Dee Map
Tide Tables
Welsh Shore
English Shore
Latest Birds
Bird Counts
    1st November 1999
    The Hilbre Party

    Migration Watch 99
    Latest Bird Counts
    October Bird News
    Forthcoming Events
    Latest Newsletter
    The UK Birding Web Ring

The Hilbre Party  
  Forgive me if I indulge in a bit of nostalgia now we are rapidly approaching the end of the year, century and millennium. I hark back to a simpler time, not that long ago between 25 and 55 years ago. This was a time when people interested in birds where either called birdwatchers or ornithologists, 'birders' was just a vulgar Americanism (and still is IMO). Twitching hadn't been invented and only the rich could afford telescopes, and there were certainly no pagers or mobile phones to tell you the location of rare birds. Happy days!

The Hilbre party became something of an institution at Hilbre Island between the end of the second world war and the mid-seventies. The party was a group, nearly always all male, of between eight and twelve individuals  who met once a year  on Hilbre for a week of intensive bird watching. Eric Hosking, the famous bird photographer was a founder member as was 'Nomad' - Norman Ellison -  a naturalist broadcasting on BBC radio, he lived locally in West Kirby. Photographs taken by Eric of waders during these trips now feature in many books.

As well as Eric and Norman many other famous people attended these 'parties', including Lord Alanbrooke (Churchill's chief military advisor), the Duke of Edinburgh  and Roger Tory Petersen. Many people regarded Lord Alanbrooke as the world's greatest soldier and Roger Tory Petersen as the worlds greatest ornithologist. In the evenings Lord Alanbrooke would tell many an intriguing tale of the war but somehow Roger would always bring the subject back to birds, an enthusiastic obsessive birder! The Duke of Edinburgh's first visit was shrouded in secrecy, no one wanted reporters crawling around the island disturbing the birds. However a local reporter did sense something going on with an increase in police activity. He took a walk over to Hilbre only to be told he'd missed the Duke by a couple of hours! It still made the local headlines.

I recently found the above photograph stuck between the pages of one my dad's books,  Eric Hosking's 'An Eye for A Bird'. It was taken in the early seventies during one of the last of these gatherings. From left to right - back row: Victor Smith, Guss Low, David Russell, Mrs Bailey, Peter Bailey, Professor Craggs, John Gittins. Front row: Eric Hosking, Norman Ellison, Dr McAfee, Ronnie Pryor and Joe Wells. Peter Bailey was the Hilbre warden, Professor Craggs wrote the Hilbre 'bible' - Hilbre, the Cheshire Island - and John Gittins is founder of the Hilbre Bird Observatory, both John and the Observatory are still going strong. The others were local naturalists and birdwatchers, including my father Victor Smith.


Migration Watch 99

Migration is a fascinating subject. We all know about the amazing journeys of birds such as the Sanderling and Arctic Tern, but far fewer people are aware of the huge numbers of land birds migrating here from the rest of Europe, in particular Scandinavia. Many of the species are already resident in this country so the foreign migrants simply get missed among the locals. 

Many of these migrants travel southwards along our coasts, including those of the Dee Estuary. To monitor these coastal travelers the 1999 Migration Watch took place on the 17th October, see  tabulated results. The watch took place at two locations,  Denhall Lane (Burton) and Thurstaston with thirteen species being recorded in double or more figures. Of these thirteen species a total of 2988 birds were counted at Denhall Lane and 3404 at Thurstaston. 

Credit must go to the watchers, great skill is required to identify and count all those finches passing over - often just dots in the sky, and they had to get up at some unearthly hour to do it. Thanks to CAWOS and the Wirral Rangers for organising the event.

Many questions are still to be answered regarding migration on the Dee, such as how many birds fly directly across the mouth of the estuary and how many south along the Wirral coast. Preliminary data suggests that the majority of birds fly along the Wirral but certain species choose to fly directly across to Wales. Another question is, what do the birds do when they reach the head of the estuary? Do they turn round and head north-west along the Welsh coast towards the Point of Ayr, or disperse south across the countryside - perhaps to rejoin the Welsh coast the far side of Snowdonia. Next year, if we have ten times the number of expert counters, perhaps we will be able to answer some of these questions!



Bird Counts


Inner Marsh Farm  
17th October: Water Rail 1, Dunlin 4, Redshank 3, Pied Wagtail 2, Snipe 10, Black-tailed Godwit 5, Heron 1, Stock dove 7, Little Grebe 4, Kingfisher 2, Peregrine Falcon 1, Spotted Redshank 1, Curlew 4, Shovelor 105, Buzzard 1, many Wigeon, Mallard, Teal and Lapwing.

Wetland Bird Survey Count for Heswall Shore - (Kindly provided by the Wirral Ranger Service). 10th October.
Cormorant 24, Grey Heron 6, Shelduck 6,700, Teal 13, Mallard 42, Red-breasted Merganser 6, Oystercatcher 243, Lapwing 200, Knot 250, Curlew Sandpiper 2, Dunlin 20, Black-tailed Godwit 1, Whimbrel 1, Curlew 1780, Redshank 3,900, Turnstone 4.

West Kirby shore high tide roost  - counts carried out by Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens.
The highest count this month was on 24th October: Bar-tailed Godwit 500, Knot 12,000, Oystercatcher 2,000, Curlew 100, Grey Plover 500, Dunlin 5,000, Sanderling 300 and Redshank 25. 

Nearby Little Eye Island is also a high tide roost being particularly attractive to Oystercatcher, Curlew and Cormorant. It is renowned as a place for bird photography, many of Eric Hosking's pictures of waders were taken here. The birds both on Little Eye and West Kirby are often disturbed by Peregrines but on 29th October two photographers, Andy Harmer and John Power, saw an unusual incident on the island which I thought worth repeating: 
Incident as told by Andy,
"Whilst photographing on little eye (Hilbre) today, I witnessed what I thought was unusual.....
About  a thousand oystercatcher/curlew settled on little eye after being put up by a sparrowhawk and were in the process of  preening/roosting when I noticed that the birds  were very edgy. I assumed the sparrowhawk had returned but was proved wrong as a peregrine  dropped down and landed between myself (in a hide) and the waders.   The  waders at a distance of about 15 yards from the falcon  reacted to every move it made, but never took to the air.  As the water got higher the waders got closer, until they were no further  than five yards away from it.  The peregrine remained for about 15 mins and then took to the air.....bril!!"

October Bird News

I'm sure most people would agree that the birds of the month were the Red-backed Shrike at Burton and a Hoopoe at Hoylake, both staying over two weeks and giving excellent views to a succession of twitchers. The Shrike even made the local press although they called it a Red-backed Striker! 

Both Spoonbills and Little Egrets have been at  Parkgate and Inner Marsh Farm. One of the Spoonbills is of the Mauretanian race, returning for it's third year. 

The Point of Ayr has had a good selection of birds. Strong north-west winds in the first half of the month brought 5 Leach's Petrel and a Long-tailed Skua. Other birds reported have been 2 Lapland Bunting, Siberian Stonechat, 2 Marsh Sandpiper and a Spotted Redshank.

A few Curlew Sandpiper lingered after the influx last month and we are starting to see this winter's first Snow Buntings and Purple Sandpipers. A Siberian Chiffchaff was seen at Leasowe Lighthouse, Hobby at Red Rocks and Black-necked Grebes at Hilbre Island and West Kirby marine lake. With winter almost here numbers of waders are really building up, flocks of Knot and Dunlin each 12,000 strong where reported from West Kirby shore and East Hoyle Bank (Hoylake) respectively.


Forthcoming Events
November Highest Spring Tides
23rd November, 1053hrs 9.9m. (all times GMT)
24th November, 1138hrs 10.0m. 

25th November, 1223hrs 10.0m. 

Young Ornithologists Club at Ness Gardens
A complete listing of events for 1999 can be seen for this group who have a series of monthly outdoor and indoor meetings.

Wirral Peregrines Phoenix Group
A group for teenagers jointly run by the RSPB and Wirral Ranger Service.  A listing of events for 1999 can be seen for this group.

Forthcoming Events (organised by the Wirral Ranger Service, Flintshire Countryside Service and/or the RSPB):

7th November. Autumn at Wepre Park.
A gentle walk for the over 50s at this changing time of the year. Please book by ringing 01244 814931.

20th/21st November. North West Bird Fair at Martin Mere.
At the Wetland and Wildfowl Trust reserve. The Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens will have a stand there.

24th November. High Tide Birdwatch at Parkgate. 9.45am - 11.45am.
Waders, Wildfowl and Raptors abound and with migration in full swing who knows what may fly by. Meet at Old Baths Car Park, Parkgate. For further information ring 0151 648 4371/3884.

25th November. High Tide Birdwatch at Parkgate. 1030am - 1230pm.
Waders, Wildfowl and Raptors abound and with migration in full swing who knows what may fly by. Meet at Old Baths Car Park, Parkgate. For further information ring 0151 648 4371/3884.

25th November. Birds by Character at Wirral Country Park, Thurstaston. 7.30pm-9.30pm.
A light-hearted look at an alternative way of recognising bird species using 'jizz'. Birds will never look the same again!  Booking essential, ring 0151 648 4371/3884.

27th November. High Tide Birdwatch at Flint Castle. 12 noon.
A chance to witness predators such as the Merlin, or that scarce upland finch, the Twite. Meet at flint Lifeboat Station car park. For info. ring 01352 780 527.

28th November. Beginners Birdwatch at Leasowe Bay. 1pm-2.30pm
Come and see the birds as they roost on the islands of Leasowe Bay. Meet at Leasowe Lighthouse. For info. ring 0151 678 5488.

11th December. High Tide Birdwatch at Heswall. 10:30am-12.30pm
Waders and wildfowl galore at the edge of the tide. Meet at Banks Road car park (near Sheldrake Restaurant), lower Heswall. For further details ring 0151 336 7681 or 0151 648 4371.