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3rd July 2003
A Golden Age for Raptors.

Latest Bird Counts.
June Bird News.
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A Golden Age for Raptors


I was driving across Cheshire from Macclesfield to West Kirby a few weeks ago and saw ten Common Buzzards during the journey. Nothing remarkable about that you might think. But it was remarkable because not so many years ago you would have been lucky to have ten Buzzards in the whole county, not seen just by glancing out of a car windscreen whilst driving along 'A' roads and motorways. It got me thinking just how lucky we are these days compared with thirty to forty years ago when, perhaps with the exception of the Kestrel, raptors were rarely seen due to various factors including persecution and pesticide poisoning. With the help of some newly acquired old Cheshire bird reports I thought I would share with you the rise of two species of raptors - Peregrines and Common Buzzards - since the dark days of the mid-1960's.

1964 - "The general decline of the Peregrine population in Britain is reflected in the sparsity of records", just 6 records for the whole year including 4 from
Hilbre and 1 off Red Rocks. It got even worse in 1969 with just one record for the whole year, at Leasowe, but the 1970's saw a change in fortune. There were 10 records in 1971 and by 1972 single birds were overwintering both on the Mersey and Dee Marshes. It was still a slow increase for the rest of the decade although the Dee Estuary was a prime site with 2 to 3 over wintering in 1979 when 3 were seen together over Burton village mobbing a pair of Sparrowhawks. But they were virtually unknown outside the Dee and Mersey estuaries.
Every year of the 1980's saw an increase in numbers, as early as 1982 there were  70 sightings in Wirral alone. By 1987 a pair were seen prospecting a nest site then in 1989 it finally happened - the first ever pair to breed successfully in Cheshire.
There was more of the same during the 1990's. In 1992 six were seen over Inner Marsh Farm on Oct 4th, and the number of breeding pairs increased to 2 in 1993. By 2001 we had 5 pairs attempting to breed, although not all successfully, and daily winter sightings were virtually guaranteed at Parkgate,
Heswall, Hilbre and Hoylake.

Common Buzzard:
Persecution for over a hundred years plus the myxomatosis outbreak (resulting in the near extinction of the Buzzard's main prey, rabbits) resulted in a low of just six single records for Cheshire in 1966. Unlike the Peregrine, Buzzards seemed to prefer inland Cheshire (and north Wales more so) to estuarine habitats, but even so there were two sightings from
Hilbre in 1969 - probably birds wandering across from Wales. By 1971 birds appeared to be resident in the Rostherne/Tatton Park area. Up to three pairs were reported to be breeding by 1975, and 1 pair was confirmed as breeding in east Cheshire in 1976, but persecution continued when a pair was found deliberately poisoned.
The early 1980's didn't really show much of an increase with only one pair breeding, and even in 1987 only two pairs bred. There was a noticeable increase in sightings between 1988 and 1991 giving some indication of what was to come. 1992 saw 73 records with 2 pairs breeding and another 5 probables. By 1994 350 records with 5 pairs confirmed breeding and 14 probables.

This remarkable and rapid increase continued with 600 records in 1998, 16 confirmed pairs breeding plus another 39 probable. But this was probably under recording the true situation when a survey carried out by the Cheshire and Wirral Raptor Study Group during 1999/2000 found a remarkable 56 confirmed pairs and another 128 probable, that is a truly remarkable 184 probable breeding pairs in Cheshire and Wirral, this compared with just four pairs ten years earlier. Buzzard

The latest Cheshire bird report (2001) reports further increases with regular sightings and breeding in Wirral, including at least nine records on West Kirby shore. Large gatherings have become quite commonplace including 13 over Inner Marsh Farm on 25th August 2002 (D. Wild). A golden age indeed!

I had hoped to cover more raptor species but decided that the two tales above of the remarkable increase in both Peregrine and Buzzard numbers was really enough. Perhaps more in a later newsletter.

The above article relies heavily on the records printed in the Cheshire and Wirral Bird Reports 1964 to 2001. The section on the Buzzard in the 1990's relies in particular on the article on Common Buzzards written by Steve Barber and Richard Hargreaves in the 1999 report.


Bird Counts


Inner Marsh Farm  Count for 23rd June.
6 Spotted Redshank, 5 Redshank, 32 Lapwing, 510 Black-tailed Godwit, 2 Common Tern, 10 Long-tailed Tit, 1 Barn Owl, 19 Grey Heron, 58 Teal and 17 Shelduck.
Please note that the count from Inner Marsh Farm is an informal estimate of species and numbers present, either carried out by myself or other birdwatchers visiting the hide. It is not meant to be a complete count and is not in anyway part of the Wetland Bird Survey or other count which might be carried out by the RSPB.


June Bird News


Five hundred Black-tailed Godwits have been over summering on the estuary, a magnificent sight in their summer plumage. These are non-breeding birds of the Icelandic race, it is believed that this is the largest over summering flock in the country. Six Spotted Redshank at Inner Marsh Farm heralded an early autumn passage for this species. Two Whimbrel were unexpected visitors to Leasowe shore. Perhaps the most obvious bird on Heswall/Thurstaston shore in June was the Carrion Crow with over 150 seen at low tide, this must be a sizeable portion of the west Wirral population.
Our two tern colonies are doing very well. The Common Tern colony at Shotton, the largest tern colony in Wales, has yet another record number of pairs, 622, compared with 555 pairs last year. Five hundred and thirty chicks have been ringed so far by the Merseyside ringing group but they expect more to come. Unusually the colony has suffered from some predation with a very persistent, and brave, magpie taking several eggs.

Valerie McFarland  

The much smaller Little Tern colony at Gronant, the only one in Wales, is also on course for a record year. We have already beaten the record for number of pairs, with 93 compared with 1999's total of 86. It would certainly be nice if we could beat the 1996 total of 120 chicks fledged but to be honest I would regard anything over 90 as a bumper year. The average for the last ten years is 58. So far predation has been very low and the weather good, a Kestrel has recently become a nuisance taking a few chicks but we are very hopeful that the level of predation can be kept down to an acceptable level. Thanks to all the wardens for doing such an excellent job - it's not too late to volunteer, contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

The distinctive call of a Golden Oriole was heard in Dungeon Wood (Heswall) at the beginning of the month but a possible fleeting glimpse of it a few days later in Heswall was the only reported sighting. A Tawny Pipit was seen for a couple of days at the Point of Ayr. June is an unusual date for this vagrant but may be it was blown by the same east wind that brought the Black Lark to South Stack! What was presumably the same Red-backed Shrike as last month returned briefly to Red Rocks.


It has not been a particularly good month for sea watching but 20 Manx Shearwaters were seen on the horizon from Gronant. Gronant was also a good place to see Common Scoters where 30 or so flew by most days.

What to expect in July.
July is a great month for birdwatching and it gets better as the month progresses. First come the Sandwich Terns, they are always the first species of tern to finish breeding and many gather on the sand banks of the Dee Estuary for a spot of R&R before making their way south to the wintering grounds off Africa. Expect to see  a thousand or more at their favourite haunts of Gronant, Point of Ayr, Hilbre, West Kirby and Hoylake. Large flocks of gulls can also be seen at the same places, look out for the odd Roseate or Black Tern, rare visitors which can turn up in July. A few Arctic Skuas are usually seen following both the terns and gulls.

Wader numbers will rapidly build up during the month. Most of the Oystercatchers, Curlew and Redshank will have bred in this country, a second wave of birds from Iceland and Scandinavia will follow in August and September. We can also get quite large movements of Sanderling and Dunlin, these will be birds which have bred in the far north passing through on their way south. As soon as the chicks are old enough to feed themselves the adults leave, this avoids the adults and chicks competing for the same food.

Common Sandpiper
Common Sandpiper - Nigel Blake

July is also good for the passage of rarer waders - for example Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper and Wood Sandpiper. May be an early adult Curlew Sandpiper will make an appearance, and last year we even had a Marsh Sandpiper. Avocets have been breeding not too far away and we could see a family or two pausing on their way south.

Little Egrets will return to the estuary, last year we had 12 by the end of the month. It will be very interesting to see if they can carry on increasing at the same rate as the previous four years. Apart from the usual Gannets a fresh west wind might bring in Storm Petrels.

Many thanks go to David Harrington, Clive Ashton, Dave and Emma Kenyon, Phil Woolen, Stephen Williams,  Chris Butterworth,  Martyn Jaimeson, David Esther, John Harrison, Rodney Smyth, Tanny Robinson, Paul Rowlands, Neil Friswell, John Billington, Colin Jones, John Kirkland, the wardens at Gronant and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during June. All sightings are gratefully received.

Forthcoming Events


July Highest Spring Tides, also see Tides page.
15th July, 13:20 hrs 9.1m. (all times BST)
16th July, 14.04hrs 9.0m. 

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.

Thursday 3rd July 8:00pm - 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.

Saturday 26th July  8:00pm. Birds, Bats, Moths and BBQ.
Join the RSPB staff at Burton Point Farm and delve into the world of the creatures of the night. Learn all about our nocturnal neighbours with the local experts. Booking essential. Tickets 6.50 members and 7.50 non-members. For tickets and further information contact RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Sunday 10th August, 8:30am. Banks Road Birdwatch at Heswall.
One of the best places on the estuary to get close-up views of a variety of waders including Black-tailed Godwit, Knot, Redshank and Curlew. There is also a good chance of seeing Spotted Redshank, Curlew Sandpiper and Whimbrel. (HW 10:40, 8.5m) Meet at Banks Road car park, Lower Heswall, near Sheldrake's Restaurant. Further information, tel. 0151 648 4371/3884

Wednesday 13th August, In Search of Terns.
A guided walk to Hilbre Island (staying over the tide) to search for Terns as they pass us on their mammoth migration. Please note there is a 1 charge for this event. Waterproofs and stout footwear are recommended. Please bring a packed lunch. Booking essential. Tel: 0151 648 4371/3884.

Monday 25th August (Bank Holiday) - Pelagic Trip from Anglesey in to the Irish Sea.
Local birder Allan Conlin has arranged a trip in search of seabirds including skuas, shearwaters and petrels. This will leave from Amlwch, Anglesey. The fully insured boat provides a sheltered cabin area, cooking facilities, hot and cold drinks and wc. The experienced charter skipper and on board guide will offer an enjoyable and memorable pelagic experience for only 25.00 per person. For details and to book your place ring Allan on 0151 625 9258 or 07791274837.

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.