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1st February 2003
Month by Month Guide.
WeBS 2001/2002.
Cheshire Bird Report.
Hilbre Bird Report.
Latest Bird Counts.
January Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
Latest Newsletter.

Newsletter Index.

The Dee Estuary - Month by Month.


The second half of the guide is published this month. Most of us know how good the winter months are but I'm always surprised how little people realise that July and August are two of the best months in the year. I was talking to two birders on Hilbre last September, it was a quiet day and they were amazed when I told them just how good July and August had been - 'thought there was nothing here' was their comment!

January to March.
April to June.
July to September.
October to December.
January to June originally published in the January 2003 newsletter.


Wetland Bird Survey Report 2001/2002


The Dee Estuary Wetland Bird Survey Annual Report 2001/2002 has been published. This covers the period effected by foot and mouth restrictions so the amount of data is limited relative to other years, but luckily the important autumn and winter periods are fully covered. The report concentrates on the 'core counts' which are the counts which take place at high tide, but this winter also included low tide counts for the whole of the estuary which have produced some fascinating data. In addition figures from other surveys carried out by the RSPB are included.

The report was very ably compiled by Neil Friswell, and the acknowledgements in the front of the report have been written by the Dee Estuary WeBS coordinator, Colin Wells, which I reproduce here:

This report would not have been possible without the large team of dedicated WeBS counters who have given up their spare time to contribute to this important national survey, in particular the area coordinators Carl Clee, Brian Grey and Gareth Stamp. This means that counters commit one day a month to WeBS - whatever the weather! Such dedication deserves the odd bonus and in April 2002 Geoff Robinson found a splendid Great Grey Shrike during his White Sands count. On a sad note we must note the unfortunate death of John Gittins. John was a founder member of the Hilbre Bird Observatory and carried out WeBS counts there for more years than people can remember: he will be sadly missed" - Colin Wells.

I have taken the opportunity to update my bird counts page with the latest WeBS data.

Apologies for the late publication of this article but I have been waiting for the publication of the national WeBS report, which I now hear will not be published for another month or two.

The Dee Estuary WeBS report is available from Colin Wells, Burton Point Farm, Station Road, Burton, Cheshire for 4.50 including P&P, or 4.00 from the reception at Inner Marsh Farm


Cheshire and Wirral Bird Report 2001


I was pleasantly surprised on opening the package to see that the front cover was a full page glossy photograph of a Wheatear. This immediately gives the report a more professional look and brings it in line with other leading bird reports. But that is not to say I miss Tony Broome's wonderful sketches which have adorned the front covers of many a report in the past.
As usual the report itself is full of interest with articles including the history of the Black-necked Grebe at Woolston Eyes, now the most important site in Britain, and an account of the remarkable increase of the Little Egret which in 2001 bred for the first time in northern Brtitain.
It was in 2001 that CAWOS (Cheshire and Wirral Ornithological Society) chose to computerise all their records - and what a mammoth task it turned out to be. Altogether 47,762 records were received from 795 locations. The total number of species was 272 plus 23 escapes. All this was received in an amazing range of formats and subsequently put into a database specially written for the job by the Chairman's husband. All concerned must be congratulated, both on the completion of the 2001 database and the publication of another splendid report.
The report can be obtained by post for 6.80 (includes UK postage) from David Cogger, 113 Nantwich Road, Middlewich, Cheshire, CW10 9HD, make cheques out to 'CAWOS'. Copies are also available at Focalpoint and Thurstaston Visitor Centre.

Hilbre Bird Report 2001


The Hilbre Bird Observatory Report for 2001 is now available, see the HBO website for details.
Hilbre Island was completely unaffected by the foot and mouth restrictions which so hampered birdwatching in other parts of the country, so a complete year's observation was carried out as detailed in the systematic list. As usual Steve Williams has peppered the list with numerous bar and pie charts, adding an extra dimension and interest to just plain text.
There are plenty of good photographs including one of a Leach's Petrel rescued from Leasowe by the HBO Chairman, Peter Williams, and released from Hilbre. I'm sure most of you will remember 2001 as being a good 'Leach's year' and the report includes an excellent article on that very subject by Ted Abraham.

Leach's Petrel, Peter Williams 

 2001 will also be remembered with sadness as it was the year of John Gittin's death. Bob Anderson has written a moving piece in tribute to John, who was a founder member of the Hilbre Bird Observatory. 


Bird Counts


Wetland Bird Survey Count for Connah's Quay and Flint - (Kindly provided by Deeside Naturalists' Society), 5th January.
5 Little Grebe, 2 Great Crested Grebe, 97 Cormorant, 4 Grey Heron, 8 Mute Swan, 2 Shelduck, 1 Wigeon, 18 Gadwall, 1,200 Teal, 108 Mallard, 1 Pintail, 6 Moorhen, 21 Coot, 92 Oystercatcher, 660 Lapwing, 2,000 Dunlin, 1 Snipe, 785 Black-tailed Godwit, 20 Bar-tailed Godwit, 16 Curlew, 6 Spotted Redshank, 210 Redshank, 2 Greenshank.

Wetland Bird Survey Count for Heswall Shore - (Kindly provided by the Wirral Ranger Service), 5th January.
38 Great Crested Grebe, 1 Little Egret, 6 Grey Heron, 15 Brent Goose (pale-bellied), 1,400 Shelduck, 200 Wigeon, 2,000 Teal, 101 Mallard, 100 Pintail, 8 Red-breasted Merganser, 5,680 Oystercatcher, 270 Lapwing, 280 Knot, 850 Dunlin, 2 Snipe, 1,780 Black-tailed Godwit, 1,140 Curlew, 1,550 Redshank, 951black-headed Gull, 41 Common Gull, 22 Lesser Black-backed Gull, 51 Herring Gull and 6 Great Black-backed Gull . 2 Merlin, 1 Hen Harrier (ring-tail), 1 Short-eared Owl and 2 Peregrine also present. 

Inner Marsh Farm  Count for 21st January.
5 Black-tailed Godwit, 2 Curlew, 25 Redshank, 1 Spotted Redshank, 2 Ruff, 1 Little Grebe, 1 Long-tailed Duck, 1 Smew (drake), 7 Goldeneye, 10 Pochard, 1 Green-winged Teal (drake), 50 Pintail, 500 Wigeon, 700 Teal, 3 Shelduck, 30+ Shoveler, 22 Tufted Duck, 85 Coot, lots of Lapwings, 1 Common Buzzard. 
Please note that the count from Inner Marsh Farm is an informal estimate of species and numbers present, either carried out by myself or other birdwatchers visiting the hide. It is not meant to be a complete count and is not in anyway part of the Wetland Bird Survey or other count which might be carried out by the RSPB.


January Bird News


Although we escaped the snow in this part of the country we still had some very cold spells. The windless period after New Year  produced some glorious frosty days ideal for a walk and a bit of bird watching. 
Surprisingly the cold weather didn't have any effect on Little Egret numbers. Up to 25 were reported, mainly at Burton, the gutters deep in the marsh remaining ice free throughout the month. There were some significant movements of Pink-footed Geese with one flock two-thousand strong making a wonderful sight over Heswall.

These 'pinkfeet' flocks were all heading north and may well have been part of a movement away from Norfolk to escape the harsh weather there. We also had 16 White-fronted Geese (European race) at Inner Marsh Farm for several days, a good number for this part of the world. Brent Geese on the estuary increased steadily over the month reaching 33, 32 pale-bellied and just 1 dark-bellied. Best place to see them was Hilbre at low tide, on most high tides they made their way to Heswall on the far side of the marsh. The single dark-bellied Brent often spent high tide by itself, and was seen happily feeding on the marsh at West Kirby a few feet away from the dog walkers on several occasions.

It was a good month for ducks, especially at Inner Marsh Farm. The Green-winged Teal and Smew, both drakes, stayed all month. The American Wigeon which had appeared at the end of December stayed until the 3rd, disappeared, then re-appeared on the 17th. Then a Long-tailed duck, initially on Shotwick Boating Lake, joined them. On days when all four were in view a total of 14 duck species were recorded. And just to add the icing to the cake we had a Long-billed Dowitcher for a few days at the end of the month.

The regular Twite flock was seen at Flint Castle, with 44 recorded. The 3 Snow Buntings still remained loyal to one patch of sand at Wallasey, although they weren't seen every day - usually when I went to look for them! The number of Water Pipits at Neston Old Quay was open to debate. The local expert reckons that the Scandinavian race of Rock Pipits are routinely misidentified as Water Pipits, and I'm sure he is right. So may be only 2 Water Pipits rather than the 6 reported one day. Off Neston Old Quay, and the rest of the marsh, Hen Harriers were seen most days patrolling up and down. The ringtail was joined by a male for a few days giving great views at Parkgate when they came in to roost. These are the first Hen Harriers to overwinter on the Dee since the winter of 98/99. But far more unusually a Marsh Harrier was seen at Parkgate. This may well be the first ever January sighting in Cheshire/ Wirral, although there was a probable sighting reported to Eric Hardy in 1966.

Nine Little Gulls off Hilbre were unusual for January. In the late 1970's and early 1980's they were often seen over winter but since then very rarely. 45 Great Crested Grebes, 26 Red-throated Divers and 31 Purple Sandpipers were other good records from Hilbre  - all seen on the same day as the Little Gulls.

What to expect in February.
On mild days in February birds will be singing, nest boxes will be inspected, frogs will be laying spawn and the first spring bulbs will be out - almost like spring!

However, on the estuary there is no doubt it is still winter with all the overwintering species still present in large numbers. But even here there are signs of movement with a noticeable reduction in Dunlin and Knot by the end of the month, and an increase in Curlew and Redshank - gathering before moving off to their breeding sites. We also often get a build up of Great-crested Grebes and Red-throated Divers at the mouth of the estuary, and may be a few of the more uncommon grebes and divers if we are lucky.

Bewick's Swans, Teal and Wigeon numbers often peak in February, and hopefully we will get over 30 Brent Geese on Hilbre for at least the first half of the month. There is much interchange of Pink-footed Geese between Norfolk and South Lancashire and February sees the start of a general movement northwards. We often see flocks of between 100 and 400 strong passing north through the estuary during February, and these may well be part of this northward movement.

The first high tide birdwatches at Parkgate take place on the 19th and 20th (see below for details). This time last year produced some fabulous birdwatching at Parkgate - 12 Short-eared Owls and 16 Water Rail for starters, it was only a 9.8m tide but with a strong SW wind it almost came over the wall!

Many thanks go to David Wilde, Ian Dyer, Philip Barnett, John Harrison, Duncan Wright, David Hinde, Iain Douglas, Mark Feltham, Brian Joy, John Little, Matt Thomas, Phil Woolen, Robert Pugh, S.J. Bailes, Andy Tranter, Tony Davies, Alan Jupp, Bernard Machin, John Ferguson, John Eliot, Colin Jones,  Dave and Emma Kenyon,  John Kirkland, Stephen Ainsworth,  Alan Patterson,  Jean Morgan,  John Campbell,  Colin Schofield, Nigel Troup,  Brian Grey,  Mike Hart,  Stephen Williams,  Chris Butterworth,  Martyn Jaimeson,  David Esther and the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens for their sightings during February. All sightings are gratefully received.

Forthcoming Events


February Highest Spring Tides, also see Tides page.
19th February, 12:58hrs 9.9m. (all times GMT)
20th February, 13.39hrs 9.8m. 

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 1st  February 9:30am. High Tide at Flint Foreshore
A feast of fantastic coastal birdwatching with large flocks of Black-tailed Godwit and Twite on the menu. Warm, waterproof clothing is recommended and Wellingtons are essential. 
(HW 11:17, 9.3m) No need to book. Meet at Flint Lifeboat Station car park. For further information, contact RSPB on 0151 336 7681. 

Sunday 2nd February 10:30am - 12:00noon. 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. No need to book, meet at King's Gap, Hoylake. For further information phone 0151 678 5488.

Saturday 15th February 9:00am - 2:00pm.
Open Day at Deeside Naturalists Society Reserve, Connah's Quay
This members only reserve will be open to everyone for the day and visitors will be able to make use of the four hides and chat to the members about the reserve. Tea and coffee available (HW 10:17). Other open days are planned throughout the year. For more information contact DNS on 01352 716 273.

Sunday 16th February 10:00am - 12:00noon.
Feed the Birds at Wirral Country Park.
Help our feathered friends survive the winter by making a bird feeder to take home. The feeders only take a couple of minutes to make, but you can stock up on other bird food or buy a bird table or nest box from the Green Shop whilst you are here, or enjoy seeing birds feeding from the Wirral Country Park Bird Hide, Thurstaston. No need to book. For further information, phone 0151 648 4371/3884.

Wednesday 19th February 11:15am. Parkgate High Tide Birdwatch.
The saltmarsh off Parkgate comes alive with birds as massive flocks of waders and waterfowl are pushed in towards us by the incoming tide. If the tide hits the wall, small mammals such as voles and shrews and skulking Water Rails are flushed out. Meet at the Old Baths car park, Parkgate, close to the Boathouse Inn. (HW 12:58, 9.9m) For further details call 0151 336 7681.

Thursday 20th February 12:00am. Parkgate High Tide Birdwatch.
The saltmarsh off Parkgate comes alive with birds as massive flocks of waders and waterfowl are pushed in towards us by the incoming tide. There is a constant stream of Skylarks, Pipits and Snipe overhead and even the chance of seeing the very elusive Jack Snipe as, wet-footed, they are forced out of the marsh to find dry land. Meet at the Old Baths car park, Parkgate, close to the Boathouse Inn. (HW 13:39, 9.8m) For further details call 0151 336 7681.

Sunday 2nd March 08:30am. Banks Road Birdwatch, Heswall.
Witness the fantastic array of waders and wildfowl as they gather along the banks of the Heswall Gutter. Highlights include Black-tailed Godwits and Peregrines. (HW11:03, 9.2m) Meet at Banks Road car park, Lower Heswall, near Sheldrake's Restaurant. For further information tel. 0151 648 4371/3884

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.

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