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1st August 2002
Hilbre Bird Obs. Web Site.
Friends of Hilbre.
The Sandwich Tern.

Latest Bird Counts.
July Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
Latest Newsletter.


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The Hilbre Bird Observatory Website


South end of Hilbre, the Bird Observatory is the building in the centre.

This new web site is full of information about the Hilbre Bird Observatory - the history, ringing activities, bird news and what birds to expect in the next couple of months. It has some great photographs of the island and its wildlife. There is some very good advice about how to prepare for your visit to Hilbre, well worth a read - especially if you are coming for the whole high tide period or you are a first time visitor. Details are given on how to obtain the latest annual Hilbre Bird Report - something I always look forward to receiving - plus the Hilbre bird checklist. 

The website - - has only just been published, no doubt it will be added to, improved and modified over the coming months so I'm sure it will be well worth coming back to on a regular basis. 


The Friends of Hilbre: Progress and Plans


As one of several voluntary groups working on the island, the Friends of Hilbre (formed in 2001) has helped with erosion control, cleaned and painted buildings, and shown visitors the delights of seal watching. We set out to be a fund-raising body, and hope soon to apply for charitable status. Then we can access large funds, in conjunction with the Wirral Borough Council, to pay for some of the major repair work to Cliffs, slipway and buildings.

A stormy day on Hilbre (Wirral Borough Council)

The Rangers' leaflet, currently at the printers, is based partly on information from Friends, and we have produced our own simpler guided walk. Local people have been very interested to see our displays at Open Days in Wirral: Ashton Park, Port Sunlight History Day, West Kirby Library. Talks to local groups have helped to raise funds and spread information.
There has been enormous support from individuals, local societies, schools, the Ranger Service, and departments of Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council. We are grateful for the friendly relations with other Hilbre based groups, some of whose members have also joined us.
Any enquiries may be e-mailed to or directed to the membership secretary on 0151 632 5368, or chairman on 0151 336 8643.

Sue Craggs July 2002



Species Spotlight: Sandwich Tern


During July to September the raucous call - kirrik, kirrik - of the Sandwich Tern (Sterna sandvicensis) is ever present in the mouth of the estuary.  
From Gronant in Wales, across to Hilbre Island, West Kirby and beyond to the north Wirral coast it is the most numerous tern in late summer, only overtaken in number in September by the mass migration of the Common Tern.
It is usually the first tern species to be seen in the spring, and the last one to depart in the autumn. But where does this rakish, but noisy bird come from, and where do they go when they leave here?

Of the three local species of terns the Sandwich start and finish breeding much earlier than the Common or Little, often leaving the breeding colonies as early as late June. But unlike the other two species the Sandwich Tern doesn't actually breed on the estuary, the nearest colonies being forty miles away at Cemlyn Bay on Anglesey, and Morecambe Bay to the north. Cemlyn Bay typically has 460 pairs and Morecambe Bay 290 pairs, and no doubt birds from across the Irish Sea and further north also pass through. It is typical of this species to disperse rapidly away from breeding colonies to areas like the Dee Estuary. The sea at the mouth of the estuary is full of nutrients which makes for good fishing and they use the many sand banks as secure roosts to rest on after the rigours of breeding. From mid-July to mid-August there can be several thousand present. 

Sandwich Terns on Hilbre Island.
(Steve Williams)

The table below shows some typical counts over the past couple of years from the prime locations for observing this spectacular influx:
Site Gronant Point of Ayr Hilbre West Kirby Hoylake
Number 1,180 1,200 1,500 570 200
Date 20/7/01 Jul 01 3/8/01 14/7/02 31/7/01

Best time for most sites is an hour or two either side of high tide, but at Hilbre low tide can be very good when the terns are roosting on the sand around the island. These are also excellent places to see other species of terns and gulls, the Common Tern numbers peaking late August and early September. 

From August onwards the Sandwich Terns start moving south to their wintering grounds off Africa. First year birds tend to stay off West Africa where many also spend the following summer. Most older birds winter further south in the Gulf of Guinea and even as far as the Cape of Good Hope. The first returning birds arrive back here early April. 

Material for the above article came from the following sources:
1. Birds of the Western Palearctic on CD-Rom, Oxford University Press.
2. JNCC web site - 
3. Hoylake Bird Observatory Report, 2000 - 2001.
4. Dee Estuary WeBS Annual Report, 2000/2001.
5. Various reports given to me directly, for which many thanks.



Bird Counts


Wetland Bird Survey Count for Heswall Shore - (Kindly provided by the Wirral Ranger Service). 17th July. 
81 Cormorant, 4 Grey Heron, 14 Shelduck, 1,200  Oystercatcher, 23 Lapwing, 1,340 Dunlin, 4 Whimbrel, 1,809 Curlew, 1,800 Redshank, 2 Greenshank, 410 Black-headed Gull, 100 Common Gull, 31 Lesser Black-backed Gull and 91 130 Herring Gull

Wetland Bird Survey Count for Connah's Quay and Flint - (Kindly provided by Brian Grey). 14th July.
4 Little Grebe,  8 Grey Heron,  286 Shelduck,  45 Mallard,  240 Oystercatcher,  58 Lapwing,  23 Dunlin,  60 Black-tailed Godwit,  1 Spotted Redshank and 130 Redshank.

July Bird News


The Marsh Sandpiper at Inner Marsh Farm was undoubtedly the most exciting bird of the month, it stayed at the reserve for nine days towards the end of the month. This wader breeds in temperate regions right across what was the USSR, wintering mainly in Africa and India and is a rare vagrant this far west. There have been plenty of the fresh water loving Green Sandpipers with up to 6 at Inner Marsh Farm and 5 on Shotwick fields all month. One, may be two, Wood Sandpipers were heard calling whilst flying over West Kirby late one evening.

The Little Terns at Gronant have had a successful season. By the end of July 53 young had fledged and another 9 chicks were still waiting to fly. Oystercatchers and Ringed Plovers also successfully bred at Gronant this year.

At Shotton the Common Terns increased yet again to a record 555 pairs. However bad weather at the end of May hit the chicks at their most vulnerable when only a few days old and unfortunately half died. But they still managed to fledge 450, not bad in a 'poor' year! Sandwich Terns have been much in evidence with over a thousand at both Hilbre Island and Gronant, and 570 on West Kirby shore.

It has been an excellent month for Arctic Skuas, sometimes hardly seen at all in July. I watched four harassing a flock of 40 Gannets and large numbers of terns and gulls for over an hour just a few yards off the north end of Hilbre, six were seen on another day. Three were off Red Rocks and another two at Gronant.

Four Spoonbills came into Inner Marsh Farm and Burton Marsh, one stayed at Parkgate Boathouse Flash for 8 days. Also at Inner Marsh Farm five Avocets paid a brief visit, a record for this site, probably some of the birds which have bred so successfully in the north-west this summer. The nearby Shotwick fields have had a Quail calling all month and at least one Corn Bunting. Little Egrets are starting to flood in, so far 12 at Inner Marsh Farm and 7 at Parkgate (not at the same time) - this time last year, just one! Will we get 30 by the end of August?

The latest Clwyd Bird Report has just been published. This can be purchased by sending a cheque for 6:00 (includes p&p) made out to Clwyd Bird Recording Group to Anne Brenchley, Ty'r Fawnog, 43 Blackbrook, Sychdyn, Mold, Flintshire CH7 6LT, or ring 01352 750118 for info.

What to expect in August
We will get a rapid build up of Common Terns at the mouth of the estuary as their breeding season comes to an end, they normally reach a peak by the end of August or early September. At the same time Sandwich Tern numbers will reduce rapidly after the first week or so as they head south. Many of the Little Terns which have bred at Gronant will  spend some time in the estuary before departing for the tropics, maybe as many as 300 - Hilbre Island is an excellent spot to see these lovely little birds. But also look out for Black and Roseate Terns - both of these rarities can turn up this month. Gull numbers reach a peak in August with several thousand of the commoner species present.

Waders will be coming through in good numbers, some are high arctic breeders which leave the young behind as soon as they are old enough to find food for themselves - this avoids the adults competing with their own young. These will include Knot,  Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper and Sanderling all of which winter far to the south in west and south Africa (the birds of these species which over winter here arrive much later in the year). Species such as Redshank, Curlew and Oystercatcher, many of which breed in this country, or comparatively close by in Iceland, also build up rapidly in number. Many may well stay here all winter or just to the south in France or Spain. Now something of a Dee specialty the Greenshank passage is best seen at Parkgate Boathouse Flash where numbers will increase by the end of the month to as many as 80 or more - a remarkable number for this uncommon species. Another wader to look out for is the Grey Plover, looking gorgeous in their silver and black summer plumage. 

Little Egrets return for the winter, last August they reached 16, more than double the previous record. It is going to be fascinating to see whether they can maintain this rapid rise in numbers. Many raptors pass through on their way south - in particularly Marsh Harriers at Inner Marsh Farm and Burton Marsh

Many thanks go to Colin Wells, Karen Leeming, Gareth Stamp, Joe Alsop, Brian Grey, Peta Sams, Cathy McGrath, Alan Chapman, Keith Lester, Mike Hart, John Kirkland, Jon Wainwright, Nigel Troup, Stephen Williams,  Dorothy Jebb,  Chris Butterworth,  Alan Patterson, Martyn Jaimeson, Paul Swales  and Jane Turner for their sightings during July. All sightings are gratefully received.  

Forthcoming Events


August Highest Spring Tides
10th August, 13.20hrs 9.5m. (all times BST)
11th August, 14.04hrs 9.6m. 
12th August, 14.48hrs 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.

Friday 9th August 8:00am, In Search of Terns.
A specialist trip to the wonderful island of Hilbre to study the terns which use the Liverpool Bay as a staging post on their amazing migratory journeys. We will also search out early season migrants such as Willow Warblers and Northern Wheatears. Places strictly limited and there is a 1 charge per person. To book tel. 0151 648 4371/3884.

Saturday 10th August 10:30am, High Tide at Point of Ayr
Join the local RSPB warden to experience an impressive spectacle of terns and waders. Expect to see Little, Common and Sandwich Terns. Waders are already on the move south.
Target species include Curlew Sandpiper and Whimbrel. (HW 13:00, 9.5m) No need to book. Meet at the end of Station Rd. Talacre. Further information contact RSPB tel. 0151 336 7681. 

Saturday 7th September 9:00am Greenshanks & Goldfinches.
A guided walk along the Wirral coast to view early season migrants with special focus on the congregation of Greenshanks that pass through the boathouse flash, Parkgate and the impressive flocks of Goldfinches that seek out the thistle seed harvest in forgotten corners.
To book you place tel. Wirral Country Park 0151 648 4371/3884. 

Saturday 7th September 10:30am - 12:30pm
Beginners Birdwatch at King's Gap, Hoylake.
Take the opportunity to see large numbers of waders, with the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens, as they gather to roost at close quarters. Please bring warm waterproof clothing and binoculars if you have them. No need to book. Meet at Kings Gap, North Parade, Hoylake. For further information tel. 0151 678 5488. 
Wednesday 11th September 7:30pm Birds By Jizz - Evening Talk.
A humorous approach to bird identification by local expert, Jeff Clarke. This event is kindly sponsored by BHP Billiton. Please book in advance tel. 01352 719177. Meet: BHP Billiton Visitor Centre, Point of Ayr.
Saturday 14th September 10:30am Go Gaga for Grebes at Greenfield
There is no better time to visit Greenfield than September when over a hundred Great-Crested Grebes can be seen fishing the low water channels. Seaduck may include Red-Breasted Merganser and Scaup. No need to book (LW 11:57, 2.6m). Meet at Greenfield Dock car park, off Dock Rd, Greenfield. Further information contact RSPB tel. 0151 336 7681. 

Note: Many of these forthcoming events are extracted from 'Birdwatchers Diary 2002', which covers both the Dee and Mersey regions. Copies available from the visitor centre at Thurstaston, Wirral Country Park 0151 648 4371 or by from myself.