Grey Wagtail by Leasowe Lighthouse,
September 25th © David Haigh
September 2014 saw a large passage of Grey Wagtails through our area,
one of the largest recorded in recent times. The graph below
demonstrates how good a year it was at Red Rocks and the highest daily
count of 26, on Sep 5th, was the largest recorded there since
least the 1960's, the previous highest being 22.
But it wasn't just Red Rocks which saw
with a lot of birds also recorded at both Heswall and Leasowe
Lighthouse. Although numbers at Hilbre weren't
quite so spectacular they still had the third highest total for the
past 12 years there (my Hilbre data for Sep 2014 may not be complete so
counts could have been higher). In total 327 birds were recorded in
September at these four sites, a small amount of duplication may have
occurred but coverage was by no means complete so far more
have been missed than counted twice.
So why was this year's autumn passage
so good? The
most obvious factor was the fabulous weather we had all September, and
the literature indicates a strong link between a good passage and good
weather, I quote Sharrock
in British Birds "The
majority of Grey Wagtail movements occur with the extension of
anticyclonic conditions or, more rarely, when weak low
systems produce rather similar conditions of light winds and
fairlyclear skies ".
The other good passage in recent years was on Hilbre in 2002 when the
September total there was 150 and I quote from that year's Cheshire and
Wirral Bird Report "most
days were sunny and clear with easterlies for much of the time".
also helps that they migrate in daylight and, unlike many
species which fly high in good
they typically fly at less than 10 metres making
identification relatively easy. Recent studies have shown the vast
of these Grey Wagtails which migrate along the coast in autumn are
juveniles so breeding success is another very important factor and they
had an excellent breeding season in 2014.
The graph from Red Rocks shows just how
concentrated migration is from mid-August to mid-October, with very few
in the spring passage and this is typical of most coastal sites.
However, Hilbre appears to be an exception with a relatively large
numbers in spring and these are likely to be adults crossing Liverpool
Bay, or possibly right across the Irish Sea.
But even on Hilbre it is the movement
of juveniles in the autumn which form most of the records and it is
interesting to compare the numbers with the closely related Yellow
Wagtail which shows a much more typical pattern with records
concentrated in spring.
A big difference between the two
species is that the Yellow Wagtail is
fully migratory, wintering in tropical Africa, whereas Grey Wagtails
are partial migrants with many just undergoing altitudinal movements,
particularly during cold weather. In fact, surprisingly little is known
about Grey Wagtail migration but it does seem that in this country the
majority of the adults are largely sedentary and it is the young birds
of the year which move comparatively long distances. Many birds
probably just move to the south of the UK but ringing records indicate
others fly as
far as Portugal, in addition there is some evidence that some
the continent either move to, or move through, this country during
On Mar 3rd 2014 a ringed Grey
Wagtail was found dead at Parkgate and it gives an intriguing hint of
where these birds come from. It was ringed as a nestling on
May 25th 2013 in Moy which is close to Inverness, thus showing just how
far these juveniles fly on their way south. The fact that it was found
so early in the year, i.e. before the start of the spring migration,
probably means it spent the winter in our area.
Grey Wagtail at
Burton Mere Wetlands, October 5th
© Elliot Monteith
Colour Ringing at Heysham
For the past four years a programme of
individual colour ringing of Grey Wagtails has been carried out by
Heysham Bird Observatory and a remarkable total of 550 have been ringed
including 160 in 2014. All but one of these were
We have seen a
few of these
colour-ringed birds both on the Dee estuary and the
surrounding area with sightings at Connah's Quay, Appleton (near
Widnes) and Seaforth Nature Reserve. Other interesting records include
a Wiltshire sewage farm, a garden pond near Wolverhampton and on
Island, plus several which spent the winter in the Morecambe Bay
area. So far no records from either continental Europe or on their
breeding grounds. Photo left, Colour-ringed Grey Wagtail at Seaforth
Nature Reserve by Steve Young.
The following ring combinations are
LEFT LEG - a metal BTO ring plus a
colour. It is important to note whether the colour is above or below
the metal ring
RIGHT LEG - TWO colour rings. Some are easier to see than others e.g.
we have had to use grey. All are 'one tone per colour' apart from green
and blue where there are very distinctive dark and light options so
please specify if your sighting includes green or blue. We also use two
of the same colour as part of our sequencing so you might see a 'long
single colour'. From our experience, white and light blue can be quite
tricky to separate in the field, so please take care here.
Please report any colour-ringed Grey
Wagtails to Pete Marsh at PMrsh123@aol.com
, please could you copy myself, Richard Smith - - I can
then add it to the Dee Estuary Colour-ringed Birds database, many
1. J.T.R. Sharrock, Grey Wagtail
Passage in Britain in 1956-60, British Birds 57:1, 10-23.
2. Birds of the Western Palearctic, BWPi - Interactive version (2003 -
3. BTO Migration Atlas, 2002.
4. Cheshire Bird Report 2002, CAWOS.
5. CAWOS Records 2001 to 2013.
6. Red Rocks Database (Jane Turner).
7. Leasowe and Wirral Birding Blog - lighthousebirding.blogspot.co.uk.
8. Hilbre Bird Observatory Blog
9. J.D. Craggs (Ed), Hilbre The
Cheshire Island, Liverpool Universty Press, 1982.
10. Pers. comm. Pete Marsh, Heysham
Bird Observatory, October 2014.
go to everyone who have sent me their records in particular: Jane
Turner from Red Rocks, Steve Hinde from Heswall Shore and David Haigh
from Leasowe Lighthouse.
* Red Rocks records go back as far as 1967 but not all years are in the
also coverage at Red Rocks and the other sites mentioned does differ
from day to day and year to year so some caution should be used when
interpreting the graphs. However, I have no doubt that the story the
graphs tell does represent the true picture.
Grey Wagtail in
the River Birket, October 16th
© David Haigh
Colour Ring Report
Starting top left and
clockwise: 1. Black-tailed Godwit YW-LW (Richard Smith)
2. Black-tailed Godwit Y-YO//W (Richard Smith) 3.
Black-tailed Godwit LR-B//B
(Matt Thomas) 4. Grey Wagtail Rm-YB, at Seaforth (Chris Gregson).
20 different colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwits were recorded during
October, either at Gilroy Nature Reserve (West Kirby) or Thurstaston
Shore. We saw some interesting movements with several of the
godwits first heading to the east/south-east of the country after
arriving back from Iceland before flying back north-west to the Dee
Estuary. The large numbers of gulls along north Wirral included a few
ringed ones, unfortunately the two I saw weren't near enough to read
but thanks to Manu Santa-Cruz four were successfully recorded (we are
still waiting for feedback for one of these).
Details of the three godwits shown in the photographs:
on the Wash as an adult on Aug 8th 1998 which makes this bird
at least 18 years old.
Recorded at Gilroy
NR, West Kirby, in October 2014.
Between 1999 and 2003 this bird mainly visited sites in Lancashire and
first visited the Dee estuary in January 2004. Apart from a few visits
to the Wash and the Ouse Washes the bird has been seen back on the Dee
estuary every winter from 2006, usually turning up in November and
leaving in January - it has become a regular on Thurstaston shore. In
2014 it visited the Wash in August before turning up at Gilroy on Oct
21st which is the earliest we have seen it after the breeding season.
ringed on the Wash as an adult on Aug 13th 2010.
Recorded at both Gilroy
NR, West Kirby, and Thurstaston shore in October 2014.
First record after ringing was at Inner Marsh Farm on August 26th 2012.
It then turned up at Thurstaston shore in October and early
November 2013. The following February it was in Portugal before being
seen in the Netherlands on March 16th 2014, a route many birds follow.
There were two records in September 2014 from the Wash before it flew
west to the Dee estuary.
ringed in Montrose Basin, Scotland as a juvenile on October
Recorded six times at Gilroy Nature Park, West Kirby, in October 2014.
We call this 'the Scottish bird' for obvious reasons, we have seen
other bird ringed in Scotland but this is our only regular one. For the
first winter and early spring after ringing it stayed in the Montrose
Basin before heading south to Northumberland on May 18th 2012 where it
probably spent the summer. It was at Burton Mere Wetlands on August 6th
2012 and it has been a regular on the English side of the Dee estuary
ever since with no records elsewhere.
letters on Orange ring. Ringed as a chick on June 30th 2012 at
Tillypronie, Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
Recorded on East Hoyle Bank (north Wirral) on September 27th 2014. No
Yellow letters on Black ring. Ringed as a chick on July 7th 2006 on the
Recorded on East Hoyle Bank (north Wirral) on September 27th 2014. No
letters on Blue ring. Ringed as a chick on June 11th 2012 at Killington
Recorded on East Hoyle Bank (north Wirral) on September 17th 2014. No
metal ring, P = bright pink). Ringed as a juvenile at Middleton Nature
Reserve (near Heysham) on September 12th 2014.
Recorded at Connah's Quay Reserve on October 27th 2014 (present for at
least a week prior to that). No other records.
Photo above is not of this bird which is of a bird at Seaforth Nature
Reserve in 2013.
Richard Smith and Matt
Colour-ringed birds were also recorded by Steve Hinde, Manu
Santa Cruz, Peter Haslem, Richard Beckett, Colin Jones, John Jakeman
and David Platt.
October Bird News
Pink-footed Geese coming in to land at Burton Marsh at sunset, October
© Andy Davis.
It wasn't a Leach's Petrel free autumn
after all but
we only got a handful with about four on the 21st and five the next
day. More unexpected were a couple of Storm Petrels on the same dates,
late for this species. The gales brought in Sabine's Gulls at
Brighton, Hoylake and Point of Ayr, we also got Little Gulls,
Kittiwakes, Great Skuas and Arctic Skuas. There were several late Manx
Shearwaters on the same dates and these
were some of the latest ever recorded, although we have had them as
late as December 9th after prolonged southerly gales. A Grey
Phalarope sat on the groyne at Meols on the 24th.
prolonged mild weather and southerly winds meant many other species
were late leaving, including: a Swift at New Brighton on 18th with a
Swift spp over West Kirby on 21st; a Swallow over Leasowe Lighthouse on
30th; a Grasshopper Warbler heard but not seen (so only a 'probable')
on Caldy Hill on 20th.
Redshank on the rocks at West Kirby Marine Lake, October 24th
No mega rarities this October but we did get two Cetti's Warblers
at Red Rocks, a Velvet Scoter off North Wirral, the Cattle Egret which
has taken up residence at Burton Mere Wetlands, a Yellow-browed Warbler
at Hoylake and a Siberian Chiffchaff at Red Rocks with a probable at
There were at least three Hen Harriers
adult grey male and two ringtails, plus a female and at least one
juvenile Marsh Harrier.
There were three Curlew Sandpipers on
Hoylake shore on the 6th with one also at Heswall, then later in the
month a single was present at Burton Mere Wetlands on several days,
there were also a few reports of single Little Stints. On the 10th
there was an amazing 4,900 Black-tailed Godwits at Gilroy
Reserve, West Kirby, and good numbers were present all month there. A
remarkable record was of 29 Greenshank on Hoylake shore on the 7th, a
site record, they only stayed a short while before heading into the
There was some visible migration
through the month including 1,880 Chaffinches and a Hawfinch at Red
Rocks with several hundred Fieldfares, Redwings and Starlings at the
end of the month.
Grey Plover on Hoylake Shore, October 9th
© Charles Farnell
thanks go to Derek Bates, John Jakeman, Jane
Mal Seargant, Matt
Thomas, Julie Rogers, Richard Beckett, Chris
Butterworth, David Peate, Steve
Hinde, Glen Morris, Roy Lowry, Allan Conlin, Andy Davis,
Haigh, Alan Irving, David Leeming, Jeremy
Bradshaw, Peter Haslem, Alan Hitchmough, Steve
Farnell, Mark Gibson, Dave Edwards, Chris Wilding, Colin
Mike Buckley, David Small, Elliot Montieth, Steve Edwards,
Damian Waters, David Wilson, Mark Evans, Mark Turner, Ian Fleming, Stan
Skelton, Chris Tynan, Glyn Roberts, Dan Trotman, Manu Santa-Cruz, Alan
Kirkham, Paul Whitehead, Pat Cassells, Pete Button, Anne Sykes, Paul
Shenton, Sid Ashton, Gail Wilson, Yvonne Taylor, Eddie Williams, the Lighthouse
and Wirral Birding Blog
and the Hilbre Bird
for their sightings during October. All
are gratefully received.
What to expect in November
If we are going to have
Waxwing winter we should know this month as they will be streaming into
Scotland - but chances are we won't. Because we've had three very good
winters for this fabulous species in the past ten years people think
that's the norm, when the reality is that we've been very lucky and we
would normally expect good numbers in our part of the world no more
then once every 10 or 20
Wader numbers will increase this month and we should
get good numbers of Dunlin, Knot and Sanderling roosting at Hoylake,
West Kirby and Point of Ayr at high tide. There could be as many as 20
Purple Sandpipers on the pontoon on New Brighton Marine Lake during
spring high tides with similar numbers at Hilbre. Given a cold spell
Thurstaston Shore at low tide can give fabulous views of Pintail,
Shelduck, Teal, Knot and Black-tailed Godwits.
was poor for Short-eared Owls so lets hope it's better this winter,
although unfortunately there are no big high tides forecast to flush
them from the marsh. Also expect to see hundreds (hopefully thousands!)
of Pink-footed Geese on the marshes together with several Hen Harriers
and hopefully a Marsh Harrier will spend the winter. Brent Geese on
Hilbre will increase to around 200, these can often be seen off the
marsh at West Kirby at high tide.
One or two Snow Buntings
should be seen on Hilbre and along north Wirral and sometimes we can
get a small flock on the shingle at Point of Ayr.
Spring Tides (Liverpool)
7th November, 10.59hrs (GMT), 9.6m.
8th November, 11.39hrs (GMT), 9.6m.
Organised by the Wirral
Ranger Service , Flintshire
Countryside Service and the
RSPB (Dee Estuary):
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 2014 Events Diary.
Saturday 8th November – 10:00 am start, High tide Birdwatch - King's Gap, Hoylake
the Coastal Rangers, the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens and the RSPB on
this high tide birdwatch at Hoylake to see large numbers of waders as
they gather and roost on the shore.
With a rising tide, we
should see the birds at close quarters as they roost and
Beginners welcome. Dress warmly and bring binoculars if you
There is no need to book. High tide is at 11.21 am and height 9.6m.
Meet at King’s Gap, King’s Parade, Hoylake.
For further information please telephone Wirral Country Park on (0151)
Sunday 30th November, Skydancers on the Dee Estuary - Donkey Stand, Parkgate
12noon - dusk
people have never seen a hen harrier, but once seen it is rarely
forgotten. In support of the RSPB's Skydancer project, we are pleased
to bring you a series of events to showcase these enigmatic birds of
prey which use the marshes of the Dee Estuary as their home for the
The name "Skydancer" comes from the aerobatic
displays that the male birds perform in their courtship ritual on the
moors in the spring. Sadly, this has become an increasingly rare sight
and they are close to becoming extinct as a breeding species in England.
could be the last chance to see Skydancers on the Dee, so come along to
Parkgate to find out more about the hen harrier story and what you can
do to help save them before it's too late! Look for the RSPB marquee
along the main promenade at Parkgate, where friendly staff and
volunteers will be on hand with telescopes and binoculars to show you
these beautiful, agile birds hunting over the marsh, and coming in to
roost there at dusk. Plenty of family activities and other RSPB
information will be available.
For more information on the RSPB's Skydancer project, visit
Directions: The "Donkey Stand" opposite Nicholls Ice-cream shop on The
Parade (B5135), Parkgate, Cheshire.