1st August 2005

Bird Cruises.
Ringing Report - Review.
July Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
Latest Newsletter.

© Jeff Clarke

Mersey Ferry Bird Cruises

 Four Arctic Skuas to port and three Little Gulls to starboard! Sep. 1st 2004.
© Richard Smith

Liverbird Wildlife Discovery Cruises.

The RSPB, NMGM (National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside) and Mersey Ferries have teamed up again to provide birdwatching cruises in to Liverpool Bay. This year there will be three cruises, on August 18th, September 1st and September 15th, each one lasting about three hours. To book use the Mersey Ferries website - http://www.merseyferries.co.uk/special/index.aspx or contact Mersey Ferries directly.

Last year I went on the September 1st cruise which was a very enjoyable three hours - dead calm, sunny and loads of birds. I particularly remember Arctic Skuas being in sight virtually for the whole voyage. Here is the (unofficial) total for the day - at least 8 Arctic Skua, 1 Long-tailed Skua (juv.), 1 Shag, 1 Mediterranean Gull, 3 Little Gull, 2 Guillemot, 1 Arctic Tern, 1 Black Tern, plenty of Sandwich and Common Terns and 2 Peregrine, also large flock of Knot above Formby beach. Nothing spectacular, except for the Long-tailed Skua perhaps, but very good nevertheless. This year there is a later cruise on September 15th - as well as the above we could see Gannets, Leach's Petrels and Manx Shearwaters.

Gannet off Leasowe on a stormy day, September 2004,
Steve Round

Richard Smith

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Merseyside Ringing Group - 50th Anniversary Report
"This report is a celebration of 50 years bird ringing. This is our hobby, an activity we pursue with a passion whilst always enjoying it. Merseyside Ringing Group has provided many enduring friendships, given us lots of fun, but has always been dedicated to improving our understanding of birds." - Peter Coffey, editor.

I thought I could do no better as a way of introducing this review than quoting this first paragraph of the report. The report includes nine fascinating articles from those published by the group over the years - these include such gems as 'The Brambling invasion of Merseyside -1981' and 'European-African Songbird Migration Network'. Two of the articles are directly related to the Dee Estuary - 'Weight variations of Ringed Plovers on the Dee Estuary' and 'The Shotton Tern Colony'. I quote from the latter, written by the late Ron Birch in 1988:
"During the first 20 years of the colony, the feelings of those most closely involved have regularly swung between despair and elation as various crises have arisen and passed. The future of the largest Common Tern colony in Wales is now reasonably secure, thanks to the past assistance of the Prince of Wales Award Committee and RSPB, and the continuing support of British Steel (now Corus Colours). In that time more than 3000* tern chicks have been ringed, sufficient reward in itself. For me, however, the sight and sound of these beautiful birds wheeling over a far from beautiful factory is, without doubt, the greatest reward of all."
* MRG has now ringed more than 14,000 Common Terns, most of them at Shotton.

A photograph of a ringed Common Tern at Seaforth adorns the front cover.
Photograph taken by Steve Young and used here with his permission,
see more of his photos on his website - http://www.birdsonfilm.com/

Of course a good portion of the report is taken up discussing and listing the birds which have been ringed and recovered. This includes a section named "50 years - 50 birds" listing some really quality birds. I list three here, all ringed on the Dee Estuary:

Sanderling (Calidris alba)

Ringed as an adult: 06.08.67     Hoylake, Wirral, Merseyside.
Found dead 5310km south 38 days later near Accra Ghana on 13.09.67.
MRG has a fantastic set of controls and recoveries for Sanderling, all the more so because it was achieved at a time when little was known about their migration. This Sanderling to Ghana shows the most southerly movement recorded by MRG for this species and it was achieved at an average speed of 140km per day.

Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa)

Ringed as an adult:15.12.74     Thurstaston, Wirral, Merseyside.
Found dead 1599km NW at Heidmork, Reykjavik, Iceland on 15.07.82.
This was the second record of a British bird to Iceland, proving the islandica race of the Black-tailed Godwits winter in our area.

Little Tern (Sterna albifrons)

Ringed as a chick: 23.06.92   Gronant, Flintshire.
Caught and released 4756km S at Areias, Guinea Bissau on 04.01.93 and 03.02.93.
This is the most southerly record of a British-ringed Little Tern.

Extracts used with permission of Professor David Norman, with thanks.

Richard smith.

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July Bird News
It's been a bit of a funny year at our tern colonies. Breeding started very late which has had a big effect on the Little Terns at Gronant, but not so much at Shotton. It was estimated at the end of May that there were 583 pairs of Common Terns at Shotton when in a normal year they have all arrived. But a check a month later on just one of the rafts indicated quite a lot more had arrived. Anyway, the Merseyside Ringing Group ringed 862 chicks, of which they reckon at least 750 have fledged - yet another record. At Gronant the Little Terns seem to have come in three waves. One in the second half of May, the next in June and the third in July. Weather plays a big effect on how successful the first wave is and this year the start of nesting coincided with bad weather. As a result there were just a few nests and most of these were outside the electric fence so most have been predated. The second wave was more successful resulting in about 60 nests, but because of the late start at the time of writing very few of the chicks have fledged. More bad weather causing sand to blow over nests hasn't helped this year, so we aren't expecting a bumper crop of young birds. The third wave in July are either non-breeders or may be early/failed breeders from other colonies. This third wave resulted in at least 410 Little Terns at Gronant, quite a sight, and the presence of this flock hopefully helps to deter avian predators. None of this seems to have effected Sandwich Terns which, judging by the numbers of juveniles around, seem to have had another good breeding season. They come here after breeding in various locations around the Irish Sea and several hundred have been seen at Gronant, West Kirby, Hilbre and Hoylake.

Little Terns at Gronant, July 2005,  ©James Armstrong.

July's highlight must have been the strong west winds from the 19th to 23rd which blew in 30 Storm Petrels past Hilbre on 21st (23 here on 20th) which could well be a record number for Hilbre. Also seen off North Wirral and Gronant over this period were 2 Great Skua, 5 Arctic Skua, 45 Gannets, 47 Manx Shearwater, 54 Common Scoter as well as Fulmars, Kittiwakes etc., all very good numbers for July.

Other birds of interest were two Ospreys, a Spotted Crake at Inner Marsh Farm and 3 or 4 Mediterranean Gulls which have been seen in the area. 21 Greenshank were back at Parkgate on 21st, 6 Spotted Redshank at Inner Marsh Farm on 11th and 600 Black-tailed Godwit back at the Connah's Quay Reserve by the month end.

What to expect in August

Usually an excellent month for birdwatching. On the estuary expect huge numbers of waders, counts of Redshank and Curlew usually peak this month as they return from breeding - last year we had just under 7,000 Curlew and over 10,000 Redshank. It is believed that the Dee Estuary is the most important site in the country for passage Redshank. Get down to Heswall Shore at least two hours before high tide to see these thousands of birds. Greenshank numbers will build during the month with up to 50 at Inner Marsh Farm, Parkgate Boathouse Flash is also a good spot to see these passage birds. Other passage waders include Common and Green Sandpipers, usually just two or three at a time, and by the end of the month we should be getting a few Curlew Sandpipers and Little Stints coming through (see article on passage waders). August is also a good month to see passage Dunlin, Sanderling, Ringed Plover and Grey Plover - try Gronant or Hoylake Shore as the tide comes in. Many of the Grey Plover will be in summer plumage; a stunning sight!

A strong wind in the west quadrant towards the end of the month should make for some excellent sea-watching; Leach's Petrel, Storm Petrel, Skuas etc. The southerly migration will be well underway and we should see good numbers of Willow Warblers, Swallows etc. passing through Hilbre Island. Larger migrants will include Marsh Harriers and Ospreys.

Little Egret numbers will build up, a good place to see these is at Inner Marsh Farm as they come in to evening roost with may be as many as 50 or so birds. There will be hundreds of terns around, especially over the first half of the month. Shelduck will be largely absent as they will be moulting over on the Mersey, but by the last week of August look for them returning in large numbers. 

Many thanks go to James Armstrong, John Spottiswood, Greg Hawkswell, John Kirkland, John Ferguson, David Haigh, Clive Ashton, Charles Farnell,  John Campbell, Steve Williams,  Chris Butterworth,  Jane Turner, Allan Conlin, Mike Hart, Dave Wilde, Mark O'Sullivan,  Jean Morgan, Richard Hurst, Tom Giles, Phil Woollen, Colin Wells, 'Dunraven', Margaret Twemlow, Steve Round,  the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens  and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during July.  All sightings are gratefully received.

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Forthcoming Events
August Highest Spring Tides, also see Tides page.
21st August, 13:20hrs 9.8m. Times BST.
22nd August, 14:03hrs 9.8m.

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.

Liverbird Cruises - 18th August, 1st September, 15th September, see article above.

Sunday 7th August, 10:30am, Banks Road Birdwatch at Heswall.
One of the biggest roosts of redshank in the country occurs in the saltmarsh off Banks Road. Amongst the thousands of waders that are herded up in front of us by the tide, there is a good chance of seeing spotted redshank and curlew sandpiper (HW 13:36, 8.8m). Meet at Banks Road car park, Lower Heswall, near Sheldrake’s Restaurant. For further details, phone 0151 648 4371/3884.

Saturday 20th August, 9:30am, High Tide at Point of Ayr.
The spit and saltmarsh at the Point of Ayr are extremely important habitats for birds. They come alive at high tide with waders coming in to roost and ducks drift in on the tide to feed on the marsh. Join the RSPB Warden to watch the action as it unfolds (HW 12:15, 9.6m). No need to book. Meet at the end of Station Rd. Talacre. For further information contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Sunday 21st August, Seabird Special at Hilbre Island.
Join the Wirral RSPB local group on a trip to Hilbre Island in search of terns, skuas and other seabirds as they prepare for their autumn migration. For more details phone 0151 648 4371/3884.

Sunday 11th September, 10:30am, Grebes at Greenfield.
Join the RSPB Warden for a leisurely walk along the sea wall at Greenfield to see great -crested grebes as they fish in the low water channels. Finches and whinchats busily feed on the thistles and willowherbs while wheatears hop along the sea wall in front of us (LW 10:53, 2.8m). No need to book Meet at Greenfield Dock car park, off Dock Rd, Greenfield. For details tel. 0151 336 7681.

Note: Many of these forthcoming events are extracted from the 'Birdwatchers Diary 2005', 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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Birding North West is a new monthly magazine for birders in the North West Region. Our aim is to bring you the news of rare and scarce birds in our region while it is still news. We consider that up-to-date news, photographs of regional birds, articles on the occurrence of birds in the North West and other articles relating to our region is what our readership want.