Dee Estuary Newsletter

2nd April 2007
WeBS Dee Estuary Report 2005/06
Gronant Little Tern Colony.
Voluntary Wardens wanted for Neston Reedbed.
March Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
Latest Newsletter.

Little Gulls  (Steve Williams)

WeBS Dee Estuary Report 2005/06

The Dee Estuary Wetland Bird Survey Annual Report 2005/06 has just been published and is full of facts and figures on the birds of the Dee Estuary. Because of the recent change to the WeBS 'year' from March to April to July to June this report actually covers 15 months rather than the usual 12.

The report begins by detailing those species which are present in Internationally Important numbers on the Dee Estuary, a total of 12, with another four present in National Important numbers. The systematic list is the usual detailed account of each species and includes 24 graphs with data going back to the winter of 1981/82. Looking at the five year moving averages in these graphs it is a fascinating insight into the trends for the past 25 years. These demonstrate that about twelve species show a long term increase, three show a long term decrease and the remaining eight species are at about the same level they were 25 years ago. So over the long term the Dee Estuary and it's birds seem to be in a reasonably healthy state although there are a few recent decreases in numbers probably due to the run of mild winters.

Shelduck at Heswall, a species which has increased steadily over the past 25 years,
Richard Smith

To obtain the Dee Estuary WeBS Annual Report 2005/2006, compiled by Neil Friswell and edited by Colin Wells, please contact the local RSPB by telephoning 0151 336 7681. WeBS counters receive a free copy.

Richard Smith

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Voluntary Wardens wanted for Gronant Little Tern Colony

Richard Smith

Gronant is a wonderful place to spend a few hours in the summer with the constant activity of the Little Tern colony, some great sea-watching, skylarks and meadow pipits singing over head and wildflowers covering the sand dunes. 2007 will be the 32nd year that there has been wardening here, and as can be seen from the graph below the Little Terns continue to increase in numbers despite the best attentions of the foxes, crows and kestrels; great credit must go to all those wardens doing a great job over those 32 years.

Wardening will be starting in May and usually ends early August. If you want to help out as a voluntary warden, or just want to come along to see what it is all about, contact Adrian Hibbert at Denbighshire Countryside Services, email:, tel no. 01745 356197.

Voluntary Wardens Needed to Protect Neston Reed Bed

Once again the RSPB are organising voluntary wardening at Neston Reed Bed, the scheme will begin March 26th and run through until the end of May. Wardening will take place each evening in order to protect this important habitat from disturbance. I know in the past this scheme has attracted birders who have realised what a good opportunity this location is for some serious birdwatching with the possibility of seeing migrating Ospreys and Marsh Harriers, large numbers of Little Egrets flying in to roost, Bearded Tits, Hen Harriers, Short-eared Owls and the numerous birds which breed in the reed bed. If you are interested please contact Stuart Taylor ( or Geoff Robinson (, telephone 0151 336 7681.

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March Bird News

The mild weather and southerly winds early in the month brought in the first migrants a lot earlier than last year. But then northerly winds set in which meant that the number of migrants were reduced to  a slow trickle. The table shows the dates when the first migrants of some of our commoner species were seen.

Species 2007 Location 2006 2005
Wheatear 12th March Leasowe 23rd March 16th March
White Wagtail 13th March Hilbre 19th March 17th March
Sand Martin 15th March Hilbre 26th March 17th March
Swallow 16th March Inner Marsh F. 25th March 25th March
House Martin 1st April Leasowe   29th March 2nd April
Willow Warbler     31st March 31st March
Swift     16th April 17th April
Whitethroat     17th April 18th April
Cuckoo     29th April 1st May

Wheatear on Hilbre, March 31st, Steve Oakes AEBS Ltd.

The same north winds which slowed down the spring migration rather spoiled the high tide bird watching events at Parkgate, what had been forecasted as the highest tides of the year were pushed back by adverse winds. However, the wind dropped on the 21st so that the tide just made it to the wall at the Old Baths and we had some fabulous views of Short-eared Owls, a total of four. Five were seen the following day off Heswall, an excellent number for March.

Leach's Petrels continue to turn up unexpectedly with two off Point of Ayr on the 19th, following a westerly gale. It was probably the same two birds which were seen later further west at Towyn, and Leach's Petrels were also seen near the Great Orme. Unusual though these sightings are they are, perhaps, not as unexpected as the large December influx this winter, in March birds will be on their way north and passing close to this country out in the Atlantic. The westerly gale mentioned above also brought in over 100 Little Gulls to New Brighton as well 18 Red-throated Divers and 12 Gannets off the Point of Ayr. The first Gannets were seen on the 5th, a good early date, but we are still to see the first Sandwich Terns.

Brent Geese on Hilbre, April1st 2007, Mark O'Sullivan

Avocets have been moving through with five over West Kirby on the 5th and four at Inner Marsh Farm for a few days later in the month. The Curlew Sandpiper which has spent all winter at Inner Marsh Farm remained all month. Brent Geese numbers have remained high with over 90 early in the month and at least 57 by the end. The Brent Geese, which spend most of their time around the Hilbre islands, have been readily observable from West Kirby Shore. More unexpectedly was the sight of at least 500 Common Scoter observed from West Kirby during a very clear day on the 2nd, way out in Liverpool Bay. There have been good numbers of Great Crested Grebes all winter off Dove Point, Meols, the highest count in March was 222 on the 8th.

What to expect in April

For most species April is the peak migration time. Given the right conditions we can get many hundreds of Meadow Pipits and hirundines throughout the region, particularly over Hilbre. Hoylake shore seems to be particularly attractive to White Wagtails on their way to Iceland, on some days we can get over 100 on the beach. The horse paddocks and sand dunes west of Leasowe Lighthouse are always a good site for Wheatears, on April 23rd last year we had over 50 here. Out to sea will be Gannets, Razorbills, Guillemots and Little Gulls; and the first Common and Little Terns will return to their colonies at Shotton and Gronant respectively.

Wader numbers will be well down as most will have moved on towards their breeding grounds, but we can still have large flocks of Knot and Dunlin hurrying through on their way from Africa to the far north. Whimbrel should be passing through all month with Hilbre the prime site, but Heswall can also get very good numbers. Look out for waders changing in to their summer plumage with Spotted Redshank and both Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits looking gorgeous! Look out also for the odd Osprey and Marsh Harrier passing through, and hopefully a pair or two of Avocets will stay to breed at Inner Marsh Farm or Burton Marsh.

With all this movement of birds April is a great time to see rarities. Last year was excellent with the list including Sub-Alpine Warbler, Alpine Swift, Long-eared Owl, Chough and Hoopoe; hopefully we will get a few more this year.

Many thanks go to John Kirkland, Jason Stannage, 'Gary', Neil McLaren, Paul Owen, Peta Sams, Mark Gibson, Paul Roberts, Stephen Ainsworth, Chris Wilding, Iain Douglas, Rob Williams, John Boswell, Martin Kelly, Geoff Robinson, Mark Kendall, Bill Owen, Pete Button, Phil Woollen, Bill Dickinson, Damian Waters, Frank Huband, Paul Mason, David Lee, Stuart Taylor, Peter Davison, Steve Oakes, 'Stephen and Lizzie', Gilbert Bolton, Brian Roberts, David Harrington, Dave Edwards, Allan Conlin, Mike Hart, Dave Wild, Colin Schofield, Steve Round, Steve Williams, Chris Butterworth, Jane Turner, Charles Farnell, Richard Steel, Paul Shenton, Ian Dyer, Ian Williams, Paul Rowlands, Leon Castell, Joy and Carol Mitchell-Lisle, David Huntingford, Chris Moore, the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during March.  All sightings are gratefully received.

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Forthcoming Events

April Highest Spring Tides (Liverpool), also see Tides page.
17th April, 11.53hrs 10.1m. BST.
18th April, 12.38hrs 10.3m. BST.
19th April, 13.22hrs 10.2m. 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 18th April 11:00am, Parkgate Birdwatch.
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 are flushed out. Meet at the Old Baths car park overlooking the Dee Estuary Reserve at Parkgate, close to The Boat House pub (HW 12:38 10.3m). For details contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681. No need to book.

Thursday 19th April 11:30am, Parkgate Birdwatch.
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 13:22, 10.2m). For details contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Saturday 21st April 11.30 am, 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 there a good some spring migrants. Join the RSPB Warden to watch the action as it unfolds (HW 14.30, 9.2 m) No need to book. Meet at the end of Station Rd. Talacre. For further information contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Saturday 21st April 1.30pm - 3pm, Woodland Walk at Royden Park. New
Explore Royden Park with the Ranger and discover the splendour of its woodlands. This event is suitable for all the family to enjoy, all children under 8 years old must be accompanied by an adult. No need to book. Meet at the Rangers Office by the Walled Garden (SJ 245857). For further enquiries ring 0151 677 7594.

Sunday 29th April 10am - 12noon, Birds along the Brook. New
Join the Ranger for a walk following the route of the Arrowe Brook as it flows through Arrowe Country Park and discover the wealth of birds that use and visit the brook and surrounding woodlands. This event is sutibale for all the family to enjoy. No need to book. Meet at the Arrowe Brook Car Park, Arrowe Brook Road (SJ 265868). Sorry no dogs. For further enquiries ring 0151 677 7594.

Thursday 3rd May, Evening Sunset Walk to Hilbre. New
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 (Wellington boots are recommended). Sorry no dogs. There is a 1 charge for this event. Booking essential - ring 0151 648 4371.

Sunday 6th May, Dawn Chorus on the Dales. 4.30am - 6.30am. New
Experience this magical time of day and listen to the birdsong on the heathland as the sun rises over Heswall Dales Local Nature Reserve. This event is suitable for all the family to enjoy. Sorry no dogs. Booking essential - ring 0151 648 4371.

Sunday 6th May  2pm. Birdwatching for Beginners at Greenfield Valley.
A chance to join local wildlife expert and keen birder Brian Roberts on a walk around this delightful country park between Holywell and the Dee Estuary. Among the many woodland and water birds you should see will be Pochard, Tufted Duck, Little Grebe, Dipper, Grey Wagtail, all three species of Woodpeckers, Treecreeper, Wood Warbler and both Spotted and Pied Flycatcher. Meet at Greenfield Valley Visitor Centre. Please contact Brian by email for more information:

Monday 7th May Bank Holiday, Wepre Spring Walk, 2pm - 4pm.
Come and see the woodlands bursting with new life this spring, with some entertaining Wepre facts along the way. Booking essential, ring 01244 814 931.

NOTE: Many of these forthcoming events are extracted from the 'Birdwatchers Diary 2007', 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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