1st November 2005

Rare Birds in Cheshire & Wirral.
October Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
Latest Newsletter.



Rare Birds In Cheshire & Wirral

Allan Conlin and Steve Williams, the authors of the booklet 'Rare Birds in Cheshire & Wirral' (see review), have kindly agreed to let me print an extract in this newsletter. I have picked three species which have been seen at least once in the Dee Estuary region. Hope this gives you a feel of this most useful and interesting publication. See end of this article for details of how to purchase this booklet.

Long-billed DowitcherLimnodromus scolopaceous
Seven records including six between the Frodsham (4) and Burton Marsh/Inner Marsh Farm RSPB Reserve areas (3 including one also seen at Frodsham).

A juvenile first seen at Frodsham Sludge Pools on 19th September remained in the Frodsham area until 18th October 1970 and was the first authenticated record for Cheshire and Wirral.

Another juvenile was present at Frodsham between 29th September to 5th October 1979 before moving to Burton Marsh where it was present between 14th and 26th October at least.

A summer plumaged bird was present at the Weaver Bend between 8th and 13th August
1990. The first record for Inner Marsh Farm RSPB Reserve was found on 24th October 1993 and it stayed until 3rd November. One was at Budworth Mere on 24th April 1996 only.

A winter plumaged bird was seen at Frodsham Marsh, on various tanks, on 19th February 1999. Presumably the same bird was then seen, in partial summer plumage, on 5th, 10th, 17th, 18th, 19th, 22nd and 23rd April 1999.

Inner Marsh Farm RSPB Reserve struck again when one was found on 10th November 2002. This bird overwintered, probably on the Dee Marshes and was seen intermittently at Inner Marsh Farm RSPB Reserve, on 28th to 31st January 2003 and 10th March to 21st April 2003, during which time it attained summer plumage.

Long-billed Dowitcher, Inner Marsh Farm, 17th Oct, 2005,
Steve Round ©

Ed: As I write this newsletter another bird is at Inner Marsh Farm (see photo above). This time a juvenile which arrived 12th October 2005 and seen nearly every day until at least the end of the month.

Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis
Three records.

A moulting adult was at Altrincham Sewage Farm from 10th to 13th August 1952 and was also seen, on 13th, at Frodsham.

The second record for Cheshire and Wirral came 38 years later! Another adult was at Pump House Flash, Sandbach on both 20th and 21st May 1990.

Another wait of 12 years ended with the arrival of a bird, previously seen in Yorkshire, at Inner Marsh Farm RSPB Reserve on 21st July 2002; it was seen until 29th July but went missing for long periods.

This species has been steadily increasing in numbers in the UK and it seems likely that we will not have to wait as long again for the next Cheshire and Wirral record - no doubt at Frodsham, Inner Marsh Farm RSPB Reserve or the Sandbach Flashes!

Marsh Sandpiper  - Stephane Moniotte ©

Laughing GullLarus atricilla
Five records; including three from Wirral.

The first record for Cheshire and Wirral concerned a bird flying up the River Mersey at
New Ferry on 3rd August 1977.

The second was a fine first summer found off Hilbre on 16th May 1978.

These were followed by a second winter found at Latchford Lock, Warrington on 21st
November 1985, which was subsequently seen at Woolston Eyes Nature Reserve on 30th

The fourth record was one at Houghton Green Pool on 12th January 1997.

Finally, the most recent record concerns an individual at West Kirby beach on 2nd October
2001. However, we await the first twitchable bird for Cheshire and Wirral.

Note: For copyright reasons the photographs shown here are not the same as those in the booklet.

The booklet can be obtained by sending a cheque for £6.00 (inc p&p) to 'CAW Birding' at: 2 Westbourne Road, West Kirby, Wirral, Merseyside, CH48 4DG. For more information about this book please ring Allan Conlin on 07791274837.

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October Bird News
Those magical birds, Leach's Petrels, turned up at the start of the month. With a strong west wind veering through NW during the day their appearance wasn't unexpected but it was surprising quite how many appeared considering there hadn't been a prolonged gale and it was well past the prime time of mid-September. But probably the weather conditions out in the Atlantic off the west coat of Scotland is crucial and there had certainly been some gales out there the previous few days. It is highly likely that these late birds breed on islands off Canada rather than Scotland. Numbers in Canada are huge in comparison and it is known that many cross the Atlantic before heading south for the winter. On Oct 1st we had them coming through most of the day with the peak in the two hours after high tide. Max recorded was over 100 at Hilbre and 93 past Leasowe Lighthouse. The latter appears to have been the best spot with petrels so close some were flying over the concrete sea wall (also see Leach's Petrel Species Spotlight). On the same day a Grey Phalarope flew past and landed in front of Steve Round's camera by the lighthouse. Probably what was the same bird turned up a couple of days later on the Marine Lake at New Brighton giving many people an excellent chance to see this bird.

Grey Phalarope and Leach's Petrel off Leasowe Lighthouse, Oct 1st,
Steve Round ©

Sea-watching was good for most of the month with a Pomarine and an Arctic Skua on the 1st, also up to six eiders (including 4 drakes) and a Shag off Hilbre. On the 15th we had 200 Gannets, the highest numbers in October for at least 20 years. Gannets were still going past right to the end of the month, last year we had our last sighting on Oct 5th! No doubt it was the prolonged southerly wind holding the birds up, this also meant there were plenty of auks around with at least 100 on 29th, mostly Guillemots. A Slavonian Grebe was reported off Hilbre on the 18th and a Black-throated Diver just off West Kirby Shore the next day.

The S to SE wind which lasted for all of the second half of the month meant for some great visible migration. There was a good passage through Inner Marsh Farm on the 19th including a Ring Ouzel plus numerous thrushes and finches. The best day seems to have been on the 26th when there was movement south-east along the west Wirral coast all day, there must have been at least 4,000 Fieldfares and 4,000 Chaffinches plus numerous other species going through; a spectacular sight for those lucky enough to see it. There was also a good passage of Stonechats mid-month with four by Leasowe Lighthouse, and five both at Leasowe Gunsite and Inner Marsh Farm, all on the 16th.

It must have been a good month when I've almost come to the end of the monthly bird news without mentioning the star bird! This was a juvenile Long-billed Dowitcher which was first seen at Inner Marsh Farm on the 12th and stayed until the end of the month. The Long-billed Dowitcher is an American wader and this is the eight record for Cheshire and Wirral (see article and photo above).

Four Hen Harriers were coming in to roost regularly at Parkgate by the end of the month, this is a good number for so early in the winter. 112 Little Egrets were counted leaving the Burton roost on the 13th, yet another record. An Avocet paid a brief visit to the Connah's Quay Reserve on the 17th where there have been around 5,000 Black-tailed Godwit all month. At nearby Flint there have been huge numbers of Pintail in the channel, I counted about 6,000 along with 2,000 Wigeon on the 20th. Hilbre had eight Brent Geese by the end of the month. Good numbers of Sanderling all month with max 550 at Hoylake and 700 at West Kirby.

A rather distant view of a small portion of the Pintail flock off Flint on Oct 20th, also
loads of Canada Geese. Richard Smith ©.

Other highlights include a long-staying drake Green-winged Teal, 2 Little Stint and 3 Curlew Sandpiper all at Inner Marsh Farm. Single Yellow-browed Warblers were seen on Hilbre and in a Hoylake garden.  

What to expect in November

Hen Harriers and Short-eared Owls will be the main feature on the marshes. Apparently breeding Hen Harriers have done comparatively well in England this year so it will be interesting to see if this is reflected in an increase in birds spending the winter here. We've had a maximum of five over the past couple of winters after a few poor years, including two years when none were present.

Dunlin and Knot numbers should increase over the month, particularly if we get a cold spell. Point of Ayr, Hoylake and West Kirby are important high tide roosts with the mudflats off Leasowe and Thurstaston the main feeding areas. Any of these areas can be spectacular when peak numbers are present, particularly so when a Peregrine starts hunting.

Brent Geese hit record numbers last winter with a max of 63, peak numbers tend to occur in late winter but by the end of November we could get around 40, mainly of the pale-bellied race. Bewick's Swans will also increase during the month with perhaps 50 or so on Burton Marsh and Inner Marsh Farm.

Most winters we get a few Snow Buntings, either along the north Wirral coast, Hilbre or the Point of Ayr/Gronant area. If we are very lucky may be we will get a Shore Lark or two as well.

Many thanks go to  David Leeming, Bernard Machin, Mike Baron, Alan Jupp, Allan Hewitt, Frank Huband, David Esther, Dave and Emma Kenyon, Colin Schofield, John Campbell, Mark McBride, Matt Thomas, Dave Burt, Heather White, Neil Burns, Graham Jones, Charlie Fletcher, Clive Ashton, Pete Rogers, Paul Rutter, David Haigh, Stuart Lawrie, Colin Jones, Peter Williams, Charles Farnell, Steve Williams,  Chris Butterworth, Stephen Ainsworth, Dave Harrington,  Jane Turner, Allan Conlin, Mike Hart, Mal Smerdon, Dave Wilde, Andrew Jennings, Tanny Robinson, Steve Rodgers, John Boswell, Mark O'Sullivan, Steve Roberts, Colin Wells, Steve Round, Iain Douglas,  John and Andrew Morris, Paul Vautrinot, Neil Friswell, Kevin Smith, the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens  and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during October.  All sightings are gratefully received.

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Forthcoming Events
NEW - Wirral's Parks and Countryside Events and Activities Newsletter (Winter Edition) is now out. This is now a glossy publication full of great photographs including one on the front cover of a mass of Oystercatchers in flight. You can pick up a free copy from the Visitor Centre, Thurstaston Country Park.

November Highest Spring Tides, also see Tides page.
15th November, 10:26hrs 9.4m. Times GMT.
16th November, 11:07hrs 9.5m.
17th November, 11:45hrs 9.4m.

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 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.

Sunday 6th November, 10:30am - 2pm, Discover Heswall's Heaths and Woods.
Join the Ranger for a leisurely circular ramble over heaths, woodlands and along country lanes. Stout footwear and appropriate clothing are essential. This event is suitable for all the family. Sorry no dogs. Booking essential, tel. 0151 648 4371/3884.

Saturday 19th November, 8am - 9.30am, Super Seaducks.
West Kirby Marine Lake is becoming known as a top birding spot in the winter months. Join the Rangers on a guided walk around the lake to see sea ducks sheltering from the stormy seas and the many wading birds that feed on the rich estuary mud. Warm waterproof clothing and binoculars are essential. Sorry no dogs. No need to book. Meet at Dee Lane Slipway, West Kirby. Grid ref SJ210868. For more details, tel. 0151 648 4371/3884.

Saturday 19th November, 10:00am, Banks Road Birdwatch at Heswall.
One of the best places on the estuary to get close-up views of a variety of waders including black-tailed godwit, knot, redshank and curlew as they amass along the banks of the Heswall Gutter (HW 12:56, 8.9 m). Meet at Banks Road car park, Lower Heswall, near Sheldrake’s Restaurant. For more details, tel. 0151 648 4371/3884.

Sunday 20th November, 3:00pm, 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 3rd December, 9:30am, Flint High Tide Birdwatch.
Join the RSPB Warden for great views across the RSPB reserve at Oakenholt. Marvel at the spectacular aerial display of the masses of waders that are disturbed from their roosting site on the saltmarsh by the rising tide. Expect to see black-tailed godwit, knot, dunlin and twite. Please bring Wellingtons (HW 12:05, 9.3m). No need to book. Meet at Flint Lifeboat Station car park. For further
information, contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Saturday 3rd December, 10:00am - 3pm, Connah's Quay Reserve Open Day..
Another chance to have a look at this great little reserve which is run by the Dee Naturalists' Society. (HW 12:05, 9.3m). Well worth combining a visit here with the high tide birdwatch at Flint above. The main hide overlooks the RSPB reserve at Oakenholt where thousands of waders roost at high tide. Tea and biscuits are laid on in the visitor centre where there are also toilets.

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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