The project has for some years been
colour ringing Twite in the
Snowdonia breeding grounds and at the wintering grounds on the Dee
estuary and various other localities along the North Wales coast.
The results are beginning to indicate that our small relic breeding population (in Nant Ffrancon, Snowdonia) migrate eastwards during the autumn and winter on the Dee estuary. Larger numbers of birds join them, from the Pennine breeding population and further afield. Some of the Pennine birds continue east and winter on the Norfolk coast. In the second year of the project it was suspected that a Nant Ffrancon bird has been seen in the company of some Pennines birds at Titchwell, however the ring combination seen was not sufficient for a 100% identification. This last winter (2014/15) a bird ringed in Nant Ffrancon in April was seen in a Twite flock on the Norfolk coast.
In 2010 a small flock of Twite were present on Pensarn beach one of which had a BTO metal ring. This flock was caught and the ringed bird was found to be from near Lochinver in north-western Scotland. In December 2014 another one of this flock was recaught at Askham, Cumbria. The small flock which appeared at Cemlyn last autumn also contained a ringed bird. When she was eventually caught she was found to be from the 15 miles south of the original Pensarn Scottish bird.
For the past two winters we have been
very lucky to have Richard
Beckett join the Twite team, and Richard has spent many hours recording
ring combinations and the comings and goings of the Dee estuary
birds. This winter a reasonable number of Twite have been
feeding regularly at Deeside Naturalist Society reserve at Connah's
Quay, and with their
continued permission a further 68 have been colour ringed. Also caught
have been a number of birds originally ringed at the Mull of Kintyre.
The Mull of Kintyre have a small breeding population but also has a
marked passage of autumn birds passing south and reasonable numbers
have been ringed there.
We are initially proposing that the coastal wintering birds here in North Wales may well be birds from the north west of Scotland, with our Welsh birds from Snowdonia venturing eastwards and mixing with Pennine birds on the Dee estuary, some of which will continue eastwards with their new mates.
Due to Richards’s diligence last year we knew when the Dee estuary birds began their spring dispersal and a few weeks later the first of the Nant Ffrancon birds were back in the Ogwen valley. From Richards’s recent observations the flock at Connah's Quay has now begun to disperse (April 2015). Over the next few weeks the critically low Welsh breeding population will be making their way along the North Wales coast back to Ogwen. Can I ask all North Wales Birders to be aware of this and keep an eye and an ear open for them on passage? We have about two and a half weeks and it would be very interesting if we could plot some of their traditional staging points along the coast.
Thanks and happy hunting.
Please report any sightings to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The North Wales Twite Project is a collaborative project between, Kelvin Jones, Ian Spence, Richard Beckett, RSPB Cymru, BTO Cymru, National Trust, Snowdonia National Park, Deeside Naturalists Society, North Wales Wildlife Trust, and Flintshire Council.
This article first published in April 2015 on the BTO Cymru Blog (btocymru.blogspot.co.uk) and reproduced here with kind permission of the author.
In the UK Twite (Carduelis flavrosris) are on the Red-list for Birds of Conservation Concern because of a long-term decline, particularly during the 20th century. However, as is often the case with birds, the picture is complex and that is one of the reasons why various colour ringing schemes have been set up to try and gain a better understanding of what is happening, one of these schemes is run by BTO Cyrmu and includes birds ringed on the Dee Estuary. The recent BTO Atlas 2007-11 showed a 19% contraction in breeding range since the 1968-72 Breeding Atlas, perhaps not such a dramatic reduction over 40 years as some people had feared, whereas there was an unexpected increase of 19% for the wintering area since the 1981-84 Winter Atlas. One problem is that breeding Twite are very difficult to survey with birds nesting in loose colonies and showing very little territorial behaviour in relation to the nest site. A study of the South Pennine area in the 1990s, where it's thought there has been a sharp decline, showed a marked reduction in range but nesting density had almost doubled.
On the west coast of England and Wales birds winter in flocks usually of 50 to 100 birds at various locations in Cumbria, Lancashire and the Welsh coast of the Dee estuary, with a few small flocks occasionally reported along the North Wales coast as far as Anglesey. On the Dee estuary nearly all birds are recorded in the area which includes the Connah's Quay Nature Reserve, Oakenholt Marsh and around Flint Castle. They also visit the salt marsh on the far side of the River Dee channel which is seldom visited by birders so many probably go unrecorded.
graph shows max counts for the past 20 years on the Dee estuary, all of
which have been either at Connah's Quay Nature Reserve or around Flint
Castle. Apart from a dip in the mid-2000s numbers have held pretty
steady at the 50 to 100 level. That is until last winter (2014/15) when
there were no less than nine counts of 100 or more, all at Connah's
Quay, peaking with at least 200 on January 21st. It is unclear why
there has been a sudden increase but some habitat creation in the form
of permanent drinking pools has helped and may well have attracted the
birds which normally spend the winter across the River Dee on the
marshes. We also heard that there were smaller numbers than normal at
Southport and Heysham so it's possible birds travelled a bit further
south than usual. According to reports on Bird Guides (not necessarily
a reliable measure of Twite flocks) this was the biggest wintering
flock outside Scotland that winter, although I note a flock of 263 at
Knott End, Lancashire, in November 2014 which didn't get put on Bird
Guides. But whatever the size of flocks elsewhere there's no doubt that
this part of the Dee Estuary is one of the most important wintering
sites in the country for this species.
Twite do occur elsewhere on the estuary and nearby coasts but they are irregular visitors away from their stronghold. Last winter we had 16 reported both at Gronant and Red Rocks in November, but only on single days. The longest staying birds in recent years were a flock of 13 which spent from December 2008 to February 2009 on Thurstaston beach, we also sometimes get larger flocks reported from Burton and Parkgate which are probably visitors from Connah's Quay.
This winter looks like another good one for them and numbers had already reached over 50 by November 27th. If you want to see them the largest flocks are at Connah's Quay but remember they are being studied here on a daily basis so be VERY careful not to disturb them, and if you see other birders there take their advice about the best place to go. Remember the Connah's Quay Reserve is members only. The other regular site is around Flint Castle and they are often to be seen on the nearby marsh where photographs can be taken, although I wouldn't advise going out onto the marsh itself unless you want to be stuck in thick estaurine mud!
References/Sources of Information
1. Birds of Conservation Concern 3, BTO/RSPB.
2. Bird Atlas 2007-11, BTO, 2013.
3. Rowena H.W. Langston et al., Status of breeding Twite in the UK, Bird Study, 53:1, 55-56 2006.
4. Peter Middleton, The South Pennine Twite population, British Birds 100, Feb 2007.
5. BTO Bird Ringing Blog, entry for 7th October 2014 "Looking out for Twite".
6. Bird Guides www.birdguides.com.
7. All those who have sent Twite records to me for inclusion in www.deestuary.co.uk, with particular thanks to Richard Beckett.
8. Clwyd Bird Reports/North East Wales Bird Reports 1995 to 2013.
Richard Smith.Top of Page
Large raptors tend to be wing-tagged rather than colour-ringed, and a juvenile Buzzard was recorded at the end of September. Not a very exciting record but the dispersal of juvenile Buzzards is a very interesting area of research and their dispersal no doubt has an impact on how they are continuing to spread. Another one was in the Leasowe Lighthouse area in the autumn but too distant to read the wing tags.
We have been completely frustrated in our attempts to log any colour ringed small waders over the past few months, and even most of the Black-tailed Godwits have moved on. To make up for that there have been large numbers of gulls at Hoylake, mainly Herring Gulls, and we describe the history of the three photogrpahed above.
The weather did it's best to sabotage the Wirral Wader Festival on November 14th and 15th but despite that it was a big success. I was at Hoylake for the High Tide Birdwatches on both days and was surprised just how many birds there were given the distinct lack of them a few days earlier. For me the most spectacular sight was the huge number of gulls. My estimate was 8,000 Herring Gulls on Saturday morning and when a Great Skua flew over (unseen by me!) the whole lot flew up making for a fantastic display. We also had a Mediterranean Gull and a good selection of waders, but the highlight was a fly past by a Long-tailed Duck.
There was a steady flow of visitors to the Thurstaston Visitor Centre looking at the stalls and attending the various talks. I think I was the RSPB stall's first visitor and I got them off to a good start by buying an expensive tripod! As expected, Alan and Ruth Davies of the Biggest Twitch were a big draw; as well as chatting to people they gave a talk and led two low tide birdwatches on Thurstaston Shore.
Read more about the festival here:
Just outside the area covered by deeestuary.co.uk are Birkenhead Docks, given it's industrial location it is a surprisingly good birding site. The docks are little used so the birds are rarely disturbed and they can have a good selection of water birds during the winter including the occasional rarity such as the Great Northern Diver above. This summer they were also home to Cheshire and Wirral's only Common Tern colony with about 20 pairs.
To see and hear all about what is
happening at Birkenhead Docks read the recently set up Birkenhead
Docks Birding Blog,
run by local birder Elliot Monteith.
26th December, 11.29hrs (GMT), 9.5m.
27th December, 12.11hrs (GMT), 9.5m.
Organised by the Wirral
Ranger Service , Flintshire
Countryside Service and the
RSPB (Dee Estuary):
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 2015 Events Diary.