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April 2016 Newsletter

Birds in Abundance!
Colour Ring Report.
March Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
Latest Newsletter.


       Birds in Abundance!

                             Common Scoters off East Hoyle Bank, April 2015  Richard Smith.
                                    It was a delight to be so close to so many of these ducks.

The recent publishing of 'Birds of Conservation Concern 4' is another reminder of the pressure our birds are under with threats seemingly coming from almost every activity of mankind. I would list some of these threats but that would be too depressing. Instead, despite the doom and gloom, there is good news locally with quite dramatic increases in some species - and it's fantastic that in this day and age we can still see these birds in abundance. 

Common Scoter

"Zillions of scoters" was the original report as thousands poured into Liverpool Bay on February 11th. They were flying in a steady stream (see video) thus, unusually for Scoters, making them relatively easy to count and over a 40 minute period the total was 36,000. But many more, quite possibly as many again, were already on the sea and these were impossible to estimate, hence the bar chart is annotated with "70,000??"!

They are remarkable numbers by any standard, and it is the third year in a row we've had these enormous flocks. These peak numbers always occur between February and April and therefore it seems likely that these are birds on their way north after wintering further south.  Although such numbers are unprecedented off the Dee estuary/North Wirral coast they are not unknown in Liverpool Bay as a whole with counts ranging from 60,000 to 79,000 during aerial surveys between 2001 and 2007 before most of the wind farms were built - interestingly, max counts during those surveys were also during February and March. The majority of scoters, many out of sight of land, were off North Wales and Blackpool at that time, so there must have been a shift in location since then to North Wirral and they are presumably exploiting a food source they haven't used before.

Some people have suggested that wind farms have caused this change of location, either due to disturbance pushing them away from, for example, the huge Gwynt-Y-Mor wind farm off North Wales, or, in contrast, perhaps the benign underwater conditions under the turbines, where shellfish can grow undisturbed, is attracting them to the Burbo Bank windfarm off Wirral. A lot of off-shore/aerial surveying would have to be done to establish if either is the case. It is quite possible that the wind farm operators are doing these very surveys but they are VERY reluctant to give out any data in case it is used against them. Liverpool Bay is a Special Protection Area and Common Scoters are a named feature of the SPA.

Further reading (click link to read article):

1. Common Scoters, Liverpool Bay SPA and Windfarms - Dee Estuary website July 2008.

2. Common Scoters - Dee Estuary website May 2014.

3. HOW Many Scoters!!?? - Dee Estuary website May 2015.

Great Crested Grebes

Over the past 10 years the sea off North Wirral has become one of the most important sites in the country for this species. The five year average of 1,008 (2011 to 2015) puts the area second only to Dungeness and Rye Bay where numbers have also been increasing including a massive 3,000 in January 2013. Coincident with these increases there has been a large drop of Great Crested Grebe numbers in Northern Ireland, for example in Belfast Lough there was a max count of 2,095 in the winter of 2005/06 which had dropped  to just 234 by 2013/14, so that's may be where they have relocated from.

At high tide they lie in large rafts between Hoylake and Leasowe Lighthouse but they are a long way out and you need a decent telescope to see them, a flat calm sea and bright conditions are also essential if you want to count them.

Further reading (click link to read article):

Great Crested Grebes off North Wirral - Dee Estuary website December 2010.

Pink-footed Geese

Who can fail to be moved by flocks of geese flying in V-formation overhead calling musically to each other? I know I am and it's been one of the highlights of my birding life to see Pink-footed Geese increase dramatically on the Dee estuary over the past few years. Over-shooting in the first half of the 20th century meant the geese deserted the estuary and for decades there were none present other than the rare flock of a 100 or so, now they are here in record numbers.

This past winter they have been using the full extent of the marshes - from Burton all the way down to Heswall but nobody was expecting the huge count of 8,500 on Burton Marsh on February 28th, with an additional 400 at Parkgate counted at the same time that made for an outstanding total of 8,900.That number is small beer compared with some sites, of course, the nearby Alt Estuary had over 18,000 in 2013 and Martin Mere had 29,400 the same year - but for the Dee estuary it's fantastic!

Further reading (click link to read article):

Geese on the Dee Estuary - Dee Estuary website January 2012.

                                  Pink-footed Geese over Burton Steve Round.

Acknowledgements for this article

1. Scoter counts have been made by many people over the years but particular thanks go to the Wetland and Wildlife Trust for carrying out and publishing the data from their aerial surveys, and also to local birder Jane Turner for undertaking regular counts off North Wirral.

2. As well as myself regular Great Crested Grebe counts have been carried out by Hilbre Bird Observatory, David Haigh and Jane Turner for which many thanks.

3. Pink-footed Geese have been counted by many people including those carrying out Wetland Bird Surveys, particular thanks go to the RSPB for their counts and to the fact they bought so much of the marshes which has provided the safe habitat the geese obviously love. 

Richard Smith

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Colour Ring Report

      Black-tailed Godwit YW-LYflag (left) and Dunlin RY-Yflag/RYR (right), photographed by Richard Smith.  

Recording of Colour-ringed birds remains very slow. There was a delay getting feedback from some Danish ringed Black-headed Gulls but that has now been received and these are reported below.  

Black-tailed Godwit

YW-LYflag. Ringed as a chick on July 12th in northern Iceland.
Recorded on March 9th 2016 at Burton Mere Wetlands.
First record after ringing was at RSPB Oakenholt Marsh in October 2012. Apart from one visit to Carr Lane Pools, next to the Mersey Estuary in August 2013, it has never been seen away from the Dee Estuary where it has been seen many times every year since 2012, it is always one of the first birds back in mid-July and stays in the area until the autumn. There are very few December records and none for January or February so we have no idea where it spends the winter. Spring visits have been very brief.


Yflag//RYR-RY. Ringed at Jade Bay, German Wadden Sea, on May 15th 2010.
Recorded on the rocks by West Kirby Marine Lake on February 26th 2016.
Also recorded at West Kirby Marine Lake on December 9th and 10th 2015, no other records.

Black-headed Gulls

VK63 (black letters on white ring). Ringed as a chick at Hirsholm island off NE Denmark on June 9th 2011.
Recorded at Hoylake shore on January 23rd 2016.
Also recorded at the ringing site in July 2011, no other records.

4HM (Black letters on white ring). Ringed as an adult at Utterslev Torv, Copenhagen, Denmark, on March 28th 2015.
Recorded at New Brighton on March 5th 2016, no other records.

Richard Smith and Matt Thomas.
Colour-ringed birds were also recorded by Allan Patterson and Colin Schofield.

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March Bird News

As you see from the table below the first migrants were late this year, this was due to a high pressure system and accompanying north winds which effectively blocked the northwards passage.

Species 2016 Location 2015 2014
White Wagtail 15th March Hilbre 10th March 8th March
Sand Martin 16th March Neston 7th March 20th March
Wheatear 23rd March Meols 11th March 10th March
Swallow 24th March Shotton 20th March 19th March
Willow Warbler 29th March Leasowe and
22nd March 12th March
House Martin   31st March 29th March
Whitethroat    12th April 4th April
Swift     19th April 3rd May
Cuckoo     20th April 2nd May

Unfortunately the same weather meant that the spring tides were a bit of a none event and barely made it into the Riverbank Road (Heswall) viewpoint, and nowhere near Parkgate. The highest count of Short-eared Owls were five out hunting off Heswall Golf Course well after high tide on the 10th. Also seen at Heswall were a Spoonbill, 4 Water Rails and two Hen Harriers. 

                            First Wheatear of the year at Leasowe, March 23rd Mark Turner.

The area around Neston Sewage Works was of much interest with at least three Water Pipits, Cetti's Warblers, a Firecrest and at least one Siberian Chiffchaff, a pity that some people don't seem to realise that if you get too close to birds you will flush them, harming the birds and the enjoyment of everyone else. 

                                    Rock Pipit on Hilbre, March 12th Elliot Monteith.   

Common Scoters numbers remained very high but were always way too far out to be able to do a sensible count - but probably at least 30,000 - and one Surf Scoter was off Hoylake (11th).  It's not been a particularly good winter for Scaup so it was good to see six off Hilbre on the 11th. There were a few Eiders around including three of Heswall, where they are quite rare, with two males displaying to a female. Two Long-tailed Ducks flew past Red Rocks on the 7th and 16 Red-throated Divers were on the sea off Hoylake on the 8th.

                         Skylark by Leasowe Lighthouse, March 25th Frank Burns

There were plenty of Great White Egrets recorded including three on Burton Marsh on the 25th, we hope they might breed this year although I haven't heard of any activity so far. There's been a particularly good passage of Siskins with max count of 30 in a garden in Newton, lots have been ringed in the area including 100 in Great Sutton - I'm a bit upset that not a single one visited my garden!

Other highlights included a Black Redstart by the Harp Inn, a Spoonbill and Iceland Gull past Hilbre and nine Stonechats along north Wirral.
                                                Siskin at Newton, March 31st Allan Hitchmough.

Richard Smith.

Many thanks go to Eddie Williams, Damian Waters, David Haigh, Bernard East, Mark Turner, Andrew Ingham, Mal Sergeant, Kevin Lyth, Paul Mason, Steve Round, Richard Beckett, Nigel Young, Colin Schofield, Roy Wilson, Steve Hinde,Ian Hughes,  Charles Farnell,  Brian Griffith, Matt Thomas, Graham Connolly, Roy Lowry, David Thompson, Chris Butterworth, Paul Lee, Jane Turner, Jeff Cohen, Allan Conlin, David Small, Jeremy Bradshaw, Huw Morgan, Frank Burns, Ian Dyer, Alan Hitchmough, Lisa Duffy, Steve Williams, Sean O'Hara, Elliot Montieth, Mike Turnton, Ray Eades, Carole Killikelly, Tanny Robinson, Paul Lee, David Leeming, Paul Vautrinot, Bruce Atherton, John Spottiswood, Henry Cook,Keith Ackerley, Neil McMorran, Dave Edwards, Andy Thomas, George Knight,  Denzil Nicklin, Alan Iving,  Marc Gannon, Gavin Butler, Ian Douglas, Stephen Burke, Rob Morsley, Ian Cotterell, Simon Johnson, Ian Mansell, Tony Williamson, Jeff Stephens, the Lighthouse and Wirral Birding Blog, the Dee Estuary Wardens and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during March. All sightings are gratefully received. 

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What to expect in April

March  may be the month when the first spring migrants come through but it's April when they pass through in large numbers. Given the right conditions, and this can be different with different species, basically a warm south-east wind under slightly misty and over-cast conditions, we can get some good falls of birds when every field seems to covered in White Wagtails and Wheatears and every hedge has dozens of warblers. Early morning is best but sometimes it can be good all day.

The species we will particularly be on the look-out for are Grasshopper Warblers, Redstarts, Ring Ouzels, Yellow Wagtails, Wheatears, Whinchats and White Wagtails (see Three Magical Spring Days article). On the estuary Whimbrels will be on their way north whilst out to sea we will see Sandwich Terns and sometimes the passage of Gannets in April can be spectacular. Keep an eye out overhead and give any' large gull' a second look, it might be an Osprey! The first Hobbys and Garganeys may also turn up.

There are another set of big high tides in April and it's not too late for some great views of harriers, Short-eared Owls and Water Rails.

                                    Knot at West Kirby, March 30th Jeff Cohen
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Forthcoming Events

April Highest Spring Tides (Liverpool)

Also see Tides page.

7th April, 11.48hrs (BST), 9.9m. 
9th April, 12.33hrs (BST), 10.2m.
9th April, 13.18hrs (BST), 10.2m. 
10th April, 14.03hrs (BST), 10.0m.  

Forthcoming Events

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. 

Saturday 16th April and Friday 6th May - Weekend Walkabout, at Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB.
1pm to 3pm (approx finish)
Price: Free (normal reserve entry charges apply to non-members).

Join one of our friendly, knowledgeable volunteers for a gentle walk from the Reception Hide to the end of the Hillfort Trail on Burton Point, to learn more about the wildlife that thrives here, the work we do to give nature a home and the remarkable history of the estuary.

Great for first time visitors or those who'd like a guide to help them get the most enjoyment from a visit. With constant changes as we move through the seasons, it's impossible to predict what might be seen but nesting wading birds, herons and ducks are guaranteed, with an array of colourful flowers, butterflies and dragonflies emerging into the warmer months, there's always something to marvel.

No booking required, just turn up on the day. A reasonable level of fitness and sturdy footwear are required. Ring 0151 353 8478 for further details.