Dee Estuary Newsletter

1st September 2006
Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens.
August Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
Latest Newsletter.


Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens at West Kirby

Richard Smith

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!

Knot on the north Wirral coast © Steve Round

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.

Richard Smith.

Top of page

August Bird News
Sea-watching has 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.

Greenshank numbers have been good with max of 22 at Parkgate Marsh RSPB and 30 at Connah's Quay, the latter could well be one of the highest ever counts there, the new bunded pool being particularly attractive to them. On Oakenholt Marsh RSPB there was a count of 3,000 Black-tailed Godwit, an excellent number for August and it could reach at least 5,000 next month. Single Wood Sandpipers were observed at Hilbre and Inner Marsh Farm RSPB but Curlew Sandpipers have been disappointing, max was two at Heswall on 15th. A few Peregrines have been on the marsh and shore, also two or three Marsh Harriers passing through. Around the middle of the month when the weather was humid and still, there were several reports of thousands of Swallows and House Martins busy feeding on insects - getting a bit of fat stored before the long flight south.

Greenshank at Connah's Quay, Aug 26th, 2006, © Andrew Wallbank.

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. 

Leach's Petrel on the north Wirral coast by Leasowe Lighthouse, Oct 1st, 2005, © Steve Round

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+.

Our summer visitors will be leaving us, look out for Wheatears passing through at Hilbre and Point of Ayr, and there should be hundreds of Swallows and House Martins heading south.  

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.

Top of page

Forthcoming Events
September Highest Spring Tides, also see Tides page.
9th September, 13.11hrs 10.0m. BST.
10th September, 13.51hrs 10.0m. BST.

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.

Saturday 23rd September, 6pm, Egret roost count at Inner Marsh Farm.
Help count little egrets flighting in to roost at Inner Marsh Farm, Dee Estuary RSPB Reserve. Up to 112 were counted last October – a record number! After this taxing work, finish the evening with light refreshments. Costs are £5.00 for members and £6.00 for non-members. For booking and further information phone the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Sunday 24th September, 10am - 12noon, Birds along the Brook.
Join the Ranger for a walk around the woodlands and wetlands of Arrowe Park and discover some of the birds that can be found there. This event is suitable for all the family to enjoy. Sorry no dogs. No need to book. Meet at Arrowe Brook Car Park, Arrowe Brook Road (SJ 265868). For info ring 0151 677 7594.

Saturday 7th October, 10am–3pm, Deeside Naturalist Society Connah’s Quay Reserve – Open Day.
Another chance to join members of the DNS at this excellent site. The DNS’s West hide over looks the adjacent RSPB reserve at Oakenholt Marsh. At hide tide the birdwatching from here is spectacular as the wader flocks gather to roost on the marsh. Access is off the A548 sign posted E’ON Power Station. For further info please contact the DNS on  01244 537440 or

Saturday 14th 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 Warden to witness the mass movement of finches, pipits, redwings and fieldfares as they move south as winter approaches. Costs inclusive of continental breakfast are £6.00 members and £7.00 non-members. Booking essential. For further information phone the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Sunday 15th October, 9am – 11am, Wirral Country Park Autumnwatch.
Say goodbye to our summer visitors and greet our winter residents on this walk to mark the changing of the seasons. Late swallows and early redwings could be seen.
Booking essential: (0151) 648 4371/3884.

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.

Top of page

Birding North West is a 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.

The blank (UK) Birding Webring is a collection of quality birding web sites that are based in the United Kingdom.

Visit the webring homepage for more information, or click here to add your site to the ring.

A complete list of all the sites in the webring is available by clicking here.

previous site in ring : random site in ring : next site in ring