|This time last year,
on the fifth anniversary of the website, I made a point of saying that I
wasn't a twitcher and wasn't interested in chasing around the country after
rare birds. So it was somewhat ironic that just over two months later I was
host to the biggest twitch of the year in this area when a White-throated
Sparrow turned up in my front garden! But it was certainly an enjoyable
experience, the only regret being that it didn't stay at least one more day.
As well as the White Throated Sparrow, the past 12 months have been very good for rarities around the estuary. The spring saw the return of the over wintering Long-billed Dowitcher to Inner Marsh Farm, this stayed into April when it was seen moulting in to summer plumage. Three Slavonian Grebes which spent three days off Hilbre was an excellent spring record, as was a Montague's Harrier flying over in May.
A White-winged Black Tern passed through in July in hot weather more like it's native east Mediterranean than the Irish Sea. First seen at Gronant, it then over several days made it's way eastward past Hilbre and along the north Wirral shore - last seen at Seaforth. The autumn was exceptional for American waders across the country, and we had our fair share. These included Wirral's first American Golden Plover, seen running around on the sea defence at Meols. Pectoral Sandpipers were at Point of Ayr, Hoylake and Inner Marsh Farm.
The good summer weather which brought in the White-winged Tern also meant that our local tern colonies did very well. The Little Terns at Gronant smashed the record both for numbers of pairs (110) and number of fledged young (190). The numbers of Common Terns at Shotton continue to increase with a total of 622 pairs this summer. This colony is now not only the largest Common Tern colony in Wales but the second largest in the whole of the UK1.
Wader numbers were good through
the winter, with the largest counts being in November and December.
Unusually the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) counts in these two months were
undertaken on neap tides, instead of the usual spring tides. When all the
data is gathered together it will be very interesting to see what effect
this has had on numbers. In theory many more birds, especially on the North
Wirral coast, should have stayed in our area during high tide instead of
flying over to the River Alt where many tend to go on spring tides. There
was certainly a very high count at
Brent Geese reached their highest ever numbers on the estuary, at least in modern times. The highest count at Hilbre was 54 in February. Shelduck were at high levels in the autumn, with over 10,000. But apart from Brent Geese and Shelduck I've received very few wildfowl counts on the estuary so I assume that numbers have been unremarkable. However, on January 26th over 2,000 Pink-footed Geese flew through the estuary on their way to South Lancashire. They flew by in many small skeins over a period of two hours, a lovely sight on a glorious sunny day. 880 Common Scoter in September was a good count for the Point of Ayr.
It was an excellent 12 months for
raptors. At least five Hen Harriers spent the winter on the marsh between
September was disappointingly windless, but a gale in October resulted in 27 Leach's Petrel off Hilbre. Also seen in the same gale were 2 Pomarine Skuas, 4 Great Skua, 1 Balearic Shearwater, 2 Sooty Shearwater and 2 Sabine's Gull. Of course the same gale in mid-September might well have blown in ten times this number!
Birding North West
|A new venture by local birders Allan Conlin and Steve Williams. This monthly magazine is full of the latest bird news, bird photographs and interesting articles covering the north west region. See the Birding North West webpage for more information.
Connah's Quay and
Flint - (Kindly provided by
Heswall Shore - (Kindly provided by the
Wirral Ranger Service), 21st February.
February Bird News
numbers did the opposite of what I predicted in the last newsletter,
increased during the month instead of decreasing. As so often happens when
the temperature drops the birds come in their thousands, and that has
certainly been the case this month.
I couldn't believe we were so unlucky with the weather at Parkgate again for the high tide birdwatch, exactly the opposite of what was required to bring the tide over the marsh. But at least the week before at the raptor watch an excellent selection of birds were seen. With Iolo Williams putting in a guest appearance several hundred people turned up to see Hen Harriers, Short-eared Owls, Peregrines and Merlins. However they didn't see the Rough-legged Buzzard which was over the marsh two days later. Unfortunately it was only observed by one birdwatcher, but a good sighting of what was presumably the same bird was had at Risley Moss a couple of days later. Nine Short-eared Owls at Burton on the 9th was the highest count this month.
Brent Geese numbers at Hilbre increased yet again with 54 on the 14th, another record high. Two of these were dark-bellied. Interestingly some people seem to be having difficulty in identifying this race at Hilbre. This seems to be because many are intermediate in plumage - pale grey underneath instead of dark grey. Possibly these are hybrids, certainly the normal dark-bellied birds seen on the east coast, and occasionally on the Dee, are noticeably darker. Other wildfowl of note have been the over-wintering Smew and Green-winged Teal at Inner Marsh Farm, both drakes, and 2 Velvet Scoter off the Point of Ayr.
A Little Auk spent a couple of hours on West Kirby Marine Lake after being blown in by strong westerly gales. West Kirby also had a Black Redstart, and the Snow bunting was last seen on the shore on the 8th.
What to expect in March.
Redshank numbers will increase during March, gathering before their flight to Iceland to breed. Spotted Redshank prefer a more fresh water habitat and a few should be seen at Inner Marsh Farm. Rare migrant waders are much more frequent in autumn than spring but one or two Little Stints may well turn up - and last year we even had a Long-billed Dowitcher.
Although there are no very high tides predicted for this month keep an eye on the forecast for the weekend of 20th/22nd March. A strong west wind may well push the tide over the marsh, and this month has often brought some really spectacular birdwatching at Parkgate and Heswall in previous years. One high tide in March 2001 produced over 17 Water Rail, 5 Short-eared Owls and 8 Jack Snipe.
Many thanks go to Colin Jones, D.T. Davies, Clive Penson, Jeff Stephens, Nick Moss, Keith Lester, Colin Davies, T. Morton, Bryan Joy, Steve Ainsworth, Ian Dyer, Dave Haigh, Carl Traill, Margaret Twenlow, John Campbell, Andrew Brewster, Ken Peacock, Cathy McGrath, Dave and Emma Kenyon, Matt Thomas, Mark Smith, Bernard Machin, Alan Jupp, Clive Ashton, Alan Patterson, John Eliot, Steve Round, Tanny Robinson, Dave Wilde, David Esther, John Campbell, Brian Grey, John Harrison, Allan Conlin, Mike Hart, David Harrington, Colin Wells, Phil Woollen, Stephen Williams, Chris Butterworth, Martyn Jaimeson, Jean Morgan, the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during February. All sightings are gratefully received.
Highest Spring Tides,
20th March, 11:02hrs 9.6m. (all times GMT)
21st March, 11:40hrs 9.7m.
22nd March, 12:15hrs 9.7m.
Forthcoming Events (organised by the
Wirral Ranger Service,
Flintshire Countryside Service and/or the RSPB):
Saturday 6th March, 8:30am, Banks Road Birdwatch at
Saturday 20th March, 9:30am, Rails of the River Bank,
Wednesday 7th April, 12:00noon,
Parkgate High Tide Birdwatch.
Note: Many of these forthcoming events are extracted from the 'Birdwatchers Diary 2004', 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.