1st October 2004

Irruptions, Influxes, Invasions and Large Passages.

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Irruptions, Influxes, Invasions and Large Passages

No, not a list of somewhat unsavoury medical conditions but various names we give to the presence of an unusually large numbers of normally rare or scarce birds. I've picked out five species and described the year when we had the largest recorded 'irruption, influx, invasion or large passage' for each one. For research I've used almost exclusively Cheshire and Wirral Bird Reports for which I have an extensive, but not quite complete, collection. Unfortunately my collection of Clwyd Bird Reports is far from complete which means that the article is inevitably heavily biased in favour of Cheshire and Wirral for which I apologise. Anyway - I'm sure many of you will remember these years of plenty with pleasure and we can all look forward to when we again have an irruption or large passage!  

Leach's Petrel (Oceanodroma leucorhoa)
I had to start with 'Leach's' after what happened last month! 1978 was THE big year for this species. There were NW gales from the 11th September to the end of the month. Hilbre Island had large numbers on the 15th (328) and 17th (663 - a record at that time). This is what happened next:

"On the 27th September the sea-watching hide was manned for 12 1/2 hours. For the first 10 hours, petrels averaged about 60 an hour, but one of the observers' resolve began to weaken when the hourly count hit only 42 after a slight but steady decrease over the previous four hours. However, with the observatory record standing at 663 birds in 8 hours, he was persuaded to stay. The next hour the count hit 83, and the next 214. The reluctant observer realised that he would have to resign himself to remaining in the hide until it was completely dark. The count for the last hour was 130 birds and the total for the day was 959!". Extract taken from 'Hilbre - The Cheshire Island' edited by J.D. Craggs.

Steve Round
Leach's Petrel at New Brighton, Sep 21st  2004.

Next I quote from the 1978 Cheshire Bird Report - "Early on 30th (Sept) quite phenomenal numbers were present, with some hundreds off Seacombe Ferry. On the ebbing tide an incredible number moved out of the river past large numbers of observers stationed at New Brighton. No accurate counts have been submitted, but a conservative estimate is of 800 petrels". Although these are the highest recorded numbers more may have been present in 1952 when 'hundreds' were washed up dead along the north Wirral shore during a severe gale in mid-September. Unfortunately there is no record of an accurate count. See also Leach's Petrel - Species Spotlight.

Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus
It is always a thrill to see these elegant birds gliding over the waves. However, they can be an infuriating species as we know that there are thousands out there in the Irish Sea but locally we normally only see the odd one or two, perhaps ten or so on a good day.

However, there are times when they do drift near land in large numbers as they did on June 23rd 2000. This was Jane Turner's excited  e-mail sent to me on that day from her vantage point on Hoylake shore:- "Manx Shearwaters are pouring past. e.g 365 W in 15 minutes 10:30-45.  Not been able to look that often - but they are still moving in smaller numbers now.  More than 600 counted and probably 5 times that if I'd kept looking. I think that they may be circling back round the bay - hence double accounting going on here - but even so there are a lot out there!  If you assume it takes them an hour to circle from the Point of Ayr back to Formby, there are at least 1400 out there". In the end the official count was 720, which I believe is the highest recorded for Wirral, but one wonders what the real number was.

Steve Round
Manx Shearwater at Leasowe, Sep 22nd  2004.

Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea
A species which varies greatly from year to year whose main migration route is further east. Mainly juveniles are seen here during late August and September. We usually see one or two roosting or feeding with the Dunlin, sometimes flocks of 10 or 20 birds - then there are the bumper years as described below.
It is interesting looking through the old reports how variable the locations are for this species - some years Heswall shore is preferred, other years the North Wirral Shore, and the Weaver Bend by Frodsham Marsh is a prime site. 1969 was unusual in that large numbers were at West Kirby - although at that time West Kirby shore had a massive wader roost at high tide which presumably attracted them. 55 were present at the end of August, 100 on 14th Sept and 83 the following day. They appeared to be using Meols shore at low tide to feed.
The next big influx was in 1972 when the largest count in recent times for Cheshire was recorded for the Weaver Bend with 170 on 31st Aug, unusually many were adult birds. Only small numbers were present on the Dee Estuary that year. 1996 was a particularly good year for Heswall shore with 58 on 23rd Sept, 108 on 28th Sept and 48 10th Oct. 45 at Parkgate on 26th Sept was probably part of this Heswall flock. As far as I can ascertain the 108 on 28th Sept is the largest recorded on the Dee Estuary. See also Curlew Sandpiper - Species Spotlight.

Black Tern Childonias niger
1990 was a remarkable year for Black Terns, both locally and across the country. Whilst researching for this article I came across Mark Turner's article in the 1990 Cheshire and Wirral Bird Report and he has kindly allowed me to quote the first three paragraphs.

"The beginning of May saw an unprecedented influx of Black Terns across Cheshire and Wirral. This was part of a huge nation-wide movement that affected most counties. Towards the end of April weather conditions were ideally set for the arrival of drift migrants, with clear skies, high pressure and a steady south-easterly wind, the result of an anticyclone which had developed to the southwest of Britain.
On May 1st, small numbers appeared at various sites, including four at Inner Marsh Farm, two at Sandbach Flashes, 11 at Tatton and five at Hurleston Reservoir. Greater build ups occurred at Woolston Eyes, where there were up to 18, and Fiddlers Ferry where 30 were recorded. This in itself would have been considered impressive in any other year but the occurrences of the following day were truly remarkable.
From dawn onwards on May 2nd Black Terns amassed at many locations: 35 at Tatton, 14 at Frodsham, 70 at Inner Marsh Farm, 33 at Sandbach, 26 at Hurleston Reservior, 50 at Eccleston, 85 at Rostherne. At Woolston, Farmwood Pool and Marbury County Park, three figure counts were made, with 102, 110 and 120 respectively. On the major waters, the pattern seemed to be consistent. Birds would either arrive or already be present at dawn and numbers would be supplemented by further arrivals throughout the afternoon and early evening. Then the terns would wheel up high and depart to the north or north-east, leaving just a few stragglers behind. Black Terns were present at virtually every significant inland water in Cheshire and in record numbers!"

Mark goes on to say that on May 2nd alone there could have been as many as 6,000 Black Terns across the country, 20% of the Western European breeding total.

Waxwing  Bombycilla garrulus

I finish with this classic irruption species. Waxwings can over winter in this country in large numbers when their food runs out in their more normal wintering grounds in Scandanavia. Browsing through the Cheshire Bird Reports I was surprised how few records there are of Waxwings around the Dee Estuary, most birds tending to stay further east. Just a handful every few years seems to have been the norm here but 2001 was a particularly good year - even though Seacombe can hardly be described as being on the shores of the Dee Estuary, but at least it is in Wirral!
The first two weeks in January saw 39 in a tree on Briardale Road in Seacombe. 30 were in Pensby on Jan 19th and 18 in Royden Park on Feb 2nd. One of the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens got a surprise when a flock turned up in a neighbour's garden in Lorretto Drive in Upton (Wirral). They were there from Jan 22nd to Feb 18th with a max of 32. Lastly 13 were in Caldy on Feb 11th.

Nigel Blake

Richard Smith

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Bird Counts
Count from Heswall Shore - (Kindly provided by the Wirral Ranger Service), 19th September.
110 Cormorant, 4 Little Egret, 4 Grey Heron, 8,960 Shelduck, 15 Teal, 12 Mallard, 2,900 Oystercatcher, 30 Lapwing, 2,300 Knot, 2 Common Sandpiper, 15 Dunlin, 3,870 Curlew, 5,950 Redshank, 3 Greenshank and 3 Turnstone, also 1 Hen Harrier, 1 Peregrine, 1 Merlin, 1 Sparrowhawk and 1 Kestrel.

Count from Connah's Quay and Flint - (Kindly provided by Deeside Naturalists' Society)
19th September. 1 Little Grebe, 77 Cormorant, 3 Little Egret, 1 Grey Heron, 87 Shelduck, 134 Teal, 83 Mallard, 2 Tufted duck, 3 Moorhen, 33 Coot, 2,100 Oystercatcher, 14 Lapwing, 5,220 Black-tailed Godwit, 656 Redshank and 1 Black Tern.

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September Bird News
We got the strong North-westerly winds we wanted and it certainly brought in plenty of birds. The star bird, because this is a speciality of North Wirral and Point of Ayr, must be the Leach's Petrel. Here are the max. Leach's Petrel counts for each site as reported to me - New Brighton - 92 on 25th, Leasowe Gunsite - 36 on 20th, Dove Point (Meols) - 26 on 22nd, Hoylake - 215 on 23rd, Hilbre Island - 57 on 22nd and Point of Ayr - 56 on 15th. Count at New Brighton (25th) could possibly be exaggerated due to the same birds being blown in to the River Mersey more than once. The high count at Hoylake on the 23rd was a true count of Leach's Petrel moving west on a neap ebb tide early in the morning. Other highlights were Sabine's Gull, at least four and possibly as many as nine on 21st off Hoylake and on the same date 38 Great Skuas. All four species of Skuas were seen plus loads of Manx Shearwaters and the usual Gannets, Kittiwakes etc. The digiscoping revolution really came in to it's own for these two weeks and some remarkable photographs have been published on various websites - including this one (see illustrations for the above article). Below is my favourite by Steve Round - a stunning picture of a Leach's Petrel, see his website http://stevenround-birdphotography.com/index.htm for more photos.

Other than that it was fairly quiet! There were very high counts of Shelduck and Curlew at Heswall and the record for Black-tailed Godwits on the estuary was blown away with a remarkable count of 5,220 at Connah's Quay/Flint, previous record being 4,493 last November (see counts, above). Another record number was 58 Little Egrets coming in to roost at Burton, they continue their dramatic increase. A remarkable sighting was of 8 (possibly as many as 12) Great Northern Divers off Hoylake at high tide on the 28th. This might well be a record for Cheshire/Wirral - I understand a description is being sent in to the county recorder.

An obliging juvenile Dotterel stayed a few days on the embankment near Leasowe Lighthouse, see the photo on the Birding North West web site. A Slavonian Grebe was blown in to Shotwick Lake by the strong winds and a juvenile Shag spent several days on West Kirby Marine Lake.


The Environment Agency has asked me to put the following on the website:
Currently Cockling is banned on the Dee Estuary. Anyone seeing what they think might be cockling activity should report it to the Environment Agency by ringing 0800 807060 immediately. Any registration numbers of cars owned by suspected cocklers would also be very useful. All reports are treated confidentially. This ban on cockling does not include the North Wirral coast. 

What to expect in October.

Expect much movement of birds this month with always the possibility of a rarity or two turning up. Fieldfares and Redwings will be pouring in to the country and we often get good movements over here. Guillemots and Razorbills are on their way south in their thousands and we sometimes catch a glimpse of this off shore passage from Red Rocks, Hilbre and Point of Ayr. Pink-footed Geese will be returning to Lancashire and we usually see several flocks over here in October, perhaps over-shooting after their trip from Iceland. The wintering waders will be building up in numbers - in particular Knot and Dunlin - with significantly more along the North Wirral coast by the end of the month. Both Shelduck and Pintail often peak in October with at least 10,000 of the former and 5,000 of the latter.

Rarities might include Richard's Pipit, Lapland Bunting and Yellow-browed Warbler - the latter seems to becoming a more 'regular' rarity. Water Pipits should return to Neston Old Quay but it would need someone more competent than me to explain the differences in plumage between Water Pipits and the various races of Rock Pipits!

Many thanks go to Steve Round, Laura Bemson, Robert Bithell, Ray Roberts, Kevin Smith, Jane Turner, Nigel Troup, John Campbell,  'Welsh Weasels', Bernard Machin, David Harrington, Stephen Williams,  Chris Butterworth,  Martyn Jaimeson, John Roberts, Mark O'Sullivan, David Haigh, Phil Woollen, David Wilde, Tanny Robinson, Allan Conlin, Colin Schofield, Steve Ainsworth,  Phil Oddy, Frank Jones, Brian Roberts, Sabena Blackbird, Kevin Harvey, Vi James, David Lee, Duncan  Crockett, Keith Lester, Michael Cocking, Steve Roberts, Clive Ashton, Raymond Meredith, David Banbury, David Delves, the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens  and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during September. All sightings are gratefully received.

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Forthcoming Events
October Highest Spring Tides, also see Tides page.
15th October, 12:48hrs 9.7m.

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.

Saturday 2nd October, 12:30pm, Banks Road, Heswall, High tide Birdwatch.
Expect to see a variety of bird species at this exciting time of the year on the Estuary which sees many thousands of migrating birds on the move. Amongst the mixed mass of waders may be greenshank, spotted redshank and curlew sandpiper (HW 14:18, 9.1m). No need to book, Meet at Banks Road car park, near Sheldrake's Restaurant, Lower Heswall. For further information tel. 0151 648 4371.

Sunday 10th October, 7:00am,
Migration Watch and breakfast at Inner Marsh Farm RSPB Reserve.
Passerine migration should be in full swing so why not join the Wardens to witness the mass movement of finches, pipits, redwings and fieldfares as they move south as winter approaches. Please wear suitable warm clothing. Costs inclusive of continental breakfast are 5.50 members and 6.50 non-members. Booking essential. For further information phone the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Friday 15th October, 11:00am, Parkgate High Tide Birdwatch.
The saltmarsh off Parkgate comes alive with birds as they are pushed in towards us by the incoming tide. If the tide hits the wall, small mammals such as voles and shrews are flushed out. Meet at the Old Baths car park, which overlooks the Gayton Sands Nature Reserve at Parkgate, close to The Boathouse pub (HW 12:48, 9.7m). For further details contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Saturday 16th October, 9:30am - 3:00pm. Open Day at the Connah's Quay Reserve.
Non-members will be met at the entrance by a member of the Deeside Naturalists' Society and escorted in to the reserve.
This members only reserve will be open to everyone for the day and visitors will be able to make use of the four hides and chat to the members about the reserve. Tea and coffee available (HW 13:30).
Focal Point, the Cheshire based binocular and telescope company, will display a range of their products from 9:30am.

Saturday 16th October, 8:00am - 10:00am, Fieldfare Frenzy!
The middle weekend of October usually sees a big influx of redwings and fieldfares from Scandinavia. Many are attracted to the Wirral Way by the miles of berry-bearing hedgerows where they can replenish their energy after a long flight south. Join the Rangers on a guided walk along these hedgerows to witness this migration spectacular. Booking essential, 0151 648 4371.

Saturday 16th October, 10:30am - 1:30pm, High Tide Bird Bonanza at Flint.
Without question, one of the best sites on the estuary to watch birds. Join the RSPB Wardens who will guide you through the bird activity as it unfolds. Expect thousands of waders including black-tailed godwit, knot, oystercatcher and redshank. Our events trailer will be set up overlooking birds feeding on the mudflats. A guided walk to see the wader roost will start at 11:30am for which Wellington boots will be required (HW 13:25, 9.6m) No need to book. Meet at Flint Lifeboat Station car park. For further information, contact RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Saturday 16th October, 12:00noon - 1:30pm, Wader Watch at King's Gap, Hoylake.
Join the Ranger and the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens to see large numbers of waders at close quarters, as they gather to roost with the rising tide. Beginners welcome. Please bring warm waterproof clothing and binoculars if you have them. No need to book, meet at King's Gap, Hoylake. For further information phone 0151 678 5488.

Sunday 24th October, 4:30pm, Parkgate Raptor Watch.
Come along and watch birds of prey with the experts. Hopefully the graceful hen harriers will have returned and will be coming into roost on the RSPB reserve. Other birds of prey we hope to see are merlin, peregrine, sparrowhawk, short-eared owl and barn owl. Meet at the Old Baths car park, which overlooks the Gayton Sands Nature Reserve at Parkgate, close to The Boathouse pub. For further details contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Saturday 30th October, 10:00am - 4:00pm, RSPB Feed the Birds Day.
Join the RSPB Warden at Ness Gardens to find out how you can help your garden birds survive through the winter. See the birds at the feeding station in the Gardens and learn about the different foods on which each species feeds. Meet at Ness Gardens tearoom. For more information contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Saturday 30th October, 10:00am - 5:00pm, RSPB Feed the Birds Day.
Come along to Wirral Country Park Centre for information and advice on how to help our feathered friends through the winter months. For further details, phone 0151 648 4371.

Sunday 31st October, 10:00am, High Tide at Point of Ayr.
A great place to get close-up views of a variety of ducks and waders. Thousands of waders that have been feeding on the mudflats during low water come to roost on the reserve whilst hundreds of ducks arrive to feed on the saltmarsh as it wets up. No need to book. Meet at the bottom of Station Road, Talacre (HW 12:27, 9.0m). For further details call RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Saturday 13th November, 10:00am, Parkgate High Tide Birdwatch Special.
The saltmarsh off Parkgate comes alive with birds as they are pushed in towards us by the incoming tide. If the tide hits the wall, small mammals such as voles and shrews are flushed out. Meet at the Old Baths car park, which overlooks the Gayton Sands Nature Reserve at Parkgate, close to The Boathouse pub (HW 11:23, 9.7m).

The high tide birdwatch will be followed by an illustrated talk at the Boathouse celebrating the RSPB's 25 years on the Dee Estuary. Tickets for the event will cost 6.95, and will include a hot meal. To book, phone the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Sunday 14th November, 8:00am - 10:30am, Seaduck Close-up.
During the winter months the Marine Lake at West Kirby is a good place to spot seaducks including goldeneye, scaup and red-breasted merganser. Join the Rangers on a stroll around the lake to get views of these birds without having to venture out onto the waves! Then head up to Cubbins Green to view the waders feeding on the rich estuary mudflats. No need to book, meet at the Dee Lane Slipway, West Kirby. Please bring warm waterproof clothes and binoculars. For further information call Wirral Country Park on 0151 648 4371/3884.

Note: Many of these forthcoming events are extracted from the 'Birdwatchers Diary 2004', 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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