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July 2012 Newsletter

The Mediterranean Gull.
June Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
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The Mediterranean Gull

          Adult in full breeding plumage flying past Hilbre, July 9th 2011 Paul Brady

I don't normally look through flocks of thousands of gulls looking for rarities, I leave that to the Laruphiles*, but I make an exception when searching for Mediterranean Gulls which look stunning, particularly when in breeding plumage as you can see from the photos in this article. Not that Mediterranean Gulls can be classed as rarities any more having undergone a large range expansion over the past 50 years westwards from their stronghold in the Black Sea.

The graph below shows how numbers have increased here on the Dee Estuary since 1975 when only one was observed; the first ever record for Cheshire and Wirral was one at Seacombe Ferry in July 1967. As you can see records can vary a lot from year to year, and this partly depends how long birds stay in the area after returning from breeding in July.

In 2010, which was an exceptionally good year, we had five or six birds at both Heswall and Hoylake for much of early July as well as two or three at West Kirby, hence the spike in the graph below. The yearly distribution shown is fairly typical with much smaller numbers present through autumn and winter before a late winter peak of birds coming through on their way back to the breeding grounds.

Two to four pairs have been breeding in Cheshire at Blakemere Moss, Delamere Forest, since 2004 and they have also shown signs of breeding at Inner Marsh Farm, getting as far as nest building as the two in the photograph below did in 2007. It is likely that we see some of these local breeding birds on the Dee Estuary in June and July after they have finished breeding.  

                A pair at Inner Marsh Farm RSPB, May 28th 2007  Ian MacKinnon          
Like with many other species the colour-ringing of Mediterranean Gulls has revolutionised our knowledge of their movements. Using this information the BTO Migration Atlas describes how birds move westwards from continental Europe to the British Isles after breeding, many come from nearby Belgium and the Netherlands but can also come from as far away as Hungary, a more recent study in Scotland showed the same pattern of movement.

Here on the Dee Estuary/North Wirral recording of six colour-ringed birds over the past few years show birds have flown from Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland, five of these birds were ringed as chicks in the nest and the sixth bird was a breeding adult (see above map).

                  Colour-ringed bird ZRH8 at Hoylake, July 16th 2010 Peter Welch

Colour ringing these birds enable us to track them over several years and they show some fascinating movements. ZRH8, above, was one of three ringed birds seen in July 2010 along north Wirral. It was ringed as a chick in the Czech Republic in May 2004 before finding its way to Brittany by the following April. It then spent the autumn and early winter of 2005 around New Brighton but wasn't recorded again until July 2007 when it was in the Netherlands. It was seen at New Brighton again in July 2009 and then Hoylake the following year, in 2010 when the above photo was taken. Another was breeding in the Elbe Estuary, Germany, on May 22nd 2010 before finding its way to Seaforth by July 4th 2010 and then Hoylake a week later, a fair distance in a matter of a few weeks. One has returned to the Leasowe Lighthouse area four years out of the last six and is often seen feeding on chips with the Black-headed Gulls in the car park!

July is the best time to see these birds and early in the month they will still be in breeding plumage. Any large flock of Black-headed Gulls is likely to contain at least one or two with Hoylake and West Kirby shores usually giving the closest views. As well as the relatively easy to spot adults keep an eye open for immature birds which present more of an ID challenge, one of the birds seen in 2010 was a juvenile ringed as a chick in Poland on Jun 1st and was recorded on West Kirby Marine Lake just 11 weeks later.

If you see any colour rings it is important to note the colour of the ring and the leg it was on, as well as the letters and numbers. I would be grateful if you could let me have any colour-ring sightings and I can report them if you wish, otherwise use the web pages shown below in Reference 1.

* From the scienific name for gulls - Larus.

Sources of Information:
1. The Colour-ringed Mediterranean Gull project including those mention in the following web page: (for  the codes see
2. Colour-ringed Mediterranean Gulls in Scotland (J. Bos - Birding Scotland 8:2 - 2005).
4. JNCC - Status and trends of  Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus,
5. The Migration Atlas, BTO, 2002.
6. Birds of the Western Palearctic (BWPi - interactive edition).
7. Holling et al., Rare breeding birds in the UK in 2009, British Birds 104, Sep 2011,
8. Cheshire and Wirral Bird Reports 1967 to 2010.
9. CAWOS Database (Mediterranean Gull 2001 to 2010).
11. Frank Duff, Breeding Mediterranean Gulls on Blakemere Lake, 2004 Cheshire and Wirral Bird Report.
12. Dee Estuary Birding latest sightings archive -

Richard Smith.

             Winter plumaged adult at New Brighton, December 22nd 2010 Richard Steel
                               see -
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June Bird News

                  Little Swift over the River Mersey, New Brighton, June 22nd -  Mike Davenport.
This Little Swift was undoutedly the bird of the month. It was first seen on the 22nd and gave great views as it flew next to the River Mersey at New Brighton, it stayed for the rest of the month although it became increasingly difficult to see and was absent on the 30th. This is a first for Cheshire and Wirral (one at Woolston Eyes in 2002 was rejected by BBRC), they normally don't come any further north than North Africa.

A male Golden Oriole caused a bit more controversy, first seen briefly at Burton Point on the 14th, it or another was heard singing on the 24th but unfortunately the location of this second report remains a mysterious secret, apparently. Given the large influx of Golden Orioles into the country during May and into June (100+ reported on Bird Guides) it is not surprising another has turned up in our area after the one at Leasowe in May. Another good rarity was a Blue-headed Wagtail on Hilbre on the 14th and there were four more sightings of a single Red Kite over the west side of Wirral.

Out on Parkgate Marsh the Great White Egret stayed until the 17th, and a Spoonbill was at  Burton Mere Wetlands on the 23rd. A Short-eared Owl on Burton Marsh on the 18th was presumably a very early returning bird, and there have been reports of up to four present. The first returning waders included a Spotted Redshank on the 13th and both a Green Sandpiper and Greenshank on the 16th, all at Burton Mere Wetlands. A 1,000 non-breeding Knot at Little Eye on the 12th was not unexpected but 300 Bar-tailed Godwit coming off the sea at Leasowe Lighthouse on the 18th was more unusual although several hundred do over-summer on the Ribble Estuary, as do many Knot. A Little Stint at Parkgate on the 17th was also unexpected, presumably a non-breeding bird. The Avocets at Burton Mere Wetlands have had a great breeding season with at least 40 chicks many of which have already fledged, what a contrast to the disasters of the past few years. This is thanks to the RSPB erecting an electric fence over the new bit of the reserve in front of the main hide, the Avocets just seemed to know where it was safe to nest!

NOTE: Updated July 8th with late Hilbre data.

It was a good month for sea-watching, helped by some strong winds but also some clear days of flat calm. Highlights are:
1 Storm Petrel off Hilbre (17th) and 530 Gannets past there on the 29th. Manx Shearwaters - 190 past Hoylake (16th), 46 at Gronant (20th) and 178 at Hilbre (29th). Three Pomarine Skuas at Wallasey (22nd) and five Arctic Skuas at Hilbre (23rd). One Roseate Tern (New Brighton) and two Black Terns (Wallasey), both on 23rd. 300 Sandwich Terns (12th) and 1,000 Common Terns (29th) feeding off Hilbre. 164 Common Scoter flew west past Gronant in four flocks (20th).   

                       Reed Warbler at Burton Mere Wetlands, June 9th Paul Brady
Richard Smith.
Many thanks go to Mark Turner, David Esther, Jeremy Bradshaw, Paul Brady, Mike Davenport, Steve Williams, Charles Farnell, Steve Hasell, Roy Palmer, David Haigh, Paul Vautrinot, Ray Eades, Alan Hitchmough, Bruce Atherton, Dave Harrington, William Boyce, Dave Edwards, Chris Butterworth, Jane Turner, Peter Haslem, Dave Wild, Matt Thomas, Tanny Robinson, Jon Greep, David Small, Paul Mason, Ian Bedford, Colin Jones, Steve Seal, Tim Baldock,Rob Bodels, Phil Crosby, Bill Heaton, Anthony Edwards, David Farrel, Paul Earley, the Dee Estuary Wardens and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during June. All sightings are gratefully received.

What to expect in July

Being a lover of terns I just love July! Sandwich Terns, which use the estuary as a place to feed up and rest after the breeding season, will increase in numbers all through the month reaching a total of over 1,500. This year's young birds are easy to pick out and it is always interesting to see how many there are - ringing indicates that many of 'our' terns breed in Ireland and they always seem to produce plenty of juveniles. The Gronant Little Tern colony will be a busy place with the adults busy feeding the chicks - most of these will have fledged by the month-end. Also by the end of the month common Tern numbers will start to increase. Most years a Roseate Tern or two is seen, usually off north Wirral, and there is also the possibilty of a Black Tern.

Given some strong westerly winds sea-watching can be excellent with Arctic and Great Skuas, and the possibilty of a Pomarine Skua. We can also get large numbers of Manx Shearwaters and the far more difficult to spot European Storm Petrel. 

For the waders winter will have already started with many back after breeding. Passage waders will include Greenshank, Wood Sandpipers, Common Sandpipers and Black-tailed Godwits.
                       Sandwich Tern off Wallasey, April 29th William Boyce

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Forthcoming Events

July Highest Spring Tides (Liverpool)

Also see Tides page.
4th July, 12.16hrs (BST), 9.3m.
5th July, 13.04hrs (BST), 9.3m.

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 21st July, 8:00pm - 11:00pm, Hunting Barn Owls.

Join Members of the Wirral Barn Owl Trust and Coastal Ranger Matt Thomas for a walk along the Wirral way to the grasslands looking over the Dee Estuary in the search for Barn Owls who will be hunting to feed their hungry chicks.
Organised as part of Wirral’s Year of Coast and Countryside.
Booking essential - ring: 0151 648 4371.

Saturday 28th July, 11:00am - 4:00pm, Take Tea with the RSPB on Hilbre.
The Coastal Rangers and the RSPB will be serving tea and cakes on Hilbre from the old Buoymaster’s and Telegraph House gardens – a part of the island rarely seen by visitors.
The RSPB will have scopes set up overlooking Niffy Bay and will also be seal watching.
This is not a guided walk to the islands but visitors will be able to cross to the islands between the times given above. Hot drinks 50p Cakes 70p.
Organised as part of Wirral’s Year of Coast and Countryside.
Booking essential - ring: 0151 648 4371.

Saturday 4th August, 10am start, Tern-tastic at Point of Ayr.
Price: 2 for RSPB members, 5 non-members - to book ring 0151 353 8478 or 0151 336 7681.
The mouth of the River Dee is a vital feeding ground for terns and other seabirds before they head off on their long journeys south and The Point of Ayr, Flintshire is one of the best places to see them.
On this walk we should see near on 1000 terns (sandwich mainly but little, common, arctic terns all occur) roosting close in as the tide covers up their feeding areas and forces them closer to shore.
Don't forget to bring your binoculars, telescopes and cameras.
Meet at the Smuggler's Inn car park at the end of Station Road, Talacre (Point of Ayr).

Saturday 18th August, 8pm to late, Bats at Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB.
The Cheshire Bat Group have kindly agreed to lead a guided walk around Burton Mere Wetlands to showcase the amazing winged mammals of the night.
The Daubenton’s bats can be spectacular feeding over the meres so book your place early to avoid disappointment.
Cost: 2.00 to RSPB Members and 5.00 to non-members - Please phone 0151 353 8478 to book.