1st March 2005

Highlights - March 2004 to Feb 2005.

Latest Bird Counts.

February Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
Latest Newsletter.

Highlights - March 2004 to February 2005

For those new to the website wondering why my year starts in March - it's because the website was first set up in March way back in 1998.

The year ended like it started, with a big high tide covering the marsh at Parkgate. It was specially pleasing that this last month we had some good high tide birdwatches at Parkgate with the tide over the marsh on each of the three days, this after two poor years.

The actual height of these spring tides is governed very much by the wind direction and strength, something which also has a big impact on sea-watching. Which leads me on to what must be the highlight of the past 12 months - the seabirds seen during the gales of September 2004.  This topic has been admirably covered by Allan Conlin in the Birding North West magazine, so rather than repeat what has already been said I can do no better than point you in the direction of his Sea-watching during September 2004 article. It was certainly a month to remember with good numbers of Leach's Petrel, Sabine's Gulls and four species of Skuas, as well as hundreds of Gannets, Kittiwakes and Manx Shearwaters.

Manx Shearwater - Leasowe, Sept 2004, (
Chris Galvin )

Getting back to March last year, the spring migration got off to a late start compared with recent years due to bad weather. However we did get a nice passage of Little Gulls off Hilbre (max 85), 2,500 Black-tailed Godwit was a good count for March and a pair of Gargeney at Burton were earlier than normal. We also had five Hen Harriers coming to roost at Parkgate, and a Red Kite and Osprey passing through. By April the migration was in full swing with 2,500 Meadow Pipits at Hilbre on the 12th followed by at least 200 White Wagtail on Hoylake beach on the 14th. We had a good sprinkling of rarities with a Hoopoe, White Stork and Osprey all appearing on one day. A full summer plumage adult Bonaparte's Gull turned up in May at Inner Marsh Farm, where they also had a Temminck's Stint and a couple of Pectoral Sandpipers. Migration continued with a good number of Whinchats including 10 at Red Rocks and 15 at Burton over the Spring Bank Holiday.

Despite some appalling weather in June the Little Tern colony at Gronant did very well again in 2004. The figures at the end of the season were that 89 pairs produced 167 fledged young, the second highest ever in both cases. Other summer highlights were three Ruddy Shelduck, one Golden Oriole and three Red Kites. The strong wind at the end of August brought a foretaste of what was to come with 12 Leach's Petrel, 4 Storm Petrel, 3 Great Skua, both a Pomarine and Long-tailed Skua and a Grey Phalarope. 

Dotterel - Leasowe, Sept 2004, (
Chris Galvin )

August was also good for returning waders with 3,380 Black-tailed Godwits and  10,208 Redshank, although in contrast numbers of passage waders were relatively low due to high fresh water levels. Black-tailed Godwits were in even larger numbers in September with over 6,000  - a record high for the estuary. Apart from the great sea-watching to be had in September the other highlight was a very obliging Dotterel on the sea embankment near Leasowe Lighthouse, it must have been the most photographed bird on Wirral in 2004!

October brought another record - 13,334 Shelduck, an amazing sight spread across the mudflats off Thurstaston. Over 1,000 Sanderling was a good number for Hoylake Shore, the highest since 1994.

The winter returned with four, perhaps five, Hen Harriers including a lovely 'grey' male (two adult males in February). Like last year there was also good numbers of Short-eared Owls with 4 to 8 showing most days on Burton Marsh, and we had the usual regular Peregrines, Common Buzzards and Merlins. Remarkably four more records were broken during the winter. There were three counts of 63 Brent Geese, one on Little Eye and two on Hilbre. The first time they were all of the pale-bellied race and the other two times two dark-bellied birds were also present, the previous highest count was 54 last February (2004).

Brent Geese Hilbre Island, December  2004,
Richard Smith.

The second and third records involved Waxwings. They flooded in to the country this winter and we had our fair share. Towards the end of December there were over 100 at Ewloe (near Queensferry), and in January 93 spent a couple of days at Greasby on Wirral. The former was a Flintshire record and the latter a Wirral record. I hope you all got to see some Waxwings as numbers like these normally only come once in a lifetime. Large numbers of Little Egrets had been seen from July onwards, they were up to 65 by October then the record was broken in December with 70, compared with the 2003 high of 34. If they keep on doubling we'll have over 4,000 by 2010!

Other interesting birds not already mentioned included a Nightjar at Hoylake in May, an adult Glaucous Gull which hung around the West Kirby/North Wirral area for a couple of weeks over the winter, Slavonian Grebes at Leasowe in October, and at Hoylake and Inner Marsh Farm in February, 2 Cetti's Warblers at Neston and a drake Long-tailed Duck at West Kirby, also in February.  

Richard Smith.

Top of page

Bird Counts
Count from Heswall Shore - (Kindly provided by the Wirral Ranger Service), 13th February.
11 Cormorant, 1 Grey Heron, 24 Brent Goose, 198 Shelduck, 389 Teal, 26 Mallard, 6 Red-breasted Merganser, 6,530 Oystercatcher, 21 Golden Plover, 44 Grey Plover,450 Lapwing, 2,100 Knot, 4,780 Dunlin, 40 Black-tailed Godwit, 1,390 Curlew, 1 Turnstone and 750 Redshank. Also 16 Black-headed Gull, 4 Common  Gull, 2 Lesser black-backed Gull, 68 Herring Gull, 3 Great Black-backed Gull.

Count from West Kirby Shore provided by the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens, date of max February count in brackets).
15,000 Knot (27th), 10,000 Dunlin (27th and 28th), 260 Curlew (7th), 1,000 Redshank (8th), 700 Bar-tailed Godwit (7th), 40 Ringed Plover (7th), 100 Sanderling (25th), 2,000 Grey Plover (7th).

Count from Connah's Quay and Flint - (Kindly provided by Deeside Naturalists' Society)
Low water count on 5th March. 2 Little Grebe, 23 Cormorant, 1 Little Egret, 3 Grey Heron, 2 Mute Swan, 7 Canada Goose, 70 Shelduck, 8 Gadwall, 79 Teal, 23 Mallard, 4 Shoveler, 7 Tufted duck, 2 Moorhen, 29 Coot, 76 Oystercatcher, 95 Lapwing, 84 Dunlin, 2 Black-tailed Godwit, 91Curlew, 1 Greenshank and 45 Redshank.

Top of page

February Bird News
We had three very good birdwatches at Parkgate, which makes a nice change! As is usually the case the first day (10th) was the best for birds, the highlights being two Hen Harriers, six Short-eared Owls and 10 Water Rails. One Short-eared Owl drifted so close to the watching birdwatchers you could almost touch it! The tide came up to the wall on all three days but was deepest on the 12th, with a strong north-westerly behind it.

Bewick's Swan numbers reached over 100 on Burton Marsh and 250 Pink-footed Geese were observed flying over Meols. Brent Geese were still at record numbers at the beginning of the month, with 63, but had dwindled to 42 by the end. On a lovely still and clear late afternoon two Velvet Scoter, over 150 Common Scoter, 129 Great Crested Grebes and a probable Slavonian Grebe were seen from Hoylake Shore. Both the drake Smew and Green-winged Teal stayed most of the month at Inner Marsh Farm. But the most interesting duck seen this month has to be the lovely drake Long-tailed Duck on West Kirby Marine Lake, it arrived on the 16th and was still there at the end of the month. If the Dotterel at Leasowe was the most photographed bird on Wirral in 2004 then this Long-tailed duck must be a very good candidate to be the most photographed in 2005!

Steve Round Long-tailed duck on West Kirby Marine Lake, 20th February 2005.

The cold weather in the second half of the month, specially further east, meant that there were good numbers of waders with 10,000 Dunlin and 15,000 Knot at West Kirby being the highest counts. There were the usual over-wintering Spotted Redshanks with five at Inner Marsh Farm. 5,300 Bar-tailed Godwits were counted at Leasowe and 1,600 Black-tailed Godwits off Flint Castle - both at low tide.

Most of the Waxwings seem to have gone further south but we did have 10 in Heswall and 18 near West Kirby, but neither flock stayed for very long. There has been the usual flock of 90 or so Twite at Flint Castle, with 40 to 50 briefly at Burton. A Slavonian Grebe was at Inner Marsh Farm on the 10th, I believe this is a first for the reserve. One Snow Bunting visited West Kirby Shore but was later found dead, and another two were seen briefly at Wallasey.

News of two Cetti's Warblers just at the south end of Neston reed bed was released right at the end of the month.

What to expect in March

The return of the first spring migrants is always an exciting time and the table below shows the date when the first one of some of our more common species have been seen over the past three years. If you see an early migrant please let me know by .

Species 2004 Location 2003 2002
White Wagtail 14th March West Kirby 6th March 16th March
Wheatear 17th March Hilbre 9th March 16th March
Sand Martin 18th March Point of Ayr 8th March 18th March
Swallow 18th March West Kirby 12th March 27th March
House Martin  28th March Parkgate  15th March  13th April
Willow Warbler 31st March Hoylake 24th March 29th March
Whitethroat 15th April Inner Marsh F. 17th April 19th April
Swift 20th April Inner Marsh F. 24th April 23rd April 
Cuckoo 3rd May Gronant 4th May 21st April

These very early migrants are employing a risky strategy - they hope to have the pick of the breeding sites, but if the weather turns bad they could starve. Chiffchaff and Blackcap are not included in the table as some spend the winter here, although we do get a considerable influx in March and April with returning birds from further south.

Wader numbers will noticeably drop in March, Oystercatchers in particular move off to their breeding sites leaving just the immature birds to spend the summer here. In contrast both Redshank and Curlews can increase in number as they gather on the estuary to feed up before they too move off to their breeding grounds. 

Little gulls will be passing through out to sea on their way to the Baltic Sea, and we should see our first Sandwich Terns and Gannets of the year. March is a good time to visit the local woods to try and spot a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker high up in the trees. It has been another good winter for Short-eared Owls and a few should still be around for the high tides on the 11th, 12th and 13th.

They have had huge numbers of Pink-footed Geese in Norfolk this winter so we might well get some of these passing through the Dee Estuary on their way to their Lancashire haunts. I'm told that there was a very large movement through the midlands going NW at the end of January, but they must have gone north of here. 

Many thanks go to  Joseph Wynn, Iain Douglas, John Eliott, Martin Hore, Mark Smith, Roy Palmer, Barry Barnacal, Colin Jones, Dave and Emma Kenyon, Ray Roberts, Bernard Machin, Steve Williams,  Chris Butterworth,  Martyn Jamieson, Eric Sherry, "Welsh Weasels", Jane Turner, Phil Woollen,  Allan Conlin, Steve Ainsworth, Mike Hart, David Esther, Jean Morgan, Steve Wrigley, Neil Friswell, John Blades, John Roberts, Mike Cocking, Nigel Troup, Paul Fletcher, Steve Round, Val Williamson, Chris Wilding, Craig Jones, Rob Bithell, David Haigh, the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens  and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during February.  All sightings are gratefully received.

Top of page

Forthcoming Events
March Highest Spring Tides, also see Tides page.
11th March, 11:58hrs 10.2m. Times GMT.
12th March, 12:37hrs 10.2m. 
13th March, 13:15hrs 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.

Saturday 5th March, 8am to 9:30am, Early Morning Spring Walk.
Enjoy an early morning walk along the North Wirral Coastal Park looking for signs of spring and any migrant birds arriving. No need to book. Meet at Meols Coastguard Station at the end of Meols Parade (SJ 234906). For further info. ring 0151 678 5488.

Friday 11th March, 10:30am, Parkgate Birdwatch.
High tide at Parkgate is the best time to discover the hidden treasures of RSPB Gayton Sands 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 Gayton Sands Nature Reserve at Parkgate, close to The Boathouse pub (HW 11:58, 10.2m). For details contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Saturday 12th March, 11:00am, Parkgate Birdwatch.
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 12:37, 10.2m)

Sunday 13th March, 10:00am - 3:00pm. 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 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 1.15pm, 10m.).

Sunday 20th March, 5:00pm, Parkgate Raptor Watch.
Watch the elegant hen harriers come in to roost on the RSPB reserve at Gayton Sands. Other birds we hope to see include merlin, peregrine, sparrowhawk, short-eared owl and barn owl. Meet at the Old Baths car park, Parkgate, close to the Boathouse pub. For further details contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Sunday 27th March, 10:30am, High Tide at Point of Ayr.
The spit and saltmarsh at the Point of Ayr are extremely important habitats for birds. They come alive at high tide with waders coming in to roost and ducks drift in on the tide to feed on the marsh. Join the RSPB Warden to watch the action as it unfolds (HW 12:56, 9.5m). No need to book. Meet at the end of Station Rd. Talacre. For further information contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Saturday 9th April, 11:00am, Parkgate Birdwatch.
Join the wardens on a spring tide birdwatch. 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 Gayton Sands Nature Reserve at Parkgate, close to The Boathouse pub (HW 12:33, 10.0m). For details contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Note: Many of these forthcoming events are extracted from the 'Birdwatchers Diary 2005', 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 new 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