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October 2013 Newsletter

Knots on the Dee Estuary 2012/13.
Wirral's Wonderful Waders.
Wanted - Voluntary Wardens at Point of Ayr.
September Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
Latest Newsletter.


Knots on the Dee Estuary 2012/13

                       Large Knot flock over Dawpool Bank, December 2012 Matt Thomas

A large flock of Knot, perhaps 20,000 strong, must surely impress anyone who sees this spectacular sight - even complete non-birders or, at the other end of the scale, hard core twitchers who will claim they are only looking at them in case there is a Great Knot in the flock! There were certainly plenty of opportunities to see large numbers of Knot last winter here on the Dee Estuary, which was the best winter for this species for many years. 

The graph above gives you an idea of the size of the flocks we saw. Dawpool Bank is the huge area of mud bank off Thurstaston Shore and it was just carpeted with Knots on Jan 9th when I counted 48,000 there. I only know of one higher single site count on the estuary since 1970, that was 52,000 at Hoylake in December 2001. Unfortunately, I only received one count from the Point of Ayr, but it was a big one with 42,500 on Dec 16th. The counts at West Kirby was of birds actually on the ground at the roost, whereas most of those from Hilbre were of flocks flying over, either flying out of the estuary or heading towards the high tide roost at Hoylake. For the forthcoming 2012 Cheshire and Wirral Bird Report CAWOS have received no less than 93 Internationally Important counts from the English side of the Dee Estuary, of which 32 were 20,000 or greater, compared to 43 Internationally Important counts in 2011 of which only two were 20,000 or greater.

                                Waders at Hoylake, January 2013 Matt Thomas

But never mind about all these facts and figures - it was the spectacle of those tens of thousands of birds which really stick in the memory, particularly during the January spring tides at Hoylake. Saturday January 12th was the day of the High Tide Birdwatch and it was an outstanding day with at least 200 birders enjoying the spectacle of 25,000 waders, mostly Knot, pushed in by a big high tide. If Saturday was outstanding then Sunday was even better with the higher tide pushing the birds that much closer, for about 30 minutes half the Knot flock aerial roosted overhead which was an amazing sight in itself with constant movement and turnover of the birds. Then came Monday which was simply astonishing, the birds were so close to the end of King's Gap you could almost touch them, unlike the previous day the birds stayed mainly on the sand and were surging backwards and forwards like breaking waves. I'd never seen anything quite like it before!

                       Tiny part of the huge Knot flock at Hoylake, January 2013 Kevin Morgans.

To put last winter in perspective I have to show one more graph, below. It shows the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) counts from when the scheme started in 1970 to the present day. The 1970s saw counts consistently around the 40,000 mark, this was followed by a sharp fall in numbers in the 1980s which was due to increased disturbance on the estuary. Since the winter of 1989/90 max counts have fluctuated wildly, the best example of this being a peak count of 5,672 in the winter of 2000/01 followed by the highest ever WeBS count, 52,692 in 2001/02.  The max WeBS count this last winter of 50,266 is therefore the second highest on record. In contrast to all this the counts for the whole country have been pretty steady for the whole period. I have written several articles discussing Knots on the Dee Estuary and their fluctuations in number over the years, so if you want to find out more look at the Newsletter articles mentioned below.

Richard Smith

Sources of Information for this article and further reading:

1. - bird sightings archive.
2. Cheshire and Wirral Bird  Reports: 1970 to 2011.
3. Cheshire and Wirral Bird Report 2012, in preparation.
4. Neil Friswell and Colin Wells, Dee Estuary and North Wirral Foreshore WeBS Annual Report, 2011/12.
5. Chas Holt et al. , Waterbirds in the UK 2010/11 (WeBS).
6. Richard Smith, North-west Estuaries Part 2 - Knot and Dunlin, July 2010 Newsletter.
7. Richard Smith, WeBS and Waders, May 2007 Newsletter.
8. Richard Smith, West Kirby High Tide Wader Roost, July 2005 Newsletter.
9. Richard Smith, The Knot, April 2000 Newsletter.
10. J.R. Mitchell, M.E. Moser and J.S. Kirby, Declines in midwinter counts of waders roosting on the Dee Estuary, Bird Study (1988) 35, 191-198.
11. J.S. Kirby, C. Clee and V. Seagar, Impact and extent of recreational disturbance to wader roosts on the Dee Estuary: some preliminary results, Wader Study Group Bulletin, 68: 53-58, 1993.

WeBS (Wetland Bird Survey) data in this article should not be used elsewhere in any way without permission of the WeBS Office. To access official WeBS data please contact the WeBS Secretariat - BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk IP 24 2 PU

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Wirral's Wonderful Waders

The Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens (see the Wardens Page) have produced a leaflet promoting the Waders of Wirral and also the work of the Wardens without which the High Tide roost at West Kirby would probably be just a distant memory. We are always on the look out for new Wardens so please help if you can. Full details are in the leaflet.

To download the leaflet please click on the links below, it is in two parts (PDF format).

Wirral's Wonderful Waders - PAGE 1 and PAGE 2.

                                 A mix of Waders at Hoylake, September 2011 Richard Smith.

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Point of Ayr RSPB Reserve - Voluntary Wardens Wanted!

Point of Ayr, on the North Wales coast at Talacre, is a great place to watch a variety of birds as they come in to roost at high tide, but unfortunately the site is extremely vulnerable to human disturbance. The RSPB is looking for extra volunteers to help warden this invaluable roost site, and protect the birds throughout the cold winter months.

Shifts are run most weekends and typically last between 3-4 hours, depending on the height of the tide.

If you would like to help in any way please contact the RSPB on 0151 353 8478 or Mobile 07860169452 . Not only are you helping to save the planet, but it’s also great birdwatching too!

Editor - to get an idea of how good an area this is for birds see the Point of Ayr Site Guide.

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September Bird News

                              Hilbre Sea Watching - Photos by Scott Reid.
            Top - Leach's Petrel on Sep 16th, Bottom - Adult Long-tailed Skua on Sep 17th.
In many ways a classic September with a good number of both those iconic September species - Leach's Petrel and Curlew Sandpiper.  Strong west winds mid-month bought in good numbers of Leach's Petrels peaking on the 17th with 109 past Hilbre. One or two Storm Petrels were off New Brighton over the same period. At least three Long-tailed Skuas were recorded, including an adult and three juveniles. After the winds had died down a Great Skua hung around the area even venturing as far as Heswall and flying past me at Thurstaston almost within touching distance.

                       Curlew Sandpipers on Hoylake Shore, September 9th Steve  Williams

It was the second best passage of Curlew Sandpipers over the past 12 years, with numbers not quite reaching 2011 levels, as you see from the graphs below. It is interesting comparing the two years with both showing a distinct double peak. Also, in both years the early peak was of birds mainly along north Wirral, particularly Hoylake, whereas by the second peak most birds were further up the estuary at Burton Mere Wetlands and Connah's Quay.

Remarkably, almost a year to the day a Western Sandpiper was at Hoylake, an adult Semi-palmated Sandpiper was seen at Hoylake Shore, on the 21st. Although only present for a short time it was well seen and there seems little doubt about it's ID, unlike the Western Sandpiper last year! A few Little Stints were recorded,  max three at Burton Mere Wetlands on the 10th. A Pectoral Sandpiper was there at the end of the month, presumably it was the same bird which was also seen on Burton Marsh. 19 records of Mediterranean Gulls was a good number for September, compare that to just three in September 2010 which was a good year for them (see Med Gull Article).

                         Marsh Harrier over Inner Marsh Farm, September 28th Jeff Cohen

Although not as numerous as last year there were reports of one or two Marsh Harriers throughout the month, max three at Burton Mere Wetlands on the 8th. A ringtail Hen Harrier was also recorded several times on the marshes. Up to two Hobbies gave some great views at both Burton Mere Wetlands and the Inner Marsh Farm hide.
                     Spotted Redshank at Inner Marsh Farm, September 27th  Steve Round,
                                               see Steve Round Photography.

Several days of east winds towards the end of the month eventually brought rich pickings with two Yellow-browed Warblers (Burton Marsh and Red Rocks) and a Blyth's Reed Warbler at Red Rocks.

Richard Smith.
Many thanks go to Steve Round, Dan Trotman, Kenny Dummigan, David O'Farrell, Peter Haslem, Mike Buckley, Allan Conlin, Eddie Williams, Andy Voisey, David Haigh, Malcolm Segeant, Paul Mason, David Harrington, Jeremy Bradshaw, Mark Gibson, Katy Van Woerdekom, Alan Hitchmough, John Jakeman, Steve Williams, Ray Eades, Greg Harker, John Kirkland, Bruce Atherton, Chris Butterworth, Jane Turner, Andy Thomas, Dave Wild, Matt Thomas, Jeff Cohen, Colin Schofield, Karen Leeming, David Leeming, Les Hall, Charles Farnell, Bernard Machin, Roy Lowry, Mark Evans, Roy Wilson, Dave Edwards, Elliot Montieth, Hannah Meulman, Tony Darby, Steve Edwards, Bill Wonderley, Glenn Morriss, Alan Irving, Richard Beckett, Kevin Morgans, Jenny Gardner, Graham Connolly, Frank Burns, John Smith, Shaun Hickey, Juilan Weldrick, David Small, Keith Lloyd Jones, David Wilson, Linda Evans, Kevin Smith, Malcolm Guy, Bill Kreig, David Horton, Denzil Nicklin, Mark Williamson, Christine Longworth, Reg Dixon, Deborah Marwaha, Joan Chappell, the Dee Estuary Wardens and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during September. All sightings are gratefully received. 

What to expect in October

October isn't too late to see plenty of sea birds if we get north-westerly gales, particularly early in the month. So expect Leach's Petrels, Sabine's Gulls, skuas etc. The north Wirral coast is now one of the most important wintering areas for Great Crested Grebes, but you will need a flat calm and clear conditions to see them as most are a long way out and floating on the sea, conditions also suitable for seeing what could be a good selection of rarer grebes, divers and sea duck.
It was good for Curlew Sandpipers last month and the usual pattern during a good influx is a second wave of then to come through in early October. This month is usually good for rarities, last year alone we had Long-billed Dowitcher, Temminck's Stint, Spotted Crake, Red-throated Pipit and three Common Cranes.
One of the highlights this month is Visible Migration - given the right weather conditions and the right time and location this can be spectacular. One early morning last year we had 47,250 Starlings, 3,940 Chaffinches and 73 Bramblings over Red Rocks. To read more about 'Vis Mis' read the October 2010 Newsletter.
There will definitely be signs of the returning winter with a build up of both Brent and Pink-footed Geese, a return of the first Whooper Swans, several Short-eared Owls on the marshes and we should see a Snow bunting or two.
As I write this at the end of September we have had several days of east and south easterly winds with more forecast, this means there must be a very good chance of some good rarities turning up this month blown westwards during their return migration.
                            Kingfisher at Burton Mere Wetlands, September 13th Jeff Cohen.

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Forthcoming Events

October Highest Spring Tides (Liverpool)

Also see Tides page.
6th October, 12.34hrs (BST), 9.5m.
7th October, 13.11hrs (BST), 9.6m.
8th October, 13.50hrs (BST), 9.5m.

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.
Also see 2013 Events Diary.

Saturday 5th October, 10am to 3pm, Connah's Quay Nature Reserve Open Day.
High tide 9.4m at 11.59am.
An opportunity to visit this great reserve normally open to members only - should be large numbers of waders and duck roosting at high tide.
How to find us: From A548 take the Connah’s Quay turn off and follow the Power Station signs. At the reserve entrance, (Grid ref  SJ271 714) you will be met by a member of the Society.
Tea and coffee available at the Field Studies Centre.

Saturday 19th October, 10:00am start, High Tide Birdwatch at Hoylake:
Join the Coastal Rangers, the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens and the RSPB to see the large numbers of wading birds on Hoylake beach.  With a rising tide, we should see the birds at close quarters as they roost and feed.  Beginners welcome.  Dress warmly and bring binoculars if you have them.
Meet on the promenade at King's Gap, Hoylake.  9.4m tide just before noon.
For further information, contact the Coastal Rangers on 0151 648 4371.

Saturday 9th November 2013 from 11.00am to 4.00pm.
Cheshire and Wirral Ornithological Society 25th Anniversary Celebration 9th Nov 2013 CAWOS is pleased to announce that it will be holding a half day event to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Society on Saturday 9th November 2013 from 11.00am to 4.00pm.
Please come and join us for this, our Special Celebratory Day for members/ non members and friends, old and new at Leahurst Campus, School of Veterinary Science, Neston, CH64 7TE. The day will include a programme of talks about Cheshire's birds with associated quizzes and raffle. Lunch and refreshments included all for only 5.00pp.
For further information contact Clive Richards (tel. 01625 524527) or Ted Lock (tel. 01625 540466).
Application forms can be downloaded by clicking on this link.

Saturday 30th November  12:00 noon – 3:00pm
Take Tea on Hilbre with the RSPB
Walk across the sands to Hilbre Island where the RSPB will be serving tea and biscuits during the above date and time.  They will be on hand to show you the island’s unique wildlife and will tell you about the work that the RSPB are doing at their fantastic reserve at Burton Mere Wetlands.  There is no need to book, just turn up.  Suitable clothing and footwear are essential for the walk out and please note – this is not a guided walk.  Remember to bring money for the tea! 
For further information, please telephone (0151) 648 4371.