1st December 2004

Dee Estuary WeBS.

Point of Ayr Wardens.
Latest Bird Counts.

November Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
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Dee Estuary Wetland Bird Survey Report 2003/2004

The 2003/2004 Dee Estuary Wetland Bird Survey Report has been published and is available from Colin Wells, Burton Point Farm, Station Road, Burton, Cheshire for £4.50 including P&P, or £4.00 from the reception at Inner Marsh Farm. Please make cheques out to the RSPB, for more details ring 0151 336 7681.

The period covered by the report - April 2003 to March 2004 - was a good one for the Dee Estuary with 17 out of the 24 most common species showing an increase in numbers compared with the previous 12 months. Highlights include record numbers of Little Egrets, Shelduck and Black-tailed Godwit, and in the summer (2003) record numbers of Little Terns were fledged. Redshank, which showed a small drop in the over wintering population, had the second highest ever passage numbers in September. On the down side both Great Crested Grebes and Mallard continue to show declines.

As the compiler (Neil Friswell) points out in his introduction numbers at any particular roost, and indeed on the estuary as a whole, can change greatly depending on the height of the tide. As it happens there was quite a large range of tide heights on the specified count days for 2003/2004. Ranging from 7.7m in November to 9.8m in February, and it is very interesting to see the effect on bird numbers - but you will have to read the report to see the details!

However, what I have done is drawn up a bar chart (below) showing the effect on tide heights for four species. I've taken the three peak winter months - Nov, Dec and Jan for each of the winters from 99/00 to 03/04, averaging the counts for tides below 9.5 m and the counts for tides of 9.5m and above.

As the graph clearly demonstrates, for Grey Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit ('Barwit') and Knot the height of the tide makes a large difference. These species are found mostly on the north Wirral coast and their main roost at Hoylake is covered on the higher tides so it is not surprising that they roost elsewhere, probably across the river Mersey on the Alt Estuary. Interestingly Dunlin don't appear to be affected by tide heights when roosting. This is most likely for two reasons - firstly they are more widespread throughout the estuary and will find roost sites further in to the estuary if the outer roosts are covered. Secondly, even if they cannot find a roost they sometimes stay within the estuary by aerial roosting, as happened at West Kirby during the Nov 2000 count when 30,000 spent high tide flying over the shore during a 9.5m tide. 

Many thanks to Neil Friswell (compiler) and Colin Wells (editor) for allowing me to use data from the report for this article. They wish me to point out that the data, at time of publication, had not been fully validated by the Wetland bird survey. Any data in the report or this article should not be used in any way without permission of the WeBS Office. To access official WeBS data please contact the WeBS Secretariat - BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk IP 24 2 PU  http://www.bto.org .

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Point of Ayr Voluntary Wardening Scheme
Point of Ayr, on the North Wales coast, is a great place to watch a variety of birds as they come in to roost at high tide, but unfortunately the site is extremely vulnerable to human disturbance. The RSPB is looking for extra volunteers to help warden this invaluable roost site, and protect the birds throughout the cold winter months.

Shifts are run most weekends and typically last between 3-4 hours, depending on the height of the tide.

If you would like to help in any way please contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681. Not only are you helping to save the planet, but it’s also great birdwatching too!

Richard Hurst (RSPB)

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Bird Counts
Count from Heswall Shore - (Kindly provided by the Wirral Ranger Service), 14th November.
2 Great Crested Grebe, 20 Cormorant, 5 Grey Heron,11 Canada Goose, 25 Brent Goose (light-bellied), 3,600 Shelduck, 80 Wigeon, 643 Teal, 53 Mallard, 21 Red-breasted Merganser, 1 Water Rail, 8,170 Oystercatcher, 8 Golden Plover, 1 Grey Plover, 328 Lapwing, 200 Knot, 500 Dunlin, 1 Snipe, 88 Black-tailed Godwit, 1,050 Curlew and 1,410 Redshank.

Count from Connah's Quay and Flint - (Kindly provided by Deeside Naturalists' Society)
14th November. 3 Little Grebe, 3 Great Crested Grebe, 161 Cormorant, 4 Little Egret, 4 Grey Heron, 1 Mute Swan, 6 Shelduck, 7 Gadwall, 475 Teal, 4 Pochard, 419 Mallard, 2 Shoveler, 7 Tufted duck, 2 Moorhen, 25 Coot, 800 Oystercatcher, 1,236 Lapwing, 1,500 Knot, 3,000 Dunlin, 60 Black-tailed Godwit, 12 Curlew, 6 Spotted Redshank, 171 Redshank and 2 Greenshank.

Count from West Kirby Shore provided by the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens, date of max November count in brackets).
7,000 Oystercatcher (12th), 50 Ringed Plover (25th), 400 Grey Plover (28th), 2,000 Knot (26th), 20 Sanderling (28th), 6,000 Dunlin (14th, 16th and 17th), 400 Bar-tailed Godwit (25th), 250 Curlew (25th) and 500 Redshank (14th and 25th).

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November Bird News
It is another good winter for both Hen Harriers and Short-eared Owls with up to four of the former and six of the latter. My latest copy of Birdwatching magazine tells me, quite rightly, that one of the best places to see wintering Short-eared Owls in the country is the Dee Estuary. It mentions Parkgate Old Baths as the prime site - but this is only true on the two or three days a year when the marsh gets covered by the tide. Much better is Burton Marsh as seen from Denhall Quay. Here I saw six in a couple of minutes one afternoon during this month, two very close to where I was standing. I would recommend a still overcast afternoon and if you wish to do an accurate count, sweep your telescope across the marsh fairly quickly to avoid double counting. It is surprising just how fast the Owls can move!

Brent Geese built up rapidly during the month, ending up with 51 on the last day of the month. This is more than double the previous for November which was 24 in 2000. They are all of the pale-bellied race and almost certainly part of the population which breeds in Eastern Canada and winters mainly in Ireland. The latest Goose News from the Wetland and Wildfowl Trust says that this Eastern Canadian  population is at record numbers at the moment. The ones on the Dee Estuary don't usually peak until well into January so perhaps we could get up to 60 by then. A couple of immature Shags have been frequenting West Kirby Marine Lake although numbers of Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser have been fairly low. One Green-winged Teal was spotted for a few days at Inner Marsh Farm.

© Richard Smith

The photo above was taken on December 2nd 2004 on a glorious sunny morning, it shows Black-tailed Godwits and Oystercatchers on Thurstaston Shore at low tide. Two of the 'Blackwits' are colour ringed but unfortunately for the whole time I was there each bird was only showing one leg (both legs are ringed).

Wader counts have been good without being spectacular. 560 Sanderling was a good number for Hoylake Shore and 14 Purple Sandpipers were seen on the rocks by the Life-guard Station at Wallasey. There don't seem to have been nearly as many Black-tailed Godwits around at their usual haunts of Connah's Quay and Thurstaston as for the previous couple of winters. But I'm told the main flock is spending it's time out of sight on the edge of the marsh off Neston. There have also been several hundred feeding in fields behind Point of Ayr.

Snow Buntings put in brief appearances at Gronant (six) and Wallasey (one), and two Waxwings were on private land out of sight of the public in Neston.

What to expect in December.

We often get a cold spell around Christmas - no wind, crisp and clear - my favourite winter weather! This makes for some great birdwatching with both waders and wildfowl in peak numbers, they are often so busy feeding on the mud close to the beach that they seem unaware of human presence. Last year we had 38,000 Knot and 42,000 Dunlin, a spectacular sight. Between 50 and 100 Bewick's Swans should be seen either on Burton Marsh or Shotwick Fields, and one or two Smew have become regular visitors to Inner Marsh Farm. Cold weather movements might include thousands of Lapwings moving through the area.

There are large numbers of Waxwings in the country so may be with a bit of luck we could get a good flock here. It was Christmas last year when we had five Waxwings in West Kirby. Another Scandinavian visitor is the Brambling and some years we can get hundreds feeding with flocks of Chaffinches. Look out also for movements of Skylarks overhead, Fieldfares in the fields and Redwings in trees.

Many thanks go to Chris Wilding, Gill Plevin, Pete Rogers, Tanny Robinson, Colin Jones, Kevin Hayes, Pete Button, Mike Ward, Steve Round, Bernard Machin, Steve Williams,  Chris Butterworth,  Martyn Jaimeson, John Roberts, Mark O'Sullivan, David Haigh, Phil Woollen, David Wilde,  Allan Conlin, Steve Ainsworth,  Sabena Blackbird, Clive Ashton, David Banbury, Mike Hart, David Esther, Kevin Smith, Liz and Don Shand, David and Emma Kenyon, Matt Thomas, Steve Renshaw, Iain Douglas,  the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens  and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during November. All sightings are gratefully received.

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Forthcoming Events
December Highest Spring Tides, also see Tides page.
13th December, 11:49hrs 9.6m. Times GMT.
14th December, 12:39hrs 9.6m. 

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.

Saturday 18th December, 12:00noon - 2:30pm, Winter Birdwatch at Wirral Country Park.
Join the Rangers on this leisurely stroll around Wirral Country Park to look for finches, winter thrushes, waders and wildfowl on this final guided birdwatch of the year. Finish off the walk in the Visitor Centre Bird Hide. No need to book, meet at the Visitor Centre. Please bring warm waterproofs and binoculars if you have them. This event is suitable for all the family to enjoy, but children under 8 years old must be accompanied by an adult. For further information call Wirral Country Park on 0151 648 4371/3884.

Sunday 19th December, 2:30pm, Parkgate Raptor Watch.
Come along and watch birds of prey with the experts. See the graceful hen harriers coming into roost on the RSPB reserve. Other birds of prey we hope to see are merlin, peregrine, sparrowhawk, short-eared owl and barn owl. Meet at the Old Baths car park, which overlooks the Gayton Sands Nature Reserve at Parkgate, close to The Boathouse pub. For further details call contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

The following events are from the new forthcoming 'Birdwatchers Diary 2005' due to be published in mid-December. The diary is a list of birdwatching events covering the Merseyside and Dee Estuary regions and is due to be published in mid-December.

Sunday 9th January, 8:30am, Seaducks and Shorebirds.
During the winter months the Marine Lake at West Kirby is a good place to spot seaducks including goldeneye, scaup and red-breasted merganser. Join the Wirral RSPB local group on a stroll around the lake to get views of these birds without having to venture out onto the waves! Then head to Cubbins Green to view the waders feeding on the rich estuary mudflats. Meet at the Dee Lane slipway. For more details phone 0151 648 4371.

Sunday 23rd January, 3:00pm Parkgate Raptor Watch.
Watch the elegant hen harriers come in to roost on the RSPB reserve at Gayton Sands.Other birds we hope to see include merlin, peregrine, sparrowhawk, short-eared owl and barn owl. Meet at the Old Baths car park, Parkgate, close to the Boathouse pub. For further details contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Saturday 29th January, 10:00am – 4:00pm, RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch.
Join the RSPB Wardens at Ness Gardens bird feeding station. Help us count the birds in the Gardens as part of a national survey, and learn all about garden birds and how to attract them to your garden. All welcome. Meet at Ness Gardens tearoom. No need to book. For more details tel. 0151 336 7681.

Sunday 30th January, 11:00am, Banks Road (Heswall) Birdwatch.
One of the best places on the estuary to get close-up views of a variety of waders including black-tailed godwit, knot, redshank and curlew as they amass along the banks of the Heswall Gutter (HW 14:09, 8.9m). Meet at Banks Road car park, Lower Heswall, near Sheldrake’s Restaurant. For details, tel. 0151 648 4371.

Sunday 30th January 10:00am – 5:00pm, Big Garden Birdwatch.
Join us in the bird hide at Wirral Country Park and take part in this national RSPB event to count the birds in our gardens. For further details, phone 0151 648 4371.

Note: Many of these forthcoming events are extracted from the 'Birdwatchers Diary 2005', 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.

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