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3rd May 2003
Sea Watching - POA.
Wardens at Gronant.
Colour ringed Wheatears.

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

Newsletter Index.

Sea-watching at the Point of Air


  by Gareth Stamp

The Point of Air is one of the premier sea-watching sites in Clwyd. To witness the best movements of seabirds, the weather and tide have to be right. The best weather conditions are when the winds blow west to north-west, preferably after gale-force south-westerly winds. The more prolonged the blow, the greater the chance of something more unusual being forced into the estuary. During west to north-westerly blows, seabirds are pushed into the estuary and then struggle out again, often passing close in front of the Dee and Air buoys. Seabird passage is usually best two or three hours either side of high tide, but petrels will continue to pass throughout the day. Watching is possible from the hide (useful in very poor weather) but seabirds are usually more distant. Most bird-watchers congregate on the high dunes behind the lighthouse to improve their viewing of the sea.

POA lagoon
High tide at the Point of Air lagoon, looking east towards the English Shore.

Birds through the seasons:

Manx Shearwater (occasionally large movements), Gannet, Fulmar, Kittiwake, Common Scoter, Guillemot, Razorbill.
From June: large concentrations of Sandwich and Common Terns congregate
offshore. These often attract Arctic Skuas.
From July: British Storm-petrel and Little Gulls occur in varying numbers.

Offshore from August to October: Manx Shearwater, Red-throated Diver, Gannet,
Guillemot, Razorbill, Razorbill, Red-breasted Merganser, Fulmar, large numbers of
Terns, Arctic Skuas, Great Skua. Leach's Petrel (a north-west speciality) occurs annually in varying numbers and, more rarely, Balearic Shearwater, Pomarine Skua, Long-tailed Skua, Puffin, Sooty Shearwater, Sabine's Gull and Grey Phalarope. Larger Shearwaters such as Great and Cory's are very rare but have been recorded. (Ed. In Sept. 2001 we had an excellent Leach's Petrel passage with the Point of Air having the highest daily count of 305).

Great Skua, all three divers, Long-tailed Duck, Eider and Common Scoter.
Weather conditions can be diabolical so bring waterproofs. Please note: during such conditions visibility can be very poor. Just to whet the appetite, on 3 October, 1999, when conditions were ideal, the total seabird counts recorded were:

15 Leach's Petrel

2 Long-tailed Skuas 10 Arctic Skuas
1 Pomarine Skua 100 Kittiwakes 1 Great Skua
10 Manx Shearwater 100 Fulmar 60 Common Scoter

This article was first published in the 2000 Clwyd Bird Report and reproduced here with kind permission of the author, Gareth Stamp.

Editor's Note: The sharp eyed among you will have noticed that I have used the spelling of Air, rather than my normal Ayr, in the above article. The reason being is that I have stuck with the spelling used by Gareth. Ayr is used on nearly all maps including Ordnance Survey and is the spelling I've always used, but many people  use the alternative Air. So which is correct? Having done some research on the matter I'm afraid I am none the wiser. All I can say is that both spellings have been used for at least 100 years, and I have also seen both Ayre and Aire. At the moment it remains a mystery.


Voluntary Wardens wanted at Gronant


Just round the corner from the Point of Ayr is a beautiful wild area of reed beds, sand dunes, shingle and beach - this is Gronant. In the summer Gronant is full of the sound of Skylarks overhead, Reed and Sedge Warblers in the reeds and Little Terns over the shingle. This is the last remaining Little Tern colony in Wales and thanks to round the clock wardening organised by the RSPB the colony is thriving. From just 15 pairs when the scheme started in 1975 the colony has grown to over 80 pairs.

The wardens' job at the colony is twofold, firstly to stop predation of nests - mainly crows and kestrels by day and foxes by night, and secondly to ask any people on the beach not to walk through the colony, which is fenced off and clearly sign posted. Additionally we have a steady stream of interested birdwatchers to chat to. In reality people are rarely a problem, trying to stop a determined crow or kestrel far more so. But the presence of the wardens is a big deterrent to the predators - we have a variety of cunning tactics which mainly involve running, shouting and waving arms - but it works!

However, I don't want to give the impression that wardening is all work and no play. Most of the time it involves sitting in the sand dunes, basking in the sun and doing a bit of birdwatching! Arctic Skuas, Gannets, Guillemots, Common Scoter, Sandwich Terns and Manx Shearwaters are all regular off shore. In fact Sandwich Terns are present in many hundreds when their breeding season finishes in late June. Rarities which have turned up during the last three years include Storm Petrel, Arctic Tern, Black Tern, Great Skua, Stone Curlew, Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Short-eared Owl and Hen Harrier. This summer will be my fourth year as a voluntary warden, and I've enjoyed every minute!

Anybody wanting more information about wardening should contact the RSPB at Burton Point Farm by telephone (0151 336 7681) or  .


Colour Ringed Wheatears


As part of a national scheme organised by the BTO the Hilbre Bird Observatory are colour ringing Wheatears (both Northern and Greenland) with the hope they are seen elsewhere and reported.

                                                            Peter Williams

For spring 2003 both the right and left tarsal will have red rings, in the return autumn passage it will be red on the left and yellow on the right. Other ringing stations are using different colour combinations. If you see any of these ringed birds either e-mail Steve Williams or contact the BTO. There is an excellent article on Wheatears written by Steve Williams in the Hilbre Bird Observatory website.


Bird Counts


Wetland Bird Survey Count for Connah's Quay and Flint - (Kindly provided by Deeside Naturalists' Society), 19th April.
4 Little Grebe, 1 Great Crested Grebe, 11 Cormorant, 9 Mute Swan, 24 Canada Goose, 160 Shelduck, 3 Gadwall, 14 Teal, 44 Mallard, 6 Tufted Duck, 1 Moorhen, 21 Coot, 680 Oystercatcher, 2 Lapwing, 290 Knot, 1,500 Black-tailed Godwit, 50 Bar-tailed Godwit, 3 Curlew, 1 Spotted Redshank, 55 Redshank.

Wetland Bird Survey Count for Heswall Shore - (Kindly provided by the Wirral Ranger Service), 20th April.
15 Cormorant, 2 Heron, 254 Shelduck, 8 Mallard, 4 Red-breasted Merganser, 290 Oystercatcher, 723 Dunlin, 3 Whimbrel, 904 Curlew, 920 Redshank, 1 Common Sandpiper.

April Bird News


white wag

The Spring migration continued apace during the month. Highlights included an early Grasshopper Warbler at Red Rocks on the 6th, 3 Ring Ouzels, a Marsh Harrier, 2 Ospreys, 1 Honey Buzzard and 170 White Wagtail, the latter on Hoylake Shore. Whitethroats started to pour in from the 17th onwards and the first Swifts were seen on the 24th. But we still await our first Cuckoo, see the table below.
Species 2003 Location 2002 2001
White Wagtail 6th March Hoylake 16th March 24th March
Sand Martin 8th March Inner Marsh F. 18th March 15th March
Wheatear 9th March Hoylake 16th March 22nd March
Blackcap* 11th March Arrowe Park 8th March 12th March
Swallow 12th March West Kirby 27th March 28th March
House Martin  15th March Hoylake  13th April 16th April 
ChiffChaff* 15th March Thurstaston 15th March 11th March
Willow Warbler 24th March Thurstaston 29th March 8th March
Whitethroat   17th April Hoylake  19th April    27th April
Swift 24th April   Inner Marsh F. 23rd April  21st April 
Cuckoo     21st April  7th May 

* 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 2003.

For sea-watching Hilbre Island has definitely been the site of the month. There was an amazing passage of Gannets on the last day of the month with a count of 650. This is the highest ever count for spring and the second highest ever, only a count of 1,000 in September 1965 beating it. At one time a flock of 200 birds were just off the north end circling round busy fishing - the lucky few who saw it must have thought they had been transported to Grassholm!

    Nigel Blake

There was also a very good passage of Little Gulls with a maximum of 120 birds, this was later than most years with the main migration usually taking place in March. A Red-necked Grebe in summer plumage was seen on the 12th, and possibly the same bird was off Red Rocks four days later.

The Long-billed Dowitcher continued to visit  Inner Marsh Farm intermittently, and was observed to be moulting into summer plumage. Another bird which had stayed the whole winter, the female Long-tailed Duck, was last seen on the 26th. Up to 15 Spotted Redshank, a Wood Sandpiper and over 300 Black-tailed Godwit were the best of the rest at Inner Marsh Farm

What to expect in May.
May is often an excellent month for rarities due to migration overshoot, in other words birds overshooting their normal range - perhaps inexperienced immature birds or just adverse weather conditions during migration. This means almost anything can turn up - a selection of those species seen locally in May in previous years include Nightingale, Woodchat Shrike, Golden Oriole, Temminck's Stint, Great White Egret and Gull-billed Tern. Other migrants will include Whimbrel, Spotted Flycatcher and Marsh Harrier.

Flocks of Dunlin and Knot will be speeding through early in the month, in a hurry on their way to the far north to breed. Small numbers of Sanderling will be seen right up to the end of the month, their breeding grounds won't be snow free until well in to June.

Terns will start breeding at both the large Common Tern colony at Shotton and the much smaller Little Tern colony at Gronant. Given a fresh west wind sea-watching should prove fruitful with good numbers of Manx Shearwaters, Gannets, Fulmars, Guillemots and Common Scoter.

Many thanks go to Clyde Barrow, Barry Barnacal, Muriel Segar, Roy Palmer, Colin Jones, Dave and Emma Kenyon, Phil Woolen, Mark Feltham, John Boswell, Margaret Twemlow, Kevin Hayes, David Small, Stephen Menzie, Nigel Troup, Matt Thomas, Dave Rigden, John Campbell, T. Morton, Paul Rowlands, Jean Morgan, Colin Schofield, Brian Grey,  Mike Hart,  Stephen Williams,  Chris Butterworth,  Martyn Jaimeson, David Esther, John Harrison, Stephen Liston, Tony Davies, Dave Harrington, BK + W Hassal, Stephen Ainsworth and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during April. All sightings are gratefully received.

Forthcoming Events


May Highest Spring Tides, also see Tides page.
16th May, 12:06 hrs 10.0m. (all times BST)
17th May, 12.54hrs 10.0m. 

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.

Saturday 3rd May 7:00am. Migrants on the Move.
One of the best places in the North-East Wales to see migrating passerines, join the RSPB warden at the Point of Ayr to see what lurks in the bushes and learn about the amazing feat of bird migration. Target species include Tree Pipit, Whinchat, Grasshopper Warbler and the unexpected. No need to book, meet at the end of Station Rd. Talacre. Contact RSPB on 0151 336 7681. 

Saturday 3rd May 7:00am - 9:00am. Up with the Lark.
Singing Skylark, Sedge Warbler and Whitethroat are now beginning to arrive so why not join the ranger at Red Rocks to search them out. Dress warmly and bring binoculars if you have them. No need to book. Meet at the end of Stanley Road, off The King's Gap, Hoylake. For further information phone 0151 678 5488.

Sunday 4th May 4:30am - 6:30am. A Song of Stone.
Join the Rangers on an early morning stroll through Stapledon Woods to the sandstone ridges of Caldy Hill to enjoy the dawn chorus, Nature's own symphony. Then watch the sunrise over the Dee Estuary. Please wear suitable warm clothing and bring binoculars if you have them. Booking essential. Phone 0151 648 4371/3884. 

Sunday 4th May 4:30am - 6:30am. Dawn Chorus over Thurstaston Common.
A magical time of day to experience the wonders of the dawn chorus. Listen to the variety of the birdsong on this guided walk over the heathland and woodland site. Tea, coffee and biscuits are available afterwards. Booking essential. Tel: 0151 648 4371/3884.

Saturday 10th May 6:30am. Breakfast Birdwatch. 
Join the RSPB Warden for an early morning birdwatch at Inner Marsh Farm Nature Reserve, Burton. The trees and bushes will be alive with bird song while Lapwings display overhead. 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. 

Saturday 17th May 7:00am - 11:00am. Summer Bird Race.
The same format as the New Years Day Bird Race! Add to your 2003 Yearlist with some summer visitors as we stroll across meadows, through woodland and along foreshore at Wirral Country Park. Booking essential. Tel: 0151 648 4371/3884.

Saturday 24th May 9:00am. Guided walk at Parkgate Marsh
Join the RSPB Warden to discover the hidden secrets of the saltmarsh at 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 25th May 10:00am - 12:00noon. Birdwalk along the Arrowe Brook.
Spot the Grey Wagtails, Heron and even Kingfishers as you walk along this riparian habitat. Also look out for Nuthatches, Great and Green Woodpeckers that live in the trees that border the brook. This event is suitable for beginners and for all the family to enjoy. Please bring binoculars if you have them. Booking essential. Tel: 0151 648 4371/3884.

Wednesday 28th May 10:00am - 12noon.
Family Birdwalk around North Wirral Coastal Park
One for all the family! Join the Ranger on a leisurely stroll around North Wirral Coastal Park to look for birds like Reed Warblers, Reed Buntings and Wheatears. Please wear suitable clothing and footwear and bring binoculars if you have them. No need to book, meet at Leasowe Lighthouse. For further information phone 0151 678 5488.

Friday 6th June 8:30pm - 12:30am.
All Creatures Great and Small.
Join the Rangers on an evening nature excursion around Wirral Country Park! We will search for moths, bats, owls, small and larger mammals. Warm clothing and a torch are essential items to bring. Places are limited so booking is essential. Phone 0151 648 4371/3884.

Saturday 7th June 1:30pm.
Orchid Spectacular at Inner Marsh Farm RSPB Nature Reserve 
The reserve's wetland fields become carpeted in Marsh Orchids in the Spring. Join the warden on a walk around this special part of the reserve not normally open to visitors. 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.

Thursday 12th June 8:30pm - 11:00pm. Night Owl Watch.
An evening walk around Royden Park to see and hear these birds of the night. This is a joint walk with the Rangers and the Wirral and Ellesmere Port Barn Owl Trust, who will describe their work to save this charismatic bird. Suitable clothing and footwear are essential. Booking Essential. Tel: 0151 648 4371/3884.

Note: Many of these forthcoming events are extracted from the 'Birdwatchers Diary 2003', 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.