There has been exceptional numbers of Marsh Harriers on the Dee Estuary over the past couple of years, particularly over the winter. This increase appears to have happened quite suddenly, coinciding with the establishment of a winter roost site in Neston Reed Bed. Quite how many birds are involved is difficult to say as roosts are notoriously difficult to count with birds flying up from the roost as other birds fly in - but the general consensus is that it is in double figures. I've been fairly conservative with my estimates in the graphs below but there have been counts from some as high as 26! Analysing the records it seems pretty obvious there was a big increase last winter (2016-17) when no less than 35 times groups of two or more birds were seen in the air together - compared to 18 times the previous winter, 15 times in 2014-15 and NONE at all in 2013-14 and 2012-13. So my conclusion is that a roost was probably first established in 2014-15 although, interestingly, the only birds reported coming in to roost that winter were at Parkgate. The max roost counts I've used in the graphs was 12 for the winter of 2016/17 and 15 for the current winter (Dec 2017), actual numbers may well be considerably higher.
Where have all these birds come from? As you will see below numbers of Marsh Harriers have shown a huge increase in the UK since the low point of 1971, locally they have started breeding at nearby Frodsham Marsh as well as further north in Lancashire where between four to five pairs breed regularly. But a few birds seen which have been wing-tagged in Norfolk hint at a westward movement from their stronghold on the east coast.
To put all this into perspective here are some UK and Dee Estuary highlights and lowlights over the past 50 years or so (note that number of breeding females are usually used to quantify numbers as males are often 'paired' with two or three females) :
1966 to 1978 - birds recorded in just five of those years on the Dee estuary, all singles.
1971 - just one pair bred in the UK.
1979 - records become annual on the Dee estuary from 1979 onwards.
1981 to 1984 - as few as 10 birds were wintering over this period in the UK.
1987 - first breeding at Leighton Moss (Lancs).
1995 - at the time a record breaking year for the Dee estuary with 20 records, all between April and September.
1995 - a National Survey finds 156 breeding females in UK, apart from Leighton Moss all on east coast.
2002 - first Dee estuary record of three in air together (June).
2002/03 - first winter records on the Dee estuary, one in December and one in January.
2005 - a National Survey finds c400 breeding females in UK.
2007/08 - first winter on Dee estuary when one to two birds stayed the whole winter with multiple records.
2007 to 2011 - some winter roost sites in East Anglia and SE England hold up to 100 birds.
2010 - first breeding at Frodsham Marsh (just off Mersey estuary), one to three pairs have bred every year since.
2012 - first Dee estuary record of six birds present (August), two of which are juveniles tagged in Norfolk.
2014 - a pair showed signs of breeding at Neston Reedbed, but attempt was abandoned.
2015 - Rare Bird Breeding Panel estimates total of 435 breeding females in the UK.
2016/17 - first winter when it became obvious that there was a sizable wintering roost at Neston Reedbed with at least 12 birds present.
References and Further Reading:
1. Latest Sightings - Dee Estuary Birding Website (1998 to 2017).2. Cheshire and Wirral Bird Reports 1966 to 2014, CAWOS.
3. D. Norman, Birds in Cheshire and Wirral (2004 to 2007 Atlas), CAWOS.4. BTO Bird Atlas 2007-11.
5. British Birds December 2017 (RBBP 2015 Report).6. Rare Breeding Birds Panel Reports - see www.rbbp.org.uk.
7. Study Tracks Harrier Migration, Hawk and Owl Trust, August 2012.
One of the benefits of colour ringing birds is to show just how site faithful they are, not just in the breeding season but also both during passage and on their wintering grounds. The pontoons on West Kirby Marine Lake seems to be particularly attractive to colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls and we've had four there over the past few weeks which we've recorded in previous years. A few years ago we appeared to have several colour-ringed Mediterranean Gulls visiting us but they seem to have dried up recently, so it was good to have another one in November with an interesting history.
As expected, the Black-tailed Godwits stopped using their inland roost site at Caldy at the end of October and we know many ended up north of us at Marshside (Southport). But it has also been obvious that there was an influx of birds from south-east England, both the Wash and Thames estuary. Of the 22 birds we recorded during October and November (and for which we've received feedback) exactly half had spent late summer and early autumn on the south-east coast.
We continue to see good numbers of colour ringed Knots and I will be going into more detail about those next month.
(black on white ring)
Ringed near Lodz, Poland, on 12th April 2013.
Recorded at West Kirby Marine Lake on September 19th 2017.
This bird was first seen on the pontoon at West Kirby Marine Lake on 6th September 2013 and a further 30 times since then. The only other records for this bird was on the sand at West Kirby in July 2014 and at Hoylake in November 2014.
Recorded on West Kirby Shore on 11th
August 2017 then eight times in the same month roosting at Caldy
Wildfowl Collection. It was on the Ribble estuary (Lytham) at the end
of August then at Marshside RSPB, Southport, at the end of October 2017.
After ringing this bird wasn't seen until early 2011 when it turned up at Marshside. The large majority of records are during late summer/autumn and again in early spring - all either at Marshside or Leighton Moss. So we do not know where this bird spends the winter. It has been seen once back in Iceland, presumably breeding, in July 2013.
- ringed on the Swale estuary, Kent, on 12th October
2015, as an adult.
Recorded at Caldy Wildfowl Collection on 9th October 2017, it then flew to Marshside RSPB, Southport, where it was seen at least twice during the rest of October.
Since it was ringed nearly all records are from the Oare Marshes Nature Reserve, Kent, where it spent it's summer/autumn moult both in 2016 and 2017. It was at Marshside on 5th November 2016 but back in Kent the following month.
Colour-rings were also recorded by Steve Hinde, Matt Thomas, Peter Haslem, Derek Bates, Mark Turner, Colin Schofield and Charles Farnell.
There was a record influx of Hawfinches into the country at the end of October and into November - and we had our share with five at Burton Mere Wetlands on the 8th, with more further inland in Cheshire. A Siberian Chiffchaff was a good find by Leasowe Lighthouse and this was recorded on several days early in the month. Two Snow Buntings were in Leasowe Bay and a Black Redstart was spotted on a couple of days in Hoylake. Somewhat more numerous was a roost of 85,000 Starlings in the reed bed at Gronant.
Out to sea was a rare Little Auk which
flew past Hilbre on the 18th, whilst early in the month was a total of
20,000 Common Scoter and 18 Red-throated Diver, a flock of up to 12
Eider stayed all month.
Marsh Harriers will feature in next month's newsletter but the roost at Neston Reedbed is now well established with numbers well into double figures. There appears to be two grey male Hen Harriers and at least two ringtails on the marshes and the highest count of Short-eared Owls was seven. 12 Great White Egrets were between Parkgate and Burton on the 5th.
November 23rd was a late date to have 11 Greenshank at Connah's Quay, where there was also nine Spotted Redshanks, a Common Sandpiper and an Avocet.
337 Brent Geese were off West Kirby at high tide on the 20th, one of the highest counts ever - these lovely geese are obviously increasing again after remaining at around the 250 level for several years. At least 5,000 Pink-footed Geese are in the area. More unexpected were nine Greenland White-fronted Geese at Warren Farm, Talacre, for several days.
4th December, 11.09hrs (GMT), 9.9m.
5th December, 11.55hrs (GMT), 9.9m.
6th December, 12.43hrs (GMT), 9.8m.
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.
December, Dusk Chorus at Burton
Price: £8 per person (RSPB members £6.50)
Booking essential, ring: 0151 353 8478.
We're all familiar with the dawn chorus, but have you ever stopped to listen to the sounds of the countryside as the sun goes down? Honking geese, whistling waders and chattering jackdaws soundtrack peaceful sunsets at Burton Mere Wetlands, with one of the country's largest egret colonies returning from the marsh, and a small starling murmuration over the reedbed.
Join us for a late afternoon guided walk as the temperature drops and the birds start to prepare for another long night, returning as the light fades and many birds return to Burton Mere Wetlands to roost. Finish with a hot drink back in Reception Hide and chance of seeing a barn owl emerging to hunt.
Places are limited, so advanced booking and payment are essential.
January, Big Farmland Bird Walk at Burton
Price: £10 per person (£8 RSPB members)
Booking essential, ring: 0151 353 8478.
Join us on this exclusive early morning, behind-the-scenes walk to get closer to the managed farmland parts of the reserve and hopefully find a range of songbirds alongside large flocks of others you might see on your Big Garden Birdwatch.
Large flocks of small farmland birds - particularly linnets and reed buntings - feed on our bird cover crop, along with flocks of gold and greenfinches and other more familiar garden birds. These in turn attract merlins, sparrowhawks and hen harriers to hunt.
The nearby wet pasture and barley stubble offer excellent natural grazing for the geese and swans spending the winter on the estuary and this walk should provide closer views particularly of the swan flock on the neighbouring Shotwick Fields.
Please note this event is weather-dependent. A cold, hard winter will push more birds to the west coast, so we'll keep our fingers crossed!
Wear wellies and warm, waterproof clothing, and bring binoculars if you have them. Price includes a hot drink in the Reception Hide afterwards. Places are limited so advanced booking and payment are essential.