Skua Newsletter Skua

Map of the Estuary
Tide Table
English Shore
Welsh Shore
North Wirral Shore
Latest Sightings
Bird Counts

Nearby Sites

Birdwatching Walks
When to go



1st December 2002
Migration Watch 2002.
Love Birds!

Latest Bird Counts.
November Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
Latest Newsletters.

Newsletter Index.



Migration Watch 2002 


Most people know that winter brings waders and wildfowl, and that terns, hirundines, warblers etc. migrate here for the summer.  But many don't realise that huge numbers of  other birds also migrate. These include birds you see every day in the garden - Greenfinches, Chaffinches, Starlings and Wood Pigeons for example. These birds can travel hundreds of miles, not just within this country but from as far away as Scandinavia and eastern Europe. This movement is often concentrated along the coast and can clearly be seen given the right weather conditions, as is demonstrated below. As October is a peak time for this visible migration the Cheshire and Wirral Ornithological Society (CAWOS) and the Wirral Ranger service jointly set up two migration watches at a couple of prime sites.

After many days of good weather the day of  the October 5th migration watch at Heswall turned out to be wet with a brisk west wind. As a result the migration was virtually non-existent, which was a great pity as many people had responded to publicity in the local newspaper and turned out at the crack of dawn. Never mind, at least we had the consolation of seeing the spectacle of thousands of waders and wildfowl on the shore. 

It was with some trepidation that we woke up on the day of the next migration watch at Burton on the 13th Oct. But we needn't have worried, conditions were just right with a gentle south wind, overcast skies and cool temperatures, but not too cold.

Observers were split between Decca Pools and Denhall Lane, just a bit further south along the coast. Counts were made of all the birds passing overhead from 0730 hrs to 1030hrs. The graph below shows the movement (from Decca Pools only) for the three most numerous species summed over each 15 minute period. Usually the first hour or so after dawn has the highest number of birds and this was the case for Greenfinch and Meadow Pipit, but interestingly Chaffinches didn't peak until much later, at 1000hrs. 

Migration over Decca Pools, 15 minute periods

A total of 18 species were seen, this included a single Corn Bunting - a rarity these days. As the table below demonstrates numbers at Decca Pools were significantly higher than Denhall. Presumably many birds were heading south out across Burton Marsh at Decca Pools and therefore were unseen from Denhall Lane.

Total number of birds for each species, 0700hrs to 1030hrs

Species Decca Pools Denhall Lane
Green Finch 503 162
Chaffinch 294 148
Meadow Pipit 215 20
Reed Bunting 37 0
Redwing 50 41
Sky Lark 91 3
Linnet 44 0
Song Thrush 9 0
Gold Finch 33 114
Brambling 7 2
Pied Wagtail 6 1
Yellowhammer 1 0
Corn Bunting 1 0
Mistle Thrush 5 2
Swallow 4 3
Siskin 3 0
Stock Dove 0 3
Fieldfare 1 7
Unidentified 0 124
Total 1304 630

Many of these birds will be of Scandinavian in origin, and the presence of Brambling confirms this. The birds cross the North Sea  continuing on until they reach the west coast of Britain. They then head south, but where they go when they reach the head of the Dee Estuary is unknown. Most probably they split with some going inland and others westwards along the North Wales coast. For a further discussion of the movement of migrants through the Dee Estuary see the November 1999 newsletter.

Many thanks to Jeff Clarke of CAWOS and Lynne Greenstreet of the Wirral Rangers for providing the data.



Lesser Spotted Love Birds


At 12.55 pm last Tuesday a love-struck couple strayed within 150 yards of becoming an official entry in the records of the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens. They drifted, hand-in-tender-hand, across the sun-dazzled West Kirby sands, pausing to entwine and no doubt murmur, a-la Mills and Boone: "Alone together at last."

Well, not quite, chucks. I have news. Three telescopes were trained on you.

Three skilled ornithologists tracked your every step. "Would you believe it," quoth our boss warden, "Behaving like that, at this time of day and he's bald as well! If they carry on, they'll scare the birds." True. A flock of 1,325 oystercatchers, two dunlin and four curlew lay in the path of Romeo and Juliet. We wardens are not Peeping Toms. 

Our mission requires us to count the birds, protect them from intrusion and log details of all incidents. As sensitive souls, we baulked at intruding on a very private affair but if we let events take their course, the records would have to show: "Roost disturbed by courting couple". Our leader decided to intercept R and J but as a decent Brit made haste slowly.

And suddenly the dilemma dissolved. The tryst ended the lovers clung in a last, mad embrace and at 12.58 pm turned sadly back to the mainland and whatever fate had in store.

John Pugh.

Ed. I can confirm that this incident on West Kirby beach did actually take place, I was one of the wardens on that day! The article was first published in the Liverpool Daily Post and reproduced here with kind permission of the author, John Pugh. If you would like more information about the wardens see the wardens web page.


Bird Counts


Wetland Bird Survey Count for Connah's Quay and Flint - (Kindly provided by Brian Grey), 17th November.
5 Little Grebe,  80 Cormorant,  4 Heron,  8 Mute Swan,  88 Shelduck,  3 Wigeon, 80 Teal,  120 Mallard,  6 Moorhen,  41 Coot,  35 Oystercatcher,  860 Lapwing,  230 Dunlin,  600 Godwit,  72 Curlew,  2 Spotted Redshank,  64 Redshank.

Wetland Bird Survey Count for Heswall Shore - (Kindly provided by the Wirral Ranger Service), 17th November.
19 Great Crested Grebe, 2 Cormorant, 5 Grey Heron, 1,699 Shelduck, 5 Wigeon, 585 Teal, 27 Mallard, 416 Pintail, 4,190 Oystercatcher, 3 Golden Plover, 372 Lapwing, 2,550 Knot, 4,810 Dunlin, 2 Snipe, 1,210 Black-tailed Godwit, 1,080 Curlew, 1,920 Redshank, 428 Black-headed Gull, 16 Common Gull, 14 Lesser Black-backed Gull, 77 Herring Gull and 8 Great Black-backed Gull. 1 Merlin and 3 Peregrine also present. 

Waders on the West Kirby Shore high tide wader roost, counted by the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens. Maximum counts for November, dates in brackets.
3,500 Oystercatcher (2nd), 7,700 Dunlin (20th), 129 Bar-tailed Godwit (20th), 715 Curlew (20th), 210 Grey Plover (23rd), 95 Sanderling (20th), 150 Knot (21st), 24 Ringed Plover (20th) and 160 Redshank (18th).


November Bird News


A few Snow Buntings have been seen along the North Wirral coast with four at Leasowe/ Wallasey and two at West Kirby. Strangely no reports from their usual haunt at the Point of Ayr and Gronant. The rarer Lapland Bunting was also seen briefly at Leasowe. Snow Buntings

The Hoylake Langfields (between West Kirby and Hoylake) have been flooded with all the recent rain, attracting a good selection of birds. Unfortunately as the local Golf Course has also been flooded drainage work to clear the River Birket of its reeds will probable take place fairly soon and the water, with its birds, will disappear. The highlight was undoubtedly five White-fronted Geese (European race), small parties do visit the north-west region occasionally but more usually the Mersey marshes rather than Wirral. Other birds seen on the floods included 2 Whooper Swan, 20 Snipe, 1,200 Lapwing, 7 Water Rail, 28 Yellowhammer, 23 Tree Sparrow and a good selection of duck. 

Hoylake Langfields

We had two excellent Parkgate high tide birdwatches at the beginning of the month with some superb bird watching. 3,000 Teal, 6,000 Wigeon, 4+ Short-eared Owls on the first day, then the big surprise on the second day - a Spotted Crake which swam right up to the car park wall and parked itself on a clump of grass for the duration of the high tide, under the gaze of the assembled throng of birders. 

We had a late passage of Curlew Sandpipers with one or two present at Inner Marsh Farm right up to the 17th. Good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits spent most of their time at Oakenholt and Flint, I don't have a total estuary count for November but it probably didn't quite reach October's all time record of 4,231. We had the usual large flocks of Dunlin and Knot along the north Wirral coast with up to 15,000 of each. The rarest wader was a Long-billed Dowitcher briefly seen at Inner Marsh Farm, a vagrant which breeds in North America and eastern Siberia.

Two Scaup were rare visitors to West Kirby Marine Lake, a drake Green-winged Teal was seen several times at Inner Marsh Farm and eleven Brent Geese put in an appearance at Hilbre right at the end of the month. There were two sightings of Marsh Harriers and three of Hen Harriers. Other birds of particular note included a Firecrest on Hilbre and two Black Redstarts at Point of Ayr, with another one at Wallasey.  

What to expect in December
This time last year we had massive numbers of waders, particularly along the north Wirral coast. This included 32,000 Dunlin, 8,000 Bar-tailed Godwits and a single flock of 50,000 Knot at Hoylake - an amazing sight. These waders are best seen either at low tide off Leasowe or high tide at Hoylake or Point of Ayr, but Thurstaston at low tide can also be spectacular, where the muddier conditions attract a thousand or so Black-tailed Godwit rather than Bar-tailed.

Smew have been turning up regularly for the past few winters, usually seen either at Inner Marsh Farm or Shotwick boating lake. Expect at least one drake, but often a pair or two of these lovely duck are present. If we go by the pattern of the past two years about 20 Brent Geese, mostly pale-breasted birds, should be seen off Hilbre Island. They often spend high tide around Little Eye or across the estuary at the Point of Ayr

The daylight hunting Short-eared Owl can sometimes be seen over the marsh at Burton, or the sand dunes at Point of Ayr and Leasowe. If the beginning of the month brings a strong west wind and low atm. pressure get down to Parkgate to see the birds driven off the marsh at high tide, the 4th and 5th should be best.

The Wirral Bird Club attempts to cater for all who are interested in birds - the mildly interested to the keenly interested - the beginner to the experienced. For more details see their new website:

Many thanks go to Carl Clee, John Kirkland, Stephen Ainsworth, David Hinde, Allan Patterson, Stephen Menzie, Tom Giles, Alan Graham, John Harrison, Iain Douglas, Jean Morgan, Rosemary Smith, John Campbell,  Colin Schofield, Nigel Troup,  Brian Grey,  Mike Hart,  Stephen Williams,  Chris Butterworth,  Martyn Jaimeson,  David Esther, Keith Lester and the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens for their sightings during November. All sightings are gratefully received.

Forthcoming Events


December Highest Spring Tides
4th December, 10:52hrs 9.8m. (all times GMT)
5th December, 11.38hrs 9.8m. 

Forthcoming Events (organised by the Wirral Ranger Service, Flintshire Countryside Service and/or the RSPB):
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 the Birdwatchers Diary 2003, now published in full on this web site.

Saturday 7th December 10:30am, High Tide at Point of Ayr
Join the RSPB warden to experience an impressive array of waders and wildfowl. Winter specialties may include Brent Goose and Short-eared Owl but be prepared that no two visits are quite the same at the Point of Air. (HW 12:45, 9.4m). No need to book, just turn up. Meet at the end of Station Rd, Talacre. Further information contact RSPB tel. 0151 336 7681.

Saturday 21st December 9:00am, Heswall High Tide Birdwatch.
Superb birding on the rising tide brings thousands of waders close to the shore. Black-tailed Godwits mingle with Dunlin, Redshanks and Curlew. Catch this wave of birds as they move up the estuary in search of safe high tide roosts. (HW 12:06, 9.00m) Meet at Banks Road car park, Lower Heswall, near Sheldrakes Restaurant. Further details tel. 0151 648 4371/3884.

Wednesday 1st January, 9:00am - 12:00noon, 
New Years Day Bird Race.
A guided walk from Wirral Country Park Visitor Centre, Thurstaston, across farmland, grassland, woodland and foreshore in search of 50 species of bird to start your 2003 yearlist. Warm waterproof clothing and stout footwear are essential. Please bring binoculars if you have them. Booking essential. Tel: 0151 648 4371/3884

Saturday 4th  January, 11:00am, Rails of the River Bank. 
A fantastic place to see birds of the estuary. Huge flocks of ducks and waders swirl around in the sky while there's always the chance of seeing a Water Rail as it's flushed out of the saltmarsh by the rising tide. Expect to see Merlin, Peregrine and maybe Short-eared Owl. Meet at River Bank Road car park, Lower Heswall. (HW 12:11, 9.5m) No need to book. For further details contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Sunday 12th January 2:30pm - 4pm. North Wirral Coastal Park.
Join the Ranger for a walk around the North Wirral Coastal Park in search for winter birdlife, including wading birds and possibly Short-eared Owls. Please wear suitable warm clothing and footwear. Booking essential, ring 0151 648 4371.

Note: Many of these forthcoming events are extracted from the 'Birdwatchers Diary 2003', 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.