Site menu:

January 2016 Newsletter

The Moth Snowstorm - Book Review.
December Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
Latest Newsletter.


Book Review:
The Moth Snowstorm - Nature and Joy
by Michael McCarthy.

When Mike McCarthy emailed me in March 2014 I have to confess of not knowing who he was. He said he did a weekly 'Nature Studies' column in The Independent, what I hadn't realised was that he is this country's foremost environmental journalist and has won several awards for his work including one from the RSPB for 'outstanding services to conservation', he is also a keen naturalist/birder in his own right and author of the best selling 'Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo'. Mike came up to see me* as he needed details about the threats to the Dee Estuary in the 1970s which I was able to provide as my father had been a founder member of the Dee Estuary Conservation Group during that period. I was glad to help and meet such a charming and knowledgeable man.

The book has several inter-related threads a major one being the Dee Estuary. Mike was brought up in Bebington and describes the thrill of discovering the estuary and it's birds during a somewhat troubled childhood. I've already mentioned the threats of the 1970s so we are certainly fortunate that the Dee Estuary has remained intact and so lucky that we now have such strong legislation protecting the estuary and it's wildlife. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of estuaries in south-east Asia and Mike compares the Dee with the much larger Saemangeum Estuary in South Korea and describes his depressing visit to what was a glorious wetland full of waders but now completely destroyed. 

Mike, like myself, is old enough to remember when wildlife was far more abundant and the 'Moth Snowstorm' is literally what it was like on summer evenings in our childhood. We have lost so much but he tries not to dwell on that so much but rather to concentrate on what we still have - and that is a major theme of the book, to celebrate the joy of nature and use that to enthuse the general public.

This is a fascinating and thought provoking book with added local interest, it comes highly recommended.

The Moth Snowstorm, Nature and Joy, by Michael McCarthy, published by John Murray, 2015.

*not just me, his most important appointment was with the RSPB Dee estuary manager.

Richard Smith.

Top of Page

December Bird News

There's no doubting the most photographed bird of the month - the juvenile Great Northern Diver which was first spotted on West Kirby Marine Lake on the 10th and remained for the rest of the month. I was inundated with some great photos of this bird and give a selection below, apologies for those I haven't used.

              Great Northern Diver at West Kirby Marine Lake, December 12th Elliot Monteith.

 Great Northern Diver and Red-breasted Merganser at West Kirby Marine Lake, December 12th Jeff Cohen.

              Great Northern Diver at West Kirby Marine Lake, December 12th Matt Thomas.

              Great Northern Diver at West Kirby Marine Lake, December 14th Roy Lowry.

For the first two days after the Great Northern arrived the Red-throated Diver, first seen in November, was still present and it was a thrill to see both species - I don't remember that happening before. We also had the usual Red-breasted Mergansers, I saw nine hunting cooperatively - in a line close together and all diving simultaneously - something I haven't seen since 2010 when we had large numbers on the lake during very cold weather. A Great Skua flew over the lake on the 27th, must be one of the latest ever for Wirral but not that unexpected given the prolonged southerly winds.

            Red-breasted Mergansers flying over West Kirby Marine Lake, December 27th Kevin Lyth

It's good to have both Marsh and Hen Harriers over-wintering with at least two of each, although if there are only two Hen Harriers that's a disappointingly low number. The weather wasn't the best for watching Short-eared Owls but one or two were seen most days over Burton Marsh with max of four recorded from Denhall Quay on the 27th. Singles were also seen at Hilbre, Gilroy and Leasowe Lighthouse, with two or more off Parkgate and Heswall. A Long-eared Owl roosted for most of the month at Burton Mere Wetlands. Great White Egrets were reported on almost a daily basis, mostly from Burton Marsh, including three records of three birds.

                             Common Snipe at Gilroy, West Kirby, Tanny Robinson.

We did get one or two calm days and on the 27th 378 Great Crested Grebes were off north Wirral and 4,000 Common Scoters seen from Hilbre.  The highest count of Pink-footed Geese was 3,000 although the total was probably well over that. Twite numbers reached at least 100 at Connah's Quay.

Rarities included a well seen Lapland Bunting on Little Eye and a Green-winged Teal at Burton Mere Wetlands right at the end of the month.

Richard Smith.

Many thanks go to Mal Sergeant, Mark Gibson, Tim Vaughan, Austin Morley, Paul Mason,Peter Ham,  Richard Beckett, Roy Wilson, Colin Schofield, Jeff Cohen, Colin Davies, Steve Hinde, Richard Steel, Matt Thomas, Steve Seal, Chris Butterworth, Kevin Lyth, Allan Conlin, Jeremy Bradshaw, Paul Ralston, Alan Hitchmough, Steve Williams, Charles Farnell, Elliot Montieth, Dan Trotman, Ray Eades, Carole Killilikelly, Alan Irving, Frank Burns, Tanny Robinson, Brian Lingard, Steven Edwards, David Leeming, Bruce Atherton, Hugh Stewart, Bernard Machin, Peter Forshaw, Keith Duckers, Clare Shaughnessy, Elizabeth Maddock, David Roe, Colin Jones, Henry Cook, Paul Vautrinot, Tim Kinch, Gail Gannon, Sheila Ryde, Bryan Joy, John Dawson, Manu Santa-Cruz, Stephen Burke, Jannine Johnson, Bill Keig, Mal Smerdon, Bill Siviter, Ian Cotterell, Peter Inward, Rob Masey, the Lighthouse and Wirral Birding Blog, the Dee Estuary Wardens and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during December. All sightings are gratefully received. 

 Top of Page 

What to expect in January

We must be due a change in the weather and if it goes cold it will be interesting to see what effect that has on bird numbers. Last January we had record numbers of Pink-footed Geese, Cormorants and Twite, and we can expect to see large flocks of Common Scoters and Great Crested Grebes off-shore. January is often a peak month for Dunlin and Knot and we would hope for a few spectacular high tide roosts at Hoylake during the mid-month high tides.
There's usually a few Snow Buntings about and we will continue to see Short-eared Owls, Marsh Harriers, Hen Harriers and Great White Egrets on the marshes.

                          Marsh Harrier over Burton Marsh, December 29th Roy Lowry.
Top of Page

Forthcoming Events

January Highest Spring Tides (Liverpool)

Also see Tides page.

12th January, 12.30hrs (GMT), 9.6m. 
13th January, 13.13hrs (GMT), 9.6m. 

Forthcoming Events

Organised by the Wirral Ranger Service , Flintshire Countryside Service and the RSPB (Dee Estuary):
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.
Also see 2015 Events Diary.

Sunday 10th January and Sunday 7th February, Skydancers on the Dee at the Donkey Stand at Parkgate (opposite Nicholl's Ice Cream Shop).
1 pm - dusk
Price: Free
Most people have never seen a hen harrier, but once seen it is rarely forgotten. In support of the RSPB's Skydancer project, we are pleased to bring you a series of events to showcase these enigmatic birds of prey which use the marshes of the Dee Estuary as their home for the winter months.
The name "Skydancer" comes from the aerobatic displays that the male birds perform in their courtship ritual on the moors in the spring. Sadly, this has become an increasingly rare sight and they are close to becoming extinct as a breeding bird in England.
This could be the last chance to see Skydancers on the Dee, so come along to Parkgate to find out more about the hen harrier story and what you can do to help save them before it's too late. Look for the RSPB marquee along the main promenade at Parkgate, where friendly staff and volunteers will be on hand with telescopes and binoculars to show you these beautiful, agile birds hunting over the marsh, and coming in to roost there at dusk. Plenty of family activities and other RSPB information will be available.
Car parking is limited on Parkgate promenade, but there is free public parking at the Old Baths car park (CH64 6RN) at the north end of The Parade, and the Wirral Country Park car park on Station Road (CH64 6QJ). There are public toilets at Mostyn Square in the middle of The Parade, and a number of pubs and cafes for refreshments. Wrap up warm, and prepare to be patient as the harriers have a large area of marsh to roam!

For more information on the RSPB's Skydancer project, visit

Wedenesday 10th February and Thursday 11th February - Parkgate RSPB High Tide Birdwatch.
Start 1045hrs on 10th and 1130hrs on 11th - It is recommended to arrive at least an hour before high tide which is: 1215hrs on Feb 10th, 10.0m; 1257hrs on Feb 11th, 10.0m.

The marsh at Parkgate is one of the best wetland habitats in the northwest, and when it is flooded by an incoming Spring high tide, the wildlife which lives here is pushed closer, potentially delivering an awe-inspiring spectacle. Join us at Parkgate's Old Baths car park and the Donkey Stand near Nicholl's ice cream shop, where we'll be set up with marquees and telescopes hoping for the right weather conditions to really push the tide in.

You can expect great views of the large numbers of wintering wildfowl and wading birds shifting around to avoid the rising water, whilst the small mammals living on the marsh are flushed from cover, offering a feeding frenzy for the resident kestrels and hopefully harriers and short-eared owls returning for the winter.

Car parking is limited on Parkgate promenade, but there is free public parking at the Old Baths car park (CH64 6RN) at the north end of The Parade, and the Wirral Country Park car park on Station Road (CH64 6QJ). There are public toilets at Mostyn Square in the middle of The Parade, and a number of pubs and cafes for refreshments.

Additional parking has also kindly been offered at Marsh Nurseries, Boathouse Lane (postcode CH64 6RD).

Please note: the height of the tide can be hugely affected by the weather conditions on the day. In the event of high pressure and calm conditions, the tide will cover much less of the marsh and not reach the sea wall, whilst low pressure and strong Westerly winds will help push the tide in and offer the greatest spectacle. We recommend you check the weather forecast on the day to know exactly what to expect.