Drake Scaup on West Kirby Marine Lake - Nov 11th, 2008 © Steve Round
The Scaup (otherwise know as Greater
Scaup) has become quite a scarce bird in our area so it was
see a flock of 70 to 96 last winter (2010/11) which were present off
Hilbre and North Wirral for several weeks. Although not as many birds
were involved the same happened the previous winter (2009/10), perhaps
these are birds dispersing away from a frozen Baltic Sea after the
colder than normal weather. The max count last winter was 96 off Meols
on Jan 31st, the highest count since 2001 when there were 188, although
this latter count was of a transient flock and it hasn't been since
1996 that we've had a sizeable flock overwintering here. About 30 were
still present off north Wirral in the second half of March this year
There was a time when the Dee Estuary
had the highest counts in England and Wales; in the 1960s, 70s and into
Over that period there used to be good size flocks feeding at high tide
on Caldy Blacks, the mussel bed off Caldy, although often the flock was
in the middle of the estuary and difficult to count. The graph above
probably underestimates numbers at Hilbre as the reports didn't always
make clear where the birds were seen from although it seems that often
the birds drifted out towards Hilbre on the ebbing tide. For a short
period in the late 1940's much larger numbers occurred with the highest
count being 5,000 in 1949, comparable to the largest flocks currently
occurring in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Nothing like these numbers
appeared here subsequently and during the 1950s there was a big drop in
Icelandic breeding birds, so maybe that is where those birds had come
Female Scaup on West Kirby Marine Lake, Feb 6th 2010, © Steve Seal
The Scaup breeds right across
the northern hemisphere. There are
two subspecies - Aytha marila marila which breeds
in Iceland, Scandinavia and east to western Siberia, and A.
m. neartica which breeds in eastern Siberia, Alaska and
northern Canada. It was estimated that numbers wintering in western
Europe (all Aytha
were around 310,000 up until about 20 years ago but they have since
declined. Only a small
portion of these winter around the British Isles;
a few thousand around Ireland and Scotland, with smaller numbers
around England and Wales, including the Dee Estuary. Ringing recoveries
indicate birds wintering in this country breed in both Iceland and
Europe although the majority are thought to come from
Iceland. Around 5,000 are found on Lough Beg and Neagh in
Ireland, just across the Irish Sea from the Dee Estuary; recent
increases there have been attributed to a recovery in the Icelandic
Flock of 52 Scaup and
1 Tufted Duck off the north end of Hilbre, Dec 18th 2010, © Steve
Hilbre Observatory Blog.
References/Sources of Information:
1. Cheshire Bird Reports 1964 to 2009.
2. Latest Sightings archive - www.deeestuary.co.uk (many thanks to
who sent their sightings to me).
3. Waterbird Population Estimates, Fourth Edition, AEWA, 2006.
4. BTO Migration Atlas, 2002.
5. David Cabot, Wildfowl, New Naturalist No.110, Collins, 2009.
6. A.J. Prater, Estuary Birds of Britain and Ireland, T&AD
7. T. Hedley Bell, The Birds of Cheshire, Sheratt, 1962.
A male Scaup off
Hilbre on a flat calm sea, Jan 29th 2011, © Joe Wynn.
November Bird News
Great White Egret
and Grey Heron off Gayton, Nov 27th © Paul Mason.
and excellent October I thought November would be far less exciting -
but not a bit of it! Lets start with the rarities. The two
Great White Egrets were still present on the 1st, and at least one
remained all month with some good views off Parkgate
tides. A Goshawk flew across the estuary from Heswall
the 4th. A Glossy Ibis turned up at Burton
on the 12th
and stayed three days. A Richard's Pipit at Leasowe Lighthouse
the 14th and 18th seemed to attract some particularly loutish twitchers
who trespassed on private land to continually flush the bird. A Little
Auk was on the sea off Hilbre
on the 19th followed by a second on the 27th. Lastly were two
magnificent adult Common Cranes which stayed on Heswall Marsh
hour and a half on the 24th - these must surely be part of the newly
established British population as Scandinavian breeders will have been
in Spain by then.
Glossy Ibis at
Wetlands, November 13th © Tim Rowley.
It was a
particularly good month for Snow Buntings with a total of 20 records
(compared with just two last November), with max three on Thurstaston
; other sightings were at Red
none were reported from Gronant
or Point of Ayr
There were two single
Black Redstarts with one at Red
and a cracking male on the cliffs
19th. Prolonged southerly winds brought a few late
migrants, a Swift at Leasowe on the 12th and several Wheatears
of which the last one spent several days by Wallasey Coastguard Station
and was last seen on the 22nd.
On Burton Marsh
there were lots of Short-eared Owls, including two
counts of 20. At least four Hen Harriers were recorded, three ringtails
and a sub-adult grey male, and possibly a full adult male as well. A
Spoonbill was reported several times on the marshes on both sides of
the estuary, although somewhat elusive, and a Bittern was spotted at Burton
on the 9th. A large flock of Twite were
reported from Connah's Quay
and Oakenholt Marsh
with max 75 on the 25th.
Given the mild conditions wader numbers were reasonably high with max
counts as follows: 3,000 Black-tailed Godwits at Point of Ayr, and
11,000 Knot and 9,000 Dunlin at West
. Purple Sandpipers had
reached 20 on the pontoon on New
Brighton Marine Lake
by the end of the
month with another 15 at Hilbre
Up to 1,500 Black-tailed Godwits were
also at Thurstaston
were 20 different colour-ringed birds were logged.
There seemed to be a bit of an influx of European White-fronted Geese
into the country with several small flocks reported away from their
usual haunts in the south of England, we had some at Burton
, with max 14 present for several days.
The southerly winds strengthened towards the end of the month, and we
also had a few days of westerly gales resulting in some good
seawatching. Highlights were several Great Skuas, max six flew past Hilbre
on the 25th with 25 Red-throated Divers on the 28th and a
Northern Diver there on the 9th. I'm pretty sure that the
192 Gannets counted on the 25th is the highest ever recorded
November, many years none at all are seen so late in the year. Earlier
in the month one Pomarine skua was seen eating a dead auk off Hilbre on
Many thanks go to Damian Waters, Kevin
Williams, Steve Hinde, Richard Beckett, Nick Isherwood, Ray
Eades, Emily Forshaw, Tanny Robinson, Tony Kendrick, Paul
Mason, John Rowlands, Bruce Atherton, Derek Gifford, Joe Wynn, David
Williams, Barry Probin, John Jakeman,
Steve Hasell, Mark Evans, Daniel Carrington, Charles Farnell, Greg
Edwards, Bill Wonderley, Gail Wilson, Dermot Smith, Dave Harrington,
Don Maxwell, Paul Brady, Paul Earley, Chris
Butterworth, Kenny Dummingan, David Leeming, John Nicklin, Richard
Steel, Alan Irving, Dave Wild,
Ian Macadam, Matt
Thomas, Ashley Cohen, Jeremy Bradshaw, Steve Liston, Jane Turner, Julie
Rogers, Paul Vautrinot, Steve Hand, Andy
Thomas, Rachel Zarranz, Ian Dyer, Leon Castell, David Small, Andrew
Wallbank, Sean O'Hara,
Mark Johnson, Colin Schofield, Chris Dickinson, Martin Kelly, Jon
Thompson, Dan Trotman, John Pagan, Chris Tynan, Paul Roberts, Ian
Cotterell, Peter Haslem, Julian Weldrick, David Dixon, Mark Murphy, the
and the Hilbre Bird
for their sightings during November. All
are gratefully received.
What to expect in December
This time last year we
starting one of the coldest months on record and it made for some great
birdwatching - to read about last December click here
the weather the birdwatching will be good on the estuary with a build
up of both waders and wildfowl. Along north Wirral low tide off Leasowe
is a good site to see feeding waders with thousands of Knot and
Godwits. A calm day at high tide will mean the hundreds of Great
Crested Grebes will be visible off Hoylake, Meols and Leasowe - there
should also be Scoters and Red-throated Divers out there. Hopefully we
will get Scaup returning again and Meols shore is usually a good spot
see these at high tide, as well as Hilbre.
Further west along the shore Hoylake and
West Kirby will be spectacular at high tide with thousands of roosting
waders. Brent Geese and Purple Sandpipers numbers will be building on
Hilbre, New Brighton is also a good place to see the latter on a high
tide on the pontoon in the Marine Lake.
Thurstaston shore is a
great place to see feeding Knots and both Bar-tailed and Black-tailed
Godwits when the tide is out - as well as good numbers of Pintail,
Shelduck and Teal. Out on the marshes off Parkgate and Burton you
should see Hen Harriers, and this winter looks like a particularly good
one for Short-eared Owls. Pink-footed Geese and swans will be in good
numbers feeding on Shotwick Fields, or out on the marshes.
spots on the Welsh side of the estuary are the Connah's Quay Reserve
(members only) and Flint Castle. Both these sites are good for Twite as
well as for waders and wildfowl. The beach at Point of Ayr is usually
the best site on the estuary to see Snow Buntings, the wader roost here
can be spectacular for both waders and wildfowl, and there is always a
good chance of a Short-eared Owl over the lagoon.
Spring Tides (Liverpool)
25th December, 11.10hrs (GMT), 9.6m.
26th December, 11.56hrs (GMT), 9.7m.
27th December, 12.39hrs (GMT), 9.6m.
Organised by the Wirral
Ranger Service , Flintshire Countryside Service and/or the
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 2011 Events Diary.
Sunday 18th December, 2pm start, RSPB
Raptor Watch at the Old
Baths Car Park, Parkgate
Dee Estuary Nature Reserve is a vital wintering grounds for many birds
of prey – Discover these impressive birds in their wild habitat,
hunting and roosting on the saltmarsh.
Warm clothing and binoculars recommended. Ring 0151 336 7681 for
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