Dee Estuary Newsletter

1st January 2008
North-East Wales Bird Report 2004-2006.
Cheshire and Wirral Bird Report 2006.
Hilbre Bird Report 2006.
Radde's Warbler in Wirral.
December Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
Latest Newsletter.


North-East Wales Bird Report 2004 - 2006

Review by Richard Smith.

The North-East Wales Bird Report for the years 2004, 2005 and 2006 has just been published, this covers the area formerly covered by the Clwyd Bird Reports. The reason for the change of name is that Clwyd ceased to exist as a county in 1996 being replaced by the Vice Counties of Denbighshire and Flintshire. This report can be purchased for £10 on collection, or £11 including P&P. For details contact the County Recorder, Ian Spence, by email or see the Clwyd Bird Recording Group website.

For those of us interested in the birds of North-East Wales it has seemed an awful long time for this report to be produced, but it has certainly been worth the wait with a total of 163 pages, four feature articles, the usual regular articles including the Ringing Report, seven pages of colour photographs and the systematic list which is illustrated with many maps and black and white photographs. As usual the systematic list is the main part of the report and it is fascinating and very useful to have three years of data for each species when comparing trends and counts.

Many birders will want to look back and remember the rarities they saw over these three years, or perhaps those they dipped out on! These included American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, White Stork, Temminck's Stint, Long-billed Dowitcher, Sabine's Gull, Little Auk, Short-toed Lark, Richard's Pipit, Dartford Warbler and Lapland bunting.

  Cover photo of Short-eared Owl by Gary Bellingham.

Articles include Action for Farmland Birds in Conwy by Becky Groves (Conwy Biodiversity Project Officer), Y Craig Nature Reserve by Adrian Lloyd Jones of the North Wales Wildlife Trust, Wildlife Crime in North-East Wales by Sergeant Pete Charleston, Wildlife Liasion Officer, and lastly an article by Anne Brinchley of the BTO about an exciting new project - North Wales Breeding Bird Atlas 2008-2011.

The Clwyd Bird Recording Group are now collecting data for the 2007 North-East Wales Bird report, PLEASE send your records in, see for details.

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Cheshire and Wirral Bird Report 2006

We’re delighted to say that the annual Bird Report for 2006 is now available. There’s an eye-catching colour front cover depicting the stunning Alpine Swift which frequented a pub car park and surrounds back in April. The 173 pages of text include 13 distribution maps and graphs, and 14 beautiful illustrations from two different artists. The colour map of the county forms the centre spread of the Report. A total of 17 colour photographs, which best capture some of the highlights of the year, are spread over seven full pages.
There is no doubt that 2006 will be remembered for the remarkable ‘Leach’s Petrel Wreck’ in December, when large numbers of this enigmatic species, which forms the Society’s logo, were reported off our coasts and even inland, including here in Cheshire and Wirral. Richard Smith looks back over time to reveal exactly how remarkable and unique the events of that month were. Also, there are articles on the aforementioned Alpine Swift, which justifiably commands a further page of photographs; the exciting discovery of a 1st summer male Subalpine Warbler on Hilbre - the fourth record for the county; plus accounts of an exceptional Little Gull passage, also at Hilbre, and the highest count ever there; a fascinating study into colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwits on the Dee and Mersey estuaries; the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) highlights and lowlights spanning the period 1994-2006; and finally, half a century of bird ringing and recording at the Hilbre Bird Observatory.

  Cover photo of Alpine Swift by Steve Round.       

All the ‘regulars’ are there: ‘Weather and Bird Review of the Year’; the full ‘Systematic List of Birds Recorded in Cheshire and Wirral during 2006’, including ‘Category E Species’; ‘Early and Late Dates for Migrants’; ‘BBRC and County Rarities Decisions’; ‘Ringing Report’; ‘Chairman’s Review’; ‘Database Statistics for 2006’ and finally advice on the ‘Submission of Records’.

Last, but not least, we have again included a species index at the back to help you quickly look up your favourite species. This will be particularly useful to those not familiar with new Systematic List order adopted last year.

The Report costs £7.00 + £1.00 p&p and copies are available from:

Peter Mathews, Hordern Farm Pottery, Buxton New Road, Macclesfield, Cheshire, SK11 0AN
Tel: 01625 614501 Email:

We are now collecting data for the 2007 Cheshire and Wirral Bird Report. PLEASE send your records in, see for details (click on Records on the left navigation table).

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Hilbre Bird Observatory Report 2006
Out now only £4 incl p&p


  • Introduction
  • Ringing
  • Monthly Notes
  • Species List
  • Breeding Birds
  • Mammals
  • Invertebrates
  • Subalpine Warbler
  • Exceptional Passage of Little Gulls
  • Spiders and Harvestmen of Hilbre
  • Sealife of Hilbre
  • Batting for Hilbre
  • Notes

Subalpine Warbler, Hilbre, April 2006
Pete Williams

Merlin - Hilbre
October 2006

Colour cover with Subalpine Warbler by Ray Scally

Full colour centre with photographs of birds, mammals, insects and more seen on Hilbre throughout 2006

Send a cheque for £4 made out to 'Hilbre Bird Observatory' to:
129 Ennisdale Drive, Newton, West Kirby, Wirral, CH48 9UG.

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Radde's Warbler in Wirral
by Colin Jones

Editor: no doubt many of you will remember what a great month October 2007 was - the star bird being the Radde's Warbler described here. This article was first published in the Birding North West magazine and is reproduced here with kind permission of the editors and author. I can highly recommend Birding North West - it is always full of fascinating articles, informed comment and superb photographs, if you subscribe in January you will get 12 issues through the year costing only £24. See the Birding North West website for further details.

Radde's Warbler by Lingham Lane, Oct 16th, Neil McLaren ©

After being 'on duty' at the Hilbre Bird Observatory most mornings during the previous two weeks, I was grateful for the change to migration unfriendly weather (westerly winds and some rain) to give me a lie in on 16th October, and agreed to give my friend Valerie a lift at 09.30 hrs to Leasowe Lighthouse where she was helping with the archaeological dig that has been taking place during the last few weeks.

I decided that before going to have a late breakfast I would go for a walk along Lingham Lane (see site guide to Lingham Lane, also published in Vol 4: 3 BNW). On reaching the fishing ponds having seen nothing more exciting than a Great Spotted Woodpecker, I thought of turning back and going towards the shore but reminded myself it was the middle of October and a Yellow-browed Warbler was a distinct possibly along the hedges further on. I had just reached the corner of the brick pit thinking that this would be a likely place to examine for the Asian sprite, when magically a warbler hopped on top of the wire fence backing the hedge about twenty yards in front of me.

I raised my binoculars just in time to see it bury itself in the undergrowth on the grass bank behind the hedge, but not before showing me a startlingly long and bright supercillium, emphasised by a dark eye-stripe, which, in combination with its size and shape and the lack of any other obvious features made me consider the possibility of Dusky or Radde's Warbler (species of which I have had no previous experience).

This notion was reinforced when I heard a 'chek' type call which was completely unfamiliar to me coming from the area where the bird had gone to ground. More puzzling to me was that the bird did not appear at all dark brownish as I had imagined these two related species to be, but in fact dark olive-green with some yellow/buff under parts seemed to best describe the overall colour of its plumage. The bird was heard to call again almost immediately from the overgrown grass bank about 10 yards nearer to me (it must have moved rapidly but unseen). A moment of reflection on what I had briefly seen (was it real or wishful thinking?) was followed by a call to a good friend who's voice had a tone of controlled panic (he was in Staffordshire!). We decided not to excite a mass twitch until the bird was seen again for confirmation. I waited alone without sight or sound of the bird for over an hour and was beginning to imagine the worst when to my delight it reappeared and fed actively and called frequently as it moved through the vegetation on the grass bank showing extremely well for a minute or so. This time I was absolutely sure I had a Dusky or Radde's as it matched all the photographs and illustrations I had seen but had especially the look of Radde's.

I made another phonecall and at last a local birder arrived. The bird was again reluctant to show but called once for him to confirm the call. Another couple of local birders arrived and I was beginning to think that maybe I was going to be the only person to see it when within a few minutes it was seen flying across the path to the bushes on private land opposite. To my relief it was located and glimpsed briefly by all present and confirmed to be a Radde's.

Radde's Warbler by Lingham Lane, Oct 16th, Neil McLaren ©

After giving further views the bird eventually returned to its favoured grass bank (where it stayed for the rest of the day) and occasionally climbed through the undergrowth whilst feeding and at times came out and showed well, especially when at one stage it wrestled with a massive caterpillar in the open. Distinguishing features were noted from Dusky Warbler such as a diffuse area in the front part of the supercilium, more rounded head, prominent eye, very pale legs, stouter stubby bill and obvious buff under tail coverts. With hindsight the more olive tone to the wings and mantle rather than any obvious dark brown should have been a good clue to its identity. In the hours that followed better views and many photographs were obtained confirming the identification features, and probably over 100 birders enjoyed good but mainly infrequent sightings up until 18.30 hrs as the light faded. I had experienced the sort of exciting day one dreams of while tramping around a local area, although it never seems to happen. I headed home with a satisfied feeling that others had also had a good day, but I never did get that breakfast! Unfortunately the bird disappeared with the clear overnight sky denying others the chance to see what I am told is the first Cheshire and Wirral record and also the first mainland record for the North West region.

Colin Jones - October 2007

Radde's Warbler, Phylloscopus schwarzi, remains an exceptionally rare bird in our region with only four previous records all on Bardsey (see BNW Vol 3: 12 pp320-322) as follows:

  • 29th October 1987

  • 18th October 1990

  • 29th October 2006 (until 30th)

  • 30th October 2006 (until 31st)

Our comment in BNW Vol 3: 12 was rather prophetic "Surely the North West is long overdue a mainland
record" - little did we realise it would come the following autumn! ... BNW Eds.


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December Bird News

A cold spell in the middle of the month brought in a good number of birds, these included this Red-breasted Merganser (left) on West Kirby Marine Lake on 13th (Richard Steel), these peaked at 17 on the 17th together with 22 Goldeneye and a Shag. Up to 1,011 Black-tailed Godwits were seen feeding very close to the beach at Thurstaston during this period - I counted 12 with colour rings on the 22nd. Thurstaston is a great place to see a good selection of estuary birds feeding and roosting at low tide. Pintail are increasingly spending low tide in the gutter here during the winter and I believe 490 counted on 29th is a record high for the site. When the tide first comes up the gutter and they all start floating on the water it is a beautiful sight. Then there are two to three hundred Teal plus the usual Shelduck, Oystercatchers, Redshank, Knot and Curlew - all these often within just a few feet of people walking on the beach. Despite the cold spell mentioned above most of the winter has been mild which probably explains the presence of over-wintering Greenshank with singles observed at Heswall, Connah's Quay, Point of Ayr and West Kirby, there has also been a Common Sandpiper at Connah's Quay. Another indication of the mild winter was the presence of a very late Swallow at Meols on the 11th, this must surely be the latest ever bird recorded for Wirral although one was seen last year on the 20th in Cheshire.

Hen Harriers have been a bit thin on the ground this winter but there was one ringtail seen regularly this month over Parkgate and Burton marshes, one over Hilbre on 18th was probably an additional one. Marsh Harriers are increasingly spending the winter in this country although mostly in the south, two have taken up residence on the marshes here this winter - the first December birds since one which spent a week here in 2002. The usual Peregrines and Merlins have been around often giving the usual spectacular views as they chase the wader flocks. One of the Rangers was attending a bonfire at Wirral Country Park (Thurstaston) when he heard an Oystercatcher screaming it's head off. Looking up he saw it hanging by one leg in the clutches of a Peregrine. Next minute a Common Buzzard has a go at the Peregrine which dropped the Oystercatcher which then fell down and into a bush. 30 minutes later the Oystercatcher was seen to fly out and arrow back to the estuary as fast as it could fly! A lucky escape.

It has been a better winter than last for Short-eared Owls with two to three observed regularly on Burton Marsh. Two have also been at Inner Marsh Farm with singles over Hilbre and Red Rocks Marsh. The one on the right was photographed by Richard Steel at Burton on 17th. 

A pair of Long-tailed Ducks were off Hilbre on calm seas on 18th and 19th, a male was still present at the end of the month. At least 100 Brent Geese flew on to West Kirby Shore from Hilbre on 29th, but most counts were between 70 and 90. The drake Green-winged Teal at Inner Marsh Farm was seen regularly through the month. 59 Moorhen at or near Gilroy Nature Park, West Kirby, was a good count and must mean they had a good breeding season. A Kingfisher was seen a couple of times along the nearby River Birket. Five Snow buntings were at Point of Ayr on 12th and I only heard recently that three were present on the beach at Thurstaston for a couple of days in November. The horse paddocks just inland of Heswall Shore (next to Target Road) have been full of Blackbirds (at least 30) and Song Thrushes (at least 26). Eight Stonechat next to the path between Denhall Lane and Neston Old Quay was a good total on Christmas Day. A Firecrest was a nice find in West Kirby on the 15th.

Despite the nearby housing estate and busy roads many waders roost in the flooded field in Moreton at the junction of Pasture Road and Leasowe Road, an excellent spot to take photographs.
Left - Black-tailed Godwit on Dec 20th Richard Steel ©, Right , a flock of Lapwings on Dec 27th Tanny Robinson ©.

What to expect in January

Brent Geese numbers usually peak in January and we would expect over 100 again, as in the previous two winters. Some Januarys we can get spectacular movements overhead of Pink-footed Geese as birds move between north Norfolk and Lancashire. Last Jan we had several thousand going through over a period of three days, a spectacular sight for those lucky enough to see it. We have long had a flock of over wintering Bewick's Swans on Burton Marsh and nearby fields, some years over 100, but in the past couple of winters we have also had a growing flock of Whooper Swans with up to 40 usually spending the day on Shotwick Fields. Rarer wildfowl may include a Smew at Inner Marsh Farm or an Eider or two off Hilbre, and hopefully the Long-tailed ducks will stay around.

Knot at Hoylake, Dec 11th 2007, Steve Round ©

A cold spell should bring in large numbers of waders with flocks of Knot in particular making for a spectacular sight at their high tide roosts at Hoylake, West Kirby or Point of Ayr, or feeding at low tide at Leasowe or off Thurstaston on Dawpool Bank. A good spot to see Knots feeding is next to Meols Promenade, just at the end of Roman Road. Large numbers can sometimes be just a few feet away from people standing on the prom, particularly at half tide. Of the less common waders Purple Sandpipers should be easily seen on Hilbre Island with up to 30 or so and a few are often on the rocks below the lifeguard station at Wallasey Shore at high tide. A few Spotted Redshanks should be about with the Connah's Quay Reserve and Inner Marsh Farm the best sites for these, we may also get one or two over wintering Green Sandpipers.

Towards the end of the month (23rd to 25th) there are some 9.6m high tides forecast so I would recommend the Riverbank Road car park at Heswall to see the birds pushed in over the marsh, hopefully including some Short-eared Owls and a Harrier or two.

Of the smaller birds there is usually a sizable flock of 60 or so Twite around Flint Castle with smaller flocks sometimes on the English side. Look out also for Snow Buntings, these usually favour the beach at Point of Ayr or along the North Wirral coast.

Many thanks go to Richard Steel, Steve Oakes, David Thompson, Mark Evans, Neil McLaren, Alan Price, Paul Vautrinot, Barry Cooke, Peter Button, Rob O'Keefe, David Esther, Geoff Harrop, Tanny Robinson, John Kirkland, David Haigh, John Jakeman, Iain Douglas, Graham Thompson, Allan Conlin, Colin Wells, Dave Wild, Graham Jones, Steve Round,  Paul Mason, Steve Williams, Dave Edwards, Chris Butterworth, Jeff Stephens, Jane Turner, Gordon Baker, Charles Farnell, Alan Wraithmell, Paul Shenton, Alan Price, Gilbert Bolton, Dave Kenyon,  Damian Waters, Bob Pilgrem, Mark Gibson, Leon Castell, Colin Schofield, Yvonne Taylor, John Tubb, Paul Roberts, Mark O'Sullivan, Gill Moore, Phil Woollen, Stuart Taylor, Geoff Robinson, Martin Kelly, Jean Morgan, Colin Davies, Bernard Machin, Nigel Young, Steven Edwards, 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 (Liverpool), also see Tides page.
23rd January, 11.45hrs (GMT), 9.6m.
24th January, 12.28hrs (GMT), 9.6m.
25th January, 13.07hrs (GMT), 9.6m.

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. The Wirral Parks and Countryside Newsletter which contains events and activities from October 2007 to March 2008 can now be downloaded - click here (this is a 3mb PDF file).

Sunday 20th January 2.30pm start, Parkgate Raptor Watch RSPB Dee Estuary 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 Dee Estuary RSPB Reserve at Parkgate, close to The Boat House pub. No need to book.

26th & 27th January: RSPB / Ness Gardens Event  - 10am - 4.00pm
Meet the RSPB in the Bulley Tea Room at Ness Gardens and take part in this year's national Big Garden Birdwatch. Fun for all the family, come along and help us to identify and count the birds visiting the feeding station. Subscribe to RSPB membership at the event and obtain free entry to the Gardens (on the day only). Discounted entry to the Gardens for existing RSPB members (discounted to £3.50 all classes, children £1.00). Refreshments available for purchase in the Tea Room.

Sunday 27th January, 10am ­ 12noon, Birds in the Bush.
Discover the birds that can be found in the trees and bushes and on the grasslands at Royden Park. This event
is suitable for all the family to enjoy. Sorry no dogs. No need to book. Meet at the Rangers Office, next to the
Walled Garden, Royden Park (SJ 254857).
For further enquiries ring 0151 677 7594.

Saturday 9th February, 10.30am start, Flint Birdwatch.
High tide at Flint is the best time to discover the hidden treasures of the Dee Estuary RSPB reserve. Join the wardens and watch birds like Black tailed Godwits as they leave the mudflats to roost out the high tide on the nearby marsh. Birds may include Twite, Merlin and Peregrine amongst others.
Meet at Flint Lifeboat Station Car Park at 10.30 am. High tide is at 12.44.
No need to book.

Sunday 10th February - 11:30am start. Meet the Wardens Event at West Kirby Beach.
Join the Rangers and members of the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens for a high tide birdwatch at West Kirby Beach and see at first hand the important work of the DEVW in their role of protecting the bird roosts at high water. Please dress warmly and bring binoculars if you have them. Meet at West Kirby Marine Lake car park.

Thursday 14th February, 10am ­ 12noon, What Birds Fly Where?
Join the Ranger at Royden Park and discover why some birds migrate, why others stay throughout the year and
what birds you can expect to visit a garden nestbox. This event is aimed at children from 7 ­ 11 years old but is
suitable for the whole family to enjoy. All children under 8 years old must be accompanied by an adult. Sorry no
dogs. No need to book. Meet at the Coach House, by the main Car Park at Royden Park (SJ 245857).
For further enquiries ring 0151 677 7594.

NOTE: Many of these forthcoming events are extracted from the 'Birdwatchers Diary 2008', 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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