Migration - Ringed Plover, Little Gull and White Wagtail
April is the peak
month for spring migration, with birds leaving to breed in the far north,
many arriving here from further south whilst others are just passing
through. Migration is a fascinating subject and I'm just awestruck when, for
example, I see a flock of Sanderling in May, just in from Africa, knowing
just how many thousands of miles they still have to fly to reach their
breeding grounds in the high Arctic. I've already described the migration
routes of a good number of species, mainly waders - see the
Little Gull (Larus minutus)
They are regularly
monitored off Hilbre at this time when
daily counts can reach 100 or so, but 637 counted on March 20th 2006 was the
highest number for at least 25 years. Even at this time they are rare inside
the estuary and 23 feeding over West Kirby
Marine Lake on April
16th 2001 was the
largest flock ever recorded there. At Crosby they are regularly observed
over the Marine Park, sometimes in their hundreds, feeding on the Chironomid
larvae hatch. From here they fly overland across to the North Sea and
onwards to the Baltic Sea, on their way they sometimes stop off at inland
freshwater sites such as Prescot Reservoir and Pennington Flash.
White Wagtail (Motacilla alba alba)
The White Wagtail and
Pied Wagtail (M. a. yarrelli) are different races of the same species
with the White breeding in most of Europe outside the UK, and the Pied
breeding almost exclusively in this country. As can be seen from the
photograph the White Wagtail is a much greyer bird than the Pied, especially
males in summer plumage. There is some overlap of wintering birds but White
Wagtails tend to move further south into north Africa where they are often
found around oasis in the Sahara desert.
Geoff Robinson (RSPB)
|Little Terns at Gronant - Appeal for Voluntary Wardens|
Gronant is a great place to be in the
summer, it is home to between 70 and 100 pairs of Little Terns - the only
colony in Wales and one of the biggest in Great Britain. There are also
always lots of Sandwich Terns about, Gannets, Manx Shearwaters and Common
Scoters out to sea, a good selection of waders, some of which breed here,
and the usual marshland warblers.
The Little Tern colony wouldn't exist without the wardening scheme which protects them from both human disturbance and predators - mainly crows, kestrels and foxes. So once again we are appealing for people to have a go at wardening. The Denbighshire Countryside Service are organising the voluntary wardens again this year so if you want to volunteer email Garry Davies at firstname.lastname@example.org. Garry can also be contacted by phone - 01745 356197 or 07884490345. Wardens are present every day from late May to early August so if you want to know what is involved just come down and have a chat, or contact me, Richard Smith, by for more details; 2006 will be my seventh year of voluntary wardening and I've enjoyed every minute! For directions see http://www.deeestuary.co.uk/gronant.htm.
March Bird News
spring tides dominated the birdwatching this month with the sea covering
the marsh at Parkgate,
Burton and elsewhere on a total of five
days, including on the 30th when we had the highest tide for over 20
years. With birds starting to disperse to their breeding grounds through
the month the earlier tides produced the most birds. Highlights at
Parkgate included seven Short-eared Owls,
four Spotted Redshank, approx 12 Water Rail and approx 12 Jack Snipe.
The later tides did produce a few surprises though, with a Spotted Crake seen on two days and eight Water Pipits in the field behind the Old Baths car park. Many rodents were washed in by the sea including six harvest mice which are very rare in Cheshire. The above photo is a great action shot of a kestrel which has just plucked what looks like a water vole out of the water at Parkgate on the 28th (Neil McLaren ©). But Parkgate wasn't the only place to see good birds; on the 30th Denhall Lane at Burton was flooded and Steve Round saw at least 20 Water Rails there, including some swimming up and down the lane!
Cold north and east winds persisted for the first three weeks of the month which meant that the spring migration was held up. Most of the first sightings were late compared with the last three or four years, in 2003 we had White Wagtail, Wheatear and Sand Martin in the first nine days of March! The table below shows the first records for some of our commoner spring migrants.
The cold weather had the advantage of holding up the departure of our over-wintering waders with well over 10,000 - mainly Knot and Dunlin - at both Hoylake and West Kirby. But it wasn't just a cold wind, we had a heavy fall of snow on the 12th which resulted in a fall of Redwings with over 1,000 past Hoylake Shore and lots more scattered around the region the following day.
Out to sea we had an excellent passage of Little Gulls past Hilbre with 637 on the 20th a probable all time record. Two Slavonian Grebes off Hilbre was a good record on the 21st and there were still 78 Brent Geese there on the 25th. Three Gannets off the Point of Ayr on the 28th was the first report of the year, with two Sandwich Terns there two days later.
Good views of raptors during the month included single Marsh Harriers recorded on four dates, eight Common Buzzard soaring over Leahurst (near Neston) and a full male Hen Harrier at Parkgate, this is in addition to numerous sightings of Merlins and Peregrines during the spring tides.
What to expect in April
The main spring migration takes place through April with birds pouring in to the country. Out to sea we can expect many Gannets, Little Gulls, Sandwich Terns and Common Terns, whilst on land all the spring migrants will be arriving in force. Some mornings we can wake up to a good fall of migrants when the fields and shore are full of Wheatears and every bush seems to have a singing Blackcap or Whitethroat in it. Hilbre is always good for Wheatears, but if you don't fancy a trek over there try the horse paddocks just west of Leasowe Lighthouse which seems to be particularly attractive to them. Both places are also good for the odd Yellow Wagtail and Ring Ouzel.
Rarer migrants will include an Osprey or two, a few Marsh Harriers and a perhaps a pair or more of Avocets. Sooner or later the Avocets will stay to breed, as they have at Marshside in Southport and the Weaver bend near Frodsham Marsh - may be this year? Other waders will include the usual passage of Whimbrel with Point of Ayr, Heswall and Hilbre favoured sites, and Black-tailed Godwits tend to congregate at Inner Marsh Farm before many head for Iceland to breed, although a sizable number of non-breeders will stay here all summer.
North Wales Bird Forum
Local birders Marc Hughes and Adrian Foster have set up a North Wales Bird Forum where you can discuss ID problems, best birding sites, your tick list and anything else to do with North Wales birding.
I don't normally discuss such matters in this newsletter as website hits but March saw a landmark passed, on March 21st I had 1001 visits to the website, the first time the 1000 mark has been passed. The average number of visits per day for March was 834 - not bad for a small amateur site - and just in case you are thinking this is making me rich - I don't make a single penny from the website! Richard Smith.
Many thanks go to Steve Renshaw, Katie Barrett, Bill Owen, Tanny Robinson, David Haigh, Andy Gregory, Dave Harrington, Stephen Hargreaves, Damian Waters, Steve Round, Allan Conlin, Glyn Roberts, Janet Smith, Mike Hart, Dave Wild, Ken McNiffe, Iain Douglas, Gordon Baker, Karen Leeming, Paul Green, Rhys Findlay-Robinson, Colin Wells, Matilde Baker-Schommer, Steve Ainsworth, Leon Castell, Bernard Machin, Eric Robinson, David Esther, John Richardson, Colin Schofield, Rosemary Hannay, Clive Ashton, Neil Mclaren, Colin Jones, John Billington, Charles Farnell, Michael Clarkson, Steve Williams, Chris Butterworth, Jeremy Bradshaw, Dave and Emma Kenyon, Fred Heywood, Jane Turner, Sean Fortune, John and Andrew Morris, Mark Turner, Laura Bimson, Nick Bullen, Mike Baron, John Kirkland, Graham Thompson, Steve Edwards, Allan Patterson, Tanny Robinson, John Ferguson, Anthony Britner, Keith Duckers, Mal Smerdon, Chris Jones, Rob Bithell, Steve Wrigley, Peter Button, G. Keating, the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during March. All sightings are gratefully received.
April Highest Spring Tides,
1st April, 14:11hrs 10.0m. BST.
27th April, 11:39hrs 10.0m. BST.
28th April, 12:24hrs 10.0m. BST.
29th April, 13.06hrs 9.9m. BST.
Forthcoming Events (organised
by the Wirral Ranger Service,
Flintshire Countryside Service and/or the RSPB):
Sunday 2nd April, 6am – 8am, Go Woodpecker Wild!
Saturday 22nd April, 6:30pm, Evening Special at
Inner Marsh Farm.
Sunday 7th May, 6am – 8am, Wirral Way Warblers.
Saturday 13th May, 6:30am, Breakfast Birdwatch.
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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