I was wardening at West Kirby on Tuesday Feb 3rd,
before we set off down the beach I scanned through a few roosting
Black-headed Gulls looking for colour-rings and when I rejoined my
fellow wardens I joked "four Laughing Gulls among that lot!", little
thinking I would actually be seeing one in just over an hour.
Remarkably, I was standing in the exact spot where the last Laughing
Gull had been seen in our area back in 2001, halfway between
and West Kirby, when the text came through "Laughing Gull New Brighton on
pontoon NOW" - that was at 1045hrs. The response was "WOW" and I was on my
On the pontoon
surrounded by waders the first day it was found, February 3rd
© Steve Williams
It was three birders from Manchester
who found it -
Mike Brown, Heath Green and Mike Rutter. As it was a lovely calm and
clear day they had decided to spend the day on Wirral, first stop was
the Snow Buntings at Wallasey followed by a 'Full English' at New
Brighton. Next up was the Marine Lake, one of the most reliable sites
in the north-west for Purple Sandpipers. What they hadn't expected was
a first winter Laughing Gull!! Luckily they had previous experience
with this species, and after double-checking in the Collins Bird Guide
they duly let the news out by phoning Bird Guides and the rest is
history, as the saying goes.
got there just after high tide when it was on the Marine Lake pontoon
and later it moved to the beach next to Fort Perch - and that was the
pattern for the rest of the month although it was also seen on the
promenade a few times feeding on chips, bread and even a large chicken
bone! It certainly gave the visiting birders fantastic views as you can
judge by the many photographs in this article.
Trying to eat a
chicken bone on the marine lake, it has also been seen eating chips and
February 12th ©
This is the fourth record for the Dee
estuary area, the previous ones were:
1. A first summer bird found off Hilbre
May 16th 1978.
2. A second winter at Point of Ayr on
December 20th to 22nd 1991.
3. One on West Kirby Shore on October
There were also two 'possibles' with
one past Hilbre in May 2006 and one off Greenfield in January 2007.
have been three other accepted records in Cheshire and Wirral - New
Ferry in 1977, Warrington and Woolston Eyes in 1985
Green Pool in 1997.
Laughing Gull Status
Gulls breed mainly on the east and south coasts of the USA, and in the
Caribbean and Mexico. It used to be considered a pest and
numbers reaching such a low level that in 1913 it was given special
Since then numbers have rebounded and over the past 40 years
they have increased at an impressive 45% per decade so that the
population is now estimated at around 800,000.
the UK the Laughing Gull is a vagrant and a national rarity so that
records have to be assessed by BBRC (British Birds Rarity
Committee) which is the official adjudicator of rare bird records in
first bird to be accepted was one at Dungeness on May 11th
1966, although since then two earlier records have retrospectively been
accepted - one from 1923 and the other from 1957. Since 1975 records
have increased significantly and we usually get
between three and five birds a year in this country although they don't
occur every year - for example there were none in 2008 or 2010, and
there was only one in 2014. The increase in records since 1975 is
probably linked to both
the increase in the population as a whole and also the increase in
the numbers of birders in this country and their greater awareness of
of Laughing Gull records in the UK and across Europe undertaken by
indicates that the majority of newly arrived birds are first-years,
tend to arrive from the south-west then disperse so that subsequently
they can turn up anywhere and at any time of year. At least
of the records of
second-year birds and adults are due to these immature birds staying
for a year or more. This arrival from the south-west was amply
demonstrated during the remarkable events of November 2005
Hurricane Wilma, the most intense hurricane ever recorded in the
Atlantic, blew an unprecedented 53 Laughing Gulls to our country with
the focus of the influx very much on the south-west peninsula and the
Bristol Channel, including 12 in Cornwall and eight in Devon.
Unfortunately none of these birds made it to the Dee estuary with the
nearest one to the west in Porthmadog and to the north at Marton Mere,
But our patient wait for a twitchable
Laughing Gull has certainly been rewarded and it is still here as I
write this at the end of February having been seen every day since the
smug looking Herring gull had just had a go at the Laughing gull,
© Roy Lowry
Sources of Information
1. Mike Brown, Laughing Gull Finders Article, Lighthouse and Wirral
Birding Blog: see entry for February 6th 2015 - http://lighthousebirding.blogspot.co.uk/
2. Waterbird Population Estimates Fifth
Edition, Wetlands International, 2012.
3. Allan Conlin and Steve Williams, Rare Birds in Cheshire
& Wirral, C&W Birding Publications, 2004.
4. Rare Birds in Great Britain, BBRC, Annual Reports 1966 to
2013, published in British Birds and online - http://www.bbrc.org.uk/resources
5. BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Laughing Gull
. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org
gulls in the Western Palearctic, Dutch Birding (12: 109-164), September
1990 - available online (in English) at http://www.dutchbirding.nl
7. J.N. Dymond et.al, Rare Birds in Britain and Ireland, T & A
D Poyser, 1989.
flight over the marine lake, February 5th
© Austin Morley
Perched on the
railings next to the promenade, February 16th
© Charles Farnell
Flying over the
marine Lake with Fort Perch in the background, February 6th
© Steve Seal
Highlights - March 2014 to February 2015
On the 17th anniversary of the first newsletter on this website I again
publish the highlights of the past twelve months:
A particularly good 12 months for
rarities, even before the Laughing Gull turned up (see above). My list
consists of 26 different records so here goes:
A Little Bunting and Night Heron in
April, as well as Iceland and Glaucous Gulls.
A Citrine Wagtail, five Velvet Scoters
and a Black Guillemot in May.
A Bee-eater in June, a pair of Spotted
Crakes first reported in June successfully bred at Burton Mere
Single Red-necked Phalaropes were seen in both June and September.
A Cattle Egret arrived at Burton Mere
Wetlands in September and stayed until December. September
produced a Dotterel, both Barred and Marsh Warbler, Wryneck and
Sabine's Gull and Siberian Chiffchaff
in October, single Grey Phalaropes were seen in October and
Another Barred Warbler was spotted in November and there were three
Black-necked Grebes in December and January.
Although not a county rarity Long-eared Owl is very much a
vagrant around the Dee estuary and one was at Burton Mere Wetlands in
February along with an American Wigeon. February also saw two
Bean Geese with large numbers of Pink-footed Geese and a
Slavonian Grebe in the River Dee channel by Connah's Quay. Then there
addition there were several reports of Great White Egrets,
Black-throated Divers and Cetti's Warblers at various times
through the year.
Long-eared Owl at Burton
Mere Wetlands, February 8th © Mark Evans.
big story was the massive flock of 27,000 Common Scoters off Hilbre in
March, we continued to have good numbers during the past winter with
max of 7,000 in February. July saw 57 records of Mediterranean Gulls,
gales in August resulted in a max count of 1,258 Manx Shearwaters past
Hilbre and the
highest count of Great Crested Grebes was at least 600 in
September. 10 to 12 Long-tailed Ducks in December were more
unusual. Large numbers of Cormorants roosted at night in the
estuary in January with max 3,884 counted as they flew past
at dawn, we think that's the largest ever single site count of this
species in the country. Single Glaucous Gulls were seen off Meols and
Hilbre in April and at New Brighton and Hoylake in February.
Waders and Wildfowl
Gilroy Nature Park,
West Kirby, proved particularly attractive to migrating Black-tailed
Godwits with 970 in April and a remarkable 4,900 in October. Late
summer saw an exceptional number of migrant Dunlins with a max count of
12,700 in August. 262 Brent Geese equalled the highest ever
on the estuary and Pink-footed Geese continued to increase with 6,200
It was a particularly good
spring migration for Common Redstarts with a total of 42 records in
April. With strong southerly winds for many days through the autumn it
was no great surprise to see late records for both Swifts (October
21st) and Swallows (November 28th). Every winter we seem to be getting
more and more Twite at the Connah's Quay Reserve and this winter max
was at least 200 in January. Two to four Snow Buntings spent the winter
around the Leasowe and Wallasey shore area.
The winter of 2013/14 was
particularly good for big high tides which covered the marshes and this
continued into March when at least seven Short-eared Owls were flushed
by the tides with similar numbers during high tides in January and
at Connah's Quay, February 27th
© Frank Burns.
Colour Ring Report
Starting top left and
clockwise: 1. Knot LCX-R (Matt Thomas)
2.Dunlin 73U (Matt Thomas) 3.
Black-tailed Godwit LR-Y//W
(Richard Smith) 4. Little Egret XW-PY (Matt Thomas).
Over the past two months we've concentrated on gulls so it's time to
catch up on some other species, particularly waders.
ringed at Hochstetter Forland, east Greenland,
in July 2013.
Recorded January 22nd 2015 at Hoylake.
- ringed on the island of De Richel, Waddensea,
Netherlands, in August 2011.
LCX on yellow flag - R -
Recorded December 27th 2014 at Thurstaston.
Previous records: recorded at Griend, Waddensea, Netherlands,
in August 2011.
in May 2009 at Porsanger, Norway.
Recorded January 23rd 2015 at Hoylake and February 17th 2015 at
Previous records: recorded at Porsanger in May 2014
and twice at Hoylake in November 2014.
Matt Thomas has now seen this bird in Porsanger, Hoylake and
Thurstaston all within a period of nine months!
For those who want to understand the colour ring codes used
for Sanderlings and Knot take a look at:
on white ring - ringed in September 2012 in Gdansk, Poland.
Recorded January 22nd 2015 at Hoylake.
on white ring - ringed in July 2013 in Gdansk, Poland.
Recorded January 22nd 2015 at Hoylake.
on white ring - ringed in September 2012 in Gdansk, Poland.
Recorded January 22nd 2015 at Hoylake.
at Holbeach, the Wash, as an adult female in September 1998.
Recorded on Thurstaston shore in November and December 2014, and at
NR, West Kirby, and in a field at Newton in December 2014.
bird is at least 18 years old.
Previous records: It's first sighting after ringing was on the Dee
estuary in April 1999, the following August and September it was on the
Humber Estuary. The next two years it was recorded at Cley in Norfolk,
Breydon Water in Norfolk, Marshside RSPB on the Ribble Estuary and
Iceland. December 2007 saw it at Thurstaston and it was at Leighton
Moss in April 2008. From December 2008 to January 2014 it was recorded
at Thurstaston many times during winter months with several visits to
Frampton on the Wash in late summer and Leighton Moss in Lancashire in
X on white ring, P on
- ringed at Penryn near Bangor, North Wales,
in June 2013 as a chick.
Recorded on Neston Marsh on February 21st 2015.
Eight previous colour-ringed Little Egrets were also ringed at
Penryn, these were all first year birds when recorded so XWPY is our
first colour-ringed adult.
Richard Smith and Matt
Ringed birds were also recorded by Steve Hinde, John Jakeman, Elliot
Monteith and Allan Irving.
February Bird News
As we had hoped the high tides from the 19th to the 22nd covered the
marsh and we got some great views. Five to six Short-eared Owls were
seen each day although we only got a single Hen Harrier. On the 19th
the Pink-footed Geese put on a spectacular display rising out of the
marsh as the tide came in with 1,000 off Gayton and 3,000 at Parkgate.
There were more Pink-footed Geese down at Burton and Shotwick so the
total must have been approaching last month's record count of 6,200.
The tide flushed several Water Rails and I saw six on the 20th, all of
which seem to have avoided being eaten by the waiting Grey Herons! At
least six Jack Snipes were counted and several hundred Skylarks flew
over. As well as Parkgate and Gayton a good spot to see the tides was
Neston Old Quay which is also a good place for Water Pipits and there
were at least two in the area for most of the month.
Over 40 each of Bewick's and Whooper Swans were on Shotwick Fields,
along with several Mute Swans and a Black Swan. Calm weather early in
the month meant for some great sea watching which produced 39 Scaup,
7,000 Common Scoter, 35 Goldeneye, 14 Eider, 20 Red-throated Divers and
209 Great Crested Grebes off north Wirral. A much rarer Slavonian Grebe
was off Connah's Quay later in the month. The two Snow Buntings
remained on Wallasey Shore and had increased to four by the 16th. Over
100 Twite were counted at Connah's Quay.
Snow Buntings at Wallasey, February
© Les Hall
There was much excitement at New Brighton with the arrival of an
immature Laughing Gull as described above, a Glaucous Gull joined it
briefly on the pontoon on the 18th and it was presumably this bird on
Hoylake Shore on the 21st. Other rarities included a Long-eared Owl at
Burton Mere Wetlands and two Bean Geese where with the Pink-footed
Geese on Shotwick Fields at the end of the month. Two Great White
Egrets were recorded on several dates - perhaps they'll stay to breed!!
Mallards and a fox off
Parkgate, February 19th
© Mike Davenport.
thanks go to Jeff Cohen, Eddie Williams, Dave Wilson, Derek Bates,
Barry Barnacal, Damian Waters,
George Knight, Mike Turton, John Jakeman, Austin Morley, Mal
Sergeant, Alan Irving, Frank Burns, Chris Cook, Matt
Thomas, Steve Round, Richard Beckett, Steve Seal, Chris
Butterworth, Neil Simpson, Matt Francis, Mark Evans, David Peate, John
Hinde, Michael Davenport, Roy Lowry, Kylie Roche, Allan Conlin, Colin
Bradshaw, Alan Hitchmough, Steve
Farnell, Brenda Thompson, Dave Edwards, Chris Wilding, Elliot
Montieth, Steve liston, Paul
Mason, Colin Jones, Dan
Trotman, Ray Eades, Paul
Shenton, Patsy Anders, Les Hall, Richard Steel, Greg Harker, Marc
Gannon, Bernard Machin, Janine Johnson, Andy Newall,
David Leeming, Peter Forshaw, Dave Marland, Greg Roebuck, Gail Wilson,
Nick Bullen, David Jones, Dave Ridgen, Neil Simpson, Peter Newman,
Kevin Smith, Tony Quinn, Lynne Leslie, Roger Shuttleworth, Phil
Longford, Phil Hilton, Gary Powell, the Lighthouse
and Wirral Birding Blog
and the Hilbre Bird
for their sightings during February. All
are gratefully received.
What to expect in March
It may be the first
month of spring
but it often doesn't feel like it - if you remember March 2013 was one
of the coldest ever recorded with thick snow! All this means
that for many birds it is still winter so we can expect good numbers of
waders and wildfowl to be still around even as late as the third week
when we have some more spring tides.
| White Wagtail
| Willow Warbler
| Sand Martin
|| West Kirby
| House Martin
|| 4th April
|| 2nd May
|| 3rd May
But spring it is and we can get some glorious weather which will bring
in the first of the migrants - something very much to look forward to.
The table above shows the first of each of our more common species for
the past three years - so if you see an early migrant send me an email
) and I'll include it in the 2015 table.
I've said common species but unfortunately Cuckoos are now quite rare
in our area and in recent years decreased dramatically right across the
country - but they are so iconic
of spring that I am unwilling to remove them from the list above.
Out to sea we should get our first Gannets and Sandwich Terns of the
year, and Common Scoters should be present in their thousands. Avocets
should reach double figures at Burton Mere Wetlands, and if we are
lucky we will see one or two Marsh Harriers and Ospreys.
Spring Tides (Liverpool)
20th March, 10.52hrs (GMT), 10.0m.
21st March, 11.37hrs (GMT), 10.2m.
22nd March, 12.21hrs (GMT), 10.2m.
23rd March, 13.05hrs (GMT), 10.0m.
Organised by the Wirral
Ranger Service , Flintshire
Countryside Service and the
RSPB (Dee Estuary):
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.
Also see 2015 Events Diary.
Saturday 7th March 6.30am – 9am
Mad March Hares
start but worth it to have a chance of seeing Brown Hares on the fields
of Thurstaston. These mammals are very active now and on a guided walk
to the Dungeon Woodland we might be lucky enough to see them “boxing”.
Warm waterproofs, boots and binoculars recommended. Book early for this
popular walk! (0151) 648 4371.
Friday 20th March to Monday 23rd March, RSPB Parkgate
Marsh is one of the best wetland habitats in the northwest, and when it
is flooded by an incoming Spring high tide, the wildlife which lives
here is pushed closer, potentially delivering an awe-inspiring
spectacle. Join us at Parkgate's Old Baths car park and the Donkey
Stand near Nicholl's ice cream shop, where we'll be set up with
marquees and telescopes hoping for the right weather conditions to
really push the tide in.
You can expect great views of the large
numbers of geese, ducks and wading birds which are here in their
thousands for the winter. In addition, the small mammals living on the
marsh can be flushed from cover, potentially attracting the kestrels,
harriers and short-eared owls who spend the winter months here.
parking is limited on Parkgate promenade, but there is free public
parking at the Old Baths car park (CH64 6RN) at the north end of The
Parade, and the Wirral Country Park car park on Station Road (CH64
6QJ). There are public toilets at Mostyn Square in the middle of The
Parade, and a number of pubs and cafes for refreshments.
High tide times:
Friday 20 March: 10.52 am (10.0m)
Saturday 21 March: 11.37 am (10.2m)
Sunday 22 March: 12.21 pm (10.2m)
Monday 23 March: 1.05 pm (10.0m)
Sunday 29th March, Skydancers on the Dee Estuary - Donkey Stand, Parkgate
12noon - dusk
people have never seen a hen harrier, but once seen it is rarely
forgotten. In support of the RSPB's Skydancer project, we are pleased
to bring you a series of events to showcase these enigmatic birds of
prey which use the marshes of the Dee Estuary as their home for the
The name "Skydancer" comes from the aerobatic
displays that the male birds perform in their courtship ritual on the
moors in the spring. Sadly, this has become an increasingly rare sight
and they are close to becoming extinct as a breeding species in England.
could be the last chance to see Skydancers on the Dee, so come along to
Parkgate to find out more about the hen harrier story and what you can
do to help save them before it's too late! Look for the RSPB marquee
along the main promenade at Parkgate, where friendly staff and
volunteers will be on hand with telescopes and binoculars to show you
these beautiful, agile birds hunting over the marsh, and coming in to
roost there at dusk. Plenty of family activities and other RSPB
information will be available.
For more information on the RSPB's Skydancer project, visit
Directions: The "Donkey Stand" opposite Nicholls Ice-cream shop on The
Parade (B5135), Parkgate, Cheshire.