Most birdwatchers who regularly visit the Dee Estuary can identify our commoner waders, but even experienced observers will have difficulty when confronted by a tightly packed roost several hundred metres away, especially if they are all facing away and the birds have their bills tucked under their wings! Then there's counting them, which is at least another order of magnitude more difficult. I know just how difficult it can be as I do counts whilst wardening at West Kirby and Point of Ayr, at Heswall as part of the Wetland Bird Survey and at Hoylake just out my own interest. Hoylake during the winter is the most important winter wader roost in the Dee Estuary/north Wirral coast area, hence my interest. Counts enable us to see how effective wardening is, to spot trends, both short and long term, and also to highlight those areas and species in most need of protection.
I'm often asked by passers by 'how do you count them'? I try not to say 'count the legs and divide by two' as that joke is now getting a bit old, one of John Gittins' I believe! The technique is to count in multiples of, say, 10, 100, or even 1,000 if it is a very large flock, having first counted that number accurately so you know what that number of birds looks like in relation to the rest of the flock. Sounds easy? Maybe if you are counting a well spread out flock of Curlew, but try counting a dense flock of 20,000 Knot from 200 metres away, taking in to account that the flock also includes 10,000 Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwits, Sanderling and Grey Plover!
Trying to split up the different species whilst counting is certainly a problem, but perhaps not as big a problem as you might think. Look at the above photo; in the front are Dunlin, about 10 birds deep. Then Knot, at least 30 birds deep, with Grey Plover on the far side. This isn't just a chance arrangement, the pattern remains basically the same at every high tide with each species choosing a separate part of the beach. However, because of their different geography and nearby food sources each roost site is different both in terms of what species are present and where they locate themselves within each roost. So Hoylake is very different to Little Eye, which is different to Heswall, which is different to Point of Ayr. But the location of each species within each roost site remains more or less the same from tide to tide. They also look different: for example, at Hoylake Knot are always very densely packed together, Dunlin will be on the landward side of the Knot, much less densely packed, Curlew will be strung along the tideline standing in the sea usually to one side of the main flock, Grey Plover will be in the water on the seaward side of the Knot etc.
Above is a diagram representing the roost at Hoylake, they were spread out like this on Nov 5th when I took the above photograph, and it is very typical of what you can expect whenever you go down to Hoylake at high tide. Note that dogs, Peregrines and a very high tide can unsettle this arrangement! All of you being birdwatchers will know how important it is not to disturb roosting waders but unfortunately the wader roost at Hoylake does suffer a lot of disturbance, mainly from dogs running through the flock. Having said that I am always amazed just how tolerant of disturbance the waders at Hoylake are but there is a limit to how much they can take. If you are interested in protecting the wader roost either at West Kirby or Hoylake please contact the coastal ranger on 0151 678 5488, see also the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens page.
Acknowledgement: The idea for the above diagram came from a similar diagram of the Crossens Roost on page 151 of Waders by W.G. Hale, part of the New Naturalist series.
Barn Owl Trust’s Recorder, Mike Maher, does an extremely important job for
the trust, recording all Barn Owl sightings for the Wirral peninsula on a
computer database. Clusters of sightings may indicate breeding sites or
potential breeding sites. Sightings also greatly help the trust to select
suitable sites for nest boxes and to consider the need for habitat
protection or enhancement.
Ed. This article was reproduced from the Wirral Barn Owl News, Nov 2005 edition, with kind permission of the editor, Steve Harris. Thanks to the trust Barn Owls in Wirral are doing very well with 31 pairs in 2005 compared with only one pair in 1999 - an amazing achievement. Similar efforts are also being made by the Welsh Raptor Study Group (North East Wales branch), please send any sightings from the Welsh side of the estuary to myself, Richard Smith, and I'll pass them on to the appropriate person - .
November Bird News
advantage of covering a large site like the Dee Estuary is that there is
always something interesting going on somewhere, and this November was
The immature Long-billed Dowitcher which had been at Inner Marsh Farm since 12th October stayed for the first week of November but hasn't been since since. A Black Redstart was at Red Rocks on the 2nd and stayed until the 7th. A nice bonus for the month were two Richard's Pipits which arrived on the marsh on West Kirby shore on the 21st and stayed until the end of the month. This rarity is a native of central Asia but a few do turn up in this country every year, typically in the autumn. Less rare were two Snow Buntings seen at Red Rocks and West Kirby around the mid-month.
Hen Harrier numbers reached five, including one full adult male and a sub-adult male. I had a great view of the full ad male from 10 metres away as it flew past Denhall Quay. All but the full male bird are roosting in reed birds of the Old Baths car park at Parkgate, but sometimes it is virtually dark before they come in (see also 'The Magic of Parkgate').
Apart from good numbers of waders, especially off Thurstaston at low tide - a spectacular sight -, one other thing of note was a late passage of Gannets with six off Hilbre being on the 15th the last ones through. Last year the last ones were seen in early October.
What to expect in December
They keep on predicting a colder than normal winter, and the second half of November was certainly cold enough. If the weather on the continent is severe than we should get cold weather movements coming our way, particularly waders and wildfowl.
In a normal year we would expect Brent Geese to continue to increase and peak in late January, but in a normal year we don't expect 86 by the end of November. Anyway, the way things are going we could have 100 by Christmas! Other wildfowl should include at least one Smew at Inner Marsh Farm, a regular here. Bewick's Swans normally increase to at least 60 and flocks of Pink-footed Geese are often seen moving through, usually heading north towards south Lancashire. Numbers of Wigeon, Teal and Pintail should all remain high, perhaps higher than normal if cold weather drives them west.
Knot and Dunlin numbers should remain high, expect up to 30,000 of each, best seen at Hoylake or Point of Ayr at high tide, and Thurstaston or Leasowe at low tide. So far it has been a good winter for Sanderling and it will be interesting to see if they stick around if the weather gets colder. Bar-tailed Godwits numbers have not yet picked up but we would expect at least 5,000 of Leasowe this month, also similar numbers of Black-tailed Godwits inside the estuary off Thurstaston, Heswall and Flint.
It would be good to see more than the five Hen Harriers we have had over the past two winters coming in to roost at Parkgate. Short-eared Owls seem to be more spread out this year so expect to see them just about anywhere in our area.
It was a superb winter for Waxwings in 2004/2005 and we cannot really expect the same again, but they usually start coming in during December so look out for them in those berry trees, they usually seem to go for supermarket car parks!
Many thanks go to Ray Eades, John Boswell, Steve Renshaw, John Kirkland, Sean Fortune, Mark Turner, Colin Davies, Steve Astley, Bernard Machin, Sheila Blamire, Alan Jupp, Frank Huband, David Esther, Dave and Emma Kenyon, Colin Schofield, John Campbell, Clive Ashton, Paul Rutter, David Haigh, Colin Jones, Charles Farnell, Steve Williams, Phil Woolen, Chris Butterworth, Nick Moss, Andrew Wallbank, Stephen Ainsworth, Sabena Blackbird, Jeff Stevens, Dave Harrington, Jane Turner, Allan Conlin, Mike Hart, Dave Wilde, Andrew Jennings, Tanny Robinson, Mark O'Sullivan, Bob Pilgrem, Steve Round, Eric Sherry, Iain Douglas, Paul Vautrinot, Graham Thompson, Damian Waters, the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during November. All sightings are gratefully received.
NEW - Wirral's Parks and Countryside
Events and Activities Newsletter (Winter Edition) is now out. This is now
a glossy publication full of great photographs including one on the front
cover of a mass of Oystercatchers in flight. You can pick up a free copy
from the Visitor Centre, Thurstaston Country Park.
December Highest Spring Tides,
Forthcoming Events (organised by the
Wirral Ranger Service,
Flintshire Countryside Service and/or the RSPB):
Saturday 3rd December, 9:30am, Flint
High Tide Birdwatch.
Saturday 3rd December, 10:00am - 3pm,
Connah's Quay Reserve
Saturday 17th December, 9:00am,
Banks Road Birdwatch, Heswall.
Sunday 1st January, 9am - 12
noon, The Big Bird List.
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.
Birdwatchers Diary 2006 will be published on this website when available.
All material in this newsletter, and indeed the whole web site, has been written by myself, Richard Smith, unless specified.
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