1st January 2006

Liverpool Bay, Seabirds and Wind Farms.
December Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
Latest Newsletter.



Liverpool Bay, Seabirds and Wind Farms

The Environmental Statement for Gwynt y Mor wind farm has just been published. This is a huge project of up to 250 Blackpool Tower size turbines to be built off Rhyl in 2008. Much as I am tempted to I will not use this newsletter as a rant against wind farms, although I do detest them, but will instead concentrate on some very interesting ornithological information contained in the statement.

The report brings together data from numerous aerial and boat surveys carried out in Liverpool Bay over the past six years. These have transformed our knowledge of what birds are out there, so much so that there is now a proposed Liverpool Bay SPA (Special Protection Area) which will give it special protection under the EC Wild Birds Directive. I understand that the SPA will cover an area between Moelfre on Anglesey to Fleetwood in Lancashire. One of the most important species, in terms of both conservation concern and numbers, is the Common Scoter. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust started aerial surveys here in the winter of 2000/2001 establishing that typical numbers were 25,000. A very good number considering 10 years ago that was thought to equal the total UK population, although  estimates have doubled since then. But in February 2003 Peter Cranswick of the WWT couldn't believe the numbers he was seeing from his plane, ending up with a total of 79,000. These were concentrated in several areas: Colwyn Bay, Conwy Bay, off Formby, off the Ribble Estuary and Shell Flats off Blackpool. But this wasn't just a one off count, the following February saw 83,500 in the same places, nearly all within the proposed SPA. One of the largest concentrations was off Blackpool on Shell Flats, just were a large wind farm is proposed, fortunately it looks as though this one will not be given the go ahead.

Other species of particular interest were recorded as follows:
Red-throated Diver
Aerial surveys suggest that this diver occurs throughout the shallower waters of Liverpool Bay during winter and passage months. Based on the Feb 2004 survey it is estimated Liverpool Bay held 168 birds. Red-throated Diver is a species of very high nature conservation importance. It is listed on Annex 1 of the EC Birds Directive (79/409/EEC) and Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, as amended.

Manx Shearwater
Greatest numbers occur in the summer months with an estimated 4,850 in Liverpool Bay in Aug 2004. The report speculates on where these Manx Shearwaters come from, the most likely location being Bardsey Island but there is evidence that some also come from the huge colonies off Pembrokshire on the islands of Skomer and Skokholm.

Thinly distributed across Liverpool Bay with small colonies on the north Wales coast. A few birds were recorded throughout the year but numbers built up from May to a peak in mid-August.

This species is found throughout Liverpool Bay with many birds a long way off-shore. The report does not estimate total numbers but recorded highest concentrations in July and August, and almost total absence of birds between October and March. Gannets are well known for travelling long distances to forage. An interesting conclusion is that the birds present here in the summer are from the Scottish colonies, e.g. Ailsa Craig, rather than Grassholm in south Wales. This is based on lack of any records of birds flying east past Point Lynas (Anglesey) during the summer months. Photo right by
Steve Round . Gannet off Leasowe, Sep 2004.

Cormorant and Shag
Both species breed at several locations along the North Wales coastline. Majority of birds were found in shallow waters.

Widely distributed across Liverpool Bay for much of the year particularly in summer when it is the most numerous seabird. Largest concentrations were found around Puffin Island, Great Orme and Little Orme, where they breed.

Left, Kittiwake on Hilbre ( Richard Smith).

Auk species
In most cases it was not possible to distinguish the species during the aerial surveys, but the boat surveys found that guillemots were the most common auk with lower numbers of razorbills. In November 2004 it was estimated about 4,500 auks were present in Liverpool Bay. I have to admit I was surprised how many over-winter in the area but according to BWP it is normal for many Guillemots and Razorbills to stay close to their breeding colonies. We see very few of these wintering birds from the Dee Estuary, nearly all records coming from Hilbre with peaks at migration time in April and October.

The birds most at risk from the wind farm would appear to be Gannets, Kittiwakes and Auks as many  use the proposed area. Although Common Scoter tend to be nearer in shore they must also be at risk as they are very susceptible to disturbance and there is bound to be much tooing and froing between the shore and Gwynt y mor.

The above is a very brief summary of the ornithological data contained in the npower Gwynt y Mor Environmental Statement, a non-technical summary of the statement can be seen on the npower website - http://www.npower-renewables.com/gwyntymor/index.asp. When reading it remember it was written by someone wearing rose-tinted glasses as regards wind farms - they are not quite the wonderful, nice to see, highly efficient machines they would have us believe! More details of the Common Scoter survey can be seen on the Wetlands and Wildfowl Trust website - http://www.wwt.org.uk/publications/. If you want to protest against wind farms, and up to 340 turbines will be in sight from Red Rocks by 2009, then I suggest you contact your MP, make your feelings known to your local and national bird society, and try to stir up the local press who seem to have a conspiracy of silence on the topic.

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December Bird News
The two Richard's Pipits which appeared at the end of the month on the marsh at West Kirby stayed until about mid-month, with one remaining for the rest of the month. Luckily the waders on the shore at high tide were not disturbed by the birders looking for the pipits and numbers are up on last year, particularly Knot which reached a max of 17,000 compared to 10,000 last December. We think these are probably the same birds which have been seen off Thurstaston in good numbers at low tide.

There have been quite a few duck on the Marine Lake at West Kirby with a max of 17 Red-breasted Mergansers and 18 Goldeneye, together with a Red-throated Diver, and a couple each of Great-crested Grebes and Shags.

Brent Geese just went on increasing and reached an incredible 104 on the 20th, all but one pale-bellied birds. Other geese included 600 Pink-footed Geese over Heswall on Christmas Day. Four Hen Harriers continue to come in to roost at Parkgate, three ring-tails and a single sub-adult male. The full adult male was definitely seen once but doesn't seem to be roosting with the other birds.

Over on the Point of Ayr a spotted Redshank has been seen regularly together with a snow buntings in the sand dunes, parties of Brent Geese were seen from time to time flying over from hilbre.

What to expect in January

Brent Geese normally peak by the end of January, any increase on the 104 seen last month will be a record! We often get movements of Pink-footed Geese this month, probably coming over from Norfolk. Bewick Swans should reach 100 or so birds on the marshes, although often they are so far out it is very difficult to count them. Hopefully a Smew will turn up at Inner Marsh Farm together with the long staying Green-winged Teal.

January can be surprisingly good for sea-watching with Great-crested Grebes, Red-throated Divers and even some Little Gulls in sight. These are usually best seen from Hilbre Island as are Purple Sandpipers which should reach 30 or so birds this month.

There is a 10m tide predicted for the last day of the month, given a good SW to NW wind this will make for some spectacular birdwatching, particularly at Parkgate.

Many thanks go to  Ian Hughes, John Boswell, Liz Shand, Steve Renshaw, Heather White, Colin Davies, Bernard Machin,  David Esther, Colin Schofield, John Campbell, Clive Ashton, Colin Jones, Charles Farnell, Mike coe, Steve Williams, Phil Woolen, Chris Butterworth, Sabena Blackbird, Jeff Stevens, Matt Thomas, Dave Harrington,  Jane Turner, Allan Conlin, Mike Hart, Dave Wild, Allan and Sandra Evans, Pam Green, 'Emma'. Keith Hopwood, Andrew Jennings, Mark O'Sullivan, Bob Pilgrem, Iain Douglas, Nick Payne, Colin Wells, Mark Murphy, Helen Warburton, Margaret Twemlow, Rhys Findlay-Robinson, Mark Warren, the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens  and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during December.  All sightings are gratefully received.

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Forthcoming Events
January Highest Spring Tides, also see Tides page.
30th January, 11:45hrs 9.7m. Times GMT.
31st January, 12:32hrs 10.0m.

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.

Sunday 1st January, 9am - 12 noon, The Big Bird List.
Stride into 2006 with a birdwatch to kick-start Wirral Country Park's Big Bird List that will be displayed in the Visitor Centre (Thurstaston). The list will be updated throughout the year and the number of species seen worked out at the end of the year. This event is suitable for children aged over 11 years old. Sorry no dogs. Booking essential, tel. 0151 648 4371.

Sunday 22nd January, 3:00pm, Parkgate Raptor Watch Dee Estuary RSPB Reserve.
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 reserve at Parkgate, close to The Boathouse pub. No need to book. For more details tel.0151 336 7681.

Saturday 28th January, 10:00am 4:00pm
RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch Ness Botanical Gardens.
Join the RSPB staff at Ness Gardens bird feeding station. Help us count the birds as part of a national survey, learn all about garden birds and how to attract them to your garden. All welcome. Meet at Ness Gardens Tearoom to which there is free admission.
There is a charge to visit the gardens No need to book.
For more details tel.0151 336 7681.

Tuesday 31st January, 11:00am, Parkgate Birdwatch Dee Estuary RSPB Reserve.
High tide at Parkgate is the best time to discover the hidden treasures of the Dee Estuary RSPB reserve. If the tide reaches the wall, small mammals such as voles, shrews and possibly water rails are flushed out. Meet at the Old Baths car park overlooking the reserve at Parkgate, close to The Boathouse pub (HW 12:32, 10.0m).
Wednesday 1st February, 11:30am, Parkgate Birdwatch Dee Estuary RSPB Reserve.
Another chance to learn about the birdlife of this important saltmarsh reserve. If the tide is high enough flocks of waders will be joined by raptors such as peregrines, hen harriers and short-eared owls (HW 13:15, 10.1m).

Note: Many of these forthcoming events are extracted from the 'Birdwatchers Diary 2006', 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.

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