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3rd September 2000
Latest Bird Counts
August Bird News
Forthcoming Events
Migration Watch 2000
Latest Newsletter



Curlew Sandpiper photo by Jeremy Baker


For the inexperienced birdwatcher it is easy to mistake the Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea) for a Dunlin, it's nearest relative. However, with it's longer legs, neck and curved bill the Curlew Sandpiper is much more elegant - in fact altogether a delightful and intriguing species. 

The Curlew Sandpiper breeds in the high arctic of Siberia, wintering in Africa south of the Sahara, India, south-east Asia and Australia, it passes through Britain as a scarce passage migrant - most birds migrating straight over land through mainland Europe and Asia (1). Just a few adult birds are seen both spring and late summer, mostly on the east coast but with a few turning up on the Dee Estuary. This year (2000) has been particularly good for adult Curlew Sandpiper - during August at Hoylake single birds were seen on six days, two on another day and a remarkable ten on the 29th, single adults were also seen at Heswall on two separate days.  

But it is the juvenile birds which are particularly fascinating. They turn up late August and September looking brand new with their fresh plumage, well behind the passage of their parents. You might be the first human being they have seen and consequently they can be remarkably unwary. Numbers on passage each year is very unpredictable, dependent on both breeding success and wind direction during migration. It is thought that the survival rate of the chicks is linked with the lemming cycle, the Arctic Fox being more inclined to eat lemming when they are plentiful.

Curlew Sandpiper - Distribution and Migration Routes

An east wind during September is sure to bring the young Curlew Sandpipers, as yet inexperienced in the art of bird navigation. Here is a table showing the places on the Dee Estuary they have been seen over the past few years with numbers present. They particularly like feeding in muddy areas, such as the boat anchorage at Heswall - just off Sheldrake's Restuarant. Note that in addition to those shown below a good place is the Point of Ayr, but I'm afraid I don't have any numbers for that site.

Table shows largest single count of Curlew Sandpiper in each location (all sightings Sept. or early Oct.) 

Location 1996 1997 1998 1999
Inner Marsh Farm 4 6 27 1
Heswall Shore 108 7 19  23
Thurstaston Shore nr  nr  16  nr
Hoylake Shore nr  5  nr  68
 Burton Marsh  11  10  nr  nr
 Hilbre Island  1  4  2  no data
 Parkgate Marsh  45  2  nr  23

Data taken from  Cheshire Bird Reports, 1996 to 1998, and Cheshire Bird News with kind permission of Steve Barber, of CAWOS.    nr = none reported

See the August Bird News below for news of this year's Curlew Sandpipers, so far it's been an excellent year.

(1) Stanley Cramp (edt.), The Birds of the Western Palearctic, Volume III. 



Bird Counts


Inner Marsh Farm  Count for 2nd August.
Hobby 1, Black-tailed Godwit 1, Ruddy Duck 6, Common Tern 3, Common Buzzard 5, Greenshank 2, Greylag Goose 9, Shoveler 14, Teal 22, Ruddy Shelduck 1, Wigeon 3,  Little Grebe (pair with two chicks), Shelduck pair with 11 juveniles, Snipe 2, Ruff 1, Dunlin 3, Goldfinch 30. 
Please note that the count from Inner Marsh Farm is an informal estimate of species and numbers present, either carried out by myself or other birdwatchers visiting the hide. It is not meant to be a complete count and is not in anyway part of the Wetland Bird Survey or other count which might be carried out by the RSPB.

Wetland Bird Survey Count for Heswall Shore - (Kindly provided by the Wirral Ranger Service). 20th August.
Cormorant 28, Grey Heron 21, Mallard 36, Oystercatcher 1600, Lapwing 45, Dunlin 125, Bar-tailed Godwit 2, Curlew 2730, Redshank 5733, Greenshank 4, Peregrine Falcon.

August Bird News


August was an excellent month, pride of place going to a record count of 97 Greenshank on Boathouse Flash at Parkgate Marsh (part of the RSPB Gayton Sands reserve). Curlew Sandpipers were also much in evidence with a very good passage of both adult and juvenile birds (see article on Curlew Sandpipers above). Particular good numbers were seen at Hoylake and Meols, both with counts of 30, Heswall with 13, Parkgate 19 and Inner Marsh Farm with 17. As usual most of these birds were juveniles but ten adults were seen at Hoylake on the 29th, four of these were in summer moult and six in winter plumage - a plumage rarely seen on the west coast of England.

There has also been a very good passage/return of the more common waders. 3000 Dunlin (Hoylake), 435 Sanderling (Hoylake), 1200 Ringed Plover (Hoylake), 2730 Curlew (Heswall) and 5733 Redshank (Heswall) were the highest counts. The Redshank count at Heswall must be one of the highest ever August counts there.

Three Arctic Skuas were seen off Hoylake shore for several days and single Pomarine Skuas off Hoylake and Point of Ayr, were another five Arctic Skua appeared at the end of the month. Four Mediterranean Gulls frequented the North Wirral shore. Tern numbers were well down on July for most of the month but 30 Little Tern were seen at the start of the month and 438 Common Terns at the end - all at Hoylake.

Raptors included some great views of two Marsh Harriers. These spent most of the time at Inner Marsh Farm and Burton Marsh but one put in a visit to Heswall marsh were it put up 32 Grey Heron. A Hobby and 5 Common Buzzard were seen on the same day at Inner Marsh Farm. Peregrine Falcons were observed almost daily at Hoylake and Heswall, and the local Kestrels must have had a good breeding season with at least seven hunting over Parkgate marsh. 

Other notable birds were single Little Egrets at Oakenholt, Point of Ayr and Hoylake, Subalpine Warbler (Leasowe), Tree Pipit (Hoylake) and Black Redstart (Hilbre).

Many thanks go to Jane Turner, Steve Williams, Cathy McGrath, Mark Feltham, Anne Lister and Stephen Menzie for e-mailing me their sightings during August. I rely on the goodwill of people like this, unlike some commercial sites I cannot offer financial inducements!


Forthcoming Events


September Highest Spring Tides (Liverpool)
28th September, 12.28hrs 9.9m. (all times BST)
29th September, 13.08hrs 9.9m.

Note that the marsh at Parkgate is covered when tide height is 9.8m or over, dependent on weather conditions. Low pressure with strong north-west wind will create higher than expected tide, high pressure with southerly wind means lower than expected tide. 

Young Ornithologists Club at Ness Gardens
See the listing of events for 2000. This group have a most interesting series of monthly outdoor and indoor meetings for the younger birdwatchers.

Wirral Peregrines Phoenix Group
A group for teenagers jointly run by the RSPB and Wirral Ranger Service.   For all young people (you don't have to be RSPB members) who want to do something to improve our environment and enjoy wildlife. See the year 2000 events

Wirral Bird Club
The Wirral Bird Club welcomes all who are interested in birds, from the beginner to the experienced.  See the complete listing of events for 2000

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.

2nd September. In search of Skuas.
Join a guided birdwatch to Hilbre Island in pursuit of those pirates of the sky, the skuas. If the weather conditions are right we can expect close encounters with Arctic and possibly Great Skua together with several species of terns and other seabirds. Places are limited. To book your place ring Wirral Country Park on 0151 648 4371.
Sketch by Jeff Clarke

16th September. Heswall Shore High Tide Bird Watch. 10:45am
Waders and Wildfowl galore at the tide's edge. (HW 13:43, 9.3m). Meet at Banks Road car park (near Sheldrake's Restaurant). For details ring Wirral Country Park at 0151 648 4371.

23rd September. Guided Walk to the Hilbre Islands. 
Cross the sands to discover the Islands' wildlife and history. A 4 mile walk of 4 hours, ideal for first time visitors. Please bring warm waterproof clothing and a snack. Wellies recommended. Booking essential, 0151 648 4371.

24th September. Migration Watch 2000 (see below)

28th September. High Tide at Parkgate. 11:00am.(Hw 12:28, 9.9m)
Spectacular birdwatching as the tide covers the marsh at Gayton Sands RSPB Reserve. Large numbers of waders and wildfowl will be present together with exciting raptors such as Peregrine and Merlin. Experts on hand to help you get the most from your visit. everyone welcome. Meet at Old baths car park, north end of Parkgate prom, near Boathouse Inn. For details ring 0151 648 4371.

30th September. High tide at  Riverbank Road, Heswall.12 noon.
Witness a dynamic spectacle as thousands of waders and wildfowl take flight as the tide floods the marsh at Heswall (HW 13:44, 9.7m). Meet at Riverbank Road car park, lower Heswall. For details contact Wirral Country Park on 0151 648 4371.

1st, 14th and 15th October. Migration Watch 2000 (see below)

1st October. High Tide at Flint Castle. 12 noon.
Superb coastal birding with potential for scarce birds such as Twite and Hen Harrier. (HW 14:19 9.4m) Meet at Lifeboat Station car park. For more information ring 0151 336 7681.

15th October. Beginners Bird Watch at Hoylake. 12 noon to 1:30pm
If you want help identifying all those waders, come along - members of the Dee Esdtuary Voluntary Wardens will be there to show you. We expect at least nine different species. Those of you who read my Latest Sightings page will know what a great place Hoylake shore is. Meet at Kings Gap/North Parade (by Lifeboat Station). No need to book, for details ring Wirral Country Park at 0151 648 4371.

29th October. Heswall Shore High Tide Bird Watch. 9:15am
Waders and Wildfowl galore at the tide's edge. (HW 12:18, 9.6m). Meet at Banks Road car park (near Sheldrake's Restaurant). For details ring Wirral Country Park at 0151 648 4371

Note: Many of these forthcoming events extracted from 'Birdwatchers Diary 2000', which covers both the Dee and Mersey regions. Copies available from the visitor centre at Thurstaston, Wirral Country Park 0151 648 4371. 

Migration Watch 2000


Every year since 1992 the various Ranger Services in the Mersey and Dee Estuary region have been staffing visible migration watchpoints. This brings to the public's attention one of the most fascinating aspects of bird behaviour. Each autumn vast numbers of birds pass through our region unseen but a few notable species gather together in large numbers. At certain points they become channeled along well known migration corridors. Each year produces surprises, such as 1999's Woodlark and Common Crossbills at the public watchpoints on the Wirral, but the real thrill is seeing the massed passage of regular migrants such as the winter thrushes as well as the various species of finches and buntings. For full details of venues contact Wirral Country Park at 0151 648 4371/3884. The selected dates and times of the migration watches are:- 

Sketch by Tony Broome
Start Times: 

Sunday 24th September 7:00am

Sunday 1st October 7:00am 

Saturday 14th October 7:30am 

Sunday 15th October 7:30am  

Public watchpoints will be staffed at several locations around the region. This includes the Wirral Country Park at Thurstaston, Denhall Lane at Burton,  both on the north shore of the Dee Estuary (all dates) and Hale Lighthouse Shore (1st October only), in Halton on the North shore of the Mersey.