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1st September 2003
New Atlas for Cheshire and Wirral.

Voluntary Wardens.
Latest Bird Counts.
August Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
Latest Newsletter.


~ Special Announcement ~
We will need everyone's help - large or small -
Please get involved

A New Atlas of Cheshire & Wirral Birds


Professor David Norman

The council of the Cheshire and Wirral Ornithological Society (CAWOS) has agreed that they should embark on an atlas project to map the breeding and wintering distribution and abundance of birds in Cheshire and Wirral. This will be the biggest task undertaken by the Society and we hope that as many people as possible will take part.  

Why are we doing this? 

The Breeding Bird Atlas of Cheshire & Wirral was published over ten years ago (1992) based on fieldwork now twenty years old (1978-84). Nationally, those twenty years have seen perhaps the biggest changes ever in bird populations and distribution. A glance at some of the maps from our Atlas hints at some of the changes that have taken place locally. Mute Swan was at a low point, with fewer than 20 pairs. Shelducks and Oystercatchers were just starting to breed inland. Amongst the raptors, there were just two tetrads (2x2km squares) with confirmed breeding of Buzzard, and none of Peregrine or Hobby. Grey Partridges were confirmed to breed in one quarter of the county’s 670 tetrads, with breeding season presence in two-thirds of them. Observers recorded Snipe in the breeding season in one-quarter of the county’s tetrads. Lapwings and Skylarks nested in over half, and Yellow Wagtails were found in well over half, and proven to breed in over a quarter. Tree Pipits were found in over 80 tetrads, with Turtle Doves encountered in 144, while there were only four tetrads with proven breeding of Pied Flycatcher. Marsh Tits occurred in almost a quarter of the county, and Willow Tits in over 40%. Tree Sparrows were found in over three-quarters of tetrads and Linnets and Yellowhammers in over 85%, while there were 260 tetrads with Corn Buntings recorded, and breeding in over 200 of them. These are amongst the most striking results, unbelievable to today’s birders, and it is vital for conservation to determine the present status of these, and many other species. But there are surely more subtle changes to be discovered. Do Starlings and House Sparrows still breed in 98% of the county?

Now, we have decided that not only are we going to do a new breeding bird atlas, but shall do winter distribution as well. A lot of birds migrate here for the winter, taking advantage of our relatively mild weather and good food resources. But for many species we know little at the detailed county level of where they are and how many there are. This Atlas will be a major advance on the first county breeding Atlas because it will measure abundance as well as distribution. The methods for doing this are still being discussed, with advice from the BTO and other counties, but will probably involve experienced surveyors visiting a sample of the county’s tetrads. 

How can you help? 

Good participation from as many birdwatchers as possible is essential to make a success of the Atlas and achieve full coverage of Cheshire and Wirral. Many people have said that surveying for the first Atlas was one of their most enjoyable and worthwhile experiences in birding. Anyone can join in! This is a chance not only to get to know the birds of an area much better, and probably to come up with some surprises, but also to contribute to a major project that will see your work published and put to good use for conservation. 

Fieldwork will start next April (2004) and will cover three breeding seasons (April to the end of June each year) and three winter periods (mid-November to the end of February), finishing in February 2007. We plan that the publication, as a quality hardback book, will be during 2008. The basis for recording will be the birds in each tetrad: this is a 2x2km square, defined by the gridlines on the Ordnance Survey maps. The previous Atlas engaged the interest of birders and achieved complete coverage of all 670 tetrads in Cheshire and Wirral; we aim to do likewise. Each tetrad will probably need two visits in the breeding season and two in winter, sometime during the three years of the project. 

Perhaps you can now start to think which tetrads you would like to deal with. In the autumn we shall be compiling lists and approaching birders who have offered help. Maybe some of the local bird clubs would like to arrange coverage of their own areas? We shall probably arrange coordinators for areas of the county to give local knowledge and act as contacts between organisers and observers. All offers will be welcome. 

Help will be needed not only with the fieldwork. Volunteers will be appreciated to help with other aspects of the project like publicity and fundraising, production of webpages, data-inputting and so on. 

Recording at other times of year 

The Atlas will provide the essential up-to-date knowledge of the distribution and population of the county’s birds during the ‘core’ times of year – breeding and winter periods – when most are relatively fixed. We also hope to encourage more records from the spring and autumn periods, although these will not be mapped in the Atlas as many birds are just moving through the area. These records will, however, be put to good use in the annual Bird Reports and will provide the final pieces of the jigsaw needed to complete a county avifauna. This will be a book describing the current status of birds in the county, placed in the context of historical records and the national and international picture. The first such avifauna of Cheshire & Wirral was by T.A. Coward in 1900 and the only county-wide publication since then was by Hedley Bell as long ago as 1962. Thus, an up-to-date avifauna is long overdue, and has been discussed many times in the last decade. This Atlas will provide an essential input into a new avifauna. 

What next? 

I am coordinating the project and a small group is working behind the scenes on the details. We are taking advice from other societies, including those in Cumbria and Lancashire and North Merseyside who have recently completed their own atlases. The detailed methodology will be announced later this year. Meanwhile, please think about how you can help, and prepare to get involved in CAWOS’s biggest ever project! 

Professor David Norman, Rowswood Cottage, Ridding Lane, Sutton Weaver, Runcorn, Cheshire WA7 6PF. Tel. 01928 711064. e-mail:


Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens


 Tired of chasing after other peoples' birds? Fed up with dipping out yet again? Spouse bending your ear over ruining yet another family weekend? No money left after yet another trip to the Scilly Islands?
Well, you could do your birding at a more relaxed pace and at the same time help protect the birds you are watching, and still be home in time for tea!  The Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens are crying out for volunteers to help protect the wader roost on West Kirby shore. The area we warden also overlooks the Hilbre Islands to the west, and Red Rocks to the north, both excellent birding sites.


Our main job is to stop disturbance from walkers, dogs, horses etc., but we also count the birds and chat to passers-by about why we are wardening. It is always pleasing to hear the expressions of wonder when showing the wader roost to people through a 'scope, often invisible to the untutored naked eye. Of course you do not have to be an expert birder to join the wardens, we welcome anyone wanting to help out, and this is an excellent way to learn the art of birdwatching. For more details see the wardens page, follow the links at the bottom of the page. If you are interested either me or ring the Coastal Ranger on 0151 678 5488.


Bird Counts


Hilbre Island, count from 12th August kindly provided by the Hilbre Bird Observatory.
6 Gannet, 70 Cormorant, 3 Grey Heron, 2 Ruff, 2,000 Oystercatcher, 900 Dunlin, 3 Whimbrel, 100 Curlew, 120 Turnstone, 300 Black-headed Gull, 70 Common Gull, 300 Herring Gull, 200 Great Black-backed Gull, 200 Common Tern, 400 Sandwich Tern and 150 Little Tern. That was just the highlights!  

Count from Connah's Quay and Flint - (Kindly provided by Deeside Naturalists' Society), 17th August. 22 Little Grebe, 1 Great Crested Grebe, 62 Cormorant, 5 Heron, 2 Mute Swan, 63 Canada Goose, 88 Shelduck, 58 Teal, 450 Mallard, 4 Tufted Duck, 2 Moorhen, 28 Coot, 560 Oystercatcher, 22 Lapwing, 870 Black-tailed Godwit, 25 Curlew, 6 Spotted Redshank, 1,500 Redshank, 6 Greenshank.

Count from Heswall Shore - (Kindly provided by the Wirral Ranger Service), 17th August. 61 Cormorant, 8 Grey Heron, 163 Shelduck, 3,300 Oystercatcher, 2 Ringed Plover, 2 Grey Plover, 1 Curlew Sandpiper, 70 Dunlin, 2 Black-tailed Godwit, 1 Whimbrel, 3,150 Curlew, 6,780 Redshank, 4 Greenshank, 7,700 Gull spp, 2 Peregrine, 10 Kestrel and 2 Marsh Harrier.   

August Bird News


Migrant waders on the estuary can be split in to three main categories. The first are species which are here for at least nine months of the year and in most cases are counted in thousands. Second are species which we only see during spring and autumn passage, these are usually counted in tens. Thirdly are vagrants which are birds well away from their normal range, just ones and twos of these. This is, of course, somewhat of an over simplification but nevertheless is basically true. In August we had all three types of waders.

There were large numbers of Redshank and Curlew on the estuary with the highest numbers at Heswall - 6,780 of the former and 3,150 of the latter. Despite some disturbance by cocklers Oystercatcher numbers have been high with a total of 9,500 at the high tide roots on Little Eye and West Kirby Shore at the end of the month. Of the passage waders Greenshank were numerous at Inner Marsh Farm with a maximum of over 60, compared with 12 this time last year. 21 at Heswall was an excellent count for this location. Little Stints and Curlew Sandpipers were just starting to trickle through at the end of the month. The only wader properly described as a vagrant was the Pectoral Sandpiper. This species migrates from the east coast of northern Canada directly to the north coast of South America, across the western Atlantic. With such a long sea passage it is not surprising that a few get blown across to Europe. One was at Inner Marsh Farm for at least six days at the end of the month with another just briefly on Hoylake Shore.

The final count of fledged Little Terns at the colony at Gronant was 190, well above the previous record of 120 - a great breeding season! Other terns, Common and Sandwich, were numerous during the first half of the month making a splendid sight around Hilbre Island, but numbers tailed off as the month came to an end. A juvenile Black Tern was seen among the numerous gulls and terns at West Kirby on the 9th.  

Sandwich Tern
Sandwich Tern ( Sue and Andy Tranter)

There must have been a bumper crop of voles on the Gayton Sands RSPB Reserve (between Burton and Heswall) as a remarkable 45 Kestrels were counted on two separate occasions. No doubt also attracted by the voles were Marsh Harriers, at least three have been seen on several days throughout the month. A Red Kite was an unexpected sight at Leasowe Lighthouse early on in the month and another one was seen heading towards the head of the estuary over Neston on the 29th, and presumably the same bird was seen at Shotton the next day. An Osprey was seen heading past Hoylake towards Wales on the 28th.

What to expect in September.
If you draw a line from the mouth of the Dee Estuary due North West it takes you straight out through the North Channel of the Irish Sea and passes just to the south of St Kilda.

The significance of this is that St Kilda is the largest nesting colony of Leach's Petrel in the British Isles and birds are moving south during September. Strong north-west winds blow these delightful small ocean-going birds in to the Irish Sea and straight on to the North Wirral shore. Here they struggle to fly back out to sea by flying west past Leasowe, Hoylake, Hilbre and the Point of Ayr, some of the best places to see Leach's Petrel in the country. Two days of continuous north-west gales can bring in hundreds, as well as skuas, shearwaters, gannets and various gulls including the rare Sabine's.
Photograph of Leach's Petrel by Barry Barnacal, published here with kind permission of the Hilbre Bird Observatory.
Leach's Petrel

But don't despair if we don't get any NW winds, a good easterly, especially over northern Europe, should bring in good numbers of Curlew Sandpipers and Little Stints. These will be mostly juveniles which tend to migrate by following the coast line round from northern Siberia, adults usually take a more direct route south.

Any period of light south-east winds should be good for visible migration, i.e. the migration of land birds such as Meadow Pipits, Wheatear and Yellow Wagtails, best seen along the coastline shortly after dawn - try Red Rocks, Hilbre or Point of Ayr.    

Shelduck, virtually absent during August, will return in their thousands after moulting on the Mersey Estuary. We may get as many as 8,000, best seen from the top of Thurstaston cliffs at low tide or at Heswall as the tide is coming in. By the end of the month numbers of other duck should build up with several thousand Pintail and Teal.

Many thanks go to Keith Lester, Nigel Troup, Jane Turner, Dave Wilde, David Esther, Mark Smith, Dave and Emma Kenyon, Tanny Robinson, Colin Wells, T. Morton, David Steer, Steve Woolfall, Geoff Butler, John Campbell, Duncan Crockell, Brian Grey, Derek Rice, John Harrison, Jon Wainright, Allan Conlin, Wendy Hassal, Mike Hart, Allan Patterson, David Harrington, Clive Ashton, Phil Woolen, Stephen Williams,  Chris Butterworth,  Martyn Jaimeson, Paul Rowlands, the wardens at Gronant and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during August. All sightings are gratefully received.

Forthcoming Events


September Highest Spring Tides, also see Tides page.
27th September, 12:54 hrs 9.9m. (all times BST)
28th September, 13:33hrs 9.9m. 

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.

Thursday 11th September, Pirates of Hilbre.
A Guided Walk to Hilbre Island (staying over the tide) in search of Skuas, the pirates of Hilbre. With luck we will see them chasing gulls or terns to steal their food. Please note there is a £1 charge for this event. Warm waterproof clothing is recommended, please bring a packed lunch. 
Booking essential. For more details, phone 0151 648 4371/3884.

Saturday 13th September, 12:30pm - 2:00pm, Wader Watch at King's Gap.
Join the Ranger and the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens to see large numbers of waders at close quarters, as they gather to roost with the rising tide. Beginners welcome. Please bring warm waterproof clothing and binoculars if you have them. No need to book, meet at King's Gap, Hoylake. For further information phone 0151 678 5488.

Saturday 20th September, 11:00am, Grebes at Greenfield.
Join the RSPB warden for a leisurely walk along the sea wall at Greenfield to see over one hundred Great Crested Grebes fishing 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 13:02, 3.9m) No need to book, meet at Greenfield Dock car park, off Dock Rd, Greenfield. 
For more details tel. 0151 336 7681.

Saturday 27th September, 7:00am start, Migration Watch at Red Rocks.
Join the Rangers to witness the autumn migration of finches, pipits and thrushes as they pass the tip of the Wirral Peninsula. Please wear suitable warm clothing and footwear, and bring binoculars if you have them. No need to book. Meet at the end of Stanley Road, off The King's Gap, Hoylake. For further information phone 0151 678 5488. 

Saturday 27th September, 11:15am, High Tide Birdwatch at Parkgate.
Premier birdwatching in the North-West. Come see memorable clouds of ducks and waders as they swirl around over the marsh, constantly shuffled by the surging tide. It's rich pickings for predators who amass to pick off stranded voles and shrews. (HW 12:54, 9.9m) Meet at the Old Baths car park, Parkgate, close to the Boathouse Inn. For further details call 0151 336 7681.

Sunday 28th September, 12:00am, High Tide Birdwatch at Parkgate.
Premier birdwatching in the North-West. Come see memorable clouds of ducks and waders as they swirl around over the estuary. There is nowhere to hide as the rising water forces rarely seen birds like Water Rails from the saltmarsh. (HW 13:33, 9.9m) Meet at the Old Baths car park, Parkgate, close to the Boathouse Inn. For further details call 0151 336 7681.

Saturday 4th October, 7:00am start, Migration Watch at Denhall Lane.
Passerine migration will be in full swing so why not join the Rangers to witness the mass movement of finches, pipits and thrushes as they move south as winter approaches. Please wear suitable warm clothing and bring binoculars if you have them. No need to book, meet at Denhall Lane, Burton. For further information phone 0151 648 4371/3884.

Saturday 11th October, 10:15am, Banks Road Birdwatch at Heswall.
Wader watching of the highest calibre offers fantastic birdwatching for beginner and expert alike. Expect a good selection of waders which may include Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Curlew Sandpiper with the possibility of a Mediterranean Gull. (HW 12:47, 9.3m). Meet at Banks Road car park, near Sheldrake's Restaurant, Lower Heswall. For further information tel. 0151 648 4371/3884.

Sunday 12th October, All Day on Hilbre.
One for the early rising dedicated birder! Join the Rangers on a guided walk to seek dawn migrants, then stay over high tide for some seawatching. A guided walk of 9 hours including a hot meal in the Bunkhouse. Please note there is a £3 charge for this event. Warm waterproof clothing and stout footwear are essential. Places are strictly limited so book early! Tel: 0151 648 4371/3884.

Sunday 12th October, 11:00am - 1:00pm, Beginners Birdwatch around Leasowe Bay.
Can't tell an RBMerg from a Mipit? Then this is the event for you! Join the Ranger for a relaxed guided walk around Leasowe Bay to find some of the birdlife that feed on the rich mud of the shore. Please wear suitable warm clothing and bring binoculars if you have them. No need to book, meet at Green Lane Car Park, Wallasey (Off the A554 Wallasey Approach Road). For further information 
phone 0151 678 5488.

Sunday 12th October, 11:00am, Return of the Godwits on Flint shore.
Come and see our winter visitors fresh back after their 1,000km journeys from Iceland. Raptors are often in evidence and a Peregrine Falcon harrying a flock of 3,000 Black-tailed Godwits is a sight not to be missed. Also expect to see large flocks of waders including Oystercatcher, Knot and Dunlin. Wellingtons are essential. (HW 13:15, 9.2m) No need to book. Meet at Flint Lifeboat Station car park. For further information, contact RSPB on 0151 336 7681. 

Note: Many of these forthcoming events are extracted from the 'Birdwatchers Diary 2003', 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.