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2nd November 2000
Estuary Volunteers
Latest Bird Counts
October Bird News
Forthcoming Events
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    From the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s conservationists became increasingly concerned about the amount of disturbance on West Kirby beach which was rendering the high tide wader roost almost unusable. Birds were so disturbed that aerial roosting (1) - i.e. spending the high tide on the wing - became quite common, wasting energy the birds could ill afford. The situation was made worse by the popularity at the time of sea angling on the nearby Hilbre Islands, used as an alternative roost, again causing much disturbance. The result was a dramatic fall in numbers - for example Bar-tailed Godwits fell by 99% from a peak count of 11,149 in 1976/77 to 25 in 1984/85 and Knots by 79% from a peak of 48,000 in 1979/80 to 10,050 in 1985/86 (2).  

As a consequence of this Wirral Borough Council, with the agreement of the Nature Conservancy (now English Nature) and support of the RSPB set up a voluntary wardening scheme in October 1986 staffed by local bird watchers. In previous newsletters I have detailed the change in numbers of the birds from this time to the present (West Kirby High Tide Roost Counts 1986 to 1999, West Kirby High Tide Roost Counts 1999/2000 ), but in this article I am going to concentrate on how successful the wardens have been in decreasing disturbance.

The amount of public usage of West Kirby beach has increased dramatically since 1986 as the table below demonstrates.

Season Walkers Dogs Windsurfers Cyclists
1986/87 1936 1373 3 0
1987/88 1280 948 30 0
1988/89 2072 1484 28 0
1989/90 2545 1262 395 5
1990/91 5307 2440 573 23
1991/92 4677 2600 482 18
1992/93 5474 2393 499 26
1993/94 5036 2367 618 13
1994/95 5934 3089 468 25
1995/96 6260 2968 390 25
1996/97 5921 2708 591 28
1997/98 7514 2801 352 47

Despite this large increase in beach traffic disturbance has been kept to a minimum, as shown in the next two graphs.

Potential and Actual Disturbances by Walkers on West Kirby Beach  

Success/Failure of Interventions by Wardens on West Kirby Beach

 Interventions are when the wardens directly intercept walkers etc. about to disturb the birds. Mostly we are successful. In addition we talk to these people, and others, about the high tide roost and its importance to the waders, which means next time they visit they normally take care to avoid any disturbance. A number of wardens have actually been recruited in this way! So not only are we preventing disturbance on the day, but also in the future. 

So how successful have the wardens been in terms of the birds? Knot have increased from a low of 10,050 in 1985/86 to  a peak of 25,500 in 1998/99, and Bar-tailed Godwit from 25 in 1984/85 to a peak of 1,107 in 1998/99. Many other species show similar increases. We are still some way off the maximum counts seen in the 1970s, one reason for this is a change in roosting habits with many birds now roosting on the Alt Estuary or elsewhere on the Dee. But it is heartening to see so many birds returning to West Kirby.

If you would like to combine your birdwatching with something really positive to help the birds, then come along and join us. You don't have to be an expert and just a few hours a month will be a great help. If you want to come along for a chat and see what we do either come to West Kirby when we are on duty or visit our stand at the North West Bird Fair (Martin Mere) on 18th and 19th November 2000. To join the Wardens ring the Coastal Ranger, on 0151-678 5488.  Also see the Dee Estuary Volunteer Wardens page on this web site.

Most of this piece is based on Karen Leeming's article in the CAWOS October 99 Bird News, 'Wardening Waders'. Thank you to Karen for agreeing to let me summarise her much more detailed work. Thanks also to Roy Palmer who collates all the data from the Dee Estuary Volunteer Wardens and whose graphs I have used.

1. Hale W.G., Waders, Collins, 1980.
2. Mitchell J.R., Moser M.E. and Kirby J.S. (1988), Declines in midwinter counts of waders roosting on the Dee Estuary, Bird Study 35:191-198.


Bird Counts


Inner Marsh Farm  Count for 16th October.
Black-tailed Godwit 2, Greenshank 3, Lapwing 100, Gadwall 2, Shoveler 81, Teal 1000, Tufted Duck 5, Wigeon 3,  Little Grebe 2,. 
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.

Wetland Bird Survey Count for Heswall Shore - (Kindly provided by the Wirral Ranger Service). 16th October.
Great-crested Grebe 9, Cormorant 27, Grey Heron 5, Shelduck 9620, Wigeon 190, Teal 268, Mallard 58, Pintail 5, Red-breasted Merganser 3, Oystercatcher 870, Golden Plover 74, Lapwing 236, Knot 100, Dunlin 30, Snipe 8, Black-tailed Godwit 110, Curlew 1380, Redshank 3400, Peregrine Falcon.

West Kirby high tide roost, highest count for October carried out by Dee Estuary Volunteer Wardens - 28th October.
Ringed Plover 16, Grey Plover 36, Sanderling 6, Dunlin 3750, Bar-tailed Godwit 77 and 4500 Knot. 

October Bird News


It was a very good month for Skuas, the best day being the 2nd with 9 Long-tailed, 7 Great and 86 Arctic all at the Point of Ayr. A Pomarine Skua and another 3 Great Skua were seen off Red Rocks on the 10th. The strong west winds also brought in 5 Leach's Petrel, 4 Black Tern and 130 Razorbill at Hoylake/ Red Rocks, plus an excellent passage of 2400 Guillemot an hour on the 23rd.

A wonderful sight was the record number of Shelduck at Heswall - a total of 9620, best seen when pushed up by the incoming tide. Other wildfowl have included 4 Eider, 98 Common Scoter, Long-tailed Duck and Velvet Scoter all at Hoylake and 2 Garganey and a Ruddy Shelduck at Inner Marsh Farm

Nineteen Spotted Redshank was a  good count for Parkgate Marsh and the same number of Greenshank were present early in the month. Sixteen Purple Sandpipers are at Hilbre, a high number for October. Rarer  waders included a Grey Phalarope at Hoylake and a Pectoral Sandpiper on Burton Marsh. Large flocks of the more common waders were seen with 9000 Dunlin and 12000 Knot at the high tide roost off Hoylake beach. The first of this winter's Water Pipits have returned to the Old quay at Neston, a Richard's Pipit was seen briefly at Red Rocks and a Lapland Bunting on Hilbre Island.

What to expect in November: Little Egrets are continuing to expand their range north-westwards and we should see about five birds on the estuary - usually seen at Parkgate, Burton or Flint. One or two Spoonbill may turn up, the Mauritanian Spoonbill (ship assisted vagrant) usually spends most of the winter at Inner Marsh Farm - last seen here in May. 

Black-tailed Godwits numbers peaked last year in November (2543). One of the easiest to see flocks is usually off Thurstaston and Heswall, best seen about half tide feeding on the mud just off the beach. Purple Sandpipers should increase to about 30 birds on Hilbre Island. Large flocks of Dunlin and Knot (10000+) should be seen, either at low water off Thurstaston or Leasowe or on their high tide roosts at Hoylake, West Kirby or Point of Ayr

A small flock of Bewick's Swan return to the estuary in November, usually about 30 to 40 birds on Burton Marsh. Teal numbers will build up with numbers possibly as high as 5000, although the floods this autumn may keep many inland. 

Many thanks go to Jane Turner, Steve Williams, Cathy McGrath, Alison Tyrer, Francis Kelly, Peter Wilson, Jeff Clarke, Mark Smith, Peter Colley, Brian Roberts, Julia Fox, Howard Morgan  and Martyn Jaimeson for their sightings during October. I rely on the goodwill of people like this, unlike some commercial sites I cannot offer financial inducements!


Forthcoming Events


November Highest Spring Tides (Liverpool) 
13th November, 11.56hrs 9.6m. (all times GMT)
14th November, 12.37hrs 9.6m.
See Tides page for tide table.

Note that the marsh at Parkgate is 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. 

Young Ornithologists Club at Ness Gardens
See the listing of events for 2000. This group have a most interesting series of monthly outdoor and indoor meetings for the younger birdwatchers.

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 2000 and 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 2000

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.

11th November. Open Day at Connah's Quay Power Station Reserve. 9am to 2pm.
Normally only open to members of the DNS this reserve is next to the mouth of the River Dee as it enters the Welsh side of the estuary and should prove excellent for a good selection of duck and waders. The main hide overlooks the RSPB Oakenholt reserve (south of Flint) which is not open to the public. Hot drinks and cakes provided! Come off the A548 at the Power Station. Take the road towards the Power Station and the reserve is on the left.    

12th November. Searching the Strandline. 11am - 1pm.
Join the Rangers for a walk along the high water mark, discover some of the things left on Thurstaston Beach by the tide and learn more about the dynamics and ecology of the estuary. Booking essential. 0151 648 4371.

18th and 19th November. North West Bird Fair at Martin Mere Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust Reserve, Burscough, Lancashire. The Dee Estuary Volunteer Wardens will have a stand - come and see us.

26th November. High Tide at Point of Ayr. 9:00am.
Waders galore at the tides edge. Meet at the end of Station Road, Talacre (HW 11:19, 9.4m). For more information contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

3rd December. A Winter Woodland Birdwatch. 1pm - 3:30pm.
Join the Rangers on a walk to the Dungeon to explore this woodland 'oasis' adjacent to the Wirral Way and discover some of the birds that have made it their home. Booking essential, ring 0151 648 4371.

10th December. High Tide at Flint Castle. 8:00am.
Superb coastal birding with potential for scarce birds such as Twite and Hen Harrier (HW 10:10, 9.2m). Meet at the Lifeboat Station car park. For more information contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

13th December. Banks road Birdwatch at Heswall Shore. 9:30am.
Wrap up warmly for some memorable coastal birdwatching. The waders will be in their drabber winter plumage, whereas the wildfowl will be looking their finest (HW 12:23, 9.7m). Meet at Banks Road car park, Lower Heswall. For further details ring 0151 648 4371.

Note: Many of these forthcoming events extracted from 'Birdwatchers Diary 2000', which covers both the Dee and Mersey regions. Copies available from the visitor centre at Thurstaston, Wirral Country Park 0151 648 4371.