The Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens have completed the 2004/05 season at West Kirby, pleasingly numbers of waders were up after three relatively poor years. The wardens' main job on the beach is to protect the wader roost from disturbance, but a very useful secondary role is to count the birds and below is a summary of the data for 2004/05 compared with the previous two winters. The wardens are down on the beach over every daylight high tide over 8.8 metres between early September and the end of March, nine species of waders are routinely monitored.
The average counts give a good indication of how each species is doing year on year. Seven out of the nine species increased last winter (2004/05), in particular our two most numerous species, Knot and Dunlin, which increased six fold and three fold respectively compared with 2002/03. The graph below demonstrates how numbers changed across each winter - 2002/03 to 2004/05.
Interestingly counts during the first half of the winter were more or less the same for all three years, the difference being from mid-December onward when numbers soared this last winter, particularly in late February. In previous winters we have found the same - counts for the first half of the winter tend to be very similar, but with marked differences from mid-December to March. Whether this is caused by food shortages in some winters, adverse weather further east or some other cause is not known.
2004/05 was the warden's 19th season and the graph below shows how the wader counts have varied over that time.
As you can see numbers have fluctuated considerably, but in a very predictable manner - a nice smooth sine wave with only one year in 19 askew from the rest (99/00, that was the year I joined the wardens!). We don't really understand why numbers fluctuate in this manner but I will elaborate on this in a future newsletter. Just out of interest, the mean count in 2004/2005 was 4,265, very close to the average over the 19 years, 4,740. Counts have increased in the past two winters and according to the graph we are due another peak in two years time - I look forward to it!
If you wish to know more about the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens see the wardens' web page and follow the links at the bottom of that page - in particular, appeal for wardens, the history of the DEVW and DEVW Bird Report 2001. Also you may ring the Coastal Ranger for more information on 0151-678 5488. We are always in need of new wardens so if you want to combine a bit of conservation work with your birdwatching please join us.
Many thanks for the
Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens for allowing me to use their data, in
particular Roy Palmer who processes the data and produces some very
Gronant Little Tern Colony
April Bird News
The spring migration continued
throughout the month, a steady flow rather than anything spectacular.
April 22nd was a typical day with plenty coming through - Grasshopper
Warblers, Ring Ouzels, Wheatears, Yellow Wagtails - but the pick of the
bunch was undoubtedly the first Dartford Warbler for
Island found by Steve
Williams.. The first Sandwich Tern was seen off
Hoylake on the 4th, Common Terns from
on the 13th where the first Little Terns were seen on the 17th. Four
Little Terns were back at
on the 25th. The Black Redstart which spent two days at Stanley Road
Hoylake at the end of March stayed until
1115am on the 1st before disappearing, literally seconds before Steve
Round came down to photograph it!
There were quite a few Short-eared Owls around with this one below hanging about near Thurstaston Visitor Centre most of the month, it has a few feathers missing from each wing. It was another good winter for Short-eared Owls although it is probable that the ones here now are passing through from elsewhere - further south, presumably.
Whimbrel came through steadily all month with most of them seen from Hilbre Island, 12 were there on the 29th. Very good numbers of Black-tailed Godwit were at the head of the estuary with 1,600 at Inner Marsh Farm and 2,532 at Oakenholt. Eight Spotted Redshank was the highest number reported to me, these at Inner Marsh Farm. Numbers of Turnstones on Hilbre Island noticeably dipped mid-month as they migrated north, but picked up again at the end of the month to 120 or so, presumably these were birds passing through from further south.
One to two Avocet were hanging around Burton Marsh and Inner Marsh Farm for several days but no sign of any staying to breed. Three Ospreys and three Marsh Harriers passed through. On a very clear day Chris Butterworth was lucky enough to spot a Red Kite circling over Garth Wood on the Welsh side of the estuary, he was standing on West Kirby Shore at the time!
A Lapland Bunting was well spotted flying over Hilbre but what was thought to be an Iceland Gull on the shore by Leasowe Lighthouse turned out to be a leucistic Herring Gull (leucistic means when a bird's colour is very pale, rather than pure white like an albino). Not as exciting as an Iceland Gull but very unusual, nevertheless.
What to expect in May
With the departure of our over wintering waders and duck the estuary can seem very empty in May, apart from the odd flock of waders hurrying through on their way north. Despite this there are probably more species present in and around the estuary in May than any other month. We have all the spring migrants present including the late arriving Spotted Flycatcher and Cuckoo. As already mentioned waders are passing through, and this can include rarities such as Pectoral Sandpiper and Temminck's Stint. The Black-tailed Godwits which winter on the Dee Estuary breed in Iceland but up to 1,000 immature birds spend the summer here. We can also get rarities turning up as 'overshoots', migrants, usually inexperienced young birds, which have overshot their normal breeding areas and flown further north or west than intended.
Breeding in our tern colonies will get fully under way with much shrieking and tooing and froing! The Common Tern colony at Shotton is the largest in Wales (and probably the second largest in the UK) and pairs have increased for the past five years running, last year 656. The Little Terns at Gronant have also done very well over the past two years, with 89 pairs fledging 167 chicks last year.
We can get good numbers of seabirds out to sea given a fresh west wind, including four species of terns, Manx Shearwaters, Gannets and Common Scoters.
Many thanks go to Clive Ashton, Iain Douglas, Roy Palmer, Colin Jones, Dave and Emma Kenyon, Ray Roberts, Charles Farnell, Steve Williams, Chris Butterworth, Jane Turner, Phil Woollen, Allan Conlin, Mike Hart, John Kirkland, Alan Chapman, Mike cocking, Brian Roberts, John Roberts, Steve Round, Colin Wells, Tanny Robinson, Steve Roberts, Frank Huband, Mal Smerdon, Matt Thomas, Mark Feltham, David Small, Mark Wilde, R. Davey, Mark O'Sullivan, Steven Liston, Peta Sams, Andrew Ingham, Steve Renshaw, Dave Burt, John Boswell, Alan and Sandy Evans, Jeff Stephens, Jean Morgan, Sabena Blackbird, Leon Castell, Rob Bithell, Howard Jones, the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during February. All sightings are gratefully received.
Highest Spring Tides,
7th May, 11:26hrs 9.5m. Times BST.
8th May, 12:07hrs 9.5m.
Forthcoming Events (organised by the
Wirral Ranger Service,
Flintshire Countryside Service and/or the RSPB):
Sunday 1st May, 5:00am – 7:00am, Dawn Chorus for Commoners.
Sunday 8th May, 6am - 9am. In search of Birds.
Saturday 21st May, 10:00am & 2:00pm, “Meet the RSPB” at
Inner Marsh Farm.
Saturday 4th June, 1:30pm, Orchid Spectacular at
Inner Marsh Farm RSPB Nature Reserve.
Note: Many of these forthcoming events are extracted from the 'Birdwatchers Diary 2005', 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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