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2nd May 2002
The Wardening Year 2001.
Gronant Tern Colony.

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


             Ring Ouzel

The Wardening Year at West Kirby Shore 2001

Chris Butterworth (extracted from the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens annual report).


First wardening period

January started the year off with an amazing, but typically British, mix of weather. Gales and windless days, bright sunshine and thick fog, heavy rain, a brief sprinkling of snow and temperatures peaking at a ridiculous 17C in the editor's garden. The wind was from the northerly quarters for the first, and warmest, part of the month but turned south-westerly for the remainder, which brought some of the coldest weather for the first part of the year. After the mix of weather during most of the month, it finished with showers and mists, and was positively autumnal! Wardens were present on the beach on 15 occasions.
Despite, or because of, the weather there were plenty of highlights this month. A Great Crested Grebe took up residence on the Marine Lake for the month, accompanied by a Cormorant and, for one day, a male Wigeon. Red-breasted Merganser numbers were fairly constant, peaking at 15, with signs of display noted from the 1st. Great Crested Grebe numbers then soared to a possible Marine Lake record of 9. Off Little Eye there were Wigeon and Pintail along with up to 4 Dark-bellied Brent Geese and an all-time wardening ( and islands ) record of 37 Pale-bellied Brent. Other birds of note were 85 Pinkfeet, Water Rail, Merlin, Purple Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit, Rock Pipit. Birds remaining from last year included 3 Stonechat in the Red Rocks golfcourse. area and Grey Wagtail around the Natterjack enclosures,

Southerly winds, mists and wet, autumnal weather, much the same as the end of the previous month, greeted the beginning of February but it quickly turned a lot more spring-like before a return to heavy frosts and snow, with blizzards on 26th and 27th. The roost was wardened 14 times this month. February was remarkable for the number of birds using the beach, very few that is! Only on a couple of days were there significant flocks of the commoner waders, 10,000 Knot on the 28th in particular were more than likely moving back to their breeding grounds.
The only real highlight amongst the waders was a flock of 1000 Grey Plover and the same number of Bar-tailed Godwits on the 10th that were probably pushed off their usual roost by the very high tide. Other good sightings were another flock of Pinkfeet, 120 this time, more Lapwing, Grey Wagtail, Sparrowhawk and 3 Mallard.

March came in like a lamb, of the New Zealand variety - frozen solid, but with daytime temperatures reaching 16C on occasions. Low pressure dominated the middle of the month, bringing a mixture of most kinds of weather. The end of the month was equally mixed with sub-zero temperatures some days, while others were warm enough for a tee shirt, only to he followed by heavy snow. If the month was supposed to go out like a lion, it was a rather confused and senile one! Snow covered the Carnedd's until the end of the month and the winter of 2000 - 2001 was officially declared the wettest since 1776. The weekend of 10th/11th saw the highest tides of the first half of the year, in particular that on 10th, which nearly came over onto the Promenade. The following day it came in and seemed to forget that it was supposed to go out again (all part of life's rich panoply, as someone who has never wardened once said!). As March is the last month of regular wardening for the first winter period we were out on the beach for only 7 days.
Highlights of the month involved the first returning migrants including Sand Martin, Wheatear, Chiffchaff and an exceptionally early Willow Warbler. Other birds noted were 10 Mallard, Water Rails, Stonechats, displaying Meadow Pipits and yet more, Grey Wagtails.
There was a substantial increase in the amount of people utilising the beach from the middle of the month. Due to the Foot & Mouth epidemic we had visitors to the shore from as far away as mid-Cheshire walking their dogs, and plenty of birdwatchers from the Midlands and Lancashire. At the months end (and into April) the former had become a torrent with a peak single count of 249 walkers and a ridiculous 463 dogs at 0945hrs. on April 8th and reports from local residents of people with torches walking their dogs from about 0330 hrs. onwards.

Second wardening period

The second wardening period started on September 16th and we were present on the beach for 7 days. The month started with a mix of dull overcast weather, brief moments of bright sunshine and onshore winds with heavy rain which culminated in northerly gales on the weekend of the 15th and 16th while the end was marked by southerly winds and heavy showers. The temperatures hovered between 12 - 20C.
Highlights of the month were, as would be expected, returning waders and departing summer migrants. The best bird of the month had to he the Yellow-browed Warbler on the last day. 

Sightings of Little Egret continued with the first records of birds actually on the beach. Osprey, Hen Harrier, Buzzard and Hobby were the best raptors and Black Tern and Green Sandpiper were unusual for the site. Little Stints had a good month with birds being recorded from both Red Rocks and West Kirby.

Little Egret

A passage of 3000 Swallow was recorded, in 2 hours, at the beginning of the month while the first day of wardening saw Leach's Storm-Petrel, Arctic and Long-tailed Skua and Sabine's Gull. Other good stuff included Shag on the Marine Lake and the return of both pairs of Stone Chat to the beach from the golfcourse.
The high tide birdwatch at Hoylake organised by the wardens on 22nd. was well attended with up to 70 people present, all of whom expressed a lot of interest in the birds and the work that we do, and it got us in the press again!

October saw the wardens present at the roost site on 17 occasions. Heavy rain and strong winds veering from south to north started the month off then the winds lightened and swung back to the south with days of bright sunshine. By the middle it had become more autumnal with mists and air frosts turning bright and warm at the end of the month. Brief, sporadic, heavy showers continued throughout. Temperatures fluctuated between 9 and 18C.
Highlight of the month was also the best bird of the year, eclipsing last months Yellow-browed Warbler, a first winter Laughing Gull, which made male Goosander, Long-eared Owl, Mediterranean Gull, Black Redstart and Raven look just a little tame. The first wintering migrants turned up from the second week with Brent Goose, Goldeneye, an influx of Robins, Blackbirds, Mistle Thrushes, Redwing and Song Thrushes and a single flock of 1,500 Fieldfare was noted overhead. Stonechat and Grey Wagtail were present with 6 Sparrowhawk noted on passage on the 21st. and Northern Wheatear were present up to the close of the month. Wader numbers were very low with Knot and Dunlin hardly making an appearance at all.

The first real signs of winter normally appear in November but the beginning of the month brought a mix of bright sunshine and showers with the wind fluctuating between light southerlies and stiff north-westerlies and temperatures reaching 17'C. By the end of the first week though the weather had become decidedly more wintry. Wardening was carried out on 14 days during the month. 40 Pinkfeet were a good start to the month as were a flock of Lapwing and a Teal. Another Little Egret continued this years run and a Grey Wagtail was present on occasions. The record of a Northern Wheatear in the middle of the month was the second latest recorded in Wirral and Cheshire and prompted some very close checking as Desert Wheatear are always a possibility at this time of year. Numbers of Brents rose to 18 compared to the 8 present at the same time last year. Winter thrushes were still passing overhead in the early mornings and the mystery of where all the waders were this winter was solved on the day of the WeBS count with a flock of 39,000 birds recorded on Hoylake shore.

December may be the end of the calendar year, and this year's report, but it is only half-way through the second wardening period. The roost site was wardened on 15 days during the month. Winter finally arrived with frosts, rain and bright clear days. Gale force northwesterlies dominated Christmas with hail on Boxing Day and belts of rain continued to pass through until New Years Eve which was warm with bright sunshine. Temperatures were above freezing for most of the month but the wind chill negated this on many days. Numbers of waders using the roost continued to fluctuate but thankfully started to rise, as did the numbers of duck using the Marine Lake. Highlights included an increase to 27 Pale-bellied Brents, 18 Greater Scaup, a male Tuftie, Snipe and reasonable flocks of waders.

This article was first published in the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens Annual Report 2001. As you can see above the  wardens do a really sterling and essential job combined with some excellent birdwatching. You don't have to be an expert, there will always be someone on with you who will let you know what to do - which is mainly just watching birds and making sure the public don't disturb them. If you think you might like to join, or just want more information then phone the coastal ranger on 0151 678 5488. There are several articles on this website about the wardens, click here to see them.

A complete rundown of the 2001/2002 wardening season and how it compared with previous seasons is given here.



Voluntary Wardening at Gronant


Imagine yourself sitting in sand dunes over looking the sea. It is early morning in June and even the Irish Sea looks blue in the sun. Overhead is the constant sound of Sky Larks and all around a beautiful array of wild flowers. Out to sea an occasional Manx Shearwater or Gannet pass by with the more hurried parties of Guillemots and Scoter in groups of twenty or more. In front of you a pair of Ringed Plover are feeding chicks and a young Oystercatcher is hiding in the long grass. 
The most obvious sight and sound, however, is the colony of 80 pair or so of Little Terns nesting on the shingle ridges between you and the sea. There is constant movement as birds go out fishing to bring back a continuous supply of sand eels for the waiting young.  Little Tern

The screeching of the birds is somehow very restful and you are tempted to nod off. Suddenly the noise takes on a different note as the whole colony takes flight. It's that f-ing Kestrel again looking for a breakfast of Little Tern egg and for the third time in an hour you have to rush out in to the colony shouting and bawling, waving your arms and looking like a complete idiot  - just thankful it is too early for any holidaymakers to be about - yes, this is Gronant!

Gronant really is a great place to be birdwatching in the summer and we need voluntary wardens to help protect the Little Terns from marauding crows and kestrels, and the occasional thoughtless holidaymaker. Just half a day a month between May and August would be a great help, more would be even better. E-mail me or ring the local RSPB on 0151 336 7681 for more information. See the August 2001 newsletter to read about the recent history of this colony.



Bird Counts


Wetland Bird Survey Count for Heswall Shore - (Kindly provided by the Wirral Ranger Service). 14th April. 
24 Great Crested Grebe, 21 Cormorant, 2 Grey Heron, 317 Shelduck, 5 Mallard, 20 Red-breasted Merganser, 570 Oystercatcher, 7 Ringed Plover, 1,500 Knot, 1,150 Dunlin, 484 Curlew, 1,850 Redshank - also 2 Peregrine.

Maximum species counts from Hilbre Island during April, many thanks to the Hilbre Bird Observatory who provided most of the data.
2 Ring Ouzel (22nd), 10 Goldfinch (3rd), 12 Brent Goose (6th), 5 Purple Sandpiper (8th), 1 Black-throated Diver (several dates), 1 Osprey (12th), 200 Turnstone (13th), 3,000 Dunlin (13th), 30 Sanderling (13th), 9 Little Gull (20th), 25 White Wagtail (20th), 1 Hooded Crow (20th), estimate of 400 Swallow (21st), 15 Wheatear (22nd), 9 Whimbrel (22nd), 10 Redpoll (23rd), 1 Marsh Harrier (24th), 25 Willow Warbler (26th), 50 Guillemot (26th), 21 Fulmar (26th), 26 Manx shearwater (30th), 27 Arctic Tern (29th), 350 Sandwich Tern (29th), 100 Little Tern (29th), 500 Kittiwake (30th), 150 Gannet (30th), 50 Common Tern (23rd).

April Bird News


The table below shows the dates of some of the more commoner species were first seen or heard during the spring migration.

Species 2002 Location 2001 2000
Blackcap* 8th March Irby 12th March 31st March
ChiffChaff* 15th March Neston 11th March 13th March
Wheatear 16th March Hilbre 22nd March 12th March
White Wagtail 16th March Hilbre 24th March 17th March
Sand Martin 18th March Inner Marsh F. 15th March 16th March
Swallow 27th March Hilbre 28th March 2nd April
Willow Warbler 29th March Hoylake 8th March 27th March
House Martin  13th April West Kirby 16th April  23rd March
Whitethroat  19th April   Inner Marsh F.  27th April 25th April
Cuckoo 21st April   Hoylake 7th May  25th April
Swift 23rd April   Meols 21st April  27th 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 2002.

There were not any big surprises this year although the general trend does seem to be for sightings to be earlier each year. We had some big  'falls' of migrants the most interesting being 30 Yellow Wagtail and 100 White Wagtail at Shotwick and 75 Wheatear in Moreton. It was an excellent spring for Ring Ouzels, a total of fourteen passing through compared with only three reports last year. 

We had high atmospheric pressure and light winds for most of April, until the last few days when the pressure plummeted and strong winds blew in from the west - just in time for some of the highest tides of the year. This would have been fabulous in winter for birdwatching, as it was, with the sea covering the marsh, hundreds of Meadow Pipit, Redshank and Skylark nests will have been destroyed. Luckily this early in the year the birds will nest again and re-lay. The wind did have its compensations with large numbers of sea birds in sight off the mouth of the estuary including hundreds of Gannets, Kittiwakes and Terns. 

Peter Jones.
As is usual during migration time a few rarities turned up. A Spotted Crake (left) near Leasowe Lighthouse caused some excitement when it was initially identified as a Sora - a mega rarity from America which caused a few people to twitch! The Spotted Crake itself is very unusual for April, usually we don't get them until the autumn, and even then just one or two.  

Another species causing much excitement was the Avocet with two turning up at Inner Marsh Farm looking as though they might breed, at the same time two briefly touched down on the sand off Red Rocks. There appears to be at least seven birds in the North Wales/ North West region comprising something of a mini colonisation. Up to 14 Spotted Redshank and a similar number of Ruff spent all month at Inner Marsh Farm, just starting to grow into their striking summer plumage. 

A handful of Ospreys passed through together with 2 Marsh Harriers and a ring-tail Hen Harrier. Single drake Green-winged Teal and Eider were the pick of the wildfowl. Ten thousand Knot briefly touched down at Thurstaston and 550 Black-tailed Godwit in summer plumage made a striking sight at Oakenholt. Another bird in summer plumage was a Black-throated Diver off Hilbre, seen on several days during the month.

What to expect in May: It's not too late to see large wader flocks on the estuary - thousands of Knot and Dunlin are on their way from Africa to Greenland, Iceland and Siberia. At this time of year they pass through quickly so one day you might see a flock of 10,000, the next day nothing. Whimbrel will still be passing through until mid-May on their way to Iceland and Scandinavia, and small groups of Sanderling may be seen as late as early June on their way to the far north. 

Although the massed ranks of Shelduck have long since left we get quite a lot of pairs breeding along the shores of the estuary. At this time of year they are far more tolerant of humans and feed close to the beach. Each pair keep a feeding territory which the male defends, making for some interesting interactions with other pairs. 

Both of our tern colonies will start to lay eggs - the massive Common Tern colony at Shotton and the much smaller, but vitally important, Little Tern colony at Gronant. Much rarer are Roseate Terns, hopefully we should see one or two passing through.

May often brings some unusual migrants, perhaps blown off course or simply over shot their normal range - birds such as Spoonbill, Golden Oriole, Serin and Nightingale have turned up in previous years. Last year Ospreys continued to come through until the end of May, just two or three for the whole month though, so you need a bit of luck to see one!  

Many thanks go to  Phil Oddy, Bernard Machin, John Kirkland, Bob Brown, Elizabeth Rees, Linda Greatwich, Ken Mcniffe, T. Morton, Keith Lester, Brian Roberts, Tony Williams, Heather Hockaday, Thomas Giles, Tony Day,  Peter Williams,  Paul Vautrinot, Gareth Stamp, John Roberts,  Cathy McGrath, Stephen Williams, Alan Chapman, Keith Lester, Colin Jones, Alan Jupp,  Dorothy Jebb,  Mike Hart,  John Campbell, Fil Moore, David Small, Steve Williams, Mark Feltham,  Brian Grey,  Chris Butterworth,  David Esther, Martyn Jaimeson, Carl Clee, Ken Mullins and Jane Turner for their sightings during April. All sightings are gratefully received.

Forthcoming Events


May Highest Spring Tides
26th May, 11.53hrs 9.7m. (all times BST)
27th May, 12.40hrs 9.7m. 

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.

Sunday 5th May 4:30am - 6:30am Dawn Chorus Over The Common.
Listen to the fantastic bird song at this time of day. Join the Rangers on this stroll over Thurstaston Common and experience the range and variety of song over this heathland. Surely one of the most uplifting experiences of the wildlife year. There will be tea and biscuits available afterwards. Sorry no dogs. To book your place tel. Wirral Country Park 0151 648 4371/3884.

Saturday 11th May 6:30am Early Birds.
Inner Marsh Farm RSPB Nature Reserve .
Join the RSPB Warden for an early morning birdwatch at Inner Marsh Farm Nature Reserve, Burton, in search of summer migrants. 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.

Sunday 12th May 5:00am Spring Dawn Chorus. 
An early start to hear birdlife at its best, followed by a slap up breakfast. The event is kindly sponsored by Kimberly Clark. Please book in advance tel. 01352 719177. There is a charge of 1.50 for the full breakfast. Meet at Kimberley Clark Plant visitor car park, Aber Industrial Estate, Flint. (Grid ref SJ 238/734). 

Friday 17th May 8:00pm Denizens of the Dusk.
Join the Rangers at Thurstaston on this search of local woods and fields for the night patrol. With opportunities to see owls, bats and maybe a fox or two. Bring a torch. Places strictly limited. Further details and to book contact Wirral Country Park tel. 0151 648 4371/3884.

Saturday 18th May 9:00am Guided walk Parkgate Marsh
Join the RSPB Warden to explore the saltmarsh off Parkgate (part of Gayton Sands RSPB Nature Reserve). Learn about this special place and its ecology. Retire to a suitable hostelry for refreshments. Wellingtons a must! Booking essential. Tickets: 3.00 members & 4.00 non-members. To book and for further details call RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Sunday 2nd June 8:00am Bramble Ramble at the Old RAF Camp.
(between West Kirby and Greasby)
Join the Rangers and Wirral Wildlife to explore this forgotten corner of Wirral in search of warblers such as Common Whitethroat, Blackcap and Grasshopper Warbler and enjoy the fabulous wildflowers including several species of Orchid. To book tel. 0151 648 4371/3884.

Wednesday 5th June 10:00am - 12noon.
Bird Walk around the North Wirral Coastal Park.
Meet at Leasowe Lighthouse for a walk around the ponds, reedbeds, hay meadows and scrublands of Moreton Conservation Area. We hope to find Reed Warblers and Reed Buntings, Common Whitethroats and Linnets, but you never know what else might turn up! No need to book. For further details, 
tel. 0151 678 5488.

Saturday 8th June 1:30pm. 
Orchid Spectacular at Inner Marsh Farm RSPB Nature Reserve. 
Come and see the spectacular display of Marsh orchids at Inner Marsh Farm Reserve. 15,000 spikes were counted by reserve staff in 2001. Learn about how we manage the reserve, over afternoon tea. Booking essential. Tickets: 3.00 members and 4.00 non-members. To book and further details call RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Note: Many of these forthcoming events are extracted from 'Birdwatchers Diary 2002', which covers both the Dee and Mersey regions. Copies available from the visitor centre at Thurstaston, Wirral Country Park 0151 648 4371 or by from myself.