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1st April 2003
Sea Bird Cruise.
Wardens at Gronant.
Colour ringed Wheatears.

Latest Bird Counts.
March Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
Latest Newsletter.

Newsletter Index.

Liverpool Bay Bird Cruise


  Mersey Ferries

Since the demise of the Dee Estuary Wildlife cruises several years ago there have been few opportunities locally to get out to sea and closer to the sea birds off the mouth of the Dee Estuary. It was with some delight, therefore, when I discovered that the RSPB, NMGM (National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside) and Mersey Ferries have teamed up to offer three 'Liverbird Wildlife Discovery Cruises'. The Mersey ferry will sail from the Pier Head, on Liverpool's waterfront, out beyond the mouth of the Mersey estuary to the Bar Lightship in Liverpool Bay.

Expect to see Manx shearwaters, Common Terns, Sandwich Terns, Arctic Skuas, Common Scoter, Guillemots and Gannets. How many birds are actually seen depends very much on the weather but hopefully at least a few of each of those species. If we are very lucky we might see a large movement of Manx Shearwaters, but perhaps that is too much to hope for! 

Arctic Skua - Arthur Grosset

Bird and wildlife experts will be on hand on each cruise, as well as Liverpool Museum's inter-active Natural History Centre, and even more activities for youngsters on the 'Family Cruise' on Saturday. It should be a good day out, I've booked to go on the Friday cruise, so see you there!

Tickets cost 10 per adult, 5 per child. Please ring Mersey Ferries on 0151 330-1444 for further details and to book. Dates - Friday, 30 May; Saturday, 31 May; Sunday, 1 June. The cruise will last approximately three hours, leaving the Pier Head at 10.30am.


Voluntary Wardens wanted at Gronant


Just round the corner from the Point of Ayr is a beautiful wild area of reed beds, sand dunes, shingle and beach - this is Gronant. 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  .


Colour Ringed Wheatears


As part 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.

                                                            Peter Williams

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 Hilbre Bird Observatory website.


Bird Counts


Wetland 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.
26 Cormorant, 3,240 Redshank, 23 Teal, 40 Knot, 5 Mallard, 30 Dunlin, 630 Oystercatcher, 1,670 Curlew, 19 Herring Gull, 152 Shelduck, 2 Great Black-backed  Gull, 27 Common Gull, 2 Lapwing, 4 Black-headed Gull, 5 Grey Plover, 1 Grey Heron, 34 Black-tailed Godwit, 2 Red-breasted Merganser.

Count from Hilbre Island before and during high tide - (Kindly provided by Steve Williams of the HBO, Colin Schofield and Matt Thomas), 18th March.
300 Meadow Pipit, 5 White Wagtail, 10 Pied Wagtail, 5 Grey Wagtail, 2 Wheatear, 4 Siskin, 4 Redwing, 2 Shag, 10 Brent Goose (9 pb and 1 db), 1 Woodcock, 5 Red-throated Diver, 1 Black-throated Diver, 25 Common Scoter, 15+ Purple Sandpiper, 16 Great-crested Grebe, 1 Peregrine, 1 Guillemot.  


March Bird News


The Long-billed Dowitcher which has been seen infrequently at Inner Marsh Farm since November re-appeared yet again during March. As is typical with this American wader it was usually seen in the company of Redshank. There have been no reports elsewhere of this particular bird - so it is a bit of a mystery where it got to when not at Inner Marsh Farm, somewhere in the middle of Burton Marsh more than likely.

     Long-billed Dowitcher

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.

Slav. grebe

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.

Species 2003 Location 2002 2001
White Wagtail 6th March Hoylake 16th March 24th March
Sand Martin 8th March Inner Marsh F. 18th March 15th March
Wheatear 9th March Hoylake 16th March 22nd March
Blackcap* 11th March Arrowe Park 8th March 12th March
Swallow 12th March West Kirby 27th March 28th March
House Martin  15th March Hoylake  13th April 16th April 
ChiffChaff* 15th March Thurstaston 15th March 11th March
Willow Warbler 24th March Thurstaston 29th March 8th March
Whitethroat      19th April    27th April
Cuckoo     21st April  7th May 
Swift     23rd April  21st April 

* 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.
Summer migrants will pour through during April - perhaps producing a good 'fall' of several hundred birds. We will wake up one morning and every bush and tree will seem to have a singing Willow Warbler or Blackcap. The first Whitethroat, Cuckoo and Swift are still awaited - and if we are lucky we might catch sight of an Osprey moving north. Hopefully, like last year, a pair of Avocet may pay us a visit, perhaps even stopping to breed. They have already returned to last year's breeding areas elsewhere in the north-west of England.

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.

Many thanks go to David Steer, Alan Jupp, Bernard Machin, Neil Friswell, Colin Wells, Tony Day. Roy Palmer, Colin Jones, Dave and Emma Kenyon,  John Kirkland, David Hinde, Keith Lester, Phil Woolen, Mark Feltham, Matt Thomas, Paul Rowlands, Jean Morgan, Colin Schofield, Brian Grey,  Mike Hart,  Stephen Williams,  Chris Butterworth,  Martyn Jaimeson,  David Esther, Mike Maher, John Harrison, Jane Turner, Ray Eades, Alan Patterson, Stephen Liston, Tony Davies, Dave Harrington, Colin Murphy, BK + W Hassal, Iain Douglas, Philip Wood, Stephen Ainsworth, Chris Tynan and the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens for their sightings during March. All sightings are gratefully received.

Forthcoming Events


April 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):
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 April 11:30am. High Tide Birdwatch at Point of Ayr.
It's an exciting time of the year with many birds undertaking long-distance migrations from Africa to the high Arctic. Catch up with them on their travels and learn about the amazing journeys they are making. Sightings should include Knot, Grey Plover, Whimbrel and there's a good chance of seeing divers offshore. (HW 13:57, 9.1m) No need to book, meet at the end of Station Rd. Talacre. Further information contact RSPB, tel. 0151 336 7681. 

Saturday 12th April 1:30pm. The Grebes of Greenfield.
Join the RSPB warden in searching out Grebes and Mergansers in the low water channels. On a relaxing walk through the coastal fields, we'll encounter Finches and Wheatears. (LW 14:50, 2.7m) No need to book, meet at Greenfield Dock car park, off Dock Rd, Greenfield. For more details phone 0151 336 7681.

Friday 18th April 11:30am. Parkgate High Tide Birdwatch.
An experience not to be missed! Large flocks of waders and ducks sweep across the sky in search of safe roosting places as the rising tide evicts them from the saltmarsh. Raptors descend for a feast. (HW 13:15, 10.3m) Meet at the Old Baths car park, Parkgate, close to the 
Boathouse Inn. For further details call 0151 336 7681.

Saturday 19th April 12:15pm. Parkgate High Tide Birdwatch.
An experience not to be missed! Large flocks of waders and ducks sweep across the sky in search of safe roosting places as the rising tide evicts them from the saltmarsh. Other possible sightings include Whimbrel and Marsh Harrier. (HW 13:57, 10.1m) Meet at the Old Baths car park, Parkgate, close to the Boathouse Inn. For further details call 0151 336 7681.

Sunday 20th April. Dawn Migrants on Hilbre.
Guided Walk to Hilbre Island to look for early spring migrants, Wheatear, Ring Ouzel and maybe an Osprey? Join us to find out. Please bring warm waterproof clothing and a snack. Please note there is a 1 charge for this event. Booking essential. Tel 0151 648 4371/3884.

Sunday 27th April 7:00am - 10:00am.
Migration Watch at Dawpool Nature Reserve
Join the Rangers on a guided walk along the Wirral Way to Dawpool Nature Reserve to look for arriving warblers and other spring migrants. There will be a bird ringing demonstration by the BTO on the Reserve. Warm waterproof clothing is recommended. Booking essential. Tel: 0151 648 4371/3884.

Saturday 26th April 6:30pm. Evening Special at Inner Marsh Farm
Join the Warden for a relaxing evening stroll around the RSPB reserve at Inner Marsh Farm in search of spring migrants. Finish the evening with cheese and wine. Tickets are 5.00 for members and 6.00 for non-members. Booking and further information, contact RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Saturday 3rd May 7:00am. Migrants on the Move.
One of the best places in the North-East Wales to see migrating passerines, join the RSPB warden at the Point of Ayr to see what lurks in the bushes and learn about the amazing feat of bird migration. Target species include Tree Pipit, Whinchat, Grasshopper Warbler and the unexpected. No need to book, meet at the end of Station Rd. Talacre. Contact RSPB on 0151 336 7681. 

Saturday 3rd May 7:00am - 9:00am. Up with the Lark.
Singing Skylark, Sedge Warbler and Whitethroat are now beginning to arrive so why not join the ranger at Red Rocks to search them out. Dress warmly and bring binoculars if you have them. No need to book. Meet at the end of Stanley Road, off The King's Gap, Hoylake. For further information phone 0151 678 5488.

Sunday 4th May 4:30am - 6:30am. A Song of Stone.
Join the Rangers on an early morning stroll through Stapledon Woods to the sandstone ridges of Caldy Hill to enjoy the dawn chorus, Nature's own symphony. Then watch the sunrise over the Dee Estuary. Please wear suitable warm clothing and bring binoculars if you have them. Booking essential. Phone 0151 648 4371/3884. 

Sunday 4th May 4:30am - 6:30am. Dawn Chorus over Thurstaston Common.
A magical time of day to experience the wonders of the dawn chorus. Listen to the variety of the birdsong on this guided walk over the heathland and woodland site. Tea, coffee and biscuits are available afterwards. Booking essential. Tel: 0151 648 4371/3884.

Saturday 10th May 6:30am. Breakfast Birdwatch. 
Join the RSPB Warden for an early morning birdwatch at Inner Marsh Farm Nature Reserve, Burton. The trees and bushes will be alive with bird song while Lapwings display overhead. Costs inclusive of continental breakfast are 5.50 members and 6.50 non-members. 
Booking essential. Further details and tickets from the RSPB on 0151 336 7681. 

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.