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June 2012 Newsletter

Three Magical Spring Days.
Weather and Migration Study.
May Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
Latest Newsletter.


Three Magical Spring Days

                  Redstart being ringed on Hilbre, May 2nd Phil Woollen, Wirralbirders.blogspot.

Like many other birders I had written off this year's spring migration, it was getting near the end of April and the weather had just been so poor we had seen little in the way of birds passing through. But somebody wiser than myself said "there's plenty of time yet" - how right he was!

After a couple of gales, cold temperatures and torrential rain in the last week in April the weather overnight on the 29th/30th calmed down, became warmer and, most importantly, the wind swung to the south-east, and as a result birds started to pour through. The Leasowe Lighthouse area was the focus of attention on April 30th with the highlights being over 70 Wheatears, seven Whinchats and 10 Yellow Wagtails - all looking wonderful in the sun in the wild flower filled and partially flooded horse paddocks. The next day was similar with Wheatears widespread across Wirral, for example 24 were by Caldy Steps on the cliff where normally two or three would be a good number, and also three Whinchats there where I've never seen any before. 

May 2nd was an outstanding day, particularly on Hilbre. Members of the Observatory knew something amazing was going on when they counted 72 Wheatears in the Marine Lake car park at West Kirby on the way over to the island, but this was nothing to what awaited them. I quote Matt Thomas (from 'From the Muddy Banks of the Dee' Blog), who was the Ranger on duty that day: "Looking around it was as if a Wheatear bomb had gone off. All along the west side of the island were Wheatears. Some loafing on the grass, others scromping grubs from the sandy cliffs. If you got one in the viewfinder of the camera there was almost always another in the same frame. There must have been around two hundred of them during the course of the day but their numbers were dwarfed by the amount of Willow Warblers that fell from the skies. Final total was 800. You looked at every bush, fence post and there was a Willow Warbler there. I walked out of the garden of the Bird Obs and nearly trod on one. I have never seen anything like it before."
Willow Warbler on Hilbre, May 2nd  Matt Thomas, see 'From the Muddy Banks of the Dee' Blog.
            "Hopping so close I had to retreat to fit it all in the frame of the camera".

Other highlights were six Redstarts, 40 Chiffchaffs, 250 House Martins and 3,000 Swallows. The Hilbre Obs Blog that evening said "today saw almost certainly the largest ever fall of migrants recorded at Hilbre since the Bird Observatory was established in 1957". An incredible day.

But what caused this huge fall of birds? Steve Williams' article below on the weather pattern that day demonstrates just how important the weather is during migration. Such big falls are rare events in our area but something similar did occur on April 23rd 1998 when 275 Wheatear and 1,355 Willow Warblers were counted at Red Rocks and adjacent area, among many other birds there were also 95 White Wagtail, five Pied Flycatchers and six Ring Ouzels that day.

This year's migration was certainly late and much of it was concentrated in those three days - April 30th to May 2nd. It was particularly good for Willow Warblers, Wheatears, Whinchats and, as can be seen in the graph above, Common Redstarts. The graph below demonstrates how late the migration was compared to last year, which was also good for this species, and also just how many passed through in those three days with a total of 19 records (as shown by the green bar).

Sources of Information:

1. Matt Thomas - 'From the Muddy Banks of the Dee' Blog.
2. Hilbre Bird Observatory Blog -
3. Jane Turner's Red Rocks records as published in Bird Forum.
4. My own records and those passed on to me with many thanks.

Richard Smith.

Weather and Migration Study

This short article by Steve Williams was written on May 2nd 2012, it was published on the  Hilbre Bird Observatory Blog that day and kindly reproduced here with permission of the author.

Today's superb fall on the island was, as always, a consequence of the weather which plays such an important factor for bird migration observed at Hilbre.  The weather chart below shows the weather map for 0.00hrs on Wednesday 2nd May 2012.  A high pressure over the North Atlantic and a low pressure to the south west of the UK producing south easterlies up the country and high pressures centred over Southern Europe encouraging south easterly airflow and migration northwards up the UK.

The weak occluded front travelling north to south down the UK (running across from Northern Ireland to the Wash) no doubt encouraged many migrants to be grounded and this can be seen in the weather maps below (left 1200noon on 2nd May and right 0000hrs on 3rd May 2012) showing the movement of the decaying occluded front and how it breaks up over Hilbre during 2nd May 2012 before moving south during the afternoon leaving behind sun soaked birders and numerous grounded migrants.
Weather maps courtesy of

As always we continue to study the weather - which is always easier with hindsight!

Steve Williams

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May Bird News

                              Whinchat near Leasowe Lighthouse, April 30th -  Matt Thomas,
                                      see 'From the Muddy Banks of the Dee' Blog.
The spring migration was late - but, boy, was it worth the wait! I've already described three very special days above but the whole of May was excellent, including some stunning rarities.

After a couple of easterly and southerly gales towards the end of April we knew conditions were right for some interesting birds, the first one duly turned up on the 2nd with a Temminck's Stint at Burton Mere Wetlands, it was presumably the same bird which was on Donkey Stand flash, Parkgate, from the 4th to 7th. This is the first record for this species in the Dee Estuary area since May 12th 2004. There next followed a Black-winged Pratincole on the 3rd and 4th, also at Burton Mere Wetlands. This was a real 'mega' and only the fourth one to be seen in the whole of the UK over the past ten years. A Golden Oriole was spotted in flight at Leasowe Lighthouse by a couple of 'lighthouse regulars' on the 18th, it appeared to go into a line of Willow trees but was never seen again - they are so well camouflaged that they are almost impossible to see once they go into a tree.

Other rare birds included an overflying Dotterel at West Kirby and a Roseate Tern on the sand at Leasowe Lighthouse, both on the 20th. A Turtle Dove was a good find at Red Rocks on the 25th. Both the long-staying Spoonbill and Great White Egret were seen, the former was last recorded on the 7th whereas the latter appeared intermittently all month. The second half of the month saw a total of 10 Red Kite records, probably a record high for the area. There appeared to be at least one wandering bird over Wirral plus probably an additional two seen just the once over Flint.

                       Common Terns at New Brighton, May 17th William Boyce
Spring passage remained strong until the third week of the month and even as late as the 18th there were 20 Wheatears at Leasowe Lighthouse. We had given up the idea of seeing/hearing any Wood Warblers this spring when two late birds turned up with one at Stapledon Wood and the other near Leasowe Gunsite, both on the 23rd. The 26th saw a massive movement of Swifts with several thousand at Red Rocks (3,200 were actually counted but true number could have been double that) and 2,100 over Hilbre on the same date.

Cuckoos are now scarce in our area but it was a comparatively good year with 13 records this month, compared to the more usual six or seven we have seen or heard over the past few May's. There were plenty of Spotted Flycatchers passing through including six at Red Rocks on the 27th.  14 records of Short-eared Owls was a surprisingly high number for so late in the spring, with one or two birds seemingly resident at Leasowe Lighthouse and Red Rocks, and one or two seen from Hilbre, this compares to a total of just two records in May last year.

After several very poor breeding seasons for Avocet at Inner Marsh Farm it is great to see them doing well at the new RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands Reserve which has an electric fence to keep out predators, I understand by the end of the month there were 33 chicks with one or two nests still to hatch. Also at the reserve were a Curlew Sandpiper (non-breeding plumage) and seven Little Stints, both on the 26th.
           Wheatears in the flooded horse paddocks at Leasowe Lighthouse, May 2nd Tanny Robinson.
Richard Smith.
Many thanks go to David Esther, Jeremy Bradshaw, David Huntingford, Paul Brady, Mike Davenport, Steve Williams, Keith Scovell, Richard Steel, Bernard Bagnall, Charles Farnell, Elizabeth Shand, Steve Hasell, Colin Schofield, Chris Morley, Eddie Williams, Jeff Cohen, Stephen Renshaw, Roy Palmer, Karim Labib, Steve Round, David Leeming,  Malcolm Sergeant, Kevin Smith, David Haigh, Henry Cook, Mike Hart, Kenny Dummigan, Ken Roberts, Richard Beckett, Mark Gibson, Paul Vautrinot, John Boswell, David Jones, Jeff Stephens, Ray Eades, John Billington, Andy Thomas, Alan Hitchmough, Bruce Atherton, Dave Harrington, Gill Jakeman, Tim Baldock, William Boyce, Dave Edwards, Michael Baron, Greg Harker, Chris Butterworth, Jane Turner, Peter Haslem, Dave Wild, Matt Thomas, Ian Cotterell, Tanny Robinson, Jon Greep, David Small, Paul Mason, Kevin Roberts, Sean O'Hara, Steve Hand, Peter Forshaw, Mark Brockley, Janine Johnson, Steve Edwards, Ashley Cohen, David Sanderson, the Dee Estuary Wardens and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during May. All sightings are gratefully received.

What to expect in June

Many birders regard June as a 'dead' month, admittedly it can be quiet but most years there is plenty going on, not least some good rarites with both a Blyth's Reed Warbler and a Paddyfield Warbler seen in June over the past couple of years.

Early in the month you can still see waders hurrying through on their way north to breed, particularly Ringed Plover (tundra race) and Sanderling, and by the end of the month the first post-breeding waders arrive back. Spotted Redshanks are the first to arrive followed by one or two Green Sandpipers, and we usually get an early Greenshank by month-end. Look out also for non-breeding over-summering birds such as Knot which sometimes can be present in their thousands. There are also breeding waders with a few Ringed plovers, Redshanks and Oystercatchers, as well as the Avocets at Burton Mere Wetlands.

The Little Tern colony at Gronant should be thriving and out to sea will be Gannets and Scoters, and a strong westerly should blow in Manx Shearwaters and Arctic Skuas. It is not too early for the first Sandwich Terns to return, perhaps failed or non-breeding birds.

Raptors will include one or two Hobbies plus the possibility of wandering Ospreys or Red Kites. Most years we seem to get a visit from at least two Spoonbills and it will be interesting to see if we see a Great White Egret or not, perhaps the one that was here for most of the winter!

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Forthcoming Events

June Highest Spring Tides (Liverpool)

Also see Tides page.
5th June, 12.24hrs (BST), 9.5m.
6th June, 13.15hrs (BST), 9.5m.

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.
Also see 2012 Events Diary.

Saturday 2nd June and

Sunday 3rd June, Garden Wildlife Weekend at Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB, 10 am to 4pm.
Pop along anytime to get free, friendly advice from the experts on gardening for wildlife.
Be inspired by how the reserve has been set up and even take home a few plants to help you get started.
Children can get their hands on some wildflower seeds and enter our grow a sunflower competition.
For further details phone 0151 353 8478 or 0151 336 7681.

Saturday 9th June, Dusk Chorus - RSPB Event, 8pm to 10pm.
Dawn Chorus too early? Then perhaps our first ever Dusk Chorus event is for you?
Many birds continue to sing and some become even more active. With a bit of luck we may even see some of the creatures of the night...... Owls? Bats? Badgers?
Meet at Burton Mere Wetlands Car Park.
Cost: Adults - 2 RSPB members, 5 non-members, Children - Free Wildlife Explorer members, 1 non-members.
Booking essential so please call 0151 353 8478 or 0151 336 7681.

Tuesday 12th June, 1:30pm - 3:00pm, Summer Walk over Stapledon Woods and Caldy Hill.
Discover the variety of wildflowers and other wildlife on this stroll with the Ranger.
Meet Kings Drive North off Column Road.
Sorry no dogs/
No need to book.
For further enquiries ring 0151 677 7594.

Saturday 23rd June,  10am to 12 noon, Moth Morning at Burton Mere Wetlands.
With an abundance of vegetation Burton Mere Wetlands is an amazing place for moths.
Our volunteer moth trappers will be working hard overnight so that come the morning a whole variety of moth species will be on display and you can ask our experts as many questions as you like.
Feel free to drop in at any point during the morning.
Children's activities will be running all day in the visitor building.
NB In event of bad weather expect fewer moths!
This event is FREE, for more details ring 0151 353 8478 or 0151 336 7681.

Sunday 24th June, 11am - 1pm. Dragons and Damsels, Part of Springwatch with the RSPB.
Price: 2 members, 5 non-members.
Booking essential.
The RSPB’s Burton Mere Wetlands is a fantastic place for dragon and damselflies.
If these mini-beasts enthral you then come along and help us to find the elegant yet elusive red-eyed damselfly.
We will scour Burton Mere and the ditches around the reserve in order the find as many flying insects as possible - we may even see some birds too!
Stay behind afterwards for a chat and a cuppa.
Children's activities will be running throughout the day.
NB In case of extreme weather these events may be cancelled.  Bring your binoculars for close up views.  Stout, waterproof footwear is advised. 
Please phone as booking is essential, ring 0151 353 8478 or 0151 336 7681.

Friday 29th June, 9:00pm - 11:00pm, Bat and Owl Night at Royden Park.
Discover the variety of bats and owls that use Royden Park in these dark hours.
Sorry no dogs.
Warm and waterproof clothing required.
Maximum no. of 18.
Booking essential, please ring 0151 648 4371.

CANCELLED - Sunday 1st July, 11am - 1pm, Bee-urton Mere Wetlands - Guided Walk