14th November 1998

Latest Bird Counts
Rarity News
Forthcoming Events

Heswall Shore

Imagine yourself sitting on a grassy bank in the warm Autumn sunshine, binoculars in hand and telescope by your side. In front of you is a beach but you are not interested in that because beyond is a marsh with a channel running through it, just 50 yards away. It is flat calm but as it is two hours before a big high tide the water is moving swiftly and rising. The birds are on the move. Many flocks of a hundred or so Redshanks are scattered along each bank. Small flights of these waders are continuously leaving to go further up the estuary, but in turn these are being replaced by birds coming in from down river. There is constant movement and noise. Eventually the rising tide will drive all these birds off in one spectacular massive flock to move to a more secure roost. Overhead there is the continuous piping of Oystercatchers as small loose flocks move inland to feed in the fields to join the Curlews already there.

Looking towards your left, among the fishing boats and yachts, you see dots on the water, lots of them almost as far as you can see. A look through binoculars reveal these to be Teal and Mallard. Small flocks of these birds can be observed flying off, the rising tide giving opportunities for feeding deeper into the marsh. To the right is the open sea. An hour ago this was one vast mud flat, now it is covered by water on which thousands of Shelduck float. The flock sparkles with white feathers reflecting the sun. Only with a closer look can you see the red beaks and handsome orange and black plumage. Where the marsh edge meets the sea some of the mud bank still remains exposed. This is where the really massive numbers of waders are roosting - Oystercatchers, Curlew, Dunlin and Knot being the most numerous but a look through the telescope should reveal many other species.

This is Heswall shore. Little known outside the immediate area but a wonderful place to see Estuary birds never the less. A map of the area is shown below. Further details of Heswall shore and surrounding areas can be found on the English Shore page .

Heswall MapMap of Heswall Shore from Riverbank Road car park to Thurstaston Country Park.
Scale: Map is approximately 3 kilometres/2 miles top to bottom.
The spot marked 'Good Birding Point' is the location where the observer is sitting in the above narrative. It is a flat grassy area on top of a five foot sea wall, ideal for placing telescopes and also giving some elevation to enable better bird observations.

The two islands shown, marsh island and mud island - my own nomenclature, have been highlighted as birds tend to congregate here as the tide comes in. Another place where the birds congregate is the channels going into the marsh. Here large numbers of Teal and Redshank should be seen.

Of course the amount of mud and marsh exposed depends very much on the height of the tide, the map shows the situation about two hours before an average high tide. The mud bank shown on the map is particularly attractive to Shelduck, many hundreds are usually present at all states of the tide.

Highlights of Heswall

The Birds
Heswall is renowned for its huge flocks of waders and duck. It has the largest roosting flock of Redshank in the country with numbers often greater than 4,000. WeBs counts for September and October this year were 6,600 and 3,600 respectively. The nearby mudflats also have the largest numbers of Shelduck in the area, in October 1997 9,400 out of an Estuary total of 10,400 were counted. This number was a record for the Dee Estuary. Another notable bird is the Black-tailed Godwit with between 1,000 and 2,000 regularly seen between November and March. They can usually be found inhabiting an area of the mudflats just off the beach where the marsh ends to the north of Heswall.
Among other birds to be seen in the area are raptors which are frequently seen flying over the marsh - these include Peregrine, Merlin, Hen Harrier, Sparrowhawk and Short-eared Owl.

RedshanksFlight of Redshanks with Wales and the 'Duke of Lancaster' in the background.

The Boats
Nestling in the channel sheltered by the marsh the boats are quite safe in all but the very highest of tides combined with the strongest of gales. It is the boats which add character to Heswall shore giving it an East Anglian air. This is a good old fashioned anchorage, most certainly not one of those modern marinas! Boats range from small yachts to motor boats, dinghies to weekend fishing boats, all seemingly scattered randomly along the channel. Among the fishing boats can be seen the old Nobbies dating back to the old days of sail of the last century, looking elegant yet functional with their rounded stern and huge mast and boom.

Heswall anchorage on a lovely still Autumn day.
Heswall Boats

Heswall Gutter
Locally the channel mentioned in the above narrative is called Heswall Gutter. It runs the whole way from Thurstaston in the north to Parkgate to the south, always only 50 yards from the shore. It acts like a magnet to the birds being especially attractive to Curlew, Redshank and Teal. Because the bottom of the gutter at low tide is out of view from people walking along the shore the birds are completely undisturbed. If you sit on a bank overlooking the gutter whilst the tide comes in you will see all these birds emerge either swimming on the water or flying off in one of many small flocks, a wonderful sight.

View from Riverbank Road car park looking north towards the Sheldrake Restaurant, main anchorage and beyond to Hilbre Island. The car park marked on the photograph is at Banks Road which is an excellent starting point for walking and birdwatching along the shore and the nearby Wirral Way.
Heswall Gutter

Latest Bird Counts and Sightings:

The counts page has been updated to include the 1997 counts. I haven't yet updated the moving average and will wait until the official WeBs publication for that. All the duck species have increased in number, waders are somewhat more variable but numbers seem reasonably healthy.

Inner Burton Marsh
28th October.
1 Water Rail, 2 Goldeneye, 2 Buzzard, 8 Pochard, 1 Great crested Grebe.
30th October.
60+ Shoveler, 7 Pintail, 550 Wigeon, 3 Shelduck, 2 Goldeneye, 7 Pochard, 4 Tufted duck, 25 Curlew, 29 Redshank, 9 Blacktailed Godwit, 3 Ruff, 2 Golden Plover, 1000 Lapwing, 2 Whooper Swan, 2 Water Rail, 2 Little Grebe.
5th November.
58 Blacktailed Godwit, 5 Greenshank, 1 Spotted Redshank, 150 Dunlin, 250 Golden Plover, 7 Bewick Swan, 1,200 Canada Geese, 6 Goldeneye.

Heswall - WeBs count for 11th October.
A low count due to poor weather conditions making counting very difficult. Just my luck when I'm doing a special on Heswall!
1690 Shelduck, 20 Teal, 1 Peregrine, 1 Sparrow Hawk, 50 Mallard, 120 Lapwing, 20 Knot, 100 Dunlin, 1850 Curlew, 3630 Redshank.

26th October - 3 Snow Buntings in dunes at Point of Ayr.

5th November. 100+Blacktailed Godwits at Thurstaston Shore. Reported total for Dee Estuary currently 1,400. Also 4,000 Pintail counted at Flint/Burton.

West Kirby Marine Lake - Up to 15 Goldeneye, 20 Red-breasted Mergansers and a couple of Great Crested Grebes seen regularly over the past couple of weeks. Best to get there early before the birds are disturbed by Windsurfers. Also see rarity news below.

Hilbre bird report compiled by Steve Williams of the Hilbre Bird Observatory .
The 26th September was a good day on the island with a Pied Flycatcher caught and Short-eared Owl and a Cuckoo seen. Cuckoo is quite an uncommon bird for Hilbre.

Five pale-bellied Brent Geese have returned and can be seen fairly regularly around the islands. There has also been a single dark-bellied bird. Peregrines are being seen on most visits to the island and there was also a Merlin knocking around on and off for about two or three weeks (last week of September first couple in October).

Seawatching was good on the 17th October with a couple of Leach's Petrels seen as well as a good passage of auks (mainly Razorbills - c100). A male Goosander also on the 17th was a very good record.

The 24th produced a male Blackcap as well as the Brent Geese and a male Eider which has been around the islands for about three weeks.

A Short-eared Owl was seen on the 5th November and the 7th brought 4 Snow Buntings and 8 pale-bellied Brent Geese.

Rarity News:

2 to 3 Little Egrets still at Parkgate, Boathouse Gutter throughout the last four weeks. Nearby Neston has had up to 5 Water Pipits. Also showing on the marsh between Neston and Parkgate is a ringtail Hen Harrier.

Welsh Coast
26th October. 5 Shorelarks at Gronant, 1 Glaucous Gull at Point of Ayr. The Shorelarks had increased to 13 by 9th November.
First week of November brought a Great Skua to Point of Ayr.

Heswall/West Kirby
A single Shorelark seen on Heswall shore, 2nd and 5th November.
A Long-tailed Duck has been on West Kirby Marine Lake from 3rd to 8th November. Also on the Marine Lake three Shags, 31st October/1st November.

If anybody wants to E-mail any sightings of birds or sea-mammals to me I will be most grateful (see bottom of Home page for address).

Next Spring High Tides (Times BST):
4th December, 1111hrs 9.8m.
5th December, 1158hrs 9.8m.

Forthcoming Events:

4th December (9:15am) and 5th December (10:00am). High Tide Birdwatch at Parkgate, experts on hand at Old Baths.

Following organised jointly by Wirral Ranger Service and the RSPB.

20th December. High tide birdwatch at Heswall. 9:30 am. (HW 11:49)
Should be excellent for waders and duck (see top of this newsletter). Meet at Banks road car park, lower Heswall. For info. Ring 0151 336 7681.

Following organised by the Wirral Ranger Service.

15th November. Winter Walk. 10am to 3pm.
A 10 mile walk around Thustaston and Royden park. Packed lunch required. Booking essential ring 0151 678 4200.

18th November. Walk to Thurstaston. 11am - 3pm approx.
A leisurely ramble through the countryside of west Wirral. Bring packed lunch. Booking essential ring 0151 678 4200.

21st November. Waders on the Shore - West Kirby. 10am (HW 1208hrs).
A chance to see dashing waders such as Sanderling and Knot. Meet at Dee Lane slipway. For information ring 0151 632 4455.

13th December. Walk to Parkgate. 11am - 4pm approx.
A leaisuely walk to Parkgate, following the coastal marshes of the Dee Estuary, to picnic at the forgotten port of Parkgate. Return by inland byways. It will be muddy in place. Booking essential, ring 0151 678 4200.

Following organised by Flintshire Countryside Service.

6th December. Dee Estuary Watch. 11:30 am.
Should be excellent for both waders and duck. Meet at Flint Lifeboat Station near Flint Castle.

Back to latest newsletter