The report was somewhat delayed this year due to some unforeseen circumstances - but, as always, well worth the wait.
1999 was a year of unusual birds for Hilbre, as opposed to national rarities, including the first ever Bittern, and third ever record of Willow Tit and Ruddy Duck. The report describes these sightings along with all the others, species by species. This systematic list includes graphs and bar charts which demonstrates, among other things just how varied numbers of migrants can be on Hilbre. The right weather conditions are crucial, for example, one day in September with an east wind and cloud produced 3,000 Meadow Pipits, the next highest count was only 103.
There is a month by month summary of the year, details of ringing activity and breeding birds, plus details of mammals and insects. In 1999 the Observatory monitored breeding birds using the territory mapping technique, although, as the article describes, it couldn't be applied to all species.
A sad footnote to 1999 was the death of 'The Prof', as most people remember Professor J.D. Craggs. He was a keen member of the observatory from it's beginnings, he was editor of the Report for many years and was editor of 'Hilbre - The Cheshire Island', an essential read for all those interested in Hilbre. I will quote a paragraph from the obituary which five people contributed to, this extract by Steve Williams:
"I simply want to say that 'the Prof' inspired many of Hilbre's members (of the HBO), young and old. He was probably responsible for at least six generations of young birdwatchers coming through the ranks at Hilbre and developing into some of the keenest birdwatchers in the country and now the world".
I don't know about you, but I find bird counts and trends fascinating. It gives me a real thrill knowing a species is increasing, more so if they are at record levels. On the other hand I start worrying when numbers start falling, I want to know why and can we do anything about it. Well, this Dee Estuary WeBS (Wetland Bird Survey) report gives me all the data I could wish for.
Monthly counts are given for all the key species, the peak count data are compared to those since 1981/82 and population trends are graphically presented. The report not only gives early feedback to WeBS counters but is also crucial for the Countryside Council for Wales and English Nature in their monitoring of the Dee Estuary SSSI/Ramsar/SPA site.
The report was very ably compiled by Neil Friswell, and the acknowledgements in the front of the report have been written by the Dee Estuary WeBS coordinator, Colin Wells, which I reproduce here:
The report is available from Colin Wells, Burton Point Farm, Station Road, Burton, Cheshire for £4.50 including P&P, or £4.00 from the reception at Inner Marsh Farm. Please make cheques out to the RSPB, for more details ring 0151 336 7681.
Count from Hilbre,
provided by John Gittins of the Hilbre Bird Observatory, 22nd
Peak counts of birds on West
Kirby Shore/Red Rocks during September , kindly provided by Chris
Butterworth and the DEVW.
Wetland Bird Survey Count for Heswall Shore - (Kindly provided by the Wirral Ranger Service). 16th
Inner Marsh Farm
Count for 5th September.
September Bird News
||I said last
were due a good Leach's Petrel year, and we certainly got one! See the article
above (Species spotlight - Leach's Petrel) for
the details. One of the best days (16th) was not only a Sunday, but also a
WeBS (wetland bird survey) count day, so there were plenty of people around to
see them. Probably about 200 passed along the north of Wirral, Hilbre and Point of Ayr. Quite a few were blown into the estuary as far as
Heswall on the
English side and the Connah's Quay on the Welsh side, with nine counted off
Flint - all places where Leach's have rarely (if ever) been seen from before. Interestingly,
the 16th wasn't the best day - this would appear to have been three days
earlier on the 13th when 305 Leach's were seen from the Point of Ayr. These
were counted as the tide was making in the evening, when everyone in Wirral seems to have been home having
It was not a particularly good year for Curlew Sandpiper, they were seen throughout the month but only in ones and twos. In contrast the Little Stint passage was very good with the best counts at Burton Marsh and Inner Marsh Farm with 20 and 23 respectively. Another wader in good numbers were Black-tailed Godwits with 2,500 at Oakenholt, normally we don't get anything like this number until November. A few Spotted Redshank have been passing through with a maximum count of 12 at the Connah's Quay Reserve.
The last of the terns having been seen on their way south, an unexpected sight was five Black Terns flying just off the beach at West Kirby. In fact West Kirby seems to have had more than it's fair share of interesting birds with an Osprey, Hobby, Common Buzzard, Hen Harrier, Short-eared Owl, Ruddy Shelduck and juvenile Shag!
The Great White Egret is still around at the head of the estuary around Flint and Burton marshes. There wasn't quite as many Little Egrets around as last month but we still managed seven at the Point of Ayr.
Migration of land birds has been slow but we did get a couple of rarities from Siberia - Yellow-browed Warblers seen at both Hoylake and Red Rocks. We normally get about ten sightings of these birds in the whole of the North West England and North Wales region, so to get two within a few hundred metres was a very good record.
Cockling has restarted on the estuary after a closure of four years. Always a controversial activity, this time both the Environmental Agency and English Nature appear to have a grip on the situation. English Nature have insisted on various conditions, including strict limits of the area to be fished and the time being allowed for cockling. Previous opening of the beds have led to rampant over fishing and large scale disturbance both to the birds and other, human, users of the estuary. I quote Tony Cosgrove of English Nature "English Nature's vision for the West Kirby cockle bed is that it becomes a long term sustainable fishery which allows fishermen to make a decent living while remaining one of the most important sites for wildlife in England"(1)
What to expect in October: Given the right weather conditions again, we could still get Leach's Petrels coming through, but don't expect the same number as in September. A strong west to north-west wind could also bring a good selection of skuas. Last year was excellent.
Duck numbers will increase sharply during October, especially Shelduck and Pintail - both of which usually reach peak numbers this month. Best place to see the Shelduck is from the top of the cliffs at Thurstaston, three hours before high tide - we should get at least 8,000. Pintail are more difficult to see but try off Flint at low tide, a favourite spot for them.
Low tide is also a good time to see Great-crested Grebes off Greenfield Dock. Go down there on a calm day and you may see 150 or so. The Dee Estuary is a one of the best places in the country to see Spotted Redshank, although their appearance is somewhat unpredictable. We may get twenty or so, look out for them at Parkgate Boathouse Flash, Inner Marsh Farm and Oakenholt Marsh.
Like last month there are some high spring tides over 10 metres which will give some great bird watching. Lets hope for a low pressure weather system so that the tide will reach the wall at Parkgate, driving Water Rails and Short-eared Owls before it.
Many thanks go to John Gittins, Stewart Devereux, Jeff Clarke, Chris Butterworth, Bill Owens, Julian Weldrick, Mark Feltham, Wendy Allen, David Ester, Dave Harrington, Martyn Jaimeson, Carl Clee, Pete Rogers, David Tanner, Peter Colley, John Kirkland, Jane Turner, Phil Lovel, Karen and David Leeming, Brian Roberts and the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens for their sightings during September. I rely on the goodwill of people like this, unlike some commercial sites I cannot offer financial inducements!
1. Wirral News, September 19, 2001.
October Highest Spring Tides (Liverpool)
Note that the marsh at Parkgate may be covered when tide height is 9.8m or over, dependent on weather conditions. Low pressure with strong north-west wind will create higher than expected tide, high pressure with southerly wind means lower than expected tide.
Peregrines Phoenix Group
Wirral Bird Club
Forthcoming Events (organised by the
Wirral Ranger Service, Flintshire Countryside Service and/or the
High tide bird watches at Parkgate and Heswall for the whole of 2001 are shown on the high tide birdwatch page. Always check latest newsletter for any additions or changes.
Wednesday 17th October 11:00am(HW12:21,10.1m) Parkgate
High Tide Birdwatch.
Thursday 18th October 11:30am (HW 13:02, 10.1m) Parkgate
High Tide Birdwatch.
Friday 19th October 9:00am Hilbre
High Tide Birdwatch.
Saturday 20th October 11:15am (HW 14:20, 9.5m)High tide at Flint
Saturday 20th October 10am to 3pm (HW 14:20, 9.5m) Open Day at Connah's
Sunday 21st October 10am - 1:30pm Ancient Woodlands Walk at Garth
Thursday 25th October 7:30pm. Gardening for Birds.
Saturday 17th November 10:45 (HW 12:19, 9.6m) High Tide Birdwatch at Riverbank
Sunday 18th November 10:30am (HW 12:37, 9.5m) High Tide at Point
Note: Many of these forthcoming events are extracted from 'Birdwatchers Diary 2001', which covers both the Dee and Mersey regions. Copies available from the visitor centre at Thurstaston, Wirral Country Park 0151 648 4371 or by from myself as a 1.8mb zipped file.