1st February 2006

WeBS 2001 to 2004.
Cheshire and Wirral Bird Report.
Clwyd and Hilbre Bird Reports.

January Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
Latest Newsletter.



Wetland Bird Surveys 2001 to 2004

You wait years for one then three turn up at once! Yes, the BTO (with WeBS partners) have at last got to grips with the backlog of WeBS reports and in fact have produced two, one covering the years 2001/02 and 2002/03, and another one covering 2003/04 (the WeBS year is April to March). I should add that it wasn't the BTO's fault that things had got so far behind schedule, and they've produced two great reports.

I have to admit I find bird movements, migration patterns and population changes in wildfowl and waders fascinating, far more so than driving several hundred miles after some poor lost vagrant just to tick it off a list. But maybe I'm a bit peculiar in that respect! Anyway, the WeBS reports give us a chance to see how the different species are doing nationally, and how the Dee Estuary fits in to this national picture.

Over the past ten years the Dee Estuary has been, on average, the seventh most important wetland site in the country with a typical total of peak counts of around 130,000 birds. In the period covered by the reports we had what must be one of the highest ever total counts with 195,671 birds in 2001/02. Yet two years earlier the total had been only 92,234. In comparison with other major sites the Dee Estuary numbers do seem to fluctuate more than others. 99/00 was a bad year with many species lower than normal, but the biggest factor was that the peak count for Knot in 01/02 was a massive 52,792 whereas in 99/00 the count was only 8,683 (see Dec 2004 Newsletter for effect of tide height on wader numbers). Among the sites that have more birds are The Wash and Morecambe Bay, no surprise as these sites are far larger than the Dee Estuary. But why, for example, do the Ribble and Humber estuaries get more birds? One big difference is that counts from these estuaries are dominated by a single species. On the Ribble it is Wigeon where there was 82,627 in 03/04 compared to the Dee's 5,658, and on the Humber it is Golden Plover with 50,662 in 03/04 compared with just 305 here.

Just why these estuaries attract such large numbers of these particular species I don't know, but one species the Dee Estuary does have in relatively large numbers, and that neither the Ribble and Humber do, are Little Egrets. In 03/04 the max count was 32 but since then numbers have reached 112 (C.E. Wells RSPB pers com). A remarkable number considering 10 years ago we thought we were doing well just to have two birds present. Just as remarkable is that having colonised the Dee, and they even bred here last year, they have not attempted to go further north.

For example in 2004 the Ribble Estuary had a max of two. In fact away from the south coast only Aber Ogwen has similar numbers to the Dee, and there is a similar cut off point on the east side of the country at the Wash (A. Musgrove BTO). So instead of an inexorable northwards colonisation they seem to have stopped, at least for now. Perhaps they find the Dee marshes too much to their liking!

The following is a quick summary of some of our most important species:

Canada Geese. The Dee Estuary has the rather dubious distinction of being the most important site in the country for this species with a five year mean of 2,568.

Shelduck. Ever since WeBS started the Dee Estuary has been one of the top three sites in the country. Until a few years ago the Wash has always had the highest numbers, but since 99/00 both the Dee and Mersey have had higher peak numbers. This is due to the build up of the summer moult on the Mersey with 19,810 there in 02/03, from which many go to the Dee with a resulting record number of 12,630 in Oct 03/04.

Pintail. Although well below the high numbers of 14 years ago when we had 10,000, the Dee Estuary remains the most important site in the country for this species with 6,317 in 03/04. After a slow decline nationally over 20 years it is pleasing to note an upturn since 00/01. 

Oystercatcher. The Dee Estuary remains the third most important site behind Morecambe Bay and the Solway Estuary. In 01/02 31,851 were counted during a low-tide WeBS count, which is interesting because the max high tide count that year was only 12,608. Although the low tide count might be a bit on the high side due to double counting, in my opinion it is much more likely to be nearer the true figure.

Knot. Despite the high count of 52,792 in 01/02 the Dee Estuary is only the seventh most important site for this species. The five year mean is 26,397 compared to the five year mean in Morecambe Bay of 66,607, the country's most important site.

Dunlin. In 03/04 the Dee Estuary was the most important site in the country with 41,679, although the five year mean of 32,135 puts us in fourth place. Our neighbouring estuary, the Mersey, has the highest five year average with 49,358. No doubt there is much interchange between the two sites.

Black-tailed Godwit. The Icelandic race which winter here has shown an impressive increase in numbers both in the country as a whole and on the Dee Estuary. In 03/04 the Dee Estuary was the most important wintering site in the country with 4,493, although the Wash had 7,610 on passage in Oct of that year.

Curlew. The Jan 2004 count of 4,978 was the second highest in the country, although the five year mean of 4,103 puts the Dee as the fourth most important site.

Redshank. In 01/02 the Dee Estuary was the most important wintering site in the country with 8,579 although the five year average of 6,169 puts us behind Morecambe Bay. However the passage in September 2003 was 11,014, easily the highest in the country.

If you are a WeBS counter you should have already received these reports. If your copy has not arrived, or if anyone wishes to purchase a copy, contact the BTO:

Redshank on Oakenholt Marsh RSPB, © Richard Smith.

WeBS Office, BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk IP24 2PU

Tel: 01842 750050


Any data in the reports or this article should not be used in any way without permission of the WeBS Office. To access official WeBS data please contact the WeBS Secretariat - BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk IP 24 2 PU  http://www.bto.org .

See also details of the Dee Estuary WeBS species alerts on the BTO website, these alerts bring to attention species that are declining (long, medium and short term) and the link gives a summary of the possible reasons and how serious the decline is thought to be. The only comment I would make is with the Bar-tailed Godwit where the summary does not make the point that although high tide counts are low, counts at low tide are quite high with many birds roosting on the Alt Estuary at high tide. http://blx1.bto.org/webs/alerts2005/Results/UK9013011/sphtm.htm

Richard Smith

Top of page

Cheshire and Wirral Bird Report 2004
The annual report for 2004 is now available – is it our best ever? There’s an eye-catching colour front cover depicting a stunning portrait of a Kestrel. The 168 pages of text includes 14 distribution maps and four graphs within the systematic list, five b&w photographs and 19 beautiful illustrations from four different artists. An updated colour map of the county forms the centre spread of the report. There are seven pages of colour photographs showing a total of 18 images which best capture some of the highlights of the year (provided by a total of nine photographers!). 2004 will be well remembered for the exceptional seawatching off the Wirral coast, so this report boosts some amazing photographs of Leach’s Petrel, Sabine’s Gull and three species of skua. Other photographs include various rarities found during the year such as the obliging Dotterel at Leasowe and the ‘well-twitched’ White Stork at Barnton. The possible ‘Iberian’ Chiffchaff’ at Dibbinsdale, which generated a lot of debate as to its actual ID, has also been included.

All the ‘regulars’ are there: ‘Weather and Bird Review of the Year’; the full ‘Systematic List of Birds Recorded in Cheshire and Wirral during 2004’, including ‘Category E Species’; ‘Early and Late Dates for Migrants’; ‘BBRC and County Rarities Decisions’; ‘Ringing Report’; ‘Chairman’s Review’; ‘Database Statistics for 2004’ and finally, advice on the ‘Submission of Records’.

Articles cover a diverse range of subjects: ‘BTO Breeding Bird Survey’; ‘The Cheshire and Wirral Barn Owl Report; ‘Spotted Sandpiper: the Second Record for Cheshire and Wirral’; ‘Blue Phase Fulmar, Hilbre’; and two articles recording breeding firsts for Cheshire and Wirral: ‘First Successful Breeding by Cormorants’ at an amazing four different sites within the county, and the news of at least three pairs of ‘Mediterranean Gulls Breeding on Blakemere Lake’. Finally, there is a review of Malcolm Calvert’s new book Reed Warblers at Rostherne Mere representing a culmination of over 30 years of dedicated fieldwork and research.

Last, but not least, we have again included a species index at the back to help you quickly look up your favourite species, instead of having to wade through pages trying to find it.

Cost of the report has been kept at £6.70 + £1.30 p&p and copies are available from:

David Cogger, 113 Nantwich Road, Middlewich, Cheshire, CW10 9HD
Tel: 01606 832517 E-mail: memsec@cawos.org

Sheila Blamire

Top of page

Clwyd and Hilbre Bird Reports 2003
Unfortunately both these reports have been delayed a year but now, thankfully, both have been published. I'm told by the editors that the 2004 reports will soon follow!
Although late they are still a great read, full of interesting articles plus the usual detailed systematic list.

The Clwyd Bird Report 2003 costs £6 + 1£ for p&p. Please make any cheques payable to Clwyd Bird Recording Group and send orders to:

Ian M. Spence,
County Bird Recorder North East Wales,
43 Blackbrook
Sychdyn, Mold
Flintshire, CH7 6LT.

Hilbre Bird Observatory and Ringing Station Report 2003 cost £3.50 incl p&p. Please make cheques payable to  Hilbre Bird Observatory, and send orders to:

Hilbre Bird Observatory,
c/o 129 Ennisdale Drive,
West Kirby,
Wirral, CH48 9UG

Both reports should be available at outlets such as Inner Marsh Farm RSPB, Thurstaston Visitor Centre (for Hilbre report) and Conway RSPB (for Clwyd Report). 

Top of page

January Bird News
The high atmospheric pressure and lack of wind from a westerly direction meant the hoped for 10m tide at the end of the month was actually much lower than predicted. Riverbank Road, Heswall, turned out to be an excellent spot to see the birds as the marsh gets covered here at much lower tides than at Parkgate, also the edge of the marsh is much closer and Heswall Gutter is just below the car park and full of birds. One thousand Pintail, three Short-eared Owls and two Water Rails were the highlights on Jan 31st.

Brent Geese increased slowly during the month with a record number of 109 pale-bellied and 1 dark-bellied reached on Jan 29th. As always the best place to see these was on Hilbre at low tide. 40 Red-throated Diver, 1 Great Northern Diver and 25 Scaup were the seawatching highlights from Hilbre this month.

There have been good numbers of waders around, see right photo of Grey Plover, Knot and Dunlin at West Kirby taken Jan 30th Richard Smith). Max numbers at West Kirby were 17,000 Knot, 13,000 Dunlin, 550 Grey Plover and 340 Bar-tailed Godwit. It has been a good winter for Sanderling and 600 on Bird Rock on Jan 5th was a particularly good count for this time of year. 2,600 Bar-tailed Godwits on Leasowe shore was on the low side compared with the past few years. Heswall Shore and the adjoining mudflats off Thurstaston are an excellent spot to see both waders and duck, but not at high tide! Everything disappears in to the marsh when the tide comes in so from two hours after high tide to two hours before are the best times to visit.

The Richard's Pipit which first arrived in November remained on West Kirby marsh all month. Sometimes it was very elusive and not helped by birders wading through the marsh and flushing it in to the nearby Golf Course. There were some excellent views of it during the last few days of the month when everyone stayed on the path waiting for it to show itself. Also on the marsh was a Jack Snipe and, briefly, five Twite. Over thirty Twite were off Flint Castle on Jan 28th. Two Lapland buntings were a good find on Burton Marsh mid-month but four Common Cranes were the pick of the rarities. They were first seen flying over Runcorn Expressway on Jan 28th and subsequently landed on Shotwick fields late afternoon. Unfortunately they didn't stay long.

What to expect in February

Brent Geese numbers should remain high in the first half of the month, and could even increase in number yet again. February is often good for seawatching with the possibility of both Black-throated and Great Northern Divers. More regular are Red-throated Divers, Great Crested Grebes and Little Gulls.

It is not too late for a Smew to turn up at Inner Marsh Farm and no doubt the Green-winged Teal will still be around. February often sees Pink-footed Geese movements with the geese gradually making their way north.

Wader numbers are difficult to predict this month but if the cold weather persists expect to see large flocks of Knot and Dunlin, together with good numbers of both Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits. Look out for Spotted Redshank at Inner Marsh Farm, we usually get 10 or so passing through.

The past two February's have seen a couple of interesting rarities turn up on West Kirby Marine Lake, last year a Long-tailed Duck and the year before a Little Auk, so you never know what might turn up.

As I write this we are in the middle of some very settled and cold weather, which is unfortunate for those hoping for a nice big high tide at Parkgate early in the month. But there is another four 10m+ tides due at the end of this month and early March, so lets hope for a good strong westerly wind to blow the tide in!

Many thanks go to  Steve Ainsworth, Andrew Wallbank, Paul Vautrinot, Tom Morton, Brian Dyke, Steve Wrigley, Bernard Machin,  David Esther, Colin Schofield, John Campbell, Geoff Robinson, Katie Barrett, Clive Ashton, Colin Jones, Charles Farnell, Steve Williams, Phil Woolen, Chris Butterworth, Sabena Blackbird, Jeff Stevens, Dave and Emma Kenyon, David Haigh, Matt Thomas, Dave Harrington, Pete Rogers, Damian Waters, Frank Huband, Jane Turner, Allan Conlin, Mike Hart, Dave Wild, Allan and Sandra Evans, Iain Douglas, Alan Petheridge, Colin Wells, Margaret Twemlow, Dave Jones, Gilbert Bolton, Vi James, Eric Sherry, Paul Mason, Henerz Cook, Alan Patterson, the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens  and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during January.  All sightings are gratefully received.

Top of page

Forthcoming Events
February Highest Spring Tides, also see Tides page.
1st February, 13:15hrs 10.1m. Times GMT.
2nd February, 13:59hrs 10.0m.
28th February, 11.28hrs 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.

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).

Sunday 12th February, 8:30am - 11am, Winter Bird Walk.
Discover the birds that inhabit Royden Park and Thurstaston Common during the winter months. An excellent event for birdwatching beginners and suitable for all the family to enjoy. Please bring binoculars if you have them. Sorry no dogs. No need to book. Meet at the Ranger's Office, next to Walled Garden (SJ 245857). For further enquiries ring 0151 677 7594.

Sunday 12th February, 9am - 11am, Nestbox Frenzy.
Help the birds of Stapledon Woods by building and then positioning a nestbox and number and map the position for a return walk in May to see if anyone has moved in! Please bring warm waterproof clothing. All children must be accompanied by an adult. Booking essential, ring 0151 648 4371.

Sunday 19th February, 9am - 11am, Springwatch.
Join the Rangers for the first of a series of guided walks to search for signs of spring around Wirral Country Park. On this occasion we will be looking for early wild flowers, spawning toads and nest building birds. Stout footwear and warm waterproof clothing are essential. Please bring binoculars if you have them. Sorry no dogs. Booking essential, ring 0151 648 4371.

Sunday 19th February, 4:00pm,
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.

Tuesday 21st February, 10am - 12:30pm, Learn about Birds.
Come along to Royden Park and discover some interesting facts about our local birds with some bird activities and walks. This event is suitable for all the family to enjoy but is particularly suitable for children aged 6 - 12 years old. All children under 8 must be accompanied. Sorry no dogs. No need to book. Meet at the Ranger's Office, next to Walled Garden (SJ 245857). For further enquiries ring 0151 677 7594.

Tuesday 28th February, 10:00am,
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 reserve at Parkgate, close to The Boathouse pub (HW 11:28, 10.0m).

Wednesday 1st March, 10:30am, Parkgate Birdwatch Dee Estuary RSPB Reserve.
High tide at Parkgate is the best time to discover the hidden treasures of RSPB Dee Estuary 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 12:12, 10.4m).

Thursday 2nd March, 11:00am,
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 12:54, 10.4m).

Friday 3rd March, 11:30am,
Parkgate Birdwatch Dee Estuary RSPB Reserve.
Yet another chance this month!
(HW 13:36, 10.2m). For details contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Saturday 4th March, 11:00am - 4:00pm. Open Day at the Connah's Quay Reserve.
Non-members will be met at the entrance by a member and escorted in to the reserve.
This reserve overlooks both the River Dee channel as it enters the estuary and Oakenholt Marsh RSPB reserve. The 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 14:23hrs, 9.7m.).

Saturday 11th March, A Guided Walk to the Hilbre Islands.
Cross the sands to discover the Islands' wildlife and history. A 4-mile walk of four hours, ideal for first time visitors. Please bring warm, waterproof clothing and a snack. Wellies are recommended. Sorry no dogs. There is a £1 charge for this event. Booking essential, ring 0151 648 4371.

Sunday 12th March, 6am - 9am, Heavyweight Hares.
Look for boxing hares and for other signs of spring on this popular walk along the Wirral Way. Please wear warm waterproof clothing and suitable footwear, and bring binoculars if you have them. Sorry no dogs. Booking essential, ring 0151 648 4371.

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.

Top of page

Birding North West is a monthly magazine for birders in the North West Region. Our aim is to bring you the news of rare and scarce birds in our region while it is still news. We consider that up-to-date news, photographs of regional birds, articles on the occurrence of birds in the North West and other articles relating to our region is what our readership want.

The blank (UK) Birding Webring is a collection of quality birding web sites that are based in the United Kingdom.

Visit the webring homepage for more information, or click here to add your site to the ring.

A complete list of all the sites in the webring is available by clicking here.

previous site in ring : random site in ring : next site in ring