Site Guide - Red Rocks Marsh Nature Reserve
article was originally written by Jane Turner for the Bird Forum website
www.birdforum.net in 2004 and she has
kindly agreed to let me reproduce it here. I have left it virtually
untouched from the original so when Jane writes 'this year' or 'this autumn'
she is referring to 2004, not 2007! September and, in particular, October
2007 have been
spectacular at Red Rocks even by the standards of this superb site (with
many records supplied by Jane) - see the October bird
news below. Thanks Jane.
I've been birding
here for just short of 30 years, here is some insider knowledge....
With 270 accepted species of bird, it has the biggest list of anywhere in
Cheshire & Wirral. It is primarily a site for visible passage, being located
at the NW corner of a peninsula. Regardless of season nearly all birds
observed are moving south. The major paradox of the site is that the
conditions that are most likely to produce a good bird are also most likely
to mean it will be a fleeting visit. I know a lot of people who have never
seen a good bird at Red Rocks. That is because they turn up mid afternoon
after the news hits the local bird lines. Unless it's raining, foggy or the
bird is an Acrocephalus warbler or perhaps a pipit, it is long gone.
It’s a great place to find your own birds though. Here is a summary of what
you can see and when to go.
Early Spring. The first sign that spring is coming will be a movement
of Meadow Pipits. 3-500 a day are not unusual. It usually a race between
White Wagtail and Wheatear for the first “proper” spring migrant. The golf
course and the garden of the last house on the north side of Stanley Rd are
the best places to see an early Wheatear, while the Wagtails are invariably
on the beach. It not unusual to get counts of more than 50 White Wagtails
and the record is more than 200. All common migrants can be seen and the
site is particularly good for Tree Pipit. The Ivy-filled hollow just south
of the Poplar stand is a top spot for Ring Ouzel, though you will have to be
Autumn. Whereas the bulk of migrants move through in late August and
early September, like in spring it is the later passage that can produce
rarities. In general there are far fewer birds on autumn passage than in
spring, presumably something to do with the local geography. Once again
almost anything can turn up. Great-spotted and Black-billed Cuckoo, Greenish
Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler is almost regular (3-5 this year) Richard’s
pipit (7) Red-throated Pipit (3) and Red-rumped Swallow. The best birds ever
to grace the site were both unfortunately not specifically identified. An
Eastern or Western Wood Pewee and a Summer or Scarlet Tanager! This autumn
was quiet, though there was a Richard’s pipit and a Great Grey Shrike which
confounded me by staying nearly 24 hours! Despite the rarities, the most
impressive aspect of autumn birding at Red Rocks is the overhead passage at
dawn. Counts of 1000+ finches are not unusual and occasionally there are
enormous thrush movements. I remember dutifully completing a coordinated
migration watch, clocking up 11,250 redwings and 8000 Fieldfares knowing
full well that there was a Song Sparrow at Seaforth! A feature of Red Rocks
is an extraordinary passage of tits. Counts of 300+ Blue and 200+ Coal tit
have been made, with birds collecting on the point houses and making
exploratory flights out to sea. These flocks are always worth checking out
for Phylloscopus warblers. Sea-watching in autumn is good, though to be
honest the point is terribly exposed in conditions conducive to big numbers
of Skuas and petrels, and I’d recommend either Hilbre where the birds are
closer or a warm car at Leasowe! I’d dearly love to have been sea-watching
the day a Gyr Falcon came in off the sea.
PM - passage migrant, W - winter visitor, Su - summer visitor.
* since Jane wrote this the Natterjack Toads have made something of a recovery thanks to habitat management and protection by the Wirral Rangers and Cheshire Wildlife Trust.
October Bird News
A very good September was followed by an even better October - a superb month! The hoped for easterly winds certainly brought in some rather interesting birds.
The star bird was
the Radde's Warbler pictured below (photo by Neil McLaren), which
stayed for one day on the 16th along Lingham Lane, south of
Lighthouse. This species breeds across northern Asia and usually
migrates to Burma and Indochina for the winter, so it was a long way from
home. This is the first record for Cheshire and Wirral, and indeed for the
whole of North Wales and North-west England, apart from one bird on Bardsey Island last year. Most sightings in this country have been either
in north Norfolk or the Scilly Islands.
We've not finished with Red Rocks yet! Jane Turner looked out of her window overlooking Hoylake Shore on the morning of the 15th to see the sky full of finches. Knowing how good Red Rocks would be in these conditions she hot-footed down there. Between 08:15 and 11:00am she counted 7,360 Chaffinches, 524 Siskin, 87 Brambling, 1 Snow Bunting, 1 Firecrest and numerous other birds, all heading south. Given that she missed the peak passage of chaffinches she estimated well over 10,000 must have gone over that morning. There has only ever been one other count equivalent to this in Cheshire and Wirral when over 10,000 flew over Heswall Fields on Oct 20th 2004. Looking back over the old reports I reckon 524 Siskins is the highest ever count for Cheshire and Wirral, although "several hundred" were reported over wintering in Delamere Forest in 1990 and over the past few winters up to 400 have been counted in Macclesfield Forest. It was a truly spectacular visible migration for those lucky enough to see it. There were several more days of good migration at Red Rocks, although nothing like the 15th; on the 19th a Ring Ouzel was on the golf course and 3 Raven flew over. A Black Redstart was in the garden of Red Rocks Nursing Home on 25th with 24 Gannets off shore a good count for late September, a Firecrest was present over the next couple of days. A female Long-tailed Duck was off Red Rocks on the high tide of the 28th. Phew.......
The Firecrests at Red Rocks weren't the only ones, on the 7th singles were in a garden in Hoylake, in the sand dunes in West Kirby and along Park Lane in Meols. Two were in Grange Cemetery in West Kirby two days later. Away from Red Rocks the visible migration wasn't nearly as good but 1,743 Jackdaws and 5 Ravens flying along Heswall ridge on the 24th was something very much out of the ordinary. Also unusual were 100 Song Thrushes flying south over Thurstaston on the 20th.
A Red-breasted Flycatcher was yet another good rarity, this was trapped and ringed on Hilbre on the 8th. Not quite as rare but still good to see was a Great Grey Shrike on Hoylake Langfields present from 21st to 23rd. The best of the rest were four Lapland Buntings at Point of Ayr on 3rd, one Great White Egret at Inner Marsh Farm on 4th, a Hoopoe in Meols on 6th, a Yellow-browed Warbler on the Hoylake Langfields on 10th with another by Leasowe Lighthouse on 16th, one Grey Phalarope flew west past Hilbre on 17th, a Velvet Scoter was off West Kirby on 25th, two Slavonian Grebes off Hilbre on 26th with another one off West Kirby the following day and lastly an Eagle Owl in Pensby on 31st. Wow....
Then there's the usual birds - a few Ospreys and Marsh Harriers moving south, and Hen Harriers coming in for the winter. 7 Spotted Redshank, 20 Greenshank, 3,000 Black-tailed Godwit and a Snow Bunting have been at Connah's Quay. A Long-tailed Duck (fem) and 150 Razorbill were off Hilbre on 25th. 192 Great Crested Grebes were off North Wirral on 14th.
What to expect in November
Numbers of Brent Geese will increase rapidly, last year we had 40 by the 6th increasing to 70 by the end of the month. These will be mainly of the light-bellied race which mostly winter in Ireland, best seen on Hilbre at low tide or around Little Eye at high tide; sometimes the birds fly across to Point of Ayr or down to Heswall Marsh at high tide. Other wildfowl should be present in good numbers, including Pintail, Wigeon and Teal but Shelduck counts are likely to be much smaller than they were in October. Both Bewick's and Whooper Swans will be seen in increasing numbers on both Shotwick Fields and Burton Marsh, they often use Inner Marsh Farm as a roost. Goldeneye and Red-breasted Mergansers will be on West Kirby Marine Lake and out on the estuary, particularly if we get some cold still weather.
We often get large numbers of Knot, Dunlin, Grey Plover and Bar-tailed Godwits in November, see them at Hoylake, West Kirby and Point of Ayr at high tide, or feeding off Leasowe and Thurstaston at low tide. The much rarer Purple Sandpiper will be on view on Hilbre, max count in Nov last year was 22, up to 10 or so often roost in the rocks with turnstones just below Wallasey Life-guard Station.
On the marshes both Hen Harriers and Short-eared Owls will be present. Last winter was poor for the latter, probably due to the lack of small rodents, hopefully these have now recovered in numbers.
Many thanks go to Richard Steel, Neil McLaren, David Cookson, Phil Hilton, Paul Vautrinot, tom Morton, Adrian Foster, Jeff Stephens, David Esther, Mike Ward, Stuart Taylor, Tanny Robinson, Mike Hart, Chris Wilding, David Haigh, Derek Rice, David Harrington, Iain Douglas, Allan Conlin, John Ferguson, Dave Wild, Leon Castell, Steve Round, Steve Williams, Chris Butterworth, Jane Turner, Charles Farnell, Paul Shenton, Gilbert Bolton, Damian Waters, Stephen Ainsworth, Mark Turner, Colin Wells, Steve Wrigley, Kevin Smith, Ian Dyer, Malcolm Smerdon, Mike Gavin, Nigel Young, Nick Moss, David Small, Allan Patterson, Peter Newman, Chris Batey, Steve Ramsay, Mike Cocking, John Rowlands, Bill Potts, Norman Hallas, Dave Edwards, Paul Roberts, Paul Mason, Steve Hassell, Maureen Thomas, Paul Rutter, Jon Greep, James Astley, the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during October. All sightings are gratefully received.
Spring Tides (Liverpool),
Forthcoming Events (organised by the
Wirral Ranger Service,
Flintshire Countryside Service and/or the RSPB):
Sunday 18th November, 2.00pm.
Parkgate Raptor Watch RSPB Dee Estuary Reserve.
Sunday 18th November, 10.30am – 11.30am & 2pm – 3pm.
Sunday 25th November, 9.30am start, high tide at 11am.
Wader Watch at Kings Gap, Hoylake.
Sunday 9th December, 10.30am – 3pm, Winter Woodland
Walk in Royden Park and Thurstaston Hill.
Sunday 9th December, 10.30am – 12noon, A Stroll around
Tuesday 11th December, 9am – 12noon, Birdwatch at
15th December, 11am start,
High Tide at Point of Ayr RSPB Dee Estuary Nature Reserve.
NOTE: Many of these forthcoming events are extracted from the 'Birdwatchers Diary 2007', 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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