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March 2018 Newsletter

The Joy of Birds.
February Bird News.
Connah's Quay Nature Reserve.
Colour Ring Report.
Forthcoming Events.
Past Newsletters.


                 The Joy of Birds

 Part of a large Knot flock at Hoylake Steve Round

winter 2010



black-tailed godwits




colour rings

"The Joy of Birds" - Apologies for the somewhat cheesy title but on the 20th birthday of I tried to think why do I bird watch, why do I spend so much time writing about birds, why do I spend so many hours just staring at waders? And the simple answer is that they bring me joy. So on the occasion of this anniversary I thought I'd indulge myself and write about some of my own highlights over those past 20 years. You may think the list is a bit eccentric and wonder why it doesn't include any rarities, but it reflects my own interests and the birds and events which have brought me the most pleasure.

       Orange flagged Knot on left (ringed at Altcar), Yellow flagged Knot on right (ringed in SW Iceland) 
                                                                      Peter Knight

Following a big ringing effort in 2017 in Iceland and the Waddensee, and locally at Altcar on the Sefton coast, many hours have been spent logging these colour-ringed birds as part of the study into this species, specially those that visit the Ribble and Dee estuaries. It is no exaggeration to say that this winter has seen the most productive work ever on Knot in the UK. You may think hundreds of volunteers have been involved in this work but we are just a handful of enthusiasts with well over 90% of the records collected by just myself and Steve Hinde here on the Dee Estuary, Peter Knight and  Rose Maciewicz on the Sefton coast from Southport to Crosby, and Ed Keeble in Suffolk*. All this is eclipsed by Benjamin Gnep who spent from 25th July to 15th October 2017 on the lonely island of Griend in the Waddensee (Netherlands) where over 100,000 Knot undergo moult. As Peter said when talking about Benjamin "there aren’t many people like him who would happily spend all day every day for months on a deserted sandbank reading Knot rings – apart from us, that is!".  During his 2017 stint Benjamin recorded 1,438 different colour-ringed Knots, many of which we've subsequently seen here in the north-west of England.

*which isn't to say other people haven't been collecting records and on the Dee estuary these include Matt Thomas, Richard de Feu, Allan Hitchmough, Elliot Montieth and Paul Ralston, and I know birders from Ireland, Morecambe Bay and NE Scotland have also sent records in.

                                          Knot KYY  was ringed in northern Norway Matt Thomas

Here on the Dee estuary we've been involved in wader research, in the form of logging colour-ringed birds, for well over 10 years but with Knot only at the periphery as we rarely make it into double figures each year. Seven colour-ringed birds in the winter of 2016/17 was fairly typical and numbers of Knot on the estuary that winter, and the previous winter, were disappointingly low, so we weren't expecting anything different this winter - but we were wrong! There have been a lot of Knot around starting with an inland roost, a very unusual event in itself, at Caldy where they were present for several weeks in the autumn, then the winter brought over 20,000 Knot to Thurstaston where we have monitored them both roosting and feeding. The increase in the number of colour-ringed Knot, their location on the estuary close to the shore (and inland at Caldy) together with a big increase in observer effort has resulted in a huge jump in colour-ring sightings. Being able to follow individual birds, almost on a daily basis, is vitally important in our efforts to understand the movements and requirements of these birds.

          Knot L3GRRL was ringed by Royal Dutch Institute for Sea Research on the Waddensea  Matt Thomas

The maps show where the birds we have recorded where ringed, with various different ringing schemes, and below are some figures:

Knot on the Dee Estuary September 2017 to Jan 2018
Total number of Observations of colour-ringed birds: 960
Individuals with Orange flags (ringed at Altcar Sep 2017): 277
Individuals with Yellow flags (ringed in SW Iceland May 2017): 30
Individuals with Yellow flags (ringed in NW Iceland May 2014): 2
Individuals with Yellow flags (ringed in N Norway): 4
Individuals ringed on the Waddensee, Netherlands: 33
Individuals ringed in Poland: 1
Individuals ringed in France: 1
Individuals ringed in NE Canada: 1

Of the 519 birds ringed with an Orange flag at Altcar on September 22nd 2017 we have now recorded 53% of them on the Dee estuary and 54% between Crosby and Southport, with a total of 407 seen since September; this is a remarkable recovery rate considering these birds were ringed just five months ago. The only birds reported away from the area are just a handful at Morecambe Bay to the north and the east coast of Ireland to the south-west, with just one away from the Irish Sea in NE Scotland, so there has been hardly any dispersal through the winter other than to the Dee Estuary.

The interesting question now is what will these birds do in the spring? Previous experience suggests that the over-wintering flock effectively splits with some heading back east to the Waddensee whilst others first head north to the Ribble estuary in April before flying to Iceland in May where they moult into breeding plumage. They will be watched along the way and for the first time we should get a clear idea of the spring movements of 'our' Dee estuary birds, then we look forward to their return after the breeding season!

             A Knot flock passed this way! Marks in the mud where Knots have been feeding Richard Smith


1. You will see below reference to Benjamin Gnep's ring reading report titled 'Among Knots'. I loved the title so much I unashamedly used it for my article, but I'm sure Benjamin won't mind!

2. As well as the fellow colour-ring readers mentioned in the article acknowledgement and many thanks must go to all those ringers who ringed these birds in the first place. I know many ringing sessions in Iceland and Norway in particular were carried out in near freezing conditions over several hours under much pressure as the birds can only be held captive for a limited time.

3. Thanks in particular must go to Jim Wilson who has organised much of this colour ringing activity and has been studying Knots for many years, he is collating all the data for the Altcar, Iceland and Norwegian ringed birds. He started ringing waders back in the 1960s on the Dee Estuary with the Merseyside Ringing Group. Jim is currently the Colour Ring Coordinator for waders in Europe.

4. The other major player in colour ringing Knots is the shorebird group of the Royal Dutch Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) who have been ringing Knots since 1998. Up to November 2017 a total of 8,270 have been colour ringed on the Dutch Waddensea, 3,330 in Mauritania, 133 in the German Waddensea, 645 on the Atlantic coast of France and 21 in Portugal.  NIOZ is regarded as the most important organisation in the world when it comes to wader research with one member contributing more than most. I quote from Keith Woodley's excellent book 'Godwits' (2009): "One suspects the word 'prolific' could have been coined with eminent authority on shorebirds, Theunis Piersma, in mind. This Dutch biologist has over 570 books, papers, reports and reviews bearing his name, often as co-author, but many times as lead or sole author. Much of what we know of migratory shorebird biology is due to the work of Piersma and many colleagues around the world".

References and Further Reading:

1. Benjamin Gnep, 'Among Knots', Report about the results of two ring-reading seasons in autumn 2016 and 2017, Royal Dutch Institute for Sea Research, November 2017.

2. Richard Smith, Colour Ring Report October 2017 Newsletter, This item gives some background for the 'Ribble Knot Project' including the ringing of the Orange flagged birds in September 2017.

Jim Wilson has co-authored many papers on Knot migration and he was involved in the discovery that the Knot which stage in Northern Norway in May were not, as had been assumed, on their way to Siberia but instead flew west across the northern Atlantic to Greenland and eastern Canada to join the larger numbers which migrate through Iceland. Here are two articles:

2. Davidson, N.C. & J.R. Wilson. 1992. The migration system of European-wintering Knots Calidris canutus islandica. Wader Study Group Bulletin 64(Suppl.): 39–51.

3. Wilson, J.R. & P.S. Tomkovich. 2017. Spring migration of Red Knot Calidris canutus subspecies through N Europe. Wader Study 124(2): 125–133.

Recent work by NIOZ has shown that many Knot, including juveniles, fly from eastern Canada and Greenland straight to NW Europe after the breeding season rather than staging in Iceland:

4. Dietz, M.W., Do Red Knots (Calidris Canutus Islandica) Routinely Skip Iceland During Southward Migration?, The Condor 112(1):48-55, 2010.

5. In the winter of 2015/16 a Knot (given the name of 'Paula') was tagged with a satellite transmitter on the Waddensea, and has now been followed twice to NE Canada and back. Click on the link below to download a PDF file which describes the project and includes maps:
Eva M.K. Kok, Paula 2.0: Second migratory track of red knot, 2017.

                              Orange flag AP over a pale blue ring at West Kirby Marine Lake Paul Ralston

Richard Smith

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Connah's Quay Nature Reserve

It is becoming increasingly apparent – both from anecdotal and first-hand experience - that many people are accessing Connah’s Quay Nature Reserve despite not being current members.
Notwithstanding the fact that non-members are uninsured when on site, it is clearly unfair to paying members that some visitors are using the facilities for free. It also creates a situation whereby regular visitors to the reserve are either reluctant or unwilling to publish details of any scarce birds that visit the site given what has occurred on previous occasions.
If you are a non-member and wish to visit us in the future, please ensure that you are carrying a 2018 Permit. Both new members and those wanting to renew an expired membership can find the renewal form at:
Hereafter, anybody suspected of not being a current member will be asked to produce their Permit and failure to do so could result in them being asked to leave the site.
It is understandable however, that on occasion, current members may wish to bring prospective members to the reserve and in such cases exceptions will be made. After all, we have some excellent wildlife to enjoy here at Connah’s Quay and we are keen to encourage as many people as possible to join us.

Kind Regards,

Paul Shenton

Chair, Deeside Naturalists’ Society.

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Colour Ring Report

Clockwise starting top left: Mute Swan B7CR  (Dave Winnard), Dunlin VX1  (Paul Ralston), Black-headed Gull EZ09061 (Allan Conlin), Twite BY-O with letter O (Jeff Cohen).

A nice selection of ringed birds this month including a metal ringed Black-headed Gull, even with modern cameras it is usually not possible to read these in the field but with the gull coming to bread Allan Conlin managed to get close enough and also managed to photograph both sides of the ring so the number could be read. Our main effort is still logging colour-ringed/flagged Knots - see last month's article 'Among Knots' and by the end of February ............

Mute Swan

B7CR - black on yellow ring.
Ringed at Belvide Reservoir on 8th July 2008.
Recorded at Parry's mine pool, Greenfield Valley, on 21st January 2018.
Also recorded in Greenfield Valley on 3rd July and 22nd September 2017.


VX1 - black on white ring.
Ringed on the River Vistula estuary, Gdansk, Poland, on 25th September 2015.
Recorded at West Kirby Marine Lake on 14th January 2018. No other records.

This is the 13th Dunlin we've recorded which has been ringed at Gdansk.

Black-headed Gull

EZ09061 - metal ring.
Ringed at Westport Lake, Staffordshire, on 1st December 2017, a juvenile.
Recorded by New Brighton Marine Lake on 31st January 2018.

There have been several Black-headed Gulls recorded over the winter which are regulars in this colour-ring report - these include 5HP and 4HM (both ringed in Copenhagen), 2J75 (ringed in Bowness) and TMEN (ringed in Poland).


BY-O (with letter O)
Ringed at Connah's Quay Nature Reserve on 20th January 2017.
Recorded by Flint Castle on 1st February 2018.

Ringed as part of the North Wales Twite Project.

Richard Smith.
Colour-rings were also recorded by Steve Hinde, Matt Thomas, Les Hall, Colin Schofield, Elliot Montieth, Allan Conlin, Jeff Cohen, Paul Ralston, Dave Winnard and Ian Beggs.

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February Bird News

                              Little Grebes and Teal on Donkey Stand Flash, January 7th  Roy Lowry

A high spring tide on the 4th produced an excellent 12 Sort-eared Owls off Cottage Lane, Heswall, flushed from their roost there and the highest number at that location for several years. The same high tide resulted in over 10 Water Rails and 4 Great White Egrets at Parkgate with six on the 7th. The same set of tides saw good numbers of Purple Sandpipers on the pontoon on New Brighton with max 13 on the 6th. A Bittern was spotted at Parkgate on a couple of dates.

As far as I know there hasn't been any roost count of Marsh Harriers going into Neston Reed Bed but there have been good numbers recorded all month including 12 at Parkgate on the morning of the 27th. Max count of Hen Harriers was three, including a grey male.

                             Male Hen Harrier at Denhall Quay, January 7th Mark Woodhead

I don't know what the total count of Pink-footed Geese is on the estuary but there has been much movement with 3,000 flying north towards south Lancs on the 6th but there were still 3,000 on Burton Marsh on the 8th. Over 1,000 (max 1,800) have been roosting every night on the edge of Heswall Marsh then flying inland at first light to feed in various fields around Heswall and Thurstaston. Nine Greenland White- fronted Geese were still at Warren Farm until at least mid-month. Max count of Brent Geese around Hilbre was 320 and it was good to see the small flock of six Eiders present all month.

                                 Firecrest at Neston Sewage Works, January 26th Frank Burns

A Firecrest was a good find at Neston Sewage Works with one or two Water Pipits there and at Neston Old Quay. 

A Glaucous Gull was seen off the Connah's Quay Reserve and off Flint, and there were several Mediterranean Gulls scattered among the Black-headed Gull flocks in the wet fields in north Wirral. A Cattle Egret was recorded several times feeding with Little Egrets in fields by Puddington.

Many thanks go to Mark Woodhead, David Haigh, Steve Hinde, Matt Thomas, Chris Butterworth, Roy Lowry, Elliot Montieth, Paul Shenton, David Leeming, Alan Hitchmough, Steve Williams, Les Hall, Jeff Cohen, Dave Edwards, Derek Bates, Eddie Williams, Allan Conlin, Karen Leeming, Geoff Robinson, Julie Rogers, Colin Schofield, Paul Ralston, David Peate, Alan Irving, Sheila Ryde,  Frank Burns, Gail Wilson, Dave Harrington, Nicholas Montieth, Sean O'Hara, David Thompson, Paul Vautrinot, Mark Gibson, Mark Turner, Ashley Cohen, Ken Jones, Rob Dodgson, David Winnard, Graham Connolly, Peter Haslem, Dave Clemens, Clive Part, Paul Mason, Richard May, Chris Hancock, Richard Parker,Dave Edwards, Clare Shaughnessy, John Kithen, Rod Bell, Mark Evans, Linda Platt, Laura Hatton, Helen Gregory, Richard Beckett, Mike Hart, Jean Newall, John Wright, Manu Sant-Cruz, Nigel Longshaw, Peter Ham, Chris Leslie,  Charlie Lowe, the Lighthouse and Wirral Birding Blog, the Dee Estuary Wardens and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during January. All sightings are gratefully received.

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What to expect in March

I write this at the end of February in the middle of a cold spell so we probably can't expect any unusually early spring migrants, but this means when the weather does get warmer they will be coming through in good numbers. Wheatears will be among the first and easiest to see along our coastlines, once the first ones arrive they just keep on coming.
If you see an early migrant please email and, if it's a first, I'll put it in the 2018 table.

Species 2017 Location 2016 2015
White Wagtail 4th March Hilbre 15th March 10th March
Sand Martin 11th March Hilbre 16th March 7th March
Wheatear 11th March Burton 23rd March 11th March
Swallow 14th March Meols 24th March 20th March
Willow Warbler 17th March Shotton 29th March 22nd March
House Martin 27th March Leasowe
7th April 31st March
Whitethroat 17th April
Shotwick 13th April 12th April
Swift 19th April West Kirby 22nd April 19th April
Cuckoo 24th April
Burton 21st April 20th April
Other migrants coming through will be the first Ring Ouzels and Sandwich Terns, also out to sea we will see Little Gulls heading towards Crosby from where they fly overland on their way to the Baltic. It's been a poor winter for both Scaup and Long-tailed Ducks but perhaps the current cold weather will bring some in with Hilbre and North Wirral the best places to see them, and Common Scoters are likely to be seen in their thousands. Stonechats over-winter here but March usually brings a noticeable passage, often seen on the land edge of the marshes or on bushes behind the beach or sand dunes. Siskins are another passage bird and some springs they are everywhere on garden feeders.

Avocets will return to Burton Mere Wetlands and in the last two years have peaked at over 70 in March, some of these may well be on their way further north but many should stay to breed here. This month can bring a good passage of Dunlin and we could get flocks of 10,000 or more at West Kirby and Hoylake.

There are some big tides forecast early in the month, although if the weather forecast is correct they are likely to be suppressed by high atmospheric pressure and east winds but there will still be plenty of birds to see on the marshes including thousands of Pink-footed Geese, Short-eared Owls and both Hen and Marsh Harriers. 

                                          Dunlins at West Kirby, February 2017 Roy Lowry

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Forthcoming Events

March Highest Spring Tides (Liverpool)

Also see Tides page.

2nd March, 11.21hrs (GMT), 9.8m. 
3rd March, 12.03hrs (GMT), 10.0m.  
4th March, 13.44hrs (GMT), 9.9m. 

Forthcoming Events

Organised by the Wirral Ranger Service , Flintshire Countryside Service and the RSPB (Dee Estuary):
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 3rd March and Sunday 4th March , High Tide Raptor Watch at Parkgate.
10.30am to 1.30pm.
Come along to the car park at the Old Baths for the chance of seeing a range of birds of prey hunting over Parkgate Marsh. Hen and marsh harriers, peregrines and merlins all spend the winter months on the estuary and this is one of the best places to watch them, plus short-eared owls if we're really lucky. January's big tides were helped by Storm Eleanor but the tide reached the seawall and gave brilliant views of these hunting raptors, plus hard-to-find birds like water rails, rock pipits and lots of small mammals fleeing.
These biggest tides in March offer the same spectacle, so why not venture out to try witness all the drama. Low pressure and a westerly wind will help push the tide and wildlife in close. There's also chance of seeing the great range of ducks, geese, wading birds and egrets in big numbers as they are pushed upstream by the rising tide.
There is free public parking at the Old Baths car park (CH64 6RN) at the north end of The Parade, and the Wirral Country Park car park on Station Road (CH64 6QJ). There are public toilets at Mostyn Square in the middle of The Parade, and a number of pubs and cafes.
Tide times: Saturday 3 March, 10.0m at 12.03pm; Sunday 4 March 9.9m at 12.44pm