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1st October 2001
Leach's Petrel.
Hilbre Report 1999.
Dee WeBS Report 2000/2001.

Latest Bird Counts.
September Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
Latest Newsletter.



Species Spotlight - Leach's Petrel


John Gittins

John Gittins

You can tell that the Leach's Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma leucorhoa) means something special to this area as a sketch of the bird is the logo for CAWOS (Cheshire and Wirral Ornithological Society), adorns page one of the Hilbre Bird Reports, figures prominently on the cover of the last two North West Region Bird Reports and is the only bird shown on the cover of the Hilbre 'bible' - 'Hilbre, The Cheshire Island' by Professor J.D. Craggs. A special bird it certainly is.

Leach's Petrels breed on remote Islands to the north-west of Scotland, Faeroe Islands and Iceland(1). In September the adults leave the young to fend for themselves and head south, they spend winter in the Atlantic tropical seas and beyond, some reaching as far as the Cape. They are very much Oceanic birds and their normal route south would take them well out into the Atlantic west of Ireland. Although significantly bigger than the Storm Petrel they are still very small for a sea bird - weighing a mere 45 grams(1). Compare this to the 800 grams of a Fulmar! Despite this they cope remarkably well with storms, flying within a few centimetres of the surface where, perhaps, the waves give some protection from the gales. But given a strong and consistent north west wind as they leave Scotland many get carried by the wind through the North Channel of the Irish Sea. They then get blown unerringly straight to the mouth of the River Mersey.  

Leach's Petrel Migration


From here they are forced to fly parallel to the wind along the north Wirral coast, past Hilbre Island and the Point of Ayr (POA), then along the North Wales coast. The same wind that blows them to the Mersey in the first place holds them close to shore, sometimes at high tide only a few feet away, affording fantastic views for the waiting birdwatchers. It is amazing just to watch these dainty little birds, with their slow fluttering flight, dancing over the waves, knowing their true habitat is way out in the Ocean.   

But this spectacle doesn't happen every year. It requires a strong north-west wind (force 5 and above) blowing for at least two days during the main migration time (September 4th to 22nd) to blow them in from the Atlantic to the eastern side of the Irish Sea. Given those conditions we can see hundreds a day, with the north Wirral coast, Hilbre and Point of Ayr being the best place in the country to see Leach's Petrel. This year has certainly been a good one, the table below shows the maximum daily count for various locations going back six years (2,3,4,5). As you can see the last good Leach's Petrel passage before this year was in 1997.  

  1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001
Leasowe 3 300 15 2   120
Hoylake   4 2   5 135
Hilbre  18 252 72 10   100+
Point of Ayr 5 258 24 20   305

1. Stanley cramp (Ed.), The Birds of the Western Paleartic, Oxford University Press, 1977.
2. Birdline North West, North West Region Bird Reports, 1996, 1997 and 1998.
3. Clwyd Bird Report 1999.
4. Cheshire Bird Report 1999.
5. E-mail communications from 'Hoylake Bird Observatory'.


Hilbre Bird Observatory Report 1999


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".

Click here for details of how to purchase the report.


Dee Estuary WeBS Annual Report 2000/2001


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:

This report would not have been possible without the large team of dedicated WeBS counters who have given up their spare time to contribute to this important national survey, in particular the area coordinators Carl Clee, Brian Grey and Gareth Stamp.
Once again I would like to thank everybody involved with WeBS counting as it is crucially important that we gather these data which makes such a major contribution to the conservation of the Dee Estuary. Keep on counting!" - Colin Wells

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.


Bird Counts


Count from Hilbre, provided by John Gittins of the Hilbre Bird Observatory, 22nd September.
2 Great-crested Grebe, 298 Cormorant, 4,000 Oystercatcher, 50 Ringed Plover, 2 Wigeon, 45 Knot, 10 Bar-tailed  Godwit, 70 Meadow Pipit, 7 Robin, 2 Grey Wagtail, 11 Goldcrest, 1 Wheatear, 1 Treecreeper, 1 Great Skua.

Peak counts of birds on West Kirby Shore/Red Rocks during September , kindly provided by Chris Butterworth and the DEVW.
9 Fulmar, 29 Manx Shearwater, 3 Leach's Petrel, 207 Cormorant, 2 Little Egret, 1 Ruddy Shelduck, 5,000 Oystercatcher, 771 Ringed Plover, 5,000 Knot, 593 Sanderling, 1,500 Dunlin, 217 Bar-tailed Godwit, 375 Curlew, 49 Redshank, 1 Sabine's Gull, 5 Black Tern, 1 Arctic Skua, 1 Long-tailed Skua, 1 Osprey, 1 Hobby. 

Wetland Bird Survey Count for Heswall Shore - (Kindly provided by the Wirral Ranger Service). 16th September. 
2 Great Crested Grebe, 37 Cormorant, 4 Grey Heron, 5,360 Shelduck, 30 Teal, 20 Mallard, 7 Red-breasted Merganser, 3,600 Oystercatcher, 33 Grey Plover, 30 Lapwing, 40 Dunlin, 1 Snipe, 1Black-tailed Godwit, 8 Bar-tailed Godwit, 850 Curlew, 3,400 Redshank, 3 Greenshank, 2 Turnstone, 2 Leach's Petrel, 1 Fulmar, 1 Manx shearwater, 1690 Black-headed Gull, 1370 Common Gull, 9 Lesser Black-backed Gull, 520 Herring Gull, 13 Great Black-backed Gull and 1 Merlin.

Inner Marsh Farm  Count for 5th September.
3 Greenshank, 25 Black-tailed Godwit, 76 Shovelor,  5 Little Grebe, 2 Water Rail, 6 Common Sandpiper, 4 Goosander, 25 Dunlin, 80 Pintail, 12 Wigeon, 1 Peregrine Falcon.
Please note that the count from Inner Marsh Farm is an informal estimate of species and numbers present, either carried out by myself or other birdwatchers visiting the hide. It is not meant to be a complete count and is not in anyway part of the Wetland Bird Survey or other count which might be carried out by the RSPB.

September Bird News


I said last month we 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 their tea!  

The strong north-west wind
also brought in a good selection of other sea-birds with at least four Sabine's Gull, a Sooty Shearwater and all four species of Skua - Arctic, Pomarine, Long-tailed and Great.

Last year's record number of 97 Greenshank at Parkgate Boathouse Flash was broken in the first few days of September when 104 were counted. This must be one of the best places in the country to see large numbers of Greenshank. 

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)  

The Greenfield Valley bird survey continues, the total is now 88 birds. Click here for a complete list.

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

If we get lucky one or two Spoonbills may turn up in October, they usually visit Inner Marsh Farm or Burton 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.


Forthcoming Events


October Highest Spring Tides (Liverpool) 
16th October, 11.38hrs 9.9m. (all times BST)

17th October, 12.21hrs, 10.1m.
18th October, 13.02hrs, 10.1m.
See Tides page for full tide table.

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. 

Wirral Peregrines Phoenix Group
A group for teenagers jointly run by the RSPB and Wirral Ranger Service.   For all young people (you don't have to be RSPB members) who want to do something to improve our environment and enjoy wildlife. See events for  2001.

Wirral Bird Club
The Wirral Bird Club welcomes all who are interested in birds, from the beginner to the experienced.  See the complete listing of events for 2001

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.

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. 
Vast movements of waders and waterfowl attract the attention of many predatory birds, while the flooding tide may reveal the presence of various small mammals. Meet: Old Baths car park, north end of Parkgate prom. Further information Tel: Wirral Country Park on 0151 648 4371/3884 Or RSPB 0151 336 7681. 

Thursday 18th October 11:30am (HW 13:02, 10.1m) Parkgate High Tide Birdwatch. 
Vast movements of waders and waterfowl attract the attention of many predatory birds, while the flooding tide may reveal the presence of various small mammals. Meet: Old Baths car park, north end of Parkgate prom. Further information Tel: Wirral Country Park on 0151 648 4371/3884 Or RSPS 0151 336 7681. 

Friday 19th October 9:00am Hilbre High Tide Birdwatch. 
Whether you are a Hilbre regular or a first time visitor this special place always provides scenic splendour and fabulous birdwatching. Mid-autumn should produce Common Scoter, Razorbill and other exciting seabirds. Purple Sandpipers will be arriving back from north and with luck a variety of divers could appear over the tide. Places are strictly limited so booking essential. Cost 1 per person. Tel: Wirral Country Park on 0151 648 4371/3884.

Saturday 20th October 11:15am (HW 14:20, 9.5m)High tide at Flint Foreshore
Superb coastal birding with potential for Twite and large flocks of Black-tailed Godwit. Meet at Flint Lifeboat Station Car Park. For info. ring RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Saturday 20th October 10am to 3pm (HW 14:20, 9.5m) Open Day at Connah's Quay Reserve.
Your chance to see this excellent reserve normally only open to members of the Deeside Naturalists Society. Should be large numbers of wader and duck roosting at high tide including Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank and Oystercatcher. One or two Little Egret should be about.

Sunday 21st October 10am - 1:30pm  Ancient Woodlands Walk at Garth Wood.
Join us for a 4 1/2 miles of mature woodland walking around Fynnongroyw as part of the Woodland Trusts' 4th Annual Ancient Woodlands walk. Finishes at Garth Mill. Call 01352 719177 for bookings and further details.

Thursday 25th October  7:30pm. Gardening for Birds.
A talk by Valerie McFarland, Valerie (who provided many pictures for this web site) is a very entertaining and knowledgeable speaker so this will be well worth going to. The meeting is organised by the Deeside Naturalists Society but admission is free to anyone. Meet at St Mark's Parish Centre, Connah's Quay.

Saturday 17th November 10:45 (HW 12:19, 9.6m) High Tide Birdwatch at Riverbank Rd, Heswall.
An alternative venue with an excellent high vantage point where you can witness the swirling wader and wildfowl flocks as they are pushed along the estuary by the advancing tide. Meet: Riverbank Road car park, Lower Heswall. Further information Tel: Wirral Country Park on 0151 648 4371/3884 Or RSPB 0151 336 7681. 

Sunday 18th November 10:30am (HW 12:37, 9.5m) High Tide at Point of Ayr.
An impressive spectacle of waders and wildfowl, with the potential for winter specialities such as Brent Goose and Short-eared Owl. No need to book. Meet at end of Station road, Talacre. For info. ring RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

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.