August is one of my favourite months for birdwatching, one reason being the arrival of the passage waders. 'Passage Waders' because these birds on their migration south are literally just passing through and, with the exception of a few stragglers, don't spend the winter here. Of course our most numerous passage wader is the Dunlin. Most of these are Calidris alpina schinzii, the majority breeding in Iceland and Greenland and wintering in West Africa, Calidris alpina alpina overwinter here after breeding in northern Europe and western Siberia. But as I've already covered Dunlin extensively in the December 2003 newsletter I thought I would concentrate instead on some of our more uncommon passage waders - Greenshank, Curlew Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank and Green Sandpiper. These species have several things in common -
Greenshank (Tringa nebularia)
Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea)
It is the end of August and in to September before we see juveniles, numbers varying greatly from year to year, but always more than the adults. It is thought that they take a less direct route than the adults, following the coast as shown by the small arrows. In particular, if there is a persistent east wind across Scandinavia this can drive the birds further westwards. The other major variable being breeding success, governed largely by the lemming cycle - more lemmings mean Arctic Foxes eat these rather than chicks. The table below shows the maximum number and location during the past eight years. The date the maximum occurred varies from 30th August in 2000 to 5th October in 2001. You will probably agree with me in thinking we are due a good year!
Common Sandpiper (Actitus hypoleucos)
Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus)
There is a
pronounced passage through the Dee estuary both in late summer/autumn and
spring. A few birds are present throughout the winter, and indeed for most
of the year with just a gap of about a month between mid May and mid June
when no birds are present.
Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus)
I used the following References whilst writing this article,
Latest Population estimates:
Wader Numbers on the Dee Estuary:
Outline map backgrounds kindly supplied by http://www.graphicmaps.com/clipart.htm.
Connah's Quay and
Flint - (Kindly provided by
Deeside Naturalists' Society) 18th July. 5 (incl 2 juv.) Little Grebe,
28 Cormorant, 3 Little Egret, 1 Grey Heron, 2 Mute Swan, 20 Canada Goose,
95 Shelduck, 10 Mallard, 9 (incl 8 juv.) Tufted duck, 2 Moorhen, 16 Coot,
167 Oystercatcher, 240 Lapwing, 3 Dunlin, 300 Black-tailed Godwit, 1
Whimbrel, 1 Curlew, 557 Redshank and 1 Greenshank.
Heswall Shore - (Kindly provided by the Wirral Ranger Service), 18th
Count from Point of Ayr - (kindly
provided by Sam Dyer) 30th July.
Count from Hilbre Island - (kindly
provided by Colin Schofield) 30th July.
July Bird News
was wardening at Gronant in mid-June a
westerly gale was blowing sand right across the Little Tern colony. The
adults were flying low over the colony uttering distressed calls and I
thought we had lost all the nests which still had eggs in them, and that
most of the youngest chicks would have died, just leaving a handful of
older chicks - many of which would probably fall prey to the kestrel. And
that was a week before the really bad weather! Yet here we are at the end
of July with 97 young fledged and quite a few chicks still to fledge - a
minor miracle! Congratulations to both the Little Terns and the wardens
for their persistence and fortitude during the appalling weather.
The Common Terns at Shotton also suffered from the weather, both the very hot period at the beginning of June and the bad weather since meant many chick fatalities. But even so a record number of pairs, 656, are expected to produce between 500 and 600 fledged young. There have been some good numbers of Sandwich Terns about the estuary - peak counts were 600 at Gronant and about 500 at Hilbre. Most of these will probably have bred at Cemlyn Bay on Anglesey where record numbers were counted this spring, 1,300+.
Dunlins have been passing through on their way from Iceland and Greenland to West Africa with several flocks of 1,000+, the biggest being 3,120 at Heswall. Sanderling have also been passing through with max count at Gronant of 200. 25 Greenshank was a very good count at Parkgate on the 17th, these probably being mainly female birds which leave the breeding grounds first.
Some strong winds towards the end of the month brought in a couple of Storm Petrels along with six Arctic Skuas. The 22nd was a good day at Gronant for Common Scoter when 76 were counted, good numbers of Gannets have been about all month. Marsh Harriers have been on their way south with three at Inner Marsh Farm on the 29th.
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What to expect in August.
I always think of August as a tern and wader month. Sandwich Terns will still be around in their hundreds for the first half of the month. Best places to see these are at Hilbre Island, Gronant, West Kirby shore and Hoylake shore - probably best at half tide, especially as the tide is coming in. Common Terns will also be in the same places, usually in smaller numbers although their numbers will increase through the month. At low tide they often concentrate off Greenfield Dock in the channel of the River Dee. The breeding season at Gronant should be finished by early August and from then on the Little Terns can often be seen around Hilbre Island or West Kirby Shore at high tide. Then there is also the possibility of seeing one or two Black or Roseate Terns, as well as the usual small numbers of Arctics.
Large numbers of waders will be back on the estuary. Last year we had a Wetland Bird Survey count of 10,493 Redshank in August, well over half at Heswall - most probably the highest count for August at any site in the country, although our September count was even higher! We should also have a good passage of Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Sanderling best observed at Hoylake, Point of Ayr and Gronant. Greenshank will be increasing in number throughout the month and the first juvenile Little Stints and Curlew Sandpipers will have arrived by the end of the month.
Look out also for a build up of Little Egrets and the return passage of Marsh Harriers, and perhaps an Osprey or two. Grey Heron are not exactly uncommon around the estuary but you rarely see more than one or two together. However, at this time of year they often tend to congregate on Heswall Marsh where you can usually see between 15 and 30 together sitting out high tide. Most of the Swifts will have gone by early August, but that isn't the first sign of winter, that was in late June when the first migrant waders returned!
Many thanks go to Mike Hart, Dave and Emma Kenyon, Bernard Machin, Steve Round, Alan Patterson, Christopher Leighton, David Harrington, Stephen Williams, Chris Butterworth, Martyn Jaimeson, Jean Morgan, John Roberts, David Haigh, Mark O'Sullivan, Phil Woolen, John Kirkland, Mark Payne, Colin Wells, David Wilde, Tanny Robinson, Allan Conlin, Colin Schofield, Steve Woolfall, Steve Round, Tom Giles, Brian Grey, John Boswell, Karen Leeming, Wendy Hassal, Robert Bithwell, 'Fil', Duncan Crockett, Sam Dyer, Steve Ainsworth, the Wardens at Gronant and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during July. All sightings are gratefully received.
August Highest Spring Tides,
2nd August, 13:25hrs 9.4m. (all times BST)
3rd August, 14:08hrs 9.4m.
31st August, 13:05hrs 9.6m.
Forthcoming Events (organised by the
Wirral Ranger Service,
Flintshire Countryside Service and/or the RSPB):
Sunday 1st August, 10:00am, Banks Road Birdwatch at
Wednesday 18th August, 11:15am, LiverBird Wildlife Discovery Cruise-
Note: Many of these forthcoming events are extracted from the 'Birdwatchers Diary 2004', 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.
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