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
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
Richard Hurst (RSPB)
Heswall Shore - (Kindly provided by the Wirral Ranger Service), 14th
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.
Connah's Quay and
Flint - (Kindly provided by
Deeside Naturalists' Society)
Count from West Kirby Shore
provided by the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens,
date of max November count in brackets).
November Bird News
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.
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.
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.
December Highest Spring Tides,
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):
Saturday 18th December, 12:00noon - 2:30pm, Winter Birdwatch at
Wirral Country Park.
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.
Sunday 23rd January, 3:00pm Parkgate
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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