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April 2022 Newsletter


Fire at Neston Reed Bed

On 20th March a huge fire swept through Neston Reedbed burning most of the reeds and some of the adjacent saltmarsh vegetation - about 10 hectares in total. Both the dry reeds from previous seasons and the important leaf litter habitat on the ground have completely gone and it will take a good year or two before they are replaced. We can take some consolation that it wasn't during the breeding season (although  a pair of Marsh Harriers had started nest building) and that the rhizomes appear to be undamaged as they were protected by water and mud so we will see some new growth in a few weeks - but too late for this year's breeding season.

I had intended to write a much longer article but then I saw Dan Trotman's article in the Dee Estuary RSPB Blog and I realised straight away there was no point in me trying to match such a detailed, heartfelt and just amazing piece of writing. So here is it is (follow the link):

Neston Reedbed fire: the view from the ground - by Dan Trotman (published in the RSPB Dee Estuary Blog on 24 Mar 2022).

Heartbroken. Angry. Rueful. Just three of the many emotions coursing through my body and brain since Saturday evening.
Heartbroken for the marsh harrier pair that had started nest building just days before the fire, now flying around aimlessly and confused by the dramatic change in appearance of their home.
Angry that for the third time in my eleven years working here, Iíve witnessed this precious wild habitat going up in flames in suspicious circumstances.
Rueful because after growing pressures on the tidal reserve during the pandemic lockdowns and despite the best efforts of RSPB staff, volunteers and supporters, we had yet to achieve any real progress in preventing damage and disturbance occurring.

See rest of article by clicking:

Neston Reedbed Fire as seen from Parkgate, March 20th © Glyn Thursfield

Neston Reedbed several days after the fire, a small area of reeds did survive on the south end © Richard smith

As well as wet mud there is also some standing water in the burnt remains of the reedbed so the rhizomes should have survived the fire
© Richard Smith

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Colour Ring Report

Black-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit YW-LYflag in Caldy in July 2020 © Richard Smith

Ringed at Fijot in northern Iceland in July 2012 as a chick.
First record after ringing was at Oakenholt Marsh RSPB (near Flint) in October 2012 since when it has become a regular on the Dee Estuary.
Most records are during the summer moult and the spring migration with many sightings every year either at the Gilroy Scrape (West Kirby) or the Caldy Wildfowl Collection, with a few more from Connah's Quay NR and Burton Mere Wetlands. There are only a handful of winter records which were all on the Dee Estuary until 2021. After being spotted at Burton Mere Wetlands in December 2020 it stopped over on South Uist in late April 2021 on it's way back to Iceland. It then decided on a change of scenery as instead of coming back to the Dee after breeding it turned up on the east coast and it was logged on the Humber Estuary in August and December 2021. But it has now made it back to the Dee Estuary with three further records in 2022:
Oakenholt (Flint) on 23/02/2022.
Burton Mere Wetlands on 01/03/2022 and 03/03/2022.


Colour ringed Shelducks photographed in March 2022, top three at Thurstaston and bottom at Meols © Steve Hinde

There were 10 records of six different colour-ringed Shelduck in March, all seen towards the end of the month.
These Shelduck were all colour-ringed at Martin Mere WWT where many spend the winter feeding on the food put out for the wild swans and captive wildfowl. The ones we see on the Dee Estuary in spring are likely to be local breeding birds. We then see them again in the autumn after breeding before they move back to Martin Mere.

One we have recorded regularly is Lime Ring (FD) and in the database there is an interesting note written in 2020 by Steve Hinde about this bird "An observation about FD, this bird frequented a particular area of muddy shore last autumn, within a 50 metre radius of a sunken rowing boat. Both of my sightings of this bird so far this autumn have been in exactly the same locality."

Lime FD
Ringed with metal ring on 06/03/2005 on the Ribble Marshes as a first winter bird.
First recorded at Martin Mere in March 2016 and every winter since. It was fitted with colour ring FD in November 2018.
Seen at Thurstaston on several dates in September and October 2019 and 2020. It was at Thurstaston in early May 2021 and again on 28/03/2022.
This bird is thus almost 18 years old.

Colour Rings were recorded by Richard Smith, Steve Hinde, Matt Thomas, Richard Speechley and Ed Wilson.

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March Bird News

Chiffchaff at Burton Mere Wetlands, March 29th © Steve Round

It was certainly a good month for Chiffchaffs which seemed to be everywhere. As a few overwinter I can't  put them into the first sightings table (below), but in contrast to the Chiffchaffs our first Willow Warbler was the latest since 2016 which was also on March 29th. For the other species the first arrivals were fairly typical for recent years.

Species 2022 Location 2021 2020
Wheatear 9th March
Burton 28th Feb
16th March
Sand Martin 11th March
Burton 5th March 16th March
White Wagtail
12th March Hilbre 16th March
1st March
Swallow 15th March Burton 18th March 23rd March
House Martin
23rd March Heswall
27th March 5th April
Willow Warbler
29th March
West Kirby 23rd March
26th March
10th April 8th April

16th April 21st April

24th April 23rd April

Wheatear at Meols, March 29th  © Matt Thomas

Little Gulls were also passing through, many fly up the Irish Sea at this time of the year before flying across the country on their way to breed in the Baltic and in March we saw them both flying east past Hilbre and inland at both Connah's Quay NR and Burton Mere Wetlands. 

Little Gull at Burton Mere Wetlands, March 29th © Steve Round

The country saw a large influx of Garganeys and we had our share with several pairs present at Burton Mere Wetlands when there were a total of six for several days.

Garganey at Burton Mere Wetlands, March 21st © Tony Hession

One lucky birder saw both an Osprey (the only one recorded this month) and a Red Kite within a few minutes of each other over Leasowe Lighthouse.

Red Kite and Osprey over Leasowe Lighthouse, March 23rd © Ian McKenna

Other notable birds was our first Ring Ouzel of the spring at Hilbre on the 30th, a White Stork over Queensferry on the 27th and a Siberian Chiffchaff at Burton Mere Wetlands on the 26th. There were several Cattle Egret at Burton Mere Wetlands, max six by the end of the month, and also a Bittern was spotted so we hope both species are breeding there.

White Stork over Queensferry, March 27th © Dave Winnard

Many thanks go to Matt Thomas, Steve Williams, Steve Hinde, Alan Hitchmough, Richard speechley, Derek Bates, Allan Conlin, Richard Whitby, David Small, Bruce Atherton, Mark Garner, Mark Woodhead, David Leeming, Paul Vautrinot, Les Hall, Dave Edwards, Paul Mason, Frank Burns, Gail Wilson, Carole Killikelly, Rob McDonald, Kelvin Britton, Steve Hart, Mark Peers, Glyn Thursfield, Jeremy Bradshaw, Roy Wilson, Ken Mullins, Ed Wilson, Graham Parry, Shila Ryde, Mark Gibson, Marc Gannon, Pat Ditton, Ken Lewis, David roe, David Starkey, Andy Humphries, Catherine Hartley, Sasha Quentin, Steve round, David Thompson, Jeff Stephens, Ian Goldstraw, Charles Farnell, Rob O'Keefe, Peter Humphrey, Roy Lowry. Andrew Ingham, Paul Greenslade, Andrew Cross, Ben Lane, Tony Sinnott, Richard Jones, John Hewitt, Alan Irving, Daniel Francis, Tony Hession, Chris Wilding, Ryan Goodman, Neil McMoran, Ian McKenna, Chris Lewis, 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

April will see lots of birds on the move, one of the most exciting months of the year. The estuary itself can be quiet in April but one wader to look out for are Whimbrels, these winter in west Africa with most breeding in Iceland but also some around the Baltic and Scandinavia (see the Seven Whistler). Best place to see these are on a rising tide walking from Caldy to Heswall - numbers can reach over 100. Black-tailed Godwits also breed in Iceland and we get a few hundred moulting here before their journey across the east Atlantic - towards the end of the month they will look glorious in full breeding plumage and can usually be seen at the Caldy Wildfowl Collection. Pink-footed Geese will be leaving us, yet another Icelandic breeder. Some years they can leave over quite a short period of time in a few huge spectacular flocks. But other years their departure takes place through the whole month. Most seem to leave at dawn and an early morning visit to Hilbre can be truly magical with the flocks passing noisily overhead. A surprising number move overnight so you need to get your 'Nocmig'* gear out! Another wildfowl species which migrates at night are Common Scoters but, thanks to Nocmig, it's only been during the past few years has it been realised just how many migrate overland across the UK. Given the numbers in Liverpool Bay many must pass over our area - see http://www.deeestuary.co.uk/news0520.htm#first
and https://www.birdguides.com/articles/citizen-science-reveals-nocturnal-scoter-migration-routes/, also a detailed article in British Birds March 2022 edition.

White Wagtail on Hoylake beach, March 29th © Allan Conlin

White Wagtails, which are also on their way to Iceland, pass through here from early March but numbers usually peak in mid-April which is when we often see large numbers on the shore where counts can be in three figures. Scattered over a large area of sand they can be surprisingly difficult to see but the beaches at Gronant and Hoylake are good sites to see them, as well as any coastal ploughed field or horse paddock. Coastal horse paddocks are also good places to see Yellow Wagtails and they tend to peak in the last week of April and into May. These bright yellow birds really stand out and look out for the scarce 'channel' wagtails and the much rarer continental races. The other two species whose numbers peak in April are Ring Ouzels and Common Redstarts, both stunning birds to see.

Sandwich, Common and Little Terns will all start to arrive in April, they will be with us until the autumn. Depending on wind direction and presumably the availability of food we often get a good passage of Gannets out in Liverpool Bay, sometimes daily counts can reach several hundred.

*Nocmig - short for Nocturnal Migration but normally refers to the practice of noting and/or recording the calls of birds flying over at night.

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Forthcoming Events

April Highest Spring Tides (Liverpool)

Also see Tides page

17th April, 12.21hrs (BST), 9.6m.
18th April, 12.59hrs (BST), 9.7m.
19th April, 13.39hrs (BST), 9.6m.

Forthcoming Events

see https://events.rspb.org.uk/deeestuary