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January 2022 Newsletter


Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens

The Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens protect and monitor the Birds of West Kirby Shore between the Marine Lake and Red Rocks and out towards the Hilbre islands. Their main job is to stop disturbance of the high tide wader roost and this is done by politely asking people walking their dogs out on the sandbank if they could possible go in another direction. There are two other important roles the wardens undertake, firstly that is to chat to passers by and show them the birds most of who are totally unaware of the hundreds, often thousands, of waders out on the sand; in other words the all important job of educating the general public. Secondly it is to monitor the birds, in particular numbers of waders in the roost and a wealth of data has been gathered over many years.

The wardening scheme was set up in 1986 so they have been going strong for a remarkable 36 years - we think it was the first such scheme in the country, which, by definition, means it is also the longest running. I've mentioned one source of disturbance, walkers and dogs, but we have encountered many others over the years including race horses, paddle boarders, anglers, para motors, cyclists, kite surfers, wind surfers, kayakers and photographers. Some disturbances are easier to stop than others and the easiest to persuade are those people on the beach we can chat to with the vast majority responding very positively - in fact some people we have chatted to subsequently became wardens themselves!

Some disturbances have been more difficult to stop and one of these is Kite Surfing. When Kite Surfing first came popular here, around 2002, West Kirby Shore, being shallow, was regarded as being an ideal practice ground for beginners and we often saw dozens of them when the wind was right. As soon as the kites went up the waders would disappear. But with the help of the Wirral Rangers we talked to the kite surfers and pointed out the problems they were causing in an area of international importance for wetland birds. Today, we still see Kite Surfers both at West Kirby and Hoylake and they are still a problem, but numbers are much reduced so that was at least a partial success.

In the 1980s race horses were regularly exercised on the shore and they created havoc. I remember being told of one incident when one of the wardens went out on to the shore determined to stop them - with two horses galloping towards him and the wader roost behind he put out his hand to stop them. The jockeys ignored him with the horses going either side of  the warden who was subsequently covered from the mud thrown up by the hooves. Thankfully, Wirral Borough Council who own the shore, managed to get the activity stopped - I assume on public safety grounds!

I hope the above examples will persuade you about the effectiveness of the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens, and I'm certainly convinced that without them that this internationally important wader roost at West Kirby would no longer exist. The wardens are on duty when the tides are high enough for a roost to form, which is around two weeks every month and between mid-September to mid March. Normally there will be three wardens on duty and the usual stint is typically one and a half to two hours - depending on tide height. There is a rota drawn up and you can choose how often you want to warden, some are out two or three times a week, others just once a month. If you would like to help, or just have a trial run, send an email to wcp@wirral.gov.uk.

This sign was designed by the wardens and is one of several installed at Hoylake Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens

Knot numbers can sometimes be enormous at West Kirby, this was December 2020 when 30,000 were counted Richard Smith

The Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens often organise events such as high tide birdwatches and Wirral Wader Festivals

The view from West Kirby beach across to Little Eye, Oystercatchers in the fore-ground Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens

A big high tide at West Kirby with loads of waders on the edge of the marsh Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens

Richard Smith

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Colour Ring Report


Knots overhead at Thurstaston, December 2021 Richard Smith

As usual during the winter months our focus is on colour-ringed Knots. There were plenty of knots around with around 25,000 counted off Thurstaston in December. Since they returned in October we have logged 399 records of colour ringed/flagged Knot, although the majority were ringed locally along the Sefton coast we've also seen birds from various other locations as follows:

Ringing Locations - Number of
Dee Estuary Records Oct to Dec 2021

Sefton Coast

Bangor (North Wales)

Ynyslas (Cardigan Bay)

The Wash

Humber Estuary

The Netherlands





Flagged Knots - Left: L7YGLL (ringed in the Netherlands) and Right: W1_WBY (ringed in Canada) Richard Smith

The ringing records tell us that the two oldest Knots we've seen so far this winter are as follows:

L7YGLL - Ringed on the island of Simonszand on the Dutch Waddensea on 24/08/2009.
This is a rarely seen bird. It was recorded in north-east Iceland on northward migration in May 2011 then it was seen moulting on the Waddensea (Griend) in July 2014.
We spotted it in the roost at Thurstaston in December 2017 and again in November 2021 and we were pleased to be able to get a photo.

W1_WBY - Ringed at Alert, Ellesmere Island, Canada, either in July 2007 or June 2008.
This bird has a ring missing so we can't pin it down to an individual bird - but it has to be one of five birds ringed on the dates shown.
Alert is just 500 miles from the North Pole!
Since being ringed this bird has only ever been recorded on the Dee Estuary - in Dec 2012, November 2019, Feb, Nov and Dec 2020 and November 2021.

(For an explanation of the Knot colour ring codes Click Here - PDF file).

Almost daily monitoring of these ringed Knot means we are learning a lot about their local movements and over the past few years we have noticed that the Knots are increasingly using Seaforth Nature Reseve as a high tide roost site during spring tides. Of twenty six Orange flagged knots recorded at Seaforth in November 2021 eighteen were also spotted at Thurstaston over the same time period. Dee Estuary knots have long been known to fly across to the Sefton coast on the highest tides to roost but it's fascinating to be able to pin it down to individual birds. It's also good news they are using Seaforth as this is totally undisturbed and I understand they intend to improve the habitat there to create a larger roosting space.

Knot with Orange Flag (AEP) over green, at Thurstaston on 2/12/21 and was at Seaforth NR on 21/11/21 Richard Smith

Colour Rings were recorded by Richard Smith, Steve Hinde, Derek Bates, Allan Hitchmough (Merseyside Ringing Group), Les Hall, Tim Kinch and Steve Williams.

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December Bird News

Goosander on West Kirby Marine Lake, December 15th Steve Round

The month started with another record number of Goosanders (20) at West Kirby Marine Lake and the Long-tailed Duck on Shotwick Lake stayed all month. But for me the most pleasing aspect of December were the presence of at least six Short-eared Owls on Burton and Neston marshes after being largely absent last winter. 17 Ravens were also on the marshes and nearby fields, whilst there were at least two adult 'grey' males and two ringtail Hen Harriers along with Marsh Harriers in double figures.

Short-eared Owls seen off Denhall Quay, December 9th Mark Woodhead

It was good to see Snow Buntings along north Wirral and Little Eye, by the end of the month five had taken up residence near Derby Pool, Wallasey Shore.

On a rare flat calm day mid-month 256 Great Crested Grebes were off Meols shore and a day later 10 Red-throated Divers were counted from Hoylake. There is a large Cormorant roost on the edge of Parkgate Marsh and these were recorded leaving the estuary at first light every morning with max count of 1,651 on the 13th, on the same day 592 Brent Geese were counted around Hilbre and Little Eye.

An Avocet was an unseasonable visitor at Burton Mere Wetlands on the 5th as was a Common Sandpiper at Flint a couple of days earlier, both species have been known to turn up in the winter on the Dee but only very rarely.

Snow Bunting at Red rocks, December 9th David Bradshaw

Many thanks go to Matt Thomas, Eddie Williams, Steve Williams, Steve Hinde, Alan Hitchmough, Derek Bates, Allan Conlin, Richard Whitby, David Thompson, Peter Morris, David Small, Bruce Atherton, Mark Woodhead, Linda Platt, David Leeming, Paul Vautrinot, Les Hall, Dave Edwards, Paul Mason, Frank Burns, David Bradshaw, Sheila Ryde, Graham Parry, Steve Round, Nigel Baratt, Gail Wilson, Carole Killikelly, Jeff Cohen, Richard Smyth, Mark Gibson, Benjamin Lane, Sue Marsh, Steve Morris, Danny Carmichael, Bill Wonderley, Norma Wong, Lorna Thompson, Kevin Gallagher, Ken Mullins, Ross Boardman, Alan Irving, Tony Rigby, Sarah roberts, Rob McDonald, John Wright, Stephen Wende, Bryan Joy, Richard Taylor, Eric Higgins, Keith Ackerley, Andy Bailey, Rob O'Keefe, the Dee Estuary Wardens and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during December. All sightings are gratefully received.

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What to expect in January

A prolonged period of cold weather would certainly be interesting bringing birds from further east to the estuary. I've often wondered that if we get heavy snow in Lancashire just how many Pink-footed Geese would end up here - could be spectacular! If inland freshwater sites are frozen we can also expect good numbers of ducks - Teal, Wigeon and Pintail on the mud and marshes as well as Goosanders on West Kirby Marine Lake.
Water Pipits have been very thin on the ground so far this winter which is surprising as recent winters have revealed that a lot more are present here than previiously realised. Both Burton Mere Wetlands and the area around Neston sewage works and Neston Old Quay are the best spots to find them.
High tides early in the month should result in large wader roosts at the usual sites of Hoylake and Point of Ayr with Knots, Dunlins, Sanderlings and Grey Plovers putting on spectacular flying displays.
At least one Bittern turned up at Neston Reedbed last month so that should stick around - they bred nearby in the summer so maybe more are out there. It's been a reasonably good winter for Short-eared Owls so far but I wish rogue photographers would stop going onto the marsh off Neston, all they are doing is pushing the birds further away and spoiling it for everyone else.

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Forthcoming Events

January Highest Spring Tides (Liverpool)

Also see Tides page

3rd January, 11.12hrs (GMT), 9.6m.
4th January, 12.02hrs (GMT), 9.7m.
5th January, 12.51hrs (GMT), 9.7m.

Forthcoming Events

No Events planned this month