Dee Estuary Newsletter

1st November 2006
A Golden Age for Raptors - Part 2.
October Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
Latest Newsletter.

A Golden Age for Raptors - Part 2

Richard Smith

You might not remember Part 1 as it was back in July 2003, when I did Peregrine and Buzzard. A remarkable tale of the huge increase in numbers of these species in our area, particularly of the Buzzard. This current article is about Red Kites and Ospreys, very different as these species don't breed in our area but are either, in the case of Red Kites, just wanderers from their breeding grounds or, in the case of Ospreys, passage migrants. However both species have seen large increases over the past forty years after recovering from extinction/near extinction as breeding birds in this country. You will see below whether this big rise in breeding pairs in the country as a whole is reflected in an increase in sightings in our area. I should note that I've never seen a Red Kite over the Dee Estuary area, and have seen just one Osprey. So despite their increase they are still rare birds, indeed, the Red Kite is still an official county rarity in Wirral and Cheshire (but not in Clwyd) - so if you see one please send in a description!

As for the previous article I've covered the whole of Wirral and Cheshire in the discussion. Unfortunately Flintshire/Clwyd has not always published annual bird reports so coverage for here is far less comprehensive, and my collection only goes back as far as 1989. The total annual number of birds in the graphs below should be treated with some caution as it wasn't always clear from the Reports exactly how many birds were involved, and I've also included some records not supported by descriptions. However, I'm confident the figures I've ended up with are reasonably close to the true number. 

Red Kite:  

Going back to the 18th century Red Kites were breeding birds in Cheshire, but persecution and more hygienic means of waste disposal across the country meant they were eventually reduced to a small remnant population in mid-Wales. There were only eight records in Cheshire for the whole of the 19th century, and none in the 20th until well after the second world war(1). By the 1960's the Welsh population was down to no more than 20 pairs, it was at this time the RSPB and the then Nature Conservancy put in a big effort to protect the remaining birds. Progress was slow at first but it has now paid big dividends with 500 breeding pairs in 2005(2).

Right - Red Kite at Gigrin Farm, mid-Wales. They are fed here daily and it is a spectacular sight! Steve Round ©

The graph above, which shows numbers of Red Kites seen annually in Wirral and Cheshire from 1964 to 2005, follows the rise in numbers in Wales remarkably closely(3). In Wales the Kites have increased 25 fold over this period, and in Wirral and Cheshire (taking the average of  1964/67 compared with the average of 2002/05) sightings have increased 24 times! Up until 1993 all 20th century birds in Wirral and Cheshire had stayed no more than a day, but that year one arrived at Tatton Park in November and stayed until April 1995. That is still the longest staying bird in recent times with most hanging around no more than two or three days. The fact that these sightings follow the Welsh increase closely more than likely means that is where most of our birds come from. But there are re-introduction schemes across the country with Yorkshire (just north of Leeds), with 33 breeding pairs in 2005(4), and the East Midlands, with 52 breeding pairs in 2005(5), being the closest. These locations are equidistant from the Cheshire border, they are a bit more distant then the Welsh breeding area but even so it is likely that we get the occasional birds from these two areas. Both schemes are doing well with breeding pairs both increasing in numbers and range.

Numbers in Clwyd showed a similar increase to that seen in Wirral and Cheshire with just two birds in 1989 and 15 in 2003, a pair actually bred in Clwyd in 2003.

So with both the Welsh and English Red Kites increasing in numbers every year we can expect to see more over here, and I might even see one! It's surely just a matter of time before we have them breeding again in Cheshire.


Of the nine Wirral and Cheshire records from the beginning of the 19th century until the first World War six were of shot birds(1). When you consider this was going on throughout the country it is no surprise that this species ceased to exist as a breeding bird. But they returned to breed in Scotland in the 1950s and the number of breeding pairs have increased ever since. As shown by the graph below it is pleasing to see this increase has accelerated since the mid-1980s, and there are now breeding pairs in the Lake District and Porthmadog, both within an easy two hours drive from the Dee Estuary.

Right - This Osprey spent several days at Downholland Moss, Lancs, in Aug/Sep 2004. Steve Round ©

Data taken from with their permission.

The birds we see here are either on their way north in the spring, or south, back to West Africa, in late summer and autumn. The vast majority will be birds which breed in Scotland, although some Scandinavian breeding birds probably also pass through. We also get the occasional summer visitor, perhaps immature birds looking for future nest sites. In 1998 one stayed in the Tatton Park/Rostherne Mere area from June 3rd to July 23rd, and in 2005 one was in the Fiddler's Ferry area from June 26th to July 25th. About 75% of records are in spring with the earliest usually appearing late March and the latest late September/early October.

As with the Red Kite the increase in Osprey sightings in Wirral and Cheshire follows closely the rise in breeding pairs in the country. Since 1976 at least one bird has been seen per year and currently we expect to record at least 15. Slightly smaller numbers are observed in Clwyd with five in 1999 and eight in 2003 being typical totals. There are no records of Ospreys ever breeding in Wirral and Cheshire but the Cheshire Meres, and Dee and Mersey Estuaries, would surely provide plenty of food for a pair or two if they did ever decide to breed, it will make for an interesting article in a future Bird Report!

1. T. Hedley Bell, The Birds of Cheshire, 1962.
2. .
4. .
5. .

Cheshire and Wirral Bird Reports 1964 to 2005.
Clwyd Bird Reports, various between 1989 and 2003.

Richard Smith.

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October Bird News

Leach's Petrels, for which our Liverpool Bay coasts are famous, have been few and far between this autumn. But we did get some early on in the month with a max of 12 off Hilbre on the 7th, along with 14 Manx Shearwaters and 2,000 Common Scoter. Five Pomarine Skuas flying west along the North Wirral coast on the 4th was the the pick of this month's seawatching. There were also 100 Great Crested Grebes off Hoylake Shore on 22nd and, more unusually, five Goosanders flew past Leasowe Lighthouse on 1st.

Most of the month seemed to be dominated by southerly winds and mild weather which appeared to slow up any migration. There were plenty of Gannets around all month and a Sandwich Tern on Hoylake shore on 23rd was the latest record for 10 years. Two late swallows flew over West Kirby on 30th but we still await any significant visible migration with just a trickle of Redwings and Fieldfares so far.

The Richard's Pipit which first appeared at West Kirby at the end of last month reappeared on the 8th, but was very elusive and seen briefly just four more times, lastly on the 17th. There were three reports of single Snow buntings; at Heswall, Hilbre and Gronant. A Yellow-browed Warbler spent most of the 16th on Hilbre Island.

The drake Green-winged Teal at Inner Marsh Farm RSPB gave some great views from the hide on many days during the month. Three dark-bellied Brent geese were on Little Eye on 8th.

Richard Steel ©, A Curlew near Leasowe Lighthouse.

The previous day 12 Barnacle Geese flew along the North Wirral coast and landed on the mud off the Connah's Quay reserve - looking somewhat nervous. As these arrived just after a strong gale and at a time when thousands of Barnacle Geese would have been heading for the Solway Firth from Svalbard it is quite possible that these were wild birds. However, the vast majority of Barnacle Geese seen in our area are feral. 8,200 was the max count of Shelduck off Heswall, wader numbers remained high at this site with 3,840 Redshank, 2,100 Curlew and 10,000 Knot.

 Two Green Sandpipers were observed along Shotwick Brook and one was at Decca Pools, Burton Marsh. Wader passage at Hoylake has been very light, 124 Sanderling on 24th the only significant count. An Avocet had a rather unexpected amount of media interest when it turned up at the Deeside Naturalists' Society's Open Day at Connah's Quay. The media seemed to think it was a 'mega rarity', one report had it that there were "queues of twitchers" waiting to see it. Funny, I must have missed them. 

Steve Round ©, Two Ringed Plover and a Dunlin, Leasowe Shore, Oct 10th.

At least two Merlin and two Peregrine have been on the marshes, and a ringtail Hen Harrier has been seen several times hunting (I saw it take a Redshank in flight) and coming in to roost at Parkgate. There was also a full male Hen Harrier about but it was only seen twice coming in to the Parkgate roost site, I have a reliable report there were two males at Burton one day.

What to expect in November

Numbers of our over wintering birds should climb rapidly during the month. On Hilbre the pale-bellied Brent Geese will return, their numbers have increased dramatically over the past six years - we should get at least 50. The first of this winter's Bewick's Swans will return to Burton Marsh together with the usual small flock of Pink-footed Geese. Numbers of Teal, Pintail and Wigeon will be high, they often peak this month. Teal are easily seen at Heswall at any state of the tide, but many can be hiding in the channels; look out for the Hen Harriers quartering the marsh as they often flush hundreds. If the tide on the 5th and 6th is high enough to cover the marsh this will bring Pintail and Wigeon close to the shore, otherwise an excellent spot to see these is at low tide off Flint Point. Counts of Dunlin, Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit and Grey Plover will be considerably higher than in October, especially if we get a cold spell.

Left - Damian Waters ©, Oystercatchers at Thurstaston.

Heswall and Thurstaston Shore at half tide can be a superb place for Knot, together with Oystercatchers and Black-tailed Godwits. The high tide roosts at West Kirby, Hoylake and Point of Ayr will also make for a fantastic spectacle at this time of year.

We have had good numbers of both Hen Harriers and Short-eared Owls over the past few years. Hopefully this will continue, a full male Hen Harrier was seen a few times times in October, so lets hope it stays. Denhall Quay is an excellent place to see both species during the day, and of course Parkgate Old Baths car park is the place to be at dusk to see the Hen Harriers coming in to roost. Another species to look out for are Snow Buntings which may be seen almost anywhere but Wallasey (by lifeguard station), Hilbre, Point of Ayr and Gronant are favoured areas. Usually we just get one or two but in the winter of 98/99 there were 33 at Gronant for several weeks, so may be we are due for another big flock!

Many thanks go to Bill Owens, Ray Eades, Phil Woollen, Andrew Wallbank, Graeme Lowe, Antonius Plagge, Damian Waters, Michael Baron, Steve Menzie, Tanny Robinson, Dave Chandler, Kevin Hayes, Shaun Williams, Mark Turner, Paul Mason, Gilbert Bolton, Dave Harrington, Dave and Karen Leeming, Allan Conlin, Eric Robinson, Mike Hart, Mark Gibson, Andrew Jennings, Dave Wild, Bob Pilgrem, Colin Schofield, Steve Round, David Haigh, Graham Thompson, Steve Ainsworth, Steve Williams, Chris Butterworth,  Jane Turner, John Kirkland, Charles Farnell, Ian Dyer, Iain Douglas, Peter Twist, Garry Cottrel, Richard Steel, Richard Sturman, John Wright, Laura Bimson, Steve Wrigley, James Walsh, Bryan Joy, Steve Roberts, Mark Evans, Nigel Grice, Michael Coe, 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

November Highest Spring Tides, also see Tides page.
5th November, 10.38hrs 9.8m. GMT.
6th November, 11.21hrs 9.9m. GMT.

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.

Sunday 5th November, 9am, Rails of the River Bank, 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. Joint RSPB and Wirral Borough Council Ranger Service event. Meet
at Riverbank Road car park which overlooks the Dee Estuary RSPB Reserve at Lower Heswall. (HW 10.38, 9.8m). No need to book. For further details contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Wednesday 8th November, 9.30am start, Wader Watch at King's Gap, Hoylake.
Join members of the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens and the Coastal Rangers for a morning of birdwatching over the mouth of the Dee Estuary and North Wirral Foreshore. Warm waterproof clothing are essential and please bring binoculars if you have them. No need to book. Meet at the Parks and Countryside Areas Mobile Information Unit which will be parked at the end of King's Gap on Hoylake Parade. For further information ring 0151 678 5488.

Sunday 19th November, 10am - 12noon, Feed the Birds at Royden Park.
Help feed the birds and enjoy a morning watching the birds visiting Royden Park. This event is suitable for all the the family to enjoy. Sorry no dogs. No need to book. Meet at the Ranger's Office, next to the Walled Garden, Royden Park. For further information ring 0151 677 7594.

Saturday 25th November, 10:30am, Banks Road Birdwatch, 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 13:43, 8.6m). Joint event with RSPB. Meet at Banks Road car park, Lower Heswall, near Sheldrake’s Restaurant. For more details, tel. 0151 648 4371/3884.

Sunday 26th November, 3pm, Parkgate Raptor Watch.
Come along and watch birds of prey with the experts. See the graceful hen harriers coming in to 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 Dee Estuary RSPB Reserve at Parkgate, close to The Boathouse pub. For further details contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Sunday 26th November, 2pm – 3.30pm, Funky Finches at Wirral Country Park.
Come down to Wirral Country Park and see the birds feeding from our bird hide and make a feeder to take home to help our feathered friends now times are getting tough. This event is always popular so book early.
Booking essential: (0151) 648 4371/3884.

Saturday 9th December, 11am, 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 13:50, 8.7m).
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 2006', 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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