Home Sightings Photos NewsletterTides etc. Site Guides Index

December 2022 Newsletter


A Massive Redwing Migration

Redwings over Hilbre, October 19th © Alan Hitchmough

I woke up on the morning of Wednesday 19th October at first light and looked out of the window. Overcast and a bit breezy and I thought it was going to be a bit of a nothing day. Then I saw a small flock of Redwings fly over - my first of the autumn so I was pleased. Another flock came over, unusual over my house in October when I normally only see them in winter when they come into the adjacent Stapledon Wood. Then I started getting texts - "some superb vis mig at Thurstaston this AM. Big movement of Redwings"  "at West Kirby Marine Lake and there are big Thrush flocks piling in! Spectacular!!" "1000s of fieldfares/redwings flying over Thurstaston camp site now".

As soon as I drove down Station Road at Thurstaston I could see the loose straggly flocks typical of Thrush migration. The flocks were big and in the 30 minutes I was counting I had at least 2,000 Redwings and 500 Fieldfares, just fantastic to see. Before I arrived Steve Hinde had done a count of 4,080 Redwing and 1,125 Fieldfare between 0800hrs and 0915hrs, so they were still coming through at the same rate. Redwings largely migrate at night but will keep on going the following day if conditions are right. But sooner or later they have to stop for food and this is what they were doing in the afternoon with large numbers in the fields and in the hedges. One observer said "I have just walked through Dawpool NR, every berry tree was alive with them. They where like locusts. Then a Sparrowhawk spooked them all, what a spectacular sight."

As they dropped down to feed the overhead passage eased off. Taking that into account and using various counts people made during the day I've estimated that there was a minimum of 15,000 Redwings over Thurstaston that day, but 20,000+ seems quite likely. To put that in perspective a count of two or three thousand would normally be considered exceptional. You can see from the map that Thurstaston's location means it is always a good site to see visible migration as birds arrive there both from along the coast and those flying along the valley between Thurstaston and Caldy/Grange Hills, and, as they continue into the estuary, the birds tend to disperse over Heswall and Parkgate marshes.

Redwings were everywhere on the 19th but the red arrows show the main routes. Observers at Hilbre bird Observatory had birds flying in from the north and thus bypassing Crosby. The ones at Hale were also in addition to the massive count at Crosby - incredible numbers! It seems likely that some flocks carried on flying south-east and into the River Mersey although there were no reports from along that stretch.

In the evening I do what I always do and that is look at BirdGuides to see what has been seen in our local area - and I couldn't believe what it was telling me. 122,600 Redwings over Crosby Marine Park between 0730hrs and 1430hrs, surely that was a mistake?? But it wasn't! I'm pretty certain that is the highest single site count of Redwings ever made in this country. Just two miles due south of Crosby is New Brighton, and due south is precisely the direction that enormous number of Redwings were going. We know from previous experience that most migrating thrushes (and other passerines) come down that coast past Formby and Crosby then turn south-west along the north-wirral coast, as indicated on the map. On the 19th it is likely that many did indeed do that but many may also have continued into the River Mersey whilst others dispersed across Wirral. It's easy to be wise after the event but how great it would have been to have had migrant watchers all day placed at New Brighton, Leasowe Lighthouse, Red Rocks and Thurstaston to give us accurate counts of this exceptional migration and monitor the flight paths, but sadly that wasn't the case.

There was one other site in Cheshire where an accurate count was made, this was at Hale Head on the north shore of the Mersey Estuary and a well known migrant hot spot. Birds were counted between 0915hrs to 1125hrs with a total count of 11,427 Redwings. It was known that birds had been flying over since dawn and were still coming over when the counter had to leave so a conservative estimate of the day's total would be to at least double that number. But note those 20,000+ will have been in addition to those counted at Crosby and Thurstaston, as you can see from the map.

The majority of Redwings we see in this country breed in the vast forests of northern Russia. In the autumn they head south-east and on Tuesday 18th October large numbers must have been using southern Norway as a staging post, no doubt feeding up before heading south. That evening conditions were perfect for a southerly migration, clear with a light northerly winds. As they took to the air they started showing on the weather radars as shown in the maps below - by 8pm the Redwings, for that is what most of them were, covered an astonishing 50,000 square miles of southern Norway and they were starting to head out into the North Sea.

Weather Radar in southern Norway and Sweden. The blue areas are migrating birds.@vogeltrekinfo.

All the following day (19th) the Redwings were recorded flying south right down the eastern North Sea coast from northern Netherlands to France with several sites reporting record numbers including 214,838 at Den Haag and 350,080 at Westenschouwen. But as they left Norway many also ended up in the UK blown there by a fresh easterly wind. Over 4,000 were identified by their nocturnal flight calls that night coming in off the North Sea at Jarrow, County Durham, and it's likely that it was along that coastline most of them made their landfall. By dawn the large majority where all heading south in a relatively small area, inside the square shown on the map below.  Records were being broken all over that area including 43,000 at Ryther in North Yorkshire, 31,670 at Lytham on the Ribble Estuary whilst 18 miles inland of the Ribble 66,000 flew over Winter Hill and 18 miles south of the Ribble we had that massive count at Crosby. 

The Trektellen map shows those counts reported to that website. The large red circle to the west is Crosby, that on the east coast is Flamborough, then all the large counts in between. The small red circle on the English north-east coast (at Jarrow) is a count of nocturnal calls obtained on the night of Oct 18th/19th when the birds were coming in off the North Sea.

Redwings were recorded elsewhere in the UK that day, but appear to have been fairly localised. The Mull of Kintyre, on the west coast of Scotland, saw 8,380 fly over in the morning and was the only significant count north of our 'square' that day. To the east Flamborough Head had a very high count of 33,743, also in the morning. They were coming in off the sea and these were the only big flocks reported that day to be flying west, and not south. They must have been coming in off the North Sea in a very narrow front as no other east coast site reported any significant movement of Redwings that day. To the south-west Painswick Beacon in Gloucestershire had over 9,000 Redwings mostly coming over in the morning, so these must have arrived earlier into the country than the main wave further north.

The next day (20th) nearly all records came from the south of England including 9,000 at Severnside (Gloucs) where most birds were recorded flying south-west. Total numbers in the UK were small compared with the previous day so the majority of the massive passage of birds appear to have continued on south on the night of the 19th/20th flying over the English Channel on their way to the wintering grounds in France and Spain.

Redwings in the fields adjacent to the Wirral Way at Thurstaston on the afternoon of October 19th © Richard Smith

Historical Records

When all the data is in it is likely that October 19th 2022 will be seen as the largest single day passage of Redwings ever seen in this country, and that the 122,600 Redwings counted flying south along the coast at Crosby will have been the largest ever single site count ever made in the UK. For those of us lucky to see it it was an awesome experience. But how does October 2022 compare to previous years?

On the Dee Estuary the most regular and largest counts have all come from Red Rocks, and there have been two five-figure counts - 11,150 on October 22nd 1979 and 10,500 on October 16th 1993. At Hale Head, on the north bank of the Mersey Estuary, visible migration counts have been made regularly since 2007 and, again, there have been two five-figure counts before 2022, with 11,307 on October 29th 2009 and 10,848 on October 31st 2014. The graphs show an interesting difference in weekly distribution between what happens on the coast, at Red Rocks, and at Hale Head 14 miles inland. It would seem at the coastal site of Red Rocks the migration is much more concentrated over the second half of October than at Hale where birds are flying over throughout October and November.

Previous to 2022 there seems to have been very few counts of Redwings nationally over 20,000, with 32,000 over Flamborough Head on October 13th 2020 seen as an exceptional count. But there was one year, 2004, which was extraordinary and was the subject of a British Birds article (Ref 6). I quote:

"Exceptionally large daytime movements of Redwings Turdus iliacus and other passerines occurred over Cheshire, North Merseyside and Lancashire on 9th–10th October 2004. The prevailing weather conditions throughout northwest England were moderate NE or ENE winds (force 3–4) with mostly clear skies and excellent visibility. These were ideal conditions for autumn migration and, since these days were a weekend, birders were out in force, no doubt hoping for a good day’s ‘vis mig’ (visible migration). Those who connected with the thrush flocks were, however, overwhelmed by the numbers involved and astounded by their unprecedented direction of flight: northeasterly on the coast (where almost all autumn diurnal migrants head south or southwest), while inland birds headed north (the usual pattern is west or southwest)."

The Redwings appeared to be using three separate and quite narrow flyways, over Pilling (south shore of Morecambe Bay), over Marshside RSPB (south shore of the Ribble Estuary) and over Whitley Reed in north Cheshire - all flying the 'wrong' way, i.e. north-east or north. At Whitley Reed an initial estimate of 100,000 over in just three hours was revised downwards to 50,000 - 60,000, still a remarkable number, and the total number of thrushes over north-west England was estimated at nearly 145,000, the vast majority being Redwings. After analysis of the weather patterns over that weekend the authors concluded that the birds had flown south from Scandinavia down the North Sea coasts in ideal conditions but then hit a storm over northern France which caused them to reverse direction and they ended up flying over the north-west of England as described. Presumably they then completed a circle as they later headed south again.

Acknowledgments and References

1. Thanks to all those 'vis mig' counters, many of who spent long hours out in the field on October 19th. Particularly Barrie Armitt at Crosby without who we wouldn't have realised just how massive this movement was. He was there from 0730hrs to 1430hrs. Also Rob Cockbain at Hale, and Steve Hinde, Matt Thomas and Ian Goldstraw at Thurstaston - and many others throughout the country.

2. Thanks to @vogeltrekinfo who posted the weather radar map (Norway/Sweden) on Twitter.

3. Thanks to Jane Turner for forwarding her Red Rocks data.

4. BirdGuides - https://www.birdguides.com/sightings

5. The Migration and Counts Website - https://www.trektellen.org/

6. Jean Roberts and Steve J. White, An exceptional movement of Redwings across northwest England in October 2004, British Birds 99, February 2006.

Richard Smith

Caught and ringed by Hilbre Bird Observatory on October 19th © Steve Williams

Top of Page

Colour Ring Report


The Knots returned in good numbers during November with a notable influx on the 16th, and judging by the ringed birds we've seen many of these had spent the autumn on the Wash where huge numbers were counted at RSPB Snettisham. Over the past six weeks (up to the end of November) we've had 92 records of colour-ringed Knots and included on that list where some which were ringed locally at Hoylake on November 25th by Merseyside Ringing Group and five of these have already been spotted.

As well as Knots ringed locally at Hoylake, Altcar and Ainsdale we've seen birds ringed on the Orkneys (a first for us), the Netherlands, Iceland and Norway. Photos and details of four of them below.

Orange Flag (11C) over green ring - ringed at Hoylake on November 25th 2022 and has already been recorded at Meols (27th) and Thurstaston (28th). Here photographed at Meols on Nov 27th © Richard Smith.

Orange Flag (29J) over yellow ring. This was at Thurstaston on November 16th. We knew that it's yellow ring meant that it had been ringed in Scotland, but we got a nice surprise when we found out that it had been ringed on the Island of Sanday on the Orkney Islands - our first from there. It was ringed on May 14th 2022 and was then about 10 months old. Presumably it had traveled north with the adults before deciding it didn't really want to cross the Atlantic at that young age as it was next seen in June on the Waddensea (Netherlands) where it spent the early summer. Photographed at Thurstaston on Nov 16th © Richard Smith.

The Irish Sea population of Knots - those that are here throughout the year apart from the two or three months when they are breeding - mostly migrate to Canada in order to breed by first stopping off in Iceland to feed up in May. In fact nearly all stop in south-west Iceland and Orange Flag (ALE) is no exception having been recorded at Hitarnes, just south of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, both in May 2019 and May 2022. It was ringed at Altcar in March 2018 and it's movements are typical of this local population. On returning to this country after breeding it spends late summer and autumn around the Ainsdale, Formby and Crosby area before turning up in the Dee Estuary usually in November (including Nov 29th 2022) where it stays until January. In both 2019 and 2020 it was recorded in Dublin Bay in late winter before returning to Ainsdale, Formby and Crosby in March and April. Knots aren't always predictable, however, and in September 2019 it turned up at Gibraltar Point on the north-east corner of the Wash having been at Crosby in July and then turning up at Southport in October.

'ALE' has been recorded a total of 28 times, but when I saw Orange Flag (EUJ) at Meols on Nov 27th it was only the eighth time it's been seen. This is a North Sea bird, undergoing pre and post breeding moult either on the Dutch Waddensea or the Wash, and only visiting us here on the Dee Estuary in winter. It also follows a very different route to it's breeding grounds in Canada than our local birds, stopping over in May on the northern tip of Norway at Porsanger where it was recorded in both 2019 and 2021.


Curlew White (FAC) at Heswall, November 13th 2022 © Richard Jones

Curlew White (FOM) at Thurstaston, November 22nd 2022 © Richard Smith

These two Curlews were both ringed in Finland and return here to the Dee Estuary to the same area of mudbank every year, being present from July to April.

FAC was ringed as a juvenile at Haapavesi in Finland on July 6th 2017.
First recorded at Heswall in June 2018 when it would have been over-summering as a non-breeding young bird.

FOM was ringed as a nestling at Siikalatva in Finland on June 28th 2018.
Since ringing it has been recorded back at the ringing site in April 2020 and May 2021. First recorded at Thurstaston in November 2020.


Oystercatcher White (T79). Photographed on Leasowe Shore on November 8th 2022 © Tony Ormond

In Aberdeen Oystercatchers breed all over the city - roof tops, gardens etc - and this one was hatched as a brood of three in the garden of Oldmachar Academy on 17/06/2019.

Other sightings of T79 have been at New Brighton in November 2019 and Seaforth in September and November 2021.


Cormorant Orange (101) at Hoylake on October 28th © Richard Smith. We'd been seeing an orange ringed Cormorant for several weeks, always on the edge of East Hoyle Bank on the rising tide but it had always been too far to read the ring. On Oct 28th it was just a bit closer in perfect conditions when I photographed it under full zoom and pleased to see I'd managed to get the number!

Ringed as a nestling at Hale Duck Decoy on 18/05/2022, recorded at Hilbre on 28/09/2022 and at Hoylake on 28/10/2022.
Out of interest another one ringed as a nestling at Hale Duck Decoy this May (Orange - 93) has just been reported at the Del Burgo Estuary in north-west Spain.

Colour Rings were recorded by Richard Smith, Stephen Hinde, Richard Speechley, Tim Kinch, Alan Hitchmough, Tony Ormond, Richard Jones and Colin Schofield.

Richard Smith

Top of Page

November Bird News

Black Redstart by Hoylake Lifeboat Station, November 28th © Allan Conlin

Mild weather with southerly winds for much of the month meant for some late departing summer visitors including a Sandwich Tern on the 5th and an Arctic Tern on the 9th. Although it is possible to see one or two Gannets in winter they are very unusual and 30 off Leasowe on the 20th was unexpected. There was a late Curlew Sandpiper at Burton Mere Wetlands on the 3rd.

Out to sea there have been good numbers of Common Scoters with 8,000 the highest count. But it was particularly good to see large numbers of Great Crested Grebes back off North Wirral with 589 on the 16th the highest count since 961 in October 2015. With these large flocks were a few scarcer species including a Long-tailed Duck, a Great Northern Diver, plus several Velvet Scoters and Red-throated Divers.

It's been a good autumn for Firecrests including five ringed in one garden on Bidston Hill! There were also two in a Long-tailed Tit flock along Meols Drive on the 15th. It's also been a good autumn for Black Redstarts and one was seen well at Hoylake Lifeboat Station several times. A Siberian Chiffchaff was close to Leasowe Lighthouse for several days and a Glossy Ibis was at Burton Mere Wetlands, the latter was a bit elusive usually only flying in to roost overnight.

There was a notable influx of Knots from the east mid-month, I was lucky enough to see a large flock at Thurstaston putting on a wonderful display, and I was the only one to see them!

Knots (with Bar-tailed Godwits in bottom photo) at Thurstaston, November 16th © Richard Smith

Many thanks go to Graham Jones, Steve Williams, Steve Hinde, Alan Hitchmough, Richard Speechley, Allan Conlin, Richard Whitby, Bruce Atherton, Mark Woodhead, David Leeming, Matt Thomas, Dave Edwards, Chris Wilding, David Thompson, Les Hall, Sean O'Hara, Richard Jones, David Bradshaw, Tony Ormond, Tim Kinch, Jane Turner, Mark Gibson, Chris Maltby, Jeremy Bradshaw, Colin Schofield, Graham Connolly, Stephen Brown, Margaret Sixsmith, Chritine Smyth, Derek Bates, Paul Vautrinot, Chris Smith, Andrew Davis, Brian Kermode, Ben Lane, Stan Skelton, Paul Sutton, Milo Owen, Mark Palin, Sasha Quentin, Tony Ramsdem, Geoff Robinson, Sheila Saunders, Cliff Baker, the Dee Estuary Wardens and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during November. All sightings are gratefully received.

Top of Page

What to expect in December

Both Hen Harriers and Short-eared Owls were very thin on the ground in November, so lets hope for a cold spell which should bring a few more to the marshes. Marsh Harriers are plentiful and it would be good to do a count of them coming to the roost off Parkgate - not easy as they are coming and going from mid-afternoon and some almost certainly fly in after dark, I wouldn't be surprised if there are at least 20. Also on the marsh is at least one Bittern and that's usually seen flying into the roost at Parkgate before dark.

Both Brent and Pink-footed Geese are doing well on the estuary. It's likely that we'll get over 500 Brents around Hilbre and good views can also be had of small flocks at Thurstaston and along the coast at Meols and Leasowe. Pink-footed Geese will be everywhere and can often be seen flying to and from inland fields.

There will be Snow Buntings around, Gronant and Point of Ayr are probably the best sites and there are normally at least two or three along North Wirral, and on Hilbre.

Top of Page

Forthcoming Events

December Highest Spring Tides (Liverpool)

Also see Tides page

24th December, 11.24hrs (GMT), 9.6m.
25th December, 12.13hrs (GMT), 9.7m.

Forthcoming Events

See events at https://events.rspb.org.uk/deeestuary