Huband, John Eliot, Kevin Smith, Cath McGrath, Colin Jones, Ian Emmitt, 'Dave and Emma',  John Kirkland, Stephen Ainsworth,  Alan Patterson,  Jean Morgan,  John Campbell,  Colin Schofield, Nigel Troup,  Brian Grey,  Mike Hart,  Stephen Williams,  Chris Butterworth,  Martyn Jaimeson,  David Esther and the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens for their sightings during December. All sightings are gratefully received.

Forthcoming Events


January Highest Spring Tides, also see Tides page.
3rd January, 11:26hrs 9.5m. (all times GMT)
4th January, 12.11hrs 9.5m. 

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 4th  January, 11:00am, Rails of the River Bank. 
A fantastic place to see birds of the estuary. Huge flocks of ducks and waders swirl around in the sky while there's always the chance of seeing a Water Rail as it's flushed out of the saltmarsh by the rising tide. Expect to see Merlin, Peregrine and maybe Short-eared Owl. Meet at River Bank Road car park, Lower Heswall. (HW 12:11, 9.5m) No need to book. For further details contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Sunday 12th January 2:30pm - 4pm. North Wirral Coastal Park.
Join the Ranger for a walk around the North Wirral Coastal Park in search for winter birdlife, including wading birds and possibly Short-eared Owls. Please wear suitable warm clothing and footwear. Booking essential, ring 0151 648 4371.

Sunday 19th January 09:30am. Banks Road Birdwatch, Heswall. 
Come and see the spectacle of several thousand-strong flocks of ducks and waders as they amass at the mouth and banks of the Heswall Gutter. Highlights include Black-tailed Godwits and Golden Plovers. (HW 11:55, 9.1m) Meet at Banks Road car park, Lower Heswall, near Sheldrake's Restaurant. For further information tel. 0151 648 4371/3884

Saturday 25th January 9:30am - 11:30am. Big Garden Birdwatch.
Join the RSPB warden at Ness Gardens (between Neston and Burton) bird feeding station and learn all about garden birds and how to attract them to your garden. All welcome. Meet at Ness Gardens car park. No need to book. For more details tel. 0151 336 7681.

Sunday 26th January 10:30am - 12:30pm. Big Garden Birdwatch.
An event for younger birdwatchers! Join the Rangers at Wirral Country Park and take part in a survey of garden birds from the Visitor Centre Bird Hide at Thurstaston. Be prepared for wet weather! No need to book, for further information phone 0151 648 4371/3884.

Saturday 1st  February 9:30am. High Tide at Flint Foreshore
A feast of fantastic coastal birdwatching with large flocks of Black-tailed Godwit and Twite on the menu. Warm, waterproof clothing is recommended and Wellingtons are essential. 
(HW 11:17, 9.3m) No need to book. Meet at Flint Lifeboat Station car park. For further information, contact RSPB on 0151 336 7681. 

Sunday 2nd February 10:30am - 12:00noon. Wader Watch at King's Gap, Hoylake.
Join the Ranger and the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens to see large numbers of waders at close quarters, as they gather to roost with the rising tide. Beginners welcome. Please bring warm waterproof clothing and binoculars if you have them. No need to book, meet at King's Gap, Hoylake. For further information phone 0151 678 5488.

Saturday 15th February 9:00am - 2:00pm.
Open Day at Deeside Naturalists Society Reserve, Connah's Quay
This members only reserve will be open to everyone for the day and visitors will be able to make use of the four hides and chat to the members about the reserve. Tea and coffee available (HW 10:17). Other open days are planned throughout the year. For more information contact DNS on 01352 716 273.

Sunday 16th February 10:00am - 12:00noon.
Feed the Birds at Wirral Country Park.
Help our feathered friends survive the winter by making a bird feeder to take home. The feeders only take a couple of minutes to make, but you can stock up on other bird food or buy a bird table or nest box from the Green Shop whilst you are here, or enjoy seeing birds feeding from the Wirral Country Park Bird Hide, Thurstaston. No need to book. For further information, phone 0151 648 4371/3884.

Note: Many of these forthcoming events are extracted from the 'Birdwatchers Diary 2003', which covers both the Dee and Mersey regions. Hard copies available from the visitor centre at Thurstaston, Wirral Country Park 0151 648 4371.

All material in this newsletter, and indeed the whole web site, has been written by myself, Richard Smith, unless specified.