1st June 2005

Cetti's Warbler.
May Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
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Cetti's Warblers at Neston Reedbed
by Steve Williams

Two Cetti's Warblers, Cettia cettia, were found at the southern end of Neston reedbed, which is part of the Dee Estuary RSPB Reserve, on the Wirral (Cheshire) by Paul Jacques in February 2005.
The reedbed at Neston has suffered terribly from vandalism in the past, the presence of Bearded Tits, the sensitivity of the area where the Cetti's Warblers were present and the fact the birds were not singing and were typically elusive all meant that the release of the news had to be dealt with sensibly.
After some temporary management work at the reedbed by the RSPB and discussions with various information services the news of the presence of the Cetti's Warblers was released to the general birding public on 28th February 2005. It was greeted with great excitement by local and regional birders alike. Cetti's Warbler not only being a rare bird on the Wirral (see below), but it is yet another indication of this species' expansion in our region and in the UK in general.

Cetti's Warbler breeds in North West Africa from Morocco to Tunisia, in Iberia, France, Britain, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Crete (as well as other Mediterranean islands) eastwards to the Ukraine and the Crimea. There is an eastern form recognised as Cettia cettia albiventris which is larger, paler grey-brown above and whiter underneath.
In eastern Asia it seems that Cetti's Warbler is replaced by the Chinese Bush Warbler, Cettia diphone, which ranges from South East Siberia to Japan and northern China and also lives in scrub and reeds.

Cetti's Warbler (with ring) at Neston reed bed March 2005
, Steve Round

Cetti's Warbler is found in damp scrub, reedbeds and near rivers. Birds found on the coast
apparently favour association with reedbeds more so than inland birds.
It is normally a shy and skulking bird, although early mornings and less often in the evening they will show themselves as the Neston birds prove. The call note of the Neston birds is often the only indication of their presence - a sharp 'twik', 'chip' or 'chik-chik' - described by some as reminiscent of a distant Great Spotted Woodpecker-like call.

It is generally a sedentary species, however there is some northerly dispersal, particularly of first year birds, during the autumn. Furthermore, there is some southerly expansion of its range during the winter. Clearly, cold winters affect this species but it is a hardy passerine with ringed birds having survived into their eighth year at least.

Apparently, where wintering in its breeding areas is normally impossible, it tends only to move short distances to find suitable habitat.
It has made an impressive northwards expansion of its range in Western Europe in the last 100 years. In Europe around 1900 it was apparently restricted to around the Mediterranean basin. The map opposite shows Cetti's Warbler's breeding range expansion in Western Europe between 1929 and the mid 1970s. It has been produced from the data contained in British Warblers (see below).
The first proven breeding in Britain was in fact as recently as 1972.

Interesting facts
The Cetti's Warbler is the most 'size-dimporphic' passerine in Europe and this may be linked to its polygymous breeding behaviour (albeit its behaviour ranges from monogamy to polygamy), with some males serving several females. The unequal sex ratio, less males than females, is thought to arise because larger males find it harder to survive the winter than males and therefore the males having higher mortality rates.

Status in Cheshire and Wirral and beyond
Cetti's Warbler has occurred only three times on the Wirral, prior to the Neston birds, with a single male trapped at a North Wirral Site 23rd October 2001 and another, this time a female, remarkably trapped in the same part of the same mist net at that site on 30th October 2003. Another bird was caught at Shotton (on the Wirral but in Flintshire not Cheshire) on 3rd November and 14th December 2002 and 5th January 2003 having been ringed at Chew Valley Lake on 23 June 2002. Amazingly, the same bird was re-trapped at Shotton the following winter on 7 December 2002 - where had it been during the breeding season is still unknown? Perhaps it is an indication of the origins of the Neston Reedbed birds one of which is ringed?

Investigations into where the Neston bird was ringed have been undertaken, with two of the ring sequence readable from Steve Round's remarkable images. Unfortunately, the results of these investigations are ongoing although it appears that it was definitely ringed in the south of England. (Ed. latest news is that it was apparently ringed in Gloucester).

There have been three further Cheshire records, all seven Cheshire records are listed below and as can be seen the Neston birds are the first to be 'twitchable':

  • One trapped and ringed at Frodsham on 20th April 1984.

  • One seen at Rostherne on 8th and 9th May 1989.

  •  A female mist netted at Woolston on 26th September 1998 retrapped on 18th October
    1998 and seen on 19th December 1998.

  • Male trapped at North Wirral site on 23rd October 2001.

  • Female trapped at North Wirral site on 30th October 2002

  • Two birds present at Neston Reedbed February to March 2005 at least.

Similarly, Lancashire has had just seven records, all since 1991. However, it is thought
likely that the Marton Mere records relate to one or two returning individuals, as follows:

  • Marton Mere, one, 17th October 1990 to 24th March 1991

  • Marton Mere, one, 26th November 1994 to 4th December 1994

  • Marton Mere, one, 9th October 1995 to 8th April 1996

  • Leighton Moss, one, 28th October to December 1996

  • Marton Mere, one, 13th November 1998 into 1999

  • Marton Mere, one, 28th December 1999 to 10th February 2000

  • Marton Mere, one, 13th October 2000 to 13th December 2000

The first Welsh record was one on Bardsey (Gwynedd) on 26th to 30th October 1973 and the next was one at Rhosneigr (Anglesey) in December 1976. Only odd birds then occurred in North Wales until the very recent colonisation of Valley Wetlands RSPB Reserve (Anglesey) where seven singing males were present in the spring of 2004. One or two birds have also been reported in the last couple of years at Llyn Maelog near Rhosneigr and a single bird has been present in early March of this year at a small private reserve near Porthmadog (Gwynedd).

Colonisation has been a slow process in North Wales since the first record in 1973 and birds are currently established at only one site. Birds are now well-established in good numbers at several sites in South Wales including the new Newport Wetlands NR and Kenfig Pool NNR.

The Neston birds were last reported on 31st March. However, it is apparent that North West birders can expect to hear, and with some patience see, more of this species in our region in the forthcoming years particularly if global warming results in milder winters continuing.

Steve Williams - March 2005

Cramp, S (Editor) 'Handbook of the Birds of the Western Palaearctic - Vol 6', 1992 (OUP).
Cheshire and Wirral Ornithological Society, Cheshire and Wirral Bird Report, 1964-2003 (CAWOS).
Merseyside Ringing Group, MRG Report and 50th Anniversary Report, 2003 (MRG).
Simms E, 'British Warblers', 1985 (Collins New Naturalist Series).

Thanks to Dave Cross for details of North Wirral records, Steve White for information regarding the Lancashire records and Birdline North West for general information and details of other individual sightings and to Colin E Wells for reviewing this article.

The above article was first published in Volume 2 No 3 issue of Birding North West (April 2005).

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May Bird News
The bird of the month must be the Wryneck at Inner Marsh Farm. It was a first for me and I was one of a lucky few to get a really good view of it - a very stylish looking bird. See the Birding North West website for photos.

It was a good month for waders at Inner Marsh Farm where the over summering flock of Black-tailed Godwit built up to 1,600. More unusually were several hundred Knot, most of these appeared to be immature birds and may also spend the summer in the area. Other waders included three Avocet, a Wood Sandpiper, a Little Stint, a Little Ringed Plover and two Curlew Sandpiper. Avocets were also seen at Burton and Thurstaston.

Black-tailed Godwits at Inner Marsh Farm, May 4th 2005.
Note ringed bird in middle of photo, ringed as a chick in Iceland in 2004.
© Richard Smith

There were some lovely clear days during the month which meant for some good seawatching. Lots of Gannets were to be seen hanging around the mouth of the estuary, most days at least 40, plus the usual Common, Sandwich and Little Terns. A Roseate Tern, 4 Slavonian Grebes, one Black Guillemot, one Puffin and a drake Eider were all more unusual visitors, all observed from Hilbre Island.

The spring migration was still going strong at the beginning of the month and the first Cuckoo of the year was heard on the 1st in Talacre sand dunes. Cuckoos are quite rare in our area now but a total of four sightings during the month wasn't too bad.

At least one Short-eared Owl was still around until mid-month, and both Hen Harriers and Marsh Harriers passed through. A lucky few people saw an Osprey catch a fish near Hilbre Island and devour it on a sand bank. Other birds of note were a drake Garganey, Manx Shearwaters off Hoylake and two Black Terns at Inner Marsh Farm. 

Common Seal on Hilbre Island, May 17th 2005. © Richard Smith

What to expect in June

For many of our garden birds the nesting season will already be over but for most waders and sea birds it has barely started. We can still get passage waders heading north early in the month - Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Sanderling. However, by the end of the month we will already have Curlew and Redshank back on the estuary after their breeding season, most of these having bred in this country. We also get immature waders spending the summer with us - Black-tailed Godwits at Inner Marsh Farm make a fine sight, and also Oystercatchers, about 500 or so use Point of Ayr as a roost through the summer.

The tern colonies at Shotton and Gronant will be full of activity, and Gronant is also a very good place for a bit of sea watching - look out for Storm Petrels, Common Scoters, Manx Shearwaters and Gannets. More uncommon birds which can turn up include the Hobby, Quail, Spoonbill and Golden Oriole.  

Many thanks go to  Mark Turner, Annie Bellinger, Kevin Smith, Colin Davies, Clive Ashton, Iain Douglas, Colin Jones, Dave and Emma Kenyon, Ray Roberts, Charles Farnell, Steve Williams,  Chris Butterworth,  Jane Turner, Phil Woollen,  Allan Conlin, Mike Hart, Steve Round, Tanny Robinson, Frank Huband, Matt Thomas, Dave Wilde, Mark O'Sullivan, Steve Renshaw, John Boswell, Jean Morgan, Stephen Morris, Tanny Robinson, Richard Hurst, Chris Collins, Derek Rice, Margery Griffin, Eric Sherry,  the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens  and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during February.  All sightings are gratefully received.

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Forthcoming Events
June Highest Spring Tides, also see Tides page.
23rd June, 12:55hrs 9.1m. Times BST.
24th June, 13:44hrs 9.1m.
25th June, 14:36hrs 9.1m.

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 4th June, 1:30pm, Orchid Spectacular at Inner Marsh Farm RSPB Nature Reserve.
The reserve’s wetland fields become carpeted with 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 are £3.00 for members and £4.00 for non-members. For details and to book phone the RSPB on 0151 336 7681. Please book early to avoid disappointment.

Sunday 5th June, 1:30pm, Orchid Spectacular at Inner Marsh Farm RSPB Nature Reserve .
A second opportunity to join the Warden on a walk around a special part of the reserve not normally open to visitors. Event followed by afternoon tea. Booking essential. Tickets: £3.00 members and £4.00 non-members. To book and for further details call the RSPB on 0151 336 7681. Please book early to avoid disappointment.

Thursday 16th June, 8:30pm – 11:00pm, Night Owl Watch.
A joint evening walk with the Wirral Barn Owl Trust and the Rangers to see and hear these birds of the night. There will be a short introduction by the Trust about their work in helping to save this beautiful bird. Booking essential. Tel: 0151 648 4371/3884.

Sunday 19th June, 2pm - 4pm, Sand Dune Conservation.
Help the Rangers and Friends of North Wirral Coastal Park and other volunteers to remove trees that are invading this important wildlife habitat that supports some rare flora and fauna. No need to book. Meet at the Gunsite Car Park, Green Lane Wallasey (SJ 278923). For further enquiries ring 0151 678 5488.

Thursday 30th June, 7pm start, Red Rocks Reserve and Shoreline.
Join the Ranger and Dr Hilary Ash from Wirral Wildlife on a walk around Red Rocks and West Kirby Beach. No need to book. Meet at end of Stanley Road, Hoylake. For further enquiries ring 0151 678 5488.

Thursday 30th June, 8:00pm – 10:30pm, Night Owl Watch.
Another chance to search for these beautiful but elusive birds. Booking essential. Tel: 0151 648 4371/3884.

Saturday 2nd July 2005, 11:00am - 3:00pm. Open Day at the Connah's Quay Reserve.
Non-members will be met at the entrance by a member and escorted in to the reserve. John Summerville and Margaret McCormick (specialists in Wild Flowers) will be visiting the Reserve to point out the different varieties. John runs a website which is worth looking at: www.british-wild-flowers.co.uk.
This members only reserve will be open to everyone for the day and visitors will be able to make use of the four hides and chat to the members about the reserve. Tea and coffee available (HW 1.15pm, 10m.).

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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