Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens at West Kirby
As befits our twentieth anniversary the winter of 2005/06 was a very good one for the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens both in terms of bird numbers and lack of disturbances to the wader flocks. Wader counts on West Kirby shore were the highest for seven years and disturbances caused by human agents were the second lowest recorded. The large majority of disturbances (a total of 41 for the whole winter) were caused by walkers and their dogs, but most were minor when just a few birds were moved on before the wardens had time to intercept the offending walker or dog. The fact that the vast majority of dogs and walkers (a total of 7,155 counted over the winter) didn't cause disturbance is largely due to the excellent work the wardens do asking people not to walk out towards the roosting flocks and also just chatting to them about the birds. Unfortunately we have no control over peregrines which more often than not caused the majority of the flock to take flight, and we had 25 instances of this, but usually the flock settled down again as soon as the peregrine moved on. No doubt the increase in peregrine disturbances from a total of 10 the previous winter reflects the increase in wader numbers.
The graph below shows the average number of birds at the high tide wader roost at West Kirby for each of the 20 years of the existence of the wardening scheme.
As you see there appears to be a very noticeable cyclic pattern with an eight year cycle, which means we should get even more birds this coming winter! A detailed discussion on possible reasons for the cyclic pattern can be read in the July 2005 newsletter.
It was very noticeable that large numbers of waders, in particular knot, were feeding on Dawpool Bank (off Thurstaston) at low tide from October to March this last winter, so they must have had a good food supply, most of these birds flew to West Kirby to roost at high tide. In fact one of the highlights of last winter was watching the knot coming towards us en masse as the mud banks were covered by the tide, flying low over a flat calm sea in line after line - just awesome!
There's no doubt that this superb roost would not exist if it wasn't for the wardens. If you want to join them just come down to West Kirby shore and see for yourself what we do - me and I'll let you know the times and dates we will be down there. For more details contact Lynne Greenstreet, the Coastal Ranger (0151 678 5488), or see the Dee Estuary Wardens web page, following the links on he bottom of the page.
August Bird News
been really poor this month, or so I've been telling everyone. Then, prior
to writing this, I looked back at the August latest sightings and realised
just how good it really has been! It's true there were many days when
there was nothing to see, but that was more than made up for by the good
days. It's been a great year again for Storm Petrels with 26 at
Hilbre the second highest ever daily
count there. Nine at New Brighton
on Aug 2nd was the second highest count of the month, in total this
species was seen on eight days, mostly off
New Brighton, Hilbre and
Point of Ayr. In fact these past three years
have been really good for Storm Petrels: 30 was a record count for the
Mersey mouth on Sep 22nd in 2004, these were with 300 Leach's Petrels in
what was a spectacular sight; in 2005 we had what was then a record 23 off
Hilbre on Jul 20th, 30 there the next day
is still the current record for Hilbre.
In a 'normal' year just two or three sightings of single birds, usually
off Hilbre, is all we can expect, so
these numbers are remarkable. A good selection of other species include
(max count in brackets): Manx Shearwater (136), Gannet (80), Guillemot
(27), Artic Tern (5), Arctic Skua (3), Pomarine Skua (1), Great Skua (1),
Black Tern (3 singles seen over the month). But the star bird was a Sooty
Shearwater off Wallasey on Aug 10th,
well seen by a birder experienced with this species.
The same strong winds and high tides which brought many of these sea birds in during the first ten days or so of the month destroyed the fence protecting the Little Tern colony at Gronant, effectively bringing the season to an end. But what a season! A total of 160 chicks successfully fledged from 110 pairs. That makes a total of 552 juveniles raised by this, the only colony in Wales, over the past four years - a great achievement. The graph below charts the success of the colony since wardening began in 1975. Incidentally, on Aug 30th Marc Hughes was sea-watching off Little Orme and saw seven Little Terns fly west, including four juveniles - presumably off to their wintering grounds!
Another species doing well locally is the Little Egret, we had a record count of 132 going in to roost at Burton during the month. But we can expect higher counts in the next couple of months; last year's max was 112 on Oct 13th, yet as recently as 2003 the record was 32, and we thought that was amazing!
Duck numbers built up well during the month, we had 650 Teal at Inner Marsh Farm RSPB and also 500 at Connah's Quay. 3,900 Shelduck on the sand banks off Burton Marsh on the 30th was an excellent count for August. These birds will have moulted on the Mersey Estuary (although some might now moult on the Dee) so it's only a short hop for them over Wirral. But a few years ago when the main flock moulted off Germany, these numbers wouldn't have been seen until October.
What to expect in September
What we hope for is prolonged north-westerly gales! In these conditions sea-watching will be superb, particularly if they blow from the beginning of the second week of the month onwards. Expect to see 100+ Leach's Petrels, Sabine's Gulls, a good selection of skuas plus hundreds of Gannets, Manx Shearwaters, Kittiwakes etc. But it's Leach's Petrels I am particularly looking forward to seeing, they breed in remote islands such as St Kilda but it is likely that many of the birds we see here are in fact from the huge Canadian population. So many of these tiny dark grey birds pattering over the sea in front of the waiting birders may well have already crossed the Atlantic before making their way past the north Wirral coast, Hilbre, Point of Ayr and onwards south to their wintering grounds. Best places to see Leach's Petrels are: New Brighton, the really spectacular numbers have always been seen in the mouth of the Mersey where the birds can get trapped in strong winds; Leasowe Gunsite (along Green Lane) - big advantage here is that you can sit in your car!; Leasowe Lighthouse, can be very exposed but last year this was the best spot; Dove Point, Meols; Hilbre Island; Point of Ayr. Away from New Brighton the birds will be coming past steadily one by one, travelling from east to west, sometimes very close to, or even over, the shore/beach/sea defence.
In the absence of any of the wished for winds there is always the consolation of the passage of those delightful small waders - Curlew Sandpipers and Little Stints. They can be found just about anywhere on the estuary but in recent years there has usually been a handful amongst the Dunlin flocks on Hoylake Shore at high tide - but don't expect to see more than two or three, perhaps ten if we are lucky. Heswall shore is also often a good place for Curlew Sandpipers - a flock of 21 were seen last year, and one or two Little Stints usually visit Inner Marsh Farm RSPB. Black-tailed Godwit numbers will be building up nicely, expect to see 4,000 or so on Oakenholt Marsh RSPB roosting at high tide, or on the mud off Flint Castle at low tide.
Duck numbers will be noticeably increasing during September, particularly Shelduck which are best seen off Thurstaston at low tide or Heswall at high tide - should be at least 6,000 by the end of the month. Inner Marsh Farm RSPB is a good place to see Teal which can be present in very good numbers - 1,000+.
Many thanks go to Bill Owen, Colin Schofield, David Esther, James Smith, Mark Turner, John Atkinson, David Small, Clive Ashton, Greg Harker, Rob Black, Neil McLaren, Phil Woollen, Ray Noonan, Brian Roberts, Gilbert Bolton, David Haigh, Dave Harrington, Allan Conlin, Mike Hart, Dave Wild, Colin Wells, Steve Ainsworth, Steve Williams, Chris Butterworth, Jane Turner, Charles Farnell, Geoff Robinson, David Davies, Andrew Wallbank, Paul Shenton, Martyn Jamieson, Frank Huband, Ian Dyer, Mark O'Sullivan, Stephen Menzie, Helen Warburton, Laura Bimson, Nigel Grice, Neil Friswell, Graham Thompson, David Poole, Kevin Smith, Michael Cole, Alan 'Mutley' and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during August. All sightings are gratefully received.
September Highest Spring Tides,
9th September, 13.11hrs 10.0m. BST.
10th September, 13.51hrs 10.0m. BST.
(organised by the Wirral Ranger
Service, Flintshire Countryside Service and/or the RSPB):
Saturday 23rd September, 6pm, Egret roost count at
Inner Marsh Farm.
Sunday 24th September, 10am - 12noon, Birds along the Brook.
Saturday 7th October, 10am–3pm, Deeside Naturalist Society
Connah’s Quay Reserve – Open Day.
Saturday 14th October, 7:00am, Migration Watch and breakfast at
Inner Marsh Farm RSPB Reserve.
NOTE: Many of these forthcoming events are extracted from the 'Birdwatchers Diary 2006', 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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