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1st January 2004
RSPB 25 Years.

Colour Ringed Black-tailed Godwits.
Latest Bird Counts.
December Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
Latest Newsletter.

Newsletter Index.     

RSPB - 25 Years on the Dee Estuary


Extracted from the Birdwatchers Diary 2004

In 2004 the RSPB celebrates 25 years on the Dee Estuary.


Back in 1979, the Society purchased Gayton Sands, creating a major wildfowl and wader sanctuary on this important estuary. Since then, further land has been bought and management agreements made on both the English and Welsh sides of the estuary, resulting in a total reserve area of 5,415 hectares dedicated to safeguarding the future of some of our most special birds.

Key Dates in the history of the Reserve...


Gayton Sands purchased, creating a major wildfowl and wader sanctuary on the estuary. Bob Gomes became the first Warden.
1983 Wardening agreement established at the Point of Ayr.
1984 Bob Gomes left to become Warden at Elmley on the Isle of Sheppey. Colin Wells transferred from Leighton Moss to become the new warden and latterly Site Manager.
1986 Arable fields bought at Inner Marsh Farm. Creation of wetland takes three years to complete.
1987 First high tide birdwatching events at Parkgate, in partnership with Wirral Borough Council.
1988 Oakenholt Marsh purchased creating a safe wildfowl and wader sanctuary on the Welsh side of the estuary. Birdwatching hide at the Point of Ayr. Purchase of Burton Point Farm.
1992 Inner Marsh Farm opened to members, providing one hide and a small car park.
1993 Point of Ayr/Bagillt Bank Wardening agreement signed with Environmental Agency, creating a major wildfowl/wader sanctuary on Welsh side of estuary.
1998 Internationally important numbers of wildfowl/waders occurring on Inner Marsh Farm result in the site being designated as a SSSI.
1999 Inner Marsh Farm proposed as extension to Dee Estuary Special Protection Area.
2000 Wardening agreement signed with Mostyn Dock.
2004 RSPB celebrates 25 years on the Dee Estuary.
The Society has planned, with its partners, a packed programme of events (see the Birdwatchers Diary for details) to celebrate this important milestone, from the opportunity to watch wildlife spectaculars such as high-tide birdwatching and raptor watching at Parkgate to a variety of social events.

The RSPB has a number of active local groups that will be organising a variety of walks, talks and activities, with something for everyone, so why not get involved?


Contact your nearest group below for more details.

RSPB Chester Group- Contact Bernard on 01829 782 243
RSPB Chester Group- Contact Cliff on 01925 817 874
RSPB Liverpool Group- Contact Chris on 0151 480 7938
RSPB North Wales Group- Contact Maureen on 01492 547 768
RSPB Wirral Group- Contact Martyn on 0151 342 7813/ 648 4371


Colour Ringed Black-tailed Godwits


ringed 'blackwit' An international study into the migration patterns and population dynamics of Black-tailed godwits is underway. More than a thousand birds have been individually colour-ringed throughout the species range. It would be MOST appreciated if you could pass on sightings of marked godwits to John Harrison of the RSPB - see below. Many of the birds have been seen several times and observers will receive details of previous movements.

Please record the COLOUR and POSITION of all colour rings along with DATE, TIME, LOCATION and NUMBER of godwits present.

  • Please record which rings were on which leg.
  • Please note whether green rings are dark or pale (pale green can be difficult to distinguish from white).
  • Some birds may have an engraved ring above the joint with either an X, two horizontal stripes or one number + one letter.
  • The height of the rings may vary between 7 and 15 mm. Please note whether rings appear short or tall. The rings on the picture below are tall.

colour rings - details

Between 1 and 2% of the Icelandic population of Black-tailed Godwits have been colour ringed which means we should have at least 40 on the Dee Estuary at the moment from a total count of about 4,000 birds. Some have already been seen. For example a bird ringed as a chick on 12th July 2002 at Hjalteyri, just north of Akrureyi, Iceland (ON-RR, orange over black (bird's left leg) - red over red (right leg)) has summered at Inner Marsh Farm and is currently living at Oakenholt/Flint. It hasn't been seen anywhere else. For more information about Operation Godwit see their website -

Please send any ring sightings to either one of the e-mail addresses on the website, or myself - Richard Smith - .


Bird Counts


Count from Connah's Quay and Flint - (Kindly provided by Deeside Naturalists' Society), 14th December. 3 Great Crested Grebe, 63 Cormorant, 4 Grey Heron, 12 Mute Swan, 114 Shelduck, 160 Wigeon, 9 Gadwall, 460 Teal, 100 Mallard, 4 Shoveler, 2 Pochard, 4 Tufted duck, 1 Goldeneye, 32 Coot, 390 Oystercatcher, 26 Ringed Plover, 2,200 Lapwing, 64 Dunlin, 1,200 Black-tailed Godwit, 87 Curlew, 390 Redshank.

Count from Heswall Shore - (Kindly provided by the Wirral Ranger Service), 14th December. 1,630 Shelduck, 477 Teal, 57 Mallard, 12,800 Oystercatcher, 100 Golden Plover, 30 Grey Plover, 500 Lapwing, 10,000  Knot, 6,100 Dunlin, 2,750 Black-tailed Godwit, 1,370 Curlew, 2,360 Redshank, 63 Black-headed Gull, 16 Common Gull, 8 Lesser Black-backed Gull and 41 Herring Gull.

December Bird News


Steve Williams

The five Waxwings seen in a West Kirby housing estate were a nice Christmas present for local birders. Four were first seen on the 21st, had increased to five by Christmas Eve and were last seen on the 27th. The small bush they had targeted in someone's front garden contained a load of white berries. These proved irresistible not only to the Waxwings but for up to eight Blackbirds, three Blackcap, a Song Thrush and a Mistle Thrush! The bird on the left was one of the original four sitting on their favourite site, a roof top aerial.

Good numbers of waders made for some spectacular viewing along the coast. Total counts were in the region of 40,000 Knot, 30,000 Dunlin, 20,000 Oystercatcher, 6,400 Bar-tailed Godwits and 4,000 Black-tailed Godwits. 490 Golden Plover at Heswall early in the month was an excellent number, never very numerous on the estuary.

We had a record count of Brent Geese on Hilbre with 45 on the 29th, the previous highest being 39 in February 2001. Incidentally, my claim of a record November count last month was incorrect, this actually stands at 24 (last month's count was 21) counted in 2000. A significant movement of Pink-footed Geese occurred early in the month with several flocks seen, mostly flying north on their way to their South Lancashire haunts, but a flock of several hundred were observed from Thurstaston crossing over to North Wales.

The swans seem to have favoured Shotwick fields this year instead of Burton Marsh. A count on 19th December was 50-60 Bewick's, 2 Whooper, 2 Black Swan and a few Mute - there can't be many places in the world that has four species of swan in just one field!

At least 13 Short-eared Owls counted on Burton Marsh on the 7th is a remarkable number for that location, and as far as I've been able to ascertain, a record for Burton. They were counted by four birders standing at Burton Point in clear, sunny weather, with the Owls distributed between the Dee Bridge and Parkgate.

 There have been at least four Hen Harriers around, with four ring-tails seen regularly coming to roost at Parkgate. But a grey male has also been seen and it is thought that two Hen Harriers are roosting at Burton - so may be the total is six. Back to the good old days! The photograph on the right is of one of the ring-tail Hen Harriers at Parkgate on 23rd November 2003.

Steve Round

An influx of gulls at the end of the month included 6,000 Herring Gulls carpeting West Hoyle Bank. A Glaucous Gull reported on West Kirby Marine Lake was probably an aberrant Herring Gull which has been around for a while, but a first winter Glaucous was confirmed to be on Shotwick fields. A couple of interesting records at the end of the month were from the Point of Ayr - a Black Redstart and Little Auk.

A checklist of the Birds of The Wirral Peninsula has recently been published, this can be obtained from the author, Steve Williams at 2 Westbourne Road, West Kirby, Wirral CH48 4DG at 2.00 post free, copies are also on sale at the Thurstaston Visitor Centre.

What to expect in January.
Maybe more Waxwings! It's been a good year for this species in the country, 2,000 or so present in November, so we may get a few more here before the end of the winter.

Most winters Brent Geese on Hilbre Island peak either in January or February. So we can expect to smash last month's record of 42. Numbers of swans also usually peak in January - in a good year we should get at least 80 of both Bewick's and Mute on the marsh or fields at the head of the estuary. Other wildfowl in good numbers will include Wigeon and Teal with up to 4,000 of each. January is also a good month for seeing one or two drake Green-winged Teal and Smew at Inner Marsh Farm.

Pink-footed Geese are often on the move early in the year. Flocks of several hundred flying up the estuary in classic V-formation make a glorious sight. Some of these birds will be flying between Norfolk and Lancashire, ringing has shown there is much movement between the two sites over the winter (BTO Migration Atlas).

Although peak numbers of Curlew, Oystercatchers and Redshank occur in late summer/ early autumn, there is often also a mid-winter peak. The main haunt of the Oystercatcher at low-tide is off Caldy and Thurstaston where as many as 20,000 is not unknown, together with 20,000 other waders - mainly Knot. They spread over the vast mudflats like a carpet - when a Peregrine flies over this lot it is literally like a giant carpet taking off - an awe inspiring sight. Although Linnets are common throughout the shores of the estuary their rarer relative, the Twite, are best seen around Flint where a flock of up to 50 inhabit the area around the castle.

Many thanks go to Bryan Joy, Alan Jupp, Clive Ashton, Wendy Dykes, Greg Hawkswell, Debbie Cameron, John Kirkland, Clyde Barrow, Jane Turner, Karen Leeming, Rob Palmer, John Blades, Allan Patterson, Carl Clee, Colin Jones, John Eliot, Steve Round, Frank Huband, Tanny Robnson, Sheila Blamire, Peter Button, Colin Wells, Chris Tynan, Dave Wilde, David Esther,  John Campbell, Brian Grey, John Harrison, Allan Conlin, Clive Ashton, Mike Hart, David Harrington, Phil Woollen, Stephen Williams,  Chris Butterworth,  Martyn Jaimeson, Jean Morgan, the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during December. All sightings are gratefully received.

Forthcoming Events


January Highest Spring Tides, also see Tides page.
23rd January, 12:16hrs 9.7m. (all times GMT)
24th January, 13:00hrs 9.7m. 

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 3rd January, 11am - 4pm. New Years Resolution Walk.
Blow the cobwebs away, walk off the Christmas excesses and start that New Years resolution with a 6 mile walk over the hills of west Wirral including Caldy Hill and Thurstaston Hill, starting and finishing at Wirral Country Park Visitor Centre. Stout footwear and suitable clothing are essential. Please bring a packed lunch. Sorry no dogs. Booking essential, c 0151648 4371/3884

Sunday 4th January, 9am - 12 noon. New Years Bird Race.
Ease into the New Year with a gentle guided walk from the Wirral Country Park Visitor Centre at Thurstaston. Stroll across the farmland, around the ponds, through the woods and hedgerows and along the foreshore of west Wirral to search for 40 species of bird that can be found here, finishing with tea and biscuits in the bird hide. Stout footwear and suitable clothing are essential. Please bring binoculars if you have them. Booking essential, ring 0151 648 4371.

Saturday 10th January, 10:30am, Banks Road Birdwatch at Heswall.
One of the best places on the estuary to get close-up views of a variety of waders including black-tailed godwit, knot, redshank and curlew as they amass along the banks of the Heswall Gutter (HW 12:54, 8.9m). Meet at Banks Road car park, Lower Heswall, near Sheldrake's Restaurant. For details, tel. 0151 648 4371.

Sunday 11th January, 10am start. Walking the Wirral Way.
Walk the entire 12-mile length of the Wirral Way from Hooton to West Kirby and help raise money for the Wirral and Ellesmere Port Barn Owl Trust. This event will be led by Wirral Country Park Rangers and members of the local Barn Owl group and will include a look at the management, history and natural history of the park. All monies raised through sponsorship will be used to pay for the essential conservation work needed to reverse the decline in numbers of this species once common throughout Britain's countryside. Sponsor forms are available from the Wirral Country Park Visitor Centre, Thurstaston. Ring 0151648 4371 for details. Note there are good car parking facilities and train connections at both Hooton and West Kirby.

Sunday 18th January, 3:00pm, Parkgate Raptor Watch.
Come along and watch birds of prey with the experts. See the graceful hen harriers coming in to roost on the RSPB reserve. Other birds of prey we hope to see are merlin, peregrine, sparrowhawk, short-eared owl and barn owl. Meet at the Old Baths car park, which overlooks the Gayton Sands Nature Reserve at Parkgate, close to The Boathouse pub. For further details contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Saturday 24th January, 10:00am - 4:00pm, RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch.
Join the RSPB Wardens at Ness Gardens bird feeding station. Help us count the birds in the Gardens as part of a national survey, and learn all about garden birds and how to attract them to your garden. All welcome. Meet at Ness Gardens tearoom. No need to book.
For more details tel. 0151 336 7681.

Saturday 24th 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 Riverbank Road car park, which overlooks the RSPB Gayton Sands Nature Reserve at Heswall. (HW 13:00, 9.7m) No need to book. For further details contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Saturday 24th January, 11:00am, 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 (HW 12:35, 9.7m). No need to book, meet at King's Gap, Hoylake. For further information phone 0151 678 5488.

Sunday 25th January, 10:00am - 5:00pm, Big Garden Birdwatch.
Join us in the bird hide at Wirral Country Park (Thurstaston) and take part in this national RSPB event to count the birds in our gardens. For further details, phone 0151 648 4371.

Sunday 1st February, 10:00am - 12:00noon, Birding for beginners .
Pick up a few birding tips from the Rangers on this walk around Wirral Country Park (Thurstaston). By the end of the morning you should be confident on your RBmergs, mipits and GSwoods! The walk will include a session in the Visitor Centre bird hide with tea and biscuits laid on! Please bring waterproofs and binoculars if you have them. Booking essential, 0151 648 4371.

Saturday 7th February, 10:00am (Flintshire), Flint High Tide Birdwatch.
Join the RSPB Warden on a walk along the edge of the mudflats and saltmarsh as we watch thousands of waders dropping onto the marsh to roost at high tide. Expect to see black-tailed godwit, knot, redshank and possibly greenshank and spotted redshank (HW 12:06, 9.2m). No need to book, meet at the Flint Lifeboat Station car park. For further details phone 0151 336 7681.

Tuesday 10th February, Divers and Grebes of Hilbre.
February is a good month to search for divers and grebes before they move inland to breed. Join the Rangers on a guided walk to the Hilbre Islands, staying over high tide. The rising tide forces waders to leave their low water feeding grounds and roost around the island allowing close quarter views. Warm waterproof clothes & stout footwear essential. Please bring binoculars. There is a 1 charge for this event, which is not suitable for young children. Booking essential, 0151 648 4371.

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. 2004 diary should be published during December.

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