Rare Shearwaters off the Dee Estuary
Six species of
shearwater are on the British List; the most numerous by far is the Manx
Shearwater (see the June 2007 Newsletter). All six species
have been recorded within sight of the Dee Estuary and/or the north Wirral
Coast and I describe the occurrence of the five rarer shearwaters below. I
also include a possible sighting of a Yelkouan Shearwater; a species which
is not yet on the British List. The data for the sightings mainly comes from
Cheshire and Wirral Bird Reports and other historical publications for the
same area - see References at the end. I have also used Clwyd Bird Reports for records
from Point of Ayr and Gronant but the number of printed reports I have for
this area is very limited. Due to lack of Clwyd Bird Reports in particular,
and the possibility that some Cheshire and Wirral records may have been
overlooked it is likely that the list of records described below is
incomplete, for which I apologise.
They move closer in to the coast than the other large shearwaters such as
Cory’s and Great and are therefore our second commonest shearwater after the
Manx. Even so, they are scarce in the Irish Sea with typically only one or
two a year being seen off the Dee Estuary/ north Wirral coast. The histogram
above shows the sighting dates for Sooty Shearwaters from 1964 to 2006.
There is only one spring record which was on May 28th 2006 off Leasowe Gunsite. It is probable that the bulk of the sightings are of adult birds on
their way south with the stragglers in late October and November being
Reports are as follows: One on Sep 7th 1974 off Meols; one Aug 24th 1989 off
Red Rocks; three July 31st 1993 off Red Rocks; one Sep 8th 1997 off Dove
Point, Meols; one Aug 22nd 1998 off Hilbre; one at Point of Ayr on Sep 30th
1999; singles on Oct 4th and 6th 2003 off Hoylake. Although none were
sighted here in 2006 there was a big influx in to the Irish Sea with 14 past
Anglesey on Aug 20th and 46 off New Quay on Sep 18th. There was some
discussion about these unusually high numbers with some blaming global
warming for a shortage of food which meant birds had to travel further north
than usual, others reckoned that most of the birds appeared to be juveniles
and thus it would seem this species may well have had a good breeding
August Bird News
August was another good month for skuas with plenty of 'Arctics' around but the star bird must be the Pomarine Skua first seen on the 13th and still present at the end of the month. It spent most of the time on the edge of the sand banks along North Wirral so views were usually a bit distant. What was probably a second bird was off Point of Ayr on 29th.
It was also a good month for seeing Manx Shearwaters with large numbers going past, particularly 15th to 17th. I was lucky enough to be seawatching on all three days and couldn't believe the numbers I was seeing, particularly on the 17th. Max count that day was 680 past Hoylake, but that was only a partial count over 45 minutes. I'm certain if there had been a count over the whole high tide period we would easily have broken the current max daily count for Wirral/Hilbre which is 720 on Jun 23rd 2000, and we would probably be approaching the 2,000 mark in total. But we did get a record count of Storm Petrels on the 16th with 42 recorded off Hilbre. This species has certainly increased off our coasts in recent years, probably just due to the vagaries of the weather. Other seabirds included the usual terns with max count of Sandwich Terns 1,200 on West Kirby Shore and Common Terns with 450 at Point of Ayr. The final count of successfully fledged Little Terns at Gronant this year was 100, a good deal higher than most of us were expecting given the horrible weather.
Little Egrets seemed to be everywhere this month including Hilbre and along North Wirral. They reached 204 coming in to roost at Burton on the 12th, a record high number for the estuary. I don't have figures for this year but in 2006 ten pairs bred at Burton producing 40 fledged young, a very good success rate. The two Spoonbill present for much of July were observed several times up until the 18th, they were often difficult to see way out on Burton Marsh.
There have been large numbers of Shelduck on the estuary all summer which probably means they are moulting here now as well as on the nearby Mersey. Max count which I know of was 8,000 off Heswall on the 18th, easily the highest ever August count for that site. Black-tailed Godwits numbers remained high with max count at Inner Marsh Farm RSPB of 2,300 on the 8th and on Oakenholt Marsh RSPB there were 3,000 on the 28th. The five colour ringed birds which people reported in July were all adults and were ringed as follows: GY-OW was ringed on the Wash in 2004; OO-WR was ringed in Iceland in 2005; OL-LGflag was ringed on the Tagus Estuary in Portugal in 2006; YG-WG was ringed in western France in 2001; LL-OL was ringed in Iceland in 2000. Ringing data of these and other birds indicates that many Black-tailed Godwits appear to use Inner Marsh Farm RSPB and the Dee Estuary as their first port of call after returning from Iceland, but many then move on south and east within a few days.
Many people are often surprised that there are such good numbers of waders around in August, max numbers were: 2610 Curlew and 4910 Redshank at Heswall; 10,000 Oystercatcher on West Kirby Shore; 500 Turnstone on Hilbre; 1,300 Dunlin, 750 Ringed Plover and 230 Sanderling on Hoylake Shore. There have also been a few passage waders around with 25 Greenshank at Parkgate and 22 at Connah's Quay; 5 Little Stint on West Kirby Shore; 2 Curlew Sandpiper at Red Rocks; plus one or two Green Sandpiper and Spotted Redshank.
Marsh Harriers have been seen all month, at least two birds were involved and probably more. One or two Hobbys have also been observed busily hunting hirundines.
What to expect in September
There's always plenty going on in September with
returning waders and wildfowl, scarce passage waders, gale blown seabirds and southerly
migration. But the bird most birders look forward to seeing more than any
other is the Leach's Petrel. Normally we only see them here during prolonged
north-west gales when they get blown in through the North Channel of
the Irish Sea
and many end up in the mouth of the River Mersey, from there they make
their way along the North Wirral coast, then past
Hilbre and Point of Ayr.
Last year was unusual, to say the least! We didn't see a single Leach's
Petrel in September due to light winds so we all thought it was going to
be a bad year for this species, then, totally unexpectedly, after
prolonged south-west winds in December we had hundreds blown in to the
Irish Sea from their wintering grounds, including c100 past here (see
Leach's Petrel Wreck and
Species Spotlight - Leach's Petrel).
Many thanks go to Colin Schofield, Bryan Joy, James Armstrong, Richard Steel, John Ferguson, Paul Vautrinot, Lynne Greenstreet, Dave Edwards, Steve Oakes, David Esther, Steve Edwards, Andrew Wallbank, Stuart Taylor, Brian Dyke, David and Karen Leeming, Ian Emmitt, Tanny Robinson, David Haigh, David Harrington, Phil Woollen, Allan Conlin, Glyn Roberts, Dave Wild, Leon Castell, Steve Round, James Smith, Steve Williams, Chris Butterworth, Jane Turner, Charles Farnell, Paul Shenton, Gilbert Bolton, Geoff Robinson, John Tubb, Iain Douglas, Tom Morton, Andrew Duncalf, Jason Stannage, Damian Waters, Stephen Ainsworth, Mark O'Sullivan, Colin Jones, John Kirkland, Mark Turner, Paul Roberts, Pete Button, David Hinde and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during August. All sightings are gratefully received.
Spring Tides (Liverpool),
Forthcoming Events (organised by the
Wirral Ranger Service,
Flintshire Countryside Service and/or the RSPB):
Parkgate High Tides.
Sunday 30th September, 10.30am to noon.
Saturday 13th October, 11.00am
Saturday 27th October 2007, 10:00am - 3:00pm.
NOTE: Many of these forthcoming events are extracted from the 'Birdwatchers Diary 2007', 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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