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November 2017 Newsletter

Book Review: Rare and Scarce Birds in C&W.
Colour Ring Report.
October Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
Latest Newsletter.


Rare and Scarce Birds of Cheshire & Wirral

                                        Above is copy of the Back Cover of the book, illustration by Ray Scally

The Rare and Scarce Birds of Cheshire & Wirral by Allan Conlin and Eddie Williams has now been published. It is available at the Reception Hide at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands, at the Focalpoint Optics shop (close to junction 10 of M56 - see, or by post. The cost is 24.99 + 3.95 P&P, to order please email

This is 248 pages of delight for all birders with an interest in the birds of Cheshire and Wirral and many of you will know the authors who, being keen local birders and well known finders of some mega rarities themselves, are well qualified to write such a book.

North Wirral is internationally famous as the best place in Europe to see Leach's Petrel and it is certainly appropriate that the first chapter in the book is about Sea-watching. The second chapter is a fascinating look at the changing status of several species including Cattle Egret and Yellow-browed Warbler, which is followed by a Site Guide detailing the most important sites in Cheshire and Wirral. The bulk of the book, of course, is the comprehensive Species Accounts. I love that the authors have included so many scarce birds as well as the rarities, so, for example, we have accounts of both Balearic Shearwater and Leach's Petrel, of Western Sandpiper and Grey Phalarope, of Radde's Warbler and Firecrest. This makes the book a much more rounded and comprehensive read. Included with the species accounts are various Finder's Accounts and these are perhaps the most interesting parts of the book giving an insight into what it takes to find a mega-rarity - dedication, expertise, perseverance, luck.................

I end, with permission of the authors, with two short extracts. The first a site guide to an area much loved by the authors, and the second the Sooty Shearwater account which I though appropriate after one was seen in September (2017) during the gales. 

Site Guide

Meols to Leasowe.

This is a large area consisting of a variety of habitats running alongside and inland from the coastal embankment, roughly from Dove Point, Meols, to the bottom of Pasture Road, Leasowe. This area is often just called 'Leasowe’ or 'Leasowe Lighthouse'. It is a great catchment area for migrants in spring and autumn and has produced a lengthy list of rarities over the years. Unlike further west at Red Rocks, migrants can be seen here throughout the day with many arrivals being noted during the afternoon.

Sea-watching from the coastal embankment can be productive, especially during strong onshore winds in autumn. A selection of rare seabirds such as all four skuas, Sabine's Gull, Leach's and Storm Petrel's, Grey Phalarope and Sooty Shearwater can be seen in these conditions although there is less shelter here than at other local sea-watching sites such as Hilbre Island or New Brighton. The mudflats and tidal channels are also worth scanning as there is always a chance of a rare wader. Red-necked Phalarope and American Golden Plover have been seen here.

The Meols Common area, consisting of coastal dunes, runs alongside the embankment from Dove Point east to a large area of horse paddocks. The famous 1979 Asian Desert Warbler occurred here near the coastguard building. Other past rarities recorded here have included Wryneck, Little Bunting and Serin.

Inland from Meols Common and the coastal paddocks lies Park Lane. This runs eastwards from Bennett's Lane, Meols, to meet the large area of horse paddocks mentioned above. This tree- and shrub-lined road affords great views into the bordering fields and market gardens and attracts good numbers of migrants. White Stork, Pectoral Sandpiper, Alpine Swift, Red-rumped Swallow and Red-backed Shrike have been recorded in this area...................

The  site guide continues to describe the area where the horse paddocks are, around the Leasowe Lighthouse and down Lingham Lane. 

SOOTY SHEARWATER Puffinus griseus

Scarce visitor. The commonest of the larger shearwaters in our area but of infrequent occurrence none the less.

Sooty Shearwaters breed in the south Pacific and south Atlantic on small islands. Their main breeding range is around New Zealand, Tierra del Fuego, the Auckland Islands, Philip Island and the Falklands. They undergo a spectacular migration at the end of their March-May breeding season, taking a circular route north up the western sides of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans reaching subarctic waters in June-July. They then cross from west to east and return south down the eastern sides of both oceans in September-October before the majority reach their breeding areas in November.

The infrequent appearances of this species off our coastline is usually linked to the presence of strong onshore winds in autumn, ideally with a north-westerly direction. Even during these conditions, however, sightings are in no way assured and the species is far from annual in occurrence. The first county record was of a bird seen at close range off Hilbre Island by at least five observers on 13th September1958, the description of which satisfied A. W. Boyd, to whom the record was sent (8). A notable record was that of four birds seen off Hilbre Island by J. D. Craggs & J. C. Gittins on 21st August 1965. Peak numbers since that date include eight sightings in 1985 and five each in 1978 and 1984.

There have been no reports to date for 2106.

Richard Smith

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Colour Ring Report

In terms of numbers recorded, it has been a record breaking few weeks for colour-ringed (CR) birds including a remarkable 95 knots. But we've also seen a good selection of other CR birds including oystercatchers. Since our little group have been logging the CRs, at least 12 years now, we've only seen a total of 10 Oystercatchers, amazingly six of those have been recorded in these past six weeks! With so many CR birds seen I can only give a few highlights, as follows:  

Clockwise starting top left: Oystercatcher WW-GflagO ( Paul Ralston), Common Gull JA447 ( Richard Smith), Knot OflagP(OM) ( Alan Hitchmough), Redshank  R/YW-WG ( Peter Haslem).


WW-GflagO - the Gflag, which should be on the right tibia, was missing, same as one we saw last winter. Apparently the birds can get these off! (To read about the study into Icelandic breeding Oystercatchers see my article).

Ringed as incubating adult in SW Iceland on May 27th 2015.
Recorded on Hoylake shore 20th and 22nd October 2017.
Also seen in Iceland close to ringing site in April 2016 and March and April 2017.
No other records outside Iceland.

Quite a few of our Oystercatchers have been ringed as breeding birds or chicks  in north-east Scotland where there are two ringing groups - Grampian and Tay. We've seen three over the past few weeks, this one being typical:

T26 (on yellow ring on left tarsus).
Ringed with metal ring as an adult in Ballater, Aberdeenshire, on April 1st 2012, then ringed with colour ring (T26) at the same location on March 29th 2014.
Recorded on Hoylake Shore on September 21st 2017.
Also sighted at Glen Cairn in June 2014, and in the river roost at Ballater in March 2015 and March 2017.

Common Gull

JA447 (black on white ring).
Ringed as a breeding adult at Skranevatnet, near Bergen, Norway, on June 5th 2016.
Recorded on Hoylake Shore on August 19th 2016 and October 9th 2017.


See last month's Ringing Report for details of the Orange flagged knots and the project studying Knots in the north-west estuaries.

We continue to record these knots, below is a summary.

Total Orange flagged not recorded up to 31st October:

Caldy Wildfowl Collection - 78
Thurstaston Shore - 10
Plus a further 3 at both Caldy and Thurstaston
Hilbre - 1 (see photo of "OM" above)
Hoylake Shore - 1
Making a total of 93, 18% of the birds ringed on Sep 22nd at Altcar.

Plus there have been 45 sightings of these birds at Crosby and Formby Point, demonstrating just how much movement there is between the sites.


We don't see many colour-ringed Redshank but two were recorded over the past two months, both ringed near Cardiff. Here are details of the one in the photo:

Ringed at Peterstone (east of Cardiff) on December 13th 2015.
Recorded on Oakenholt Marsh on September 21st 2017.
Also recorded in Rhymney mouth (east of Cardiff in January 2016.


Orange ring (left) - Orange flag (right) - flag was inscribed with letters but we were unable to read it, the bird was a juvenile. Here is the response from the ringer:
The field season at Longyearbyen, Svalbard,  failed this year. It was very late and not good breeding. Only 5 juveniles were flagged !! All of them near Longyearbyen. The distance  Longyearbyen-Hoylake is 2857 km . The 5 birds were flagged in the period 09.08-21.08.2017.

O-Y(X16) - photo below.
Ringed as a juvenile on passage on September 20th 2017 at Ynyslas NNR, near Aberystwyth, Wales.
Recorded on Heswall Shore on September 22nd 2017.

                                            Dunlin X16 on Hoylake Shore Les Hall

Richard Smith.

Colour-rings were also recorded by Matt Thomas, Steve Hinde, Peter Haslem, Richard Beckett, Paul Ralston, Alan Hitchmough, Les Hall, Jane Turner and Elliot Montieth.

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October Bird News

                               Melodious Warbler along Lingham Lane, October 29th Jeremy Bradshaw

What a fabulous month. The remnants of hurricane Ophelia was followed by storm Brian which in turn was followed by at least two more days of strong winds, all of which made for some great sea-watching. But in between these storms we had some beautiful quiet, often sunny, days making for some very pleasant birding particularly watching raptors, owls, egrets, geese etc over and on the marshes. Then there were the rarities.

The Pallid Harrier (first for Cheshire and Wirral) which was spotted at the end of September remained for two more days and there were a further three reports through the month. A Pectoral Sandpiper was at Burton Mere Wetlands on the 4th. A Sooty Shearwater during the storms on the 5th gave great views to a lucky few at Wallasey. Four records of Yellow-browed Warblers was back to more normal numbers after last year's influx and a Rose-coloured Starling was at Connah's Quay on the 16th. There was a very late record of a Melodious Warbler on October 29th at Lingham Lane, the first for Cheshire and Wirral since 1995. These are nearly always found on the coast and all previous records for our area were either on Hilbre or at Red Rocks.

To record Leach's Petrels on nine days in October was excellent, max 18 at Hilbre on the 5th. We also had Sabine's Gulls, Black Terns, Pomarine, Long-tailed, Arctic and Great Skuas and three more Grey Phalaropes to add to the 2017 total after an exceptional September.

This autumn we haven't had the massive flocks of Common Scoter seen in recent years, but 7,000 on the 2nd wasn't bad! 

                A small portion of the Common Scoter flock off East Hoyle Bank, October 3rd Elliot Montieth

Just how many Marsh Harriers we've had on the estuary I'm not sure but, given the number of records received, the count of 10 counted coming into roost on the 17th was not totally unexpected. There are at least four Hen Harriers on the marshes including a grey male. It looks like it's going to be a good winter for Short-eared Owls with several counts of six and one of seven. At least one Cattle Egret has been at Burton Mere Wetlands all month and there have been counts of nine Great White Egrets at both Neston and Heswall.

                        Marsh Harrier (left) and Hen Harrier (right) over Burton Marsh, October 28th Roy Lowry

Many thanks go to Mark Turner, David Haigh, Mal Sergeant, Steve Hinde, Jeremy Bradshaw, Mark Gibson, Matt Thomas, Chris Butterworth, Roy Lowry, Elliot Monieth, Paul Shenton, David Leeming, Alan Hitchmough, Richard Whitby, Steve Williams, Les Hall, Jeff Cohen, Dave Edwards, Richard Beckett, Derek Bates, Peter Haslem, Jane Turner, Eddie Williams, Allan Conlin, Karen Leeming, Geoff Robinson, Julie Rogers, Linda Platt, Colin Schofield, Charles Farnell, Paul Ralston, Alan Irving, Steve Hand, Sheila Ryde, Tom Giles, Steve Edwards, Bernard Machin, Eric Burrows, Nicholas Montieth, Paul Mason, Paul Lee, Craig Bell, Paul Rutter, Mike Hart, Andy Newall, Ryan Williams, Sharon Reilly, Frank Burns, Andrew Ingham, Chris Challoner, Mark Evans, Gail Wilson, Clive McLaren, Adrian Morgan, John Watson, Steve Hart, Dave Harrington, Bryan Joy, David Thomas, Ray Sherlock, Keith Ackerley, Richard Payne, David Peate, Martin Kalaher, Steph Abrahams, John Wright, Ian Hughes, Paul Vautrinot, Michael Bevin, Alan Patterson, Ian Fleming, Noreen Lowe, David Small, Henry Cook, the Lighthouse and Wirral Birding Blog, the Dee Estuary Wardens and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during October. All sightings are gratefully received.

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What to expect in November

November should certainly have a winter feel to it, the month starts off with some big tides and they should flush out several Short-eared Owls off Heswall and Parkgate, as well as bringing great views of Hen Harriers and Marsh Harriers. Pink-footed Geese numbers have rocketed over the past few years and we will get some good views of them flying over the marshes on these spring tides. Other wildfowl will also increase and we expect to see several hundred Brent Geese around Hilbre and West Kirby Shore and thousands of Teal at Burton Mere Wetlands and on the marshes.

Knot numbers usually increase to around 10,000 plus this month. With an increase in the number that have been ringed this year it will be interesting to see where these have come from. It will be good to see returning Purple Sandpipers with birds both at Hilbre and New Brighton. The first Snow Buntings of the winter may well be spotted along the coast.

If we get some calm weather look on the sea for Red-throated Divers, perhaps as many as a hundred or more, and several hundred Great Crested Grebes. November can also bring a massive influx of Herring Gulls and we've had around 20,000 in the past on East Hoyle Bank.

                                    Short-eared Owl near Denhall Quay, October 28th Paul Lee

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Forthcoming Events

November Highest Spring Tides (Liverpool)

Also see Tides page.

4th November, 10.47hrs (GMT), 9.7m. 
5th November, 11.27hrs (GMT), 9.9m.  
6th November, 12.10hrs (GMT), 9.9m. 
7th November, 12.54hrs (GMT), 9.7m. 

Forthcoming Events

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. 

Sunday 5th November and Monday 6th November, High Tide Raptor Watch at Parkgate Old Baths.

Price: Free

High tide on 5th Nov is 11.27hrs (9.9m) and on 6th Nov is 12.10hrs (9.9m). Best to arrive at least an hour before high tide to watch the birds being pushed in by the tide.

Come along to the Old Baths car park for chance of seeing a range of birds of prey hunting over Parkgate Marsh. Harriers, peregrines and merlins are all returning to the estuary for the winter and this is one of the best places to watch, plus short-eared owls if we're really lucky. The big tides on these days should push things in close. Also chance of seeing a range of ducks, geese, wading birds and egrets as their flocks build on the estuary for the winter.
There is free public parking at the Old Baths car park (CH64 6RN) at the north end of The Parade, and the Wirral Country Park car park on Station Road (CH64 6QJ). There are public toilets at Mostyn Square in the middle of The Parade, and a number of pubs and cafes.
Old Baths car park, Boathouse Lane/The Parade (B5135), Parkgate, Neston, Cheshire.
For further details ring: 0151 353 8478.

Saturday 18th November, Dusk Chorus at Burton Mere Wetlands.
Price: 8 per person (RSPB members 6.50)

Booking essential, ring: 0151 353 8478.

We're all familiar with the dawn chorus, but have you ever stopped to listen to the sounds of the countryside as the sun goes down? Honking geese, whistling waders and chattering jackdaws soundtrack peaceful sunsets at Burton Mere Wetlands, with one of the country's largest egret colonies returning from the marsh, and a small starling murmuration over the reedbed.
Join us for a late afternoon guided walk as the temperature drops and the birds start to prepare for another long night, returning as the light fades and many birds return to Burton Mere Wetlands to roost. Finish with a hot drink back in Reception Hide and chance of seeing a barn owl emerging to hunt.
Places are limited, so advanced booking and payment are essential.

Sunday 3rd December, Wetland Wonders - Waders and Wildfowl at Burton Mere Wetlands.
Price: 8 per person (RSPB members 6.50)

Booking essential, ring: 0151 353 8478.

The UK's wetlands are a vital winter home for thousands of wading birds and wildfowl, and the Dee Estuary is one of the best places in the country to see them. Join an experienced guide for a morning walk around Burton Mere Wetlands to brush up on your ID of the various waders, ducks, geese and swans that spend the winter here.
There's also a great chance of seeing a range of birds of prey including harriers and peregrines, plus impressive flocks of finches and buntings in the sacrificial crop fields, whilst kingfishers have been very active this autumn.
The walk will stick to the reserve's normal trails which are mostly hard-surfaced, but the outer reaches of the reserve have natural paths and a couple of sets of steps to reach the Inner Marsh Farm hide. Warm up back at the Reception Hide with a hot drink and a chance to see what may have been pushed in from the saltmarsh by the rising tide.