round the corner from the
Point of Ayr
is a beautiful wild area of reed beds, sand dunes, shingle and beach - this
In the summer Gronant is full of the sound of Skylarks overhead, Reed and
Sedge Warblers in the reeds and Little Terns over the shingle. This is the
last remaining Little Tern colony in Wales and thanks to round the clock
wardening organised by the RSPB the colony is thriving. From just 15 pairs
when the scheme started in 1975 the colony has grown to over 80 pairs.
The wardens' job at the colony is twofold, firstly to stop predation of nests - mainly crows and kestrels by day and foxes by night, and secondly to ask any people on the beach not to walk through the colony, which is fenced off and clearly sign posted. Additionally we have a steady stream of interested birdwatchers to chat to. In reality people are rarely a problem, trying to stop a determined crow or kestrel far more so. But the presence of the wardens is a big deterrent to the predators - we have a variety of cunning tactics which mainly involve running, shouting and waving arms - but it works!
However, I don't want to give the impression that wardening is all work and no play. Most of the time it involves sitting in the sand dunes, basking in the sun and doing a bit of birdwatching! Arctic Skuas, Gannets, Guillemots, Common Scoter, Sandwich Terns and Manx Shearwaters are all regular off shore. In fact Sandwich Terns are present in many hundreds when their breeding season finishes in late June. Rarities which have turned up during the last three years include Storm Petrel, Arctic Tern, Black Tern, Great Skua, Stone Curlew, Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Short-eared Owl and Hen Harrier. This summer will be my fourth year as a voluntary warden, and I've enjoyed every minute!
Anybody wanting more information
about wardening should contact the RSPB at Burton Point Farm by telephone
(0151 336 7681) or
of a national scheme organised by the BTO the Hilbre Bird Observatory are
colour ringing Wheatears (both Northern and Greenland) with the hope they
are seen elsewhere and reported.
For spring 2003 both the right and
left tarsal will have red rings, in the return autumn passage it will be red
on the left and yellow on the right. Other ringing stations are using
different colour combinations. If you see any of these ringed birds either
e-mail Steve Williams
or contact the BTO. There is an excellent article on Wheatears written by
Steve Williams in the
Bird Survey Count for Connah's Quay and
Flint - (Kindly provided by
Deeside Naturalists' Society), 23rd March.
3 Little Grebe, 80 Cormorant, 3 Grey Heron, 5 Mute Swan, 47 Canada Goose, 120 Shelduck, 36 Wigeon, 12 Gadwall, 96 Teal, 68 Mallard, 7 Pintail, 1 Shoveler, 4 Tufted Duck, 4 Moorhen, 26 Coot, 90 Oystercatcher, 1 Lapwing, 1,800 Black-tailed Godwit, 12 Curlew, 50 Redshank.
Wetland Bird Survey Count for
Heswall Shore - (Kindly provided by the
Wirral Ranger Service), 23rd March.
Hilbre Island before and during high tide -
(Kindly provided by Steve Williams of the
HBO, Colin Schofield and Matt
Thomas), 18th March.
March Bird News
Wader numbers at the mouth of the estuary have been well down, 370 Sanderling at Hoylake at the beginning of the month being the highlight. But there have been good numbers further up the estuary with 1,800 Black-tailed Godwits at Connah's Quay a probable record for March. The usual thousands of Redshank and Curlew were at Heswall.
The high tide birdwatches at Parkgate mid-month were a bit of a let down due to high atmospheric pressure and south wind which kept the tide from covering the marsh. But we still managed to see 4 Short-eared Owls, a good number for March.
Slavonian Grebes are rare off Hilbre with usually only one or two observed briefly each year. So to get three hanging around for three days was unprecedented! Also out to sea at Hilbre were 15 Great-crested Grebe, 24 Red-throated Diver, 2 Great Northern Divers and a Black-throated Diver.
March marks the return of the first summer migrants and this year was notable for some very early returning birds. First sightings were nearly all earlier than the last two years, some by a large margin - see the table below.
* As small numbers of both Chiffchaff and Blackcap over winter in the area this is the date they were first heard singing. Locations above for 2003.
The spring passage out to sea was marked by the first Gannets on the 14th and Sandwich Terns on the 27th. There was a good passage of Little Gulls with 83 seen off Hilbre on the 28th along with a few Fulmars and Kittiwakes. A flock of 22 Waxwings at Hoylake were an unexpected sight, they are usually back in Scandinavia by March. A flock of about the same number was seen later in the month for several days on the east side of Wirral at Rock Ferry - most likely the same birds.
What to expect in April.
Wader numbers will be well down but we can still get large flocks of Dunlin and Knot migrating from Africa to the far north. Pairs of Shelduck are a delightful sight along the shore. They can be quite vocal at this time of year defending their feeding territories, and many an aggressive chase takes place!
Given a steady west wind a stream of migrating sea birds will be seen out to sea - Gannets, Kittiwakes, Common Terns etc. Both Brent Geese and Purple Sandpipers may well still be around at the beginning of the month on Hilbre but will leave during the month. The Brent Geese have a remarkable journey to make - across the Atlantic Ocean, over Greenland and on to their breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic.
Highest Spring Tides, also see Tides page.
17th April, 12:31hrs 10.2m. (all times BST)
18th April, 13.15hrs 10.3m.
19th April, 13.57hrs 10.1m.
Forthcoming Events (organised by the
Wirral Ranger Service,
Flintshire Countryside Service and/or the RSPB):
Saturday 5th April 11:30am. High Tide Birdwatch at
Point of Ayr.
Saturday 3rd May 7:00am. Migrants on the Move.
Sunday 4th May 4:30am - 6:30am. A Song of Stone.
Note: Many of these forthcoming events are extracted from the 'Birdwatchers Diary 2003', 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.