1st September 2004

Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens.

'Yankee' Plover at Moreton.
Latest Bird Counts.

August Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
Latest Newsletter.

Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens


West Kirby shore is a great place for some winter bird watching, especially at high tide. The sand bank holds up to 20,000 waders at peak times - mainly Knot and Dunlin, there are great views of the three Hilbre islands and out to sea Red-breasted Mergansers and a selection of Divers and Grebes show up from time to time. For a detailed report on the bird life of this area see Chris Butterworth's excellent report - The Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens Report 2001.

The view of Hilbre Island from West Kirby Shore.

West Kirby shore is not only popular with birdwatchers, it is also a good place for walking, cycling and horse riding. But this is a problem for the roosting waders which can be disturbed by all this activity, using up precious energy which they need for their long migration flights. That is why the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens were set up to protect this important wader roost. We are down on West Kirby shore at every high tide over 8.8 metres during the winter daylight hours. Our job is to chat to people about the birds and politely request they keep away from the roost. The vast majority do, and many look through our 'scopes with amazement at the sight of so many birds, often invisible to the untutored naked eye. If you are interested in getting in some great birdwatching whilst doing a useful job why don't you join us? The Coastal Ranger will send you details or you can just come along to the beach and have a chat - ring 0151 678 5488. Also try the following links for more info:

    Description of role and appeal for new wardens (Sep '99)
    West Kirby High Tide Roost Counts 1986 to 1999 (Dec '99)
    West Kirby High Tide Roost Counts 1999/2000 (May '00)
    The role of DEVW in stopping bird disturbances at West Kirby (Nov '00), by Karen Leeming.
    History of the DEVW (September '01)
    The Wardening Year 2001 (May '02)
    DEVW Bird Report 2001 (June '02 and July '02), by Chris Butterworth - whole report.
    Lovebirds! (Dec '02) by John Pugh.
    Appeal for Wardens (Sep '03).

Richard Smith

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American Golden Plover at Moreton


This article was first published in the January 2004 issue of Birding North West and shown here with kind permission of the author, Allan Conlin. I've kept it back until this September so you can see what was about a year ago - but I can't promise another 'yankee plover' this year! - Ed.

The afternoon of the 20th September (2003) was really no different to any other day on the Wirral, so I set off to the North Wirral Shore to do my rounds near the lighthouse at Moreton. Having nearly completed my usual route in search of any vagrant passerines, I met Mark Turner and his partner Brenda walking towards me as I was walking back towards the car park. After a 10-minute chat, generally lamenting about the poor quality birding at that time, we parted company and as we did so I reminded Mark to call me should he find anything.

As I had one leg in the car, my mobile starting to ring, 'Mark Turner' displays on the screen. 'I've got a Golden Plover, are they common here?' he asks. I suggested to Mark that was he sure it wasn't a Yankee G P, as there were a few in the country. Looking up at the sky, half in the car, with drizzle starting to fall, I decided to continue homeward bound until he said it was running around on the sea defence. Alarm bells started to ring, as all the Golden Plover I have seen here have been flying over, or on the beach with the Lapwing flock. 'I'll be there in 10 minutes!!'

The North Wirral Shore at Moreton with the sea defence at the bottom of the photo

With a quickened pace breaking out into the occasional trot, I arrived back at where I had been 15 minutes earlier to see a small, long legged, long winged golden/grey washed out Golden Plover species running around on the sea defence. It gave an excellent overall impression of American Golden Plover but we wanted to be sure we didn't have a Pacific. Between us we took an extensive and full description, and after a couple of telephone calls, we had ironed out any potential pitfalls and we were happy to have found Wirral's first American Golden Plover.

The bird seemed relatively happy on the sea defence, when it was flushed onto the beach, showing its grey underwing. Once on the beach, the bird became very unsettled and after a further 5 minutes flew out of site around a concrete groyne . The news was quickly put out to all local birders, however, after extensive searching it could not be relocated that day. However, it was seen by one fortunate observer the following day at the same location in flight heading east ... possibly towards Marshside?

The UK was blessed with an exceptional influx of American Golden Plovers during the autumn of 2003 with up to 25 reported. Our bird was the first in the North West that autumn, with a further two reported. One was seen in flight over Red Rocks NR on 16th October and this was followed by another bird, possibly our bird, found amongst the Golden Plover flock at Marshside Marsh, Merseyside, on 10 October. This latter bird was then seen occasionally at Crossen's Marsh and Marshside, coinciding with high tides which pushed the Golden Plover flock further inland, until the end of the year.

The Moreton bird was coincidentally found on the same day that another was discovered at Old Moor RSPB Reserve, South Yorkshire. September 2003 saw at least eight birds reported in Britain and a further seven in Ireland. The influx continued into October and included a long stayer on the Isles of Scilly, portrayed superbly in the photograph below by Paul Hackett. This excellent shot clearly indicates some of the key features which distinguish juvenile American Golden from Pacific Golden, as well as from Eurasian Golden Plover.

Juvenile American Golden Plovers always have an overall grey look about them whereas Pacific's (and Eurasian) always appear more golden. The upperparts feathers of Pacific are brown edged bright yellow, compared with American which has brown edged pale yellow/white. The underparts of American Golden are extensively barred grey up to the upper breast and often this gives a 'necklace' appearance around the bird's throat. This can be compared with Pacific which has barring generally restricted to the flanks with the breast having a buffish/mottled bright yellow appearance. The supercilium of both American and Pacific are conspicuous compared with Eurasian but American's is very much whiter compared to the Pacific's yellower tone.

Both American and Pacific are tall long-legged birds compared with Eurasian particularly above the knee, and both have smaller bills than the bulkier Eurasian's. A very important feature is the wing projection and the relative positions of the tertials, primaries and tail.

American Golden has very long primaries; indeed extending well beyond the tertials and the tail with the tail tip falling mid way between primary tips and the tertials (see photo right). This can be compared to Eurasian Golden Plover, whose primaries are only slightly longer than the tail if at all, and Pacific which has longer wings than Eurasian, but not as long as American (compared to the tertials and tail), and therefore the relative positions of primaries, tertials and tail are all closer together on Pacific.

Allan Conlin January 2004

Paul Hackett

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Bird Counts
  Count from Heswall Shore - (Kindly provided by the Wirral Ranger Service), 22nd August.
38 Great Crested Grebe, 136 Cormorant, 1 Little Egret, 8 Grey Heron, 3 Mute Swan, 1,441 Shelduck, 4 Teal, 20 Mallard, 3,200 Oystercatcher, 14 Ringed Plover, 18 Knot, 3,580 Curlew, 7,072 Redshank, 1 Greenshank, 6,500 Gulls mostly Black-headed also 1 Marsh Harrier, 3 Peregrine and 6 Kestrel.

Count from Point of Ayr - (kindly provided by Sam Dyer), 5th August.
2 Cormorant, 116 Mallard, 45 Shelduck, 610 Curlew, 200 Dunlin, 2,250 Oystercatcher, 5 Bar-tailed Godwit, 116 Redshank, 26 Ringed Plover, 3 Snipe, 2 Whimbrel, 6 Greenshank, 1 Green Sandpiper, 7 Sandwich Tern, 10 Common Tern, 20 Common Gull and 1 Common Buzzard.

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August Bird News
  An interesting month! Lets start at the end of the month when a strong north-westerly blew for about 24 hours or so bringing in 12 Leach's Petrels, 4 Storm Petrels, 3 Great Skuas, at least one Pomarine Skua, 1 Long-tailed Skua and 1 Grey Phalarope. Most of these were seen off Hilbre, the Leach's count is the highest August count for 10 years. Even more skuas had been seen a few days earlier on the 25th when 25 Arctics and 5 Greats were off Hoylake.

Not a particularly good month for passage waders as the heavy rain meant water levels were too high at their favourite sites - Inner Marsh Farm and Parkgate Boathouse Flash. Even so we had 5 to 6 Green Sandpiper at IMF and 46 Greenshank at Parkgate. There were plenty of waders at Heswall with 7,072 Redshank and 3,580 Curlew - it wouldn't surprise me if the Redshank count for the whole estuary ends up being the highest in the country, and could be a record count for the Dee Estuary. Curlew Sandpipers and Little Stints started to come through with 12 of the former at Heswall and two of the latter at Hoylake. I had an unofficial Wetland Bird Survey Count given to me of 3,500 Black-tailed Godwit (estimate at some distance), so a couple of days later I went down to Flint Point where I discovered 3,380 of them roosting at low tide. A remarkable count for August and again probably the highest in the country. To put this in perspective the last three August counts for this species have been 973 (2001), 738 (2002) and 1,043 (2003).

Steve Round
Black-tailed Godwits at Inner Marsh Farm, July 2004.

Plenty of terns around all month with max. counts of 1,200 Sandwich Terns, 500 Common Tern and 300 Little Terns, all off Hilbre Island. On Hilbre Island there were a couple of excellent days for visible migration with max counts of 250 Willow Warblers and 1,050 Swallows as well as 3 Spotted Flycatchers and 2 Pied Flycatchers.

Little Egrets continue to increase with a record count of 47 coming in to roost. They are remarkably difficult to see out on the marsh during the day with the grass being so long at the moment. Easier to see were a Hen Harrier and up to two Marsh Harriers. Other birds of note were a Red Kite near Connah's Quay and four Garganey at Inner Marsh Farm.

What to expect in September.

A North-westerly gale in the middle of the month would do very nicely. This will blow good numbers of Leach's Petrels in to the mouth of the river Mersey and along the north Wirral Shore. It was 2001 when we last had a good passage so we are about due another one and the north Wirral, Hilbre Island and Point of Ayr are the best places to see this species in the whole country. A gale will also bring in large numbers of other sea birds, rare and common, all making their way south. Expect hundreds of Gannets, Kittiwakes and Fulmars along with the rarer Sabine's Gull and all four species of Skua.

Waders will arrive here in large numbers this month. Redshank usually peak at 8,000 to 12,000 birds, probably the highest count for this species in the country. To see this spectacular sight get down to Heswall Shore at least two hours before high tide. There should also be a good sprinkling of rarer waders with Curlew Sandpipers, Little Stints, Spotted Redshanks and Greenshank all passing through.

Duck counts will increase rapidly after their summer moult, in particular Shelduck, Teal and Pintail. Shelduck are best seen off Thurstaston and Heswall, Teal at Inner Marsh Farm and Pintail off Flint. Look for Common Buzzards 'kettling' which they tend to do this time of year. This is when they gather together in large family parties, may be as many as 10 or more, and soar high overhead - an amazing sight. A few Ospreys and Marsh Harriers should be seen heading south and both Hen Harriers and Short-eared Owls will start to come in for the winter.

Many thanks go to Ray Roberts, Kevin Smith, Jane Turner, Fred Heywood, Nigel Troup, John Cambell, David Esther, 'Welsh Weasels', Mark Turner, Mike Hart, Dave and Emma Kenyon, Bernard Machin, David Harrington, Stephen Williams,  Chris Butterworth,  Martyn Jaimeson, John Roberts, Mark O'Sullivan, Phil Woollen, John Kirkland, Colin Wells, David Wilde, Tanny Robinson, Allan Conlin, Colin Schofield, Karen Leeming, Sam Dyer, Steve Ainsworth,  the Wardens at Gronant and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during August. All sightings are gratefully received.

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Forthcoming Events
  September Highest Spring Tides, also see Tides page.
1st September, 13:44hrs 9.5m. (all times BST)
16th September, 13:16hrs 9.5m. 
28th September, 12:03hrs 9.5m.
29th September, 12:40hrs 9.6m.

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.

Wednesday 1st September, 11:15am, LiverBird Wildlife Discovery Cruise.
Join the RSPB on an exciting cruise aboard a Mersey Ferry along the estuary and out along the Crosby Channel into Liverpool Bay. We should see good numbers of terns, gulls and waders and, depending on the weather, we might see seabirds such as skuas and gannets. There will be a host of birds and wildlife experts on hand to show you the birds and give a commentary through the trip. Cruise starts at 11.15 and will return at 14.15.
Please contact the RSPB on 01484 861148 for more details.

Sunday 12th September, 9:00am - 11:30am, Which Wader?! Where?!
Waders are a fascinating group of birds with amazing migration stories, weird and wonderful plumages and bill shapes and sizes. This can make some species very tricky to separate, so join the Rangers at Banks Road car park, Lower Heswall, to study these birds as they are pushed towards us by the rising tide. No need to book, meet in the car park by Sheldrakes Restaurant. For more information, phone 0151 648 4371.

Saturday 25th September, 2:00pm, 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 16:15, 2.4m). No need to book, meet at Greenfield Dock car park, off Dock Rd, Greenfield. For details tel. 0151 336 7681.

Saturday 26th September, 11 am to 3pm, Open Day at Greenfield Valley.
Experts on hand to talk about the birds, butterflies, flora and history of this delightful valley which is a mixture of woodland, reservoirs and ruins from a 12th century Abbey to factories from the industrial revolution (all over grown and full of wild flowers). For more details of the valley see the Greenfield Valley site guide written by Brian Roberts who will also be present. Meet at the Parys Mine Lodge which is at the car park halfway up the Greenfield to Holywell road (B5121).

Sunday 26th September, 10:00am, Birdwatch at Point of Ayr.
Join the North Wales RSPB group to see the thousands of birds that make this site so special. All welcome. Meet in the Smugglers Inn car park, Talacre. For more details, phone Maureen on 01492 547 768.

Saturday 2nd October, 12:30pm, Banks Road, Heswall, High tide Birdwatch.
Expect to see a variety of bird species at this exciting time of the year on the Estuary which sees many thousands of migrating birds on the move. Amongst the mixed mass of waders may be greenshank, spotted redshank and curlew sandpiper (HW 14:18, 9.1m). No need to book, Meet at Banks Road car park, near Sheldrake's Restaurant, Lower Heswall. For further information tel. 0151 648 4371.

Sunday 10th October, 7:00am,
Migration Watch and breakfast at Inner Marsh Farm RSPB Reserve.
Passerine migration should be in full swing so why not join the Wardens to witness the mass movement of finches, pipits, redwings and fieldfares as they move south as winter approaches. Please wear suitable warm clothing. Costs inclusive of continental breakfast are 5.50 members and 6.50 non-members. Booking essential. For further information phone the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Saturday 16th October, 9:30am - 3:00pm. Open Day at the Connah's Quay Reserve.
Non-members will be met at the entrance by a member of the Deeside Naturalists' Society and escorted in to the reserve.
This members only reserve will be open to everyone for the day and visitors will be able to make use of the four hides and chat to the members about the reserve. Tea and coffee available (HW 13:30).
Focal Point, the Cheshire based binocular and telescope company, will display a range of their products from 9:30am.

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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