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
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
July after they have finished breeding.
pair at Inner Marsh Farm RSPB, May 28th 2007 © Ian
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
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
* 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:
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
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
12. Dee Estuary Birding latest sightings archive - www.deeestuary.co.uk
June Bird News
Little Swift over the River Mersey, New Brighton, June 22nd
- © Mike Davenport.
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
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
A male Golden Oriole caused a bit more
controversy, first seen briefly at Burton
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
Out on Parkgate Marsh
the Great White Egret stayed until the 17th, and a Spoonbill was
at Burton Mere
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
. A 1,000 non-breeding Knot at Little Eye
on the 12th
was not unexpected but 300 Bar-tailed Godwit coming off the sea
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
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
(23rd). One Roseate Tern (New
) and two Black Terns (Wallasey), both on 23rd. 300
Sandwich Terns (12th) and 1,000 Common Terns (29th) feeding
Scoter flew west past Gronant in four flocks (20th).
Reed Warbler at Burton Mere
Wetlands, June 9th © Paul Brady
Many thanks go to Mark Turner, David
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,
Butterworth, Jane Turner, Peter Haslem, Dave
Greep, David Small, Paul Mason, Ian Bedford, Colin
Steve Seal, Tim Baldock,Rob Bodels, Phil Crosby, Bill Heaton, Anthony
Edwards, David Farrel, Paul Earley, the
and the Hilbre Bird
for their sightings during June. All
are gratefully received.
What to expect in July
Being a lover of terns I
July! Sandwich Terns, which use the estuary as a place to feed up and
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
For the waders winter will have
already started with many back after breeding. Passage waders
include Greenshank, Wood Sandpipers, Common Sandpipers and Black-tailed
Sandwich Tern off Wallasey,
April 29th © William Boyce
Spring Tides (Liverpool)
4th July, 12.16hrs (BST), 9.3m.
5th July, 13.04hrs (BST), 9.3m.
Organised by the Wirral
Ranger Service , Flintshire Countryside Service and/or the
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
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
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
Organised as part of Wirral’s Year of Coast and
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.
Cheshire Bat Group have kindly agreed to lead a guided walk around
Burton Mere Wetlands to showcase the amazing winged mammals of the
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.