1st October 2005

The Magic of Parkgate.
Dee Estuary WeBS.
September Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
Latest Newsletter.



The Magic of Parkgate

In winter, whenever possible I visit the Old Baths car park just before dusk because of my enthusiasm for Hen Harriers, especially in strong winds when they are always spectacular before finally dropping into the roost. For me, 2004-2005 was a very special winter season. I can find 15 records that I have made over the period from 7th November to 26th February.

The most exciting highlight was my last recorded visit to the Old Baths car park - 26th February 2005. As an adult male approached the northerly roost site (ie in line with Point of Ayr) a second adult male came up from the site, then the two of them dropped down again. Some minutes later, when I was the sole observer I was treated to 10 minutes of the two males together - they briefly grappled talons and then flew around together and landed at exactly the same time on the far side of the small flash opposite the car park and were both visible on the ground. Shortly afterwards, one of them flew south and to the best of my knowledge only one adult male was seen by any observers on the estuary after that time.

Ring-tail Hen Harrier at Parkgate, Steve Round ©

On 27th and 30th December, on both occasions together with a number of other observers, I saw five Hen Harriers at the roost site at dusk - an adult male and 4 ring-tails.

(NB From mid-December, one of the ring-tail Hen Harriers could be clearly identified by having one leg which trailed at about 45 degrees. This bird was still in the estuary in March - I saw it near Neston reedbed on 13th March.)

Two final notes, on 20th November 2004, three Merlins were observed in the air at the same time, and of course, winter 2004-2005 at Parkgate was also noteworthy for the regular sightings of up to three Short Eared Owls, particularly in still conditions, when Hen Harriers would be less visible, dropping quickly into the roost.

David Esther

Note: Sunday 23rd October, 5:00pm, Parkgate Raptor Watch, see events below for details.

Ed: This is a slightly extended version of a letter first published in Cheshire and Wirral Bird News (CAWOS), shown here with kind permission of both the editor of the Bird News and the author.
Hen Harriers can often be seen patrolling the marsh between Burton, Parkgate and Heswall at any time of day during the winter, but, as David's article demonstrates, the best time is just before  dusk when the birds come in to roost. I would recommend arriving at least half an hour before dusk.

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Dee Estuary WeBS Report

The Dee Estuary Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) report for 2004/2005 has just been published. As usual, it is full of facts and figures and interesting bits of information. If you want to know how our birds are doing, this is the report to read. The Dee Estuary (including Gronant and the North Wirral Shore) remains one of the most important sites for wildfowl and waders in the country with 11 species in Internationally Important numbers, and a further eight species in Nationally Important numbers.

It was a record year for three species: Little Egret, Shelduck and Black-tailed Godwit. It is particularly pleasing to see Oystercatcher numbers increasing for the third year running after the lows of the late 1990's, although still a long way short of the counts we were getting 15 years ago. However, a lot of species dropped in number compared to the previous year, may be because of mild weather on the continent keeping birds further east. But that's enough detail, you will have to read the report to learn more. 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.

© Tony Broome

Richard Smith

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September Bird News
No NW gales this month so no spectacular sea-watching, unlike last year. However, we did have some fresh SW and W winds and 26 Leach's Petrel were seen from Hilbre on the 29th, three also at New Brighton on the same day. On the 23rd Hilbre had an American Wigeon, 2 Pomarine Skua and over 150 Gannet - so not a bad day! Both the Mersey Ferries birdwatching trips out into Liverpool Bay were in calm conditions and both a great success. Highlights were - an Osprey overhead, eight Arctic Skuas (four on the first trip), one Great Skua, 50 Kittiwakes, one Little Gull and at least 100 Common Terns.

As usual in September there were spectacular numbers of waders in the inner reaches of the estuary whilst the outer estuary was very quiet, apart from the usual several thousand Oystercatchers, and loads of gulls. Among 3,500 Herring Gulls at Hoylake we had 110 Great Black-backed Gulls. The view from the main hide at the Connah's Quay reserve overlooking Oakenholt marsh can be spectacular and we caught it just right on the 20th with thousands of Black-tailed Godwit, Oystercatchers, Redshank and  Knot. Apparently it had been even better the day before with 10 Ravens, 5,000 Black-tailed Godwits and 5,000 Knot. The 20th was also the day there seemed to be Buzzards everywhere. On the trip between Caldy and Connah's Quay we must have seen at least eight, plus one which flew past my windscreen from a tree as I drove into my driveway at home! Probably after squirrels which eat all my bird food - natural justice! There was seven high overhead over Meols and Dave Wild saw one fly out of a tree near the Wirral Way and catch a Woodpigeon on the ground. Also on that same day Dave and I saw four peregrines over the marsh at Heswall.

 Richard Smith © Redshank  at Oakenholt, Sept 20th 2005.

Passage waders weren't outstanding but we did have 21 Curlew Sandpipers at Heswall, 7 Little Stint at Hoylake and 1 Pectoral Sandpiper at Inner Marsh Farm. A Green-winged Teal and Spotted Crake at Inner Marsh Farm were both seen on several days and a female Eider was off Hilbre Island for most of the month.

What to expect in October

We didn't get the hoped for gales in September but in my experience that means we will get them in October instead. We won't get the large numbers of sea birds we would get in a September gale but there should still be plenty of skuas, Leach's Petrels, Manx Shearwaters etc. around to make for some great birdwatching.
Coming before the main winter influx October can be a quiet month for waders, but last year we had good numbers of Knot and Dunlin; Sanderlings had their highest numbers since 1994 and we had over 1,000 Grey Plover.
Signs of the coming winter will be everywhere with the first wild swans coming in, the first Brent Geese of the winter on Hilbre, and Hen Harriers and Short-eared Owls back on the marsh off Burton and Parkgate. Look out also for Pink-footed Geese, flocks of 100-200 are often seen flying over, these may well be birds which have overshot on their way from Iceland to south Lancashire.
Get the weather right and visible migration can be spectacular. A steady east or south-east wind, overcast sky and perhaps a slight mist is ideal. Finches of all sorts will be on their way south - last year we had over 10,000 Chaffinches over Heswall Fields NT in two and a half hours. In the same location there were 1,000 Goldcrests feeding on thistles and marram grass seeds. One rarity that often turn up are Yellow-browed Warblers, a couple of years ago we had two at Red Rocks. On the Welsh side the Point of Ayr is an excellent spot to see both the land and sea migration, as well as being a major high tide roost.

Many thanks go to Andrew Wallbank, Gavin Butler, Hwfa Jones, Allan Hewitt, Frank Huband, David Esther, Geoff Hall, Dave and Emma Kenyon, Mark McBride, Colin Schofield, Chris 'Dunraven', Alan Patterson, Mark Turner, John Roberts, John Campbell, Clive Ashton, David Davies, Charles Farnell, Ian Hughes, Steve Williams,  Chris Butterworth,  Stephen Ainsworth, Steve Renshaw, Dave Harrington, John Boswell, Jane Turner, Allan Conlin, Mike Hart, Dave Wilde, Mark O'Sullivan,  Phil Woollen, Steve Roberts, Colin Wells, Steve Round, Iain Douglas, Bob Howarth, John and Andrew Morris, Dave and Emma Kenyon, Tony Coatsworth, Thomas Cookson, 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.
17th October, 11:52hrs 9.8m. Times BST.
18th October, 12:31hrs 9.8m.

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 15th October, 9:00am - 2:00pm, Open Day at the Connah's Quay Reserve.
Non-members will be met at the entrance by a member 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 10.23am, 9.0m.).

Saturday 15th 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 Warden 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.

Monday 17th October, 10:45am, Rails of the River Bank, Riverbank Road, Heswall.
A fantastic place to see birds of the estuary. Huge flocks of ducks and waders swirl around in the sky while there’s always the chance of seeing a water rail as it’s flushed out of the saltmarsh by the rising tide. Expect to see merlin, peregrine and maybe short-eared owl. Meet at Riverbank Road car park which overlooks the Gayton Sands RSPB Nature Reserve at Lower Heswall. (HW 11:52, 9.8m) No need to book. For further details contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Sunday 23rd October, 5:00pm, Parkgate Raptor Watch.
Watch the elegant hen harriers come in to roost on the RSPB reserve at Gayton Sands. Other birds we hope to see include merlin, peregrine, sparrowhawk, short-eared owl and barn owl. Meet at the Old Baths car park, Parkgate, close to the Boathouse pub. For further details contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Saturday 29th October, 10:00am–4:00pm, RSPB Feed the Birds Day, Ness Gardens.
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 29th October, 10:00am-5:00pm, RSPB Feed the Birds Day, Wirral Country Park (Thurstaston).
Come along to Wirral Country Park Centre for information and advice on how to help our feathered friends throughout the winter months. For more details phone
0151 648 4371/3884.

Saturday 5th November, 10:30am, High Tide at Point of Ayr.
The spit and saltmarsh at the Point of Ayr are extremely important habitats for birds and they come alive at high tide with waders coming in to roost and ducks drifting in on the tide to feed on the marsh. Join the RSPB warden to watch the action as it unfolds (HW 12:38, 9.1m). No need to book. Meet at the end of Station Rd. Talacre. For further information contact RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Note: Many of these forthcoming events are extracted from the 'Birdwatchers Diary 2005', 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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