1st March 2006

Highlights March 05 to Feb 06.
Submission of 2005 Records.

February Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
Latest Newsletter.

Tony Broome


Highlights - March 2005 to February 2006

The website is eight years old this month, so I hope you will indulge me if I start this article with my own personal highlights of the past twelve months.

© Steve Williams, Wryneck at Inner Marsh Farm, May 4th 2005.
Having spent many a high tide at Parkgate waiting for the tide to come in which didn't, it was great to see a really big high tide on the 11th March which roared in over the marsh. The highlights were four Short-eared Owls and a rather wet and scared young fox.
Although I don't normally rush round the countryside after rarities it was very nice to see my first Wryneck at
Inner Marsh Farm in May, a very stylish bird.
Knot were my next highlight. A flock of 1,000 over-summering Knot at
Inner Marsh Farm were most unusual, quite a sight from the hide along with several hundred Black-tailed Godwits, many in full summer plumage. It was also a good winter for Knot in the estuary. Between 10,000 and 20,000 were present from October onwards feeding on the mud banks off Thurstaston at low tide, they roosted either at Heswall or West Kirby at high tide.

In fact the highlight of the winter must be seeing 15,000 Knot flying low over a mirror like sea in line after line as they made their way up to West Kirby at high tide. One day a total of 24,000 Knot and Dunlin roosted on the marsh at West Kirby, literally a few feet from where I was wardening. Before high tide they were disturbed by two peregrines, and just after that a Short-eared Owl came over - just spectacular with all those birds in the air! Any visit to Thurstaston shore was a delight over this last winter with many Knot and Black-tailed Godwit feeding on the mud next to the beach, up to 350 Pintail in the channel and the usual thousands of Oystercatchers and Shelduck. Some of the Black-tailed Godwits were colour ringed and it was fascinating for myself and fellow birder Charles Farnell to report these birds to the ringers and find out where these godwits had been seen over several years.
But to get back to the summer. Although it wasn't a particularly good breeding season for the Little Terns at Gronant we did have a lot of adult birds around in July, and it was a great thrill for me to count 350 all sitting on the beach together - the most I'd ever seen in one place. It bodes well for a good season next summer.
September didn't bring any of the hoped for gales but there were the Mersey Ferry birdwatching cruises to compensate. These always seem to start quietly, and just when you think there is going to be nothing to see everything starts happening. We had some great views of Arctic Skuas but the highlight was undoubtedly an Osprey passing right overhead, my first one for this area.

October 1st dawned with a strong NW wind, this after prolonged NW gales off Scotland. So it was no surprise when I got a text message at 9am from Chris Butterworth to say he had seen three Leach's Petrels blown past West Kirby in to the estuary. High tide was 11am and Leach's Petrels came through thick and fast for the next two hours. I was at Dove Point and saw 26 in 40 minutes, I watched them with a huge smile on my face as I just love seeing these wonderful birds!
Much of the second half of October was notable for prolonged S/SE wind, making for some great visible migration. The 26th seems to have been the best day, I sat on a bench at Thurstaston WCP and watched as flock after flock came past, a good mixture of species although the majority seemed to be fieldfares and chaffinches.

© Steve Round, Leach's Petrel off Leasowe Lighthouse, Oct 1st 2005.

Apart from the waders I've already mentioned, the winter highlights were seeing over 100 Brent Geese on Hilbre Island, and a fantastic view of a full male Hen Harrier from 10 yards as it flew past Denhall Quay.

The following is the rest of the highlights from the past 12 months:-
March the 19th and 20th were ideal for migration, mild, a light SE wind and a slight mist; the result on Hilbre was more like mid April with loads of birds including 800 Meadow Pipits passing through. Also on Hilbre, in April, was the island's first Dartford Warbler - a great find for Steve Williams. April brought in two or three Avocets to Burton but none stayed to breed, also three Ospreys and three Marsh Harriers came through.
A Black Stork over Burton on June 7th was a first for Cheshire, and a good garden tick for Barry Barnacal! The nearby Common Tern colony at Shotton did well after a slow start with at least 750 chicks fledged. Five days of strong westerly winds in July meant that there were plenty of seabirds to be seen off  Hilbre Island, these included 30 Storm Petrels on July 21st, a record for that site, the previous highest being 17 on July 11th 1990. Hilbre also had a good passage of 500 Manx Shearwaters on Aug 25th. Both the autumn and winter have been good for sightings of Eider off Hilbre with up to six present, including four drakes in October. That month also saw the arrival of Cheshire's eighth record of a Long-billed Dowitcher at
Inner Marsh Farm which stayed for about three weeks. Little Egrets continue to increase, 112 were counted leaving the roost at Burton on Oct 13th.
Like the previous winter we had five Hen Harriers on the marsh, although only four were seen roosting at the usual site off the Old Baths car park at Parkgate. A long period of southerly winds seems to have held up the southward migration out to sea, we had six Gannets off Hilbre on the late date of Nov 15th.
An unexpected bonus was the arrival of two Richard's Pipits at West Kirby on the gloriously sunny day of Nov 21st. One disappeared in mid-Dec but the other stayed until February. I think I'm right in saying this was the first long-staying Richard's Pipit we've had on Wirral. Lastly we had four Common Cranes which flew over Shotwick Fields on Jan 28th. These were well watched birds having first been seen over Leighton Marsh, then Lancaster, Widnes and finally Shropshire.

Richard Smith

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Submission of 2005 Records

We need your 2005 bird records!

For Cheshire and Wirral please send them to:

Cheshire and Wirral Ornithological Society
c/o P.Oddy, 4 Swan Close, Poynton, Stockport,
Cheshire, SK12 1HX.
E-mail: submissions@cawos.org

For Flintshire please send them to:

North East Wales Bird Recording Group,
c/o Ian Spence, 43 Blackbrook, Sychdyn, Mold, CH7 6LT.
E-mail: ianspence.cr@imsab.idps.co.uk

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February Bird News
I've often said on this website that the cold weather brings in the waders, and, of course, the reverse is also true. This was well demonstrated during the eight days between 11th and 18th Feb as shown in the graph below.

After weeks of cold weather we suddenly saw a mild spell brought in by a westerly wind blowing in from the Atlantic. As the temperature increased the birds just disappeared, on West Kirby beach numbers dropped from 15,000 to just two in two days! Even more remarkably, perhaps, was the increase back up to 20,000 birds as soon as the temperature dropped again. It seems to have been mainly Knot and Dunlin which left and came back, these are by far the most numerous waders at West Kirby. It could well be that the warmer weather means birds are more inclined to fly as they don't need so much energy just to stay alive. The most likely destination at this time of year for birds leaving the Dee are the coasts of the North Sea, probably the Wash and the Waddenzee. But of course, the further east they go the colder it gets, and when the temperature drops they move west again to our comparatively milder climate. Alternatively birds may have used the opportunity to move north to (say) Morecambe Bay, to be replaced by birds coming up from further south. Counts of waders at West Kirby have been high all winter, max in Feb were 15,000 Knot and 9,400 Dunlin. Numbers of Knot at Leasowe have been relatively low this winter but I managed to count a large number there at low tide on Feb 3rd, 22,400. There were 1,830 Bar-tailed Godwit at the same location on the 10th. 440 Sanderling at Hoylake was a good number for this time of year.

 Bar-tailed Godwits and one Oystercatcher flying past Wallasey Shore, Feb 19th, © Sean Fortune

The Richard's Pipit which first arrived in November was last seen on West Kirby marsh on Feb 12th. The Marine Lake at West Kirby held a max of 18 Goldeneye and 11 Red-breasted Mergansers, also a Shag and 3 Great Crested Grebes.

Due to high atm pressure and an adverse wind direction the high spring tides didn't reach the height predicted and consequently didn't cover the marsh at Parkgate. However, those who made it to Riverbank Road, Heswall, had great views of up to five Short-eared Owls, two Hen Harriers, one Water Rail, 1,000 Pintail, 25 Brent Geese, three Peregrine and two Merlin, as well as close views of many other duck and waders. The tide covers the marsh here when it still seems to be miles away at Parkgate!

What to expect in March

I always look forward to the first Wheatear arriving, certainly here on the coast they are a far more an obvious harbinger of spring than the Swallow and once the first one comes through they can be found just about anywhere along the shore. The table below shows the first arrivals of each species over the past three years, don't forget to me with any sightings of early migrants and I'll put it on my latest sightings page.

Species 2005 Location 2004 2003
Wheatear 16th March Caldy 17th March 9th March
White Wagtail 17th March West Kirby 14th March 6th March
Sand Martin 17th March Hilbre 18th March 8th March
Willow Warbler 25th March Hilbre 31st March 24th March
Swallow 25th March Hoylake 18th March 12th March
House Martin   2nd April Thurstaston 28th March  15th March
Swift 17th April Willaston 20th April 24th April
Whitethroat 18th April Leasowe 15th April 17th April
Cuckoo 1st May  Point of Ayr 3rd May 4th May

As well as these land migrants we should also get our first Gannets and Sandwich Terns out to sea, and a passage of Little Gulls past Hilbre Island. These come up the Irish Sea and migrant overland from Crosby to Northumberland, from which they continue on to their breeding grounds on the Baltic. A good selections of grebes and divers are usually to be seen in the mouth of the estuary in March.

© Matt Thomas, Avocets at Inner Marsh Farm, April 2005.

Numbers of Knot and Dunlin will drop right by the end of the month, but others will be gathering prior to moving to their breeding grounds - so expect to see plenty of Redshank and Black-tailed Godwits. A few spotted Redshanks should be passing through Inner Marsh Farm, and may be an Avocet or two towards the end of the month.

There are some very high spring tides due, including three 10.4m tides (see next section for details). Even under less than ideal conditions (ideal being a strong W to SW wind) at this height the marsh should be covered giving good views of Short-eared Owls, Hen Harriers, Water Rails and the usual duck and waders.

Many thanks go to  Rosemary Hannay, David Haigh, Nigel Young, Dave Harrington, Alister Sclater, Damian Waters, Alistair Townsend, Allan Conlin, Mike Hart, John Boswell, Dave Wild, Ian and Joan Pickavance, Iain Douglas, Dave Leeming, Colin Wells, Gilbert Bolton, Steve Ainsworth, Paul Vautrinot, Bernard Machin,  David Esther, Colin Schofield, Clive Ashton, Neil Friswell, Colin Jones, Charles Farnell, Steve Williams, Phil Woolen, Chris Butterworth, Mal Smerdon, Jeremy Bradshaw, Susan Jenkins, Heather White, Stephen Menzie, Dave and Emma Kenyon, Jane Turner, Wayne Dutton, Derek Gifford, Paul Rutter, Sean Fortune, John and Andrew Morris, Mark Turner, Dorothy Jebb, Laura Bimson, the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens  and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during February.  All sightings are gratefully received.

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Forthcoming Events
March Highest Spring Tides, also see Tides page.
1st March, 12:12hrs 10.4m. GMT.
2nd March, 12:54hrs 10.4m. GMT.
3rd March, 13:36hrs 10.2m. GMT.
29th March, 12.04hrs 10.2m.BST
30th March, 12:48hrs 10.4m.BST
31st March, 13:30hrs 10.3m.BST

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 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.

Sunday 19th March, 5:00pm, Parkgate Raptor Watch Dee Estuary RSPB Reserve.
Watch the elegant hen harriers come in to roost on the RSPB reserve at Parkgate. Other birds we hope to see include 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. For further details contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Wednesday 29th March, 10:30am, Parkgate Birdwatch Dee Estuary RSPB Reserve.
High tide at Parkgate is the best time to discover the hidden treasures of the 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 reserve at Parkgate, close to The Boathouse pub (HW 12:04, 10.2m).

Thursday 30th March, 11:00am, Parkgate Birdwatch Dee Estuary RSPB Reserve.
High tide at Parkgate is the best time to discover the hidden treasures of the 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 12:48, 10.4m).

Sunday 2nd April, 6am – 8am,  Go Woodpecker Wild!
Join the Rangers on a walk to search out woodpeckers. The birds will be “drumming” on trees and displaying to prospective mates.
Booking essential: (0151) 648 4371/3884.

Saturday 15th April, 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 look for spring migrants on their return from Africa (HW 13.15, 9.2m).
No need to book. Meet at the end of Station Rd,Talacre. For further information contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

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.

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