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    1st June 1999
    Tribute to Victor Smith
    Latest Bird Counts
    May Bird News
    Forthcoming Events
    Past Newsletters
    The UK Birding Web Ring

Victor Smith
Victor Smith
Victor Smith, who died five years ago this month, was well known locally as an amateur naturalist and writer. Above all he loved the Dee Estuary and it's birds, playing a key role as a member of the Dee Estuary Conservation Group, representing the Wirral Society. He was a founder member of the DECG at a time when there were real and grave threats to the estuary from plans to build barrages, reservoirs and bridges.

As a tribute to my father I show below an example of his writing, as you will see he was both an excellent writer and keen observer of wildlife. This essay was extracted from an article written ten years ago for the Parkgate Society titled An Outsider's View.

"The Dee Estuary, including it's marshes, is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Within the huge SSSI, the RSPB owns a reserve of 5040 acres, known as Gayton Sands. The whole SSSI is also what is known as a Ramsar site, so named after the place where an international convention was held about the threats to the World's wetlands and their remarkable wildlife.

"There are still lots of people - perhaps even in Parkgate - who haven't a clue what all this is about. They are blind to the attraction of wetlands, although artists for generations have been enchanted by their wide skies and water reflected lights, and they are deaf to the astonishing beauty of the calls of the wading birds, often heard against the roar of the sea on distant banks and the hiss of the approaching or withdrawing tide over the nearer shore.

"On a grey winter's day, with no light to turn the wet mudflats into silver, the estuary may seem dreary, until you hear the sweetly haunting call of a redshank across the wilderness or the more solemn call of the curlew, both so evocative of the spirit of these wild places. Equally evocative in their more gentle way are the calls of ringed plover and grey plover. If you have the ears to hear, the effect is sheer magic.

"Sheer magic, too, is the massed flight of knot, dunlin or sanderling, in a vast 'corps de ballet' having a precision of movement unknown to a human one.

"On New Year's Day this year I walked at low tide from Caldy, along the inner shore, towards Parkgate. The wintering knot - which, I think, move around between here and the Ribble - were on this day present in great number. In what must have been a communal urge to change feeding places, at least ten thousand of them, at a modest estimate, rose in the air together. With occasional flashes of light when their white under-wings caught the low winter sun, their close packed clouds split and united, suddenly changing direction, soared and swooped to the accompaniment of the wild piping of oystercatchers.

"Several of us watching gasped at the wonder of the spectacle. A party on an organised walk came by, chattering hard with thir heads down, and were quite unaware that there was one.

"Past Thurstaston I reached the expanding marsh and the gutter, or tidal creek, which runs along the inner side close to the Heswall shore, a fascinating place both for its boats and its birds - much of it within the RSPB reserve. There are commonly shelduck near the mouth of the gutter and curlews and redshank all along it. The thousands of pintail and wigeon, for which the estuary is famous, tend to distance themselves on the far side of the marsh, but the gutter is frequented, whether or not the tide is in. by hundreds of that charming little duck, the teal - almost as far as Parkgate."

My father went on to discuss the disagreement between the RSPB and the Nature Conservancy at the time. The RSPB wanted to improve the marsh by digging out a series of scrapes on the marsh in front of Parkgate, and the Nature Conservancy didn't want them to. My father was firmly on the side of the RSPB!


Bird Counts

Count for Inner Marsh Farm during 23rd May 1999.
Spoonbill, American Wigeon, Pintail, Shelduck 14, Pinkfoot goose, Black-tailed Godwit 700, Little Gull, Common Tern, Yellow Wagtail, Reed Buntings, Sanderling, Dunlin 7, Little ringed Plover, Ringed Plover 2, Greenshank, Tufted Duck 40, Lapwing several pairs breeding.

Wetland Bird Survey Count for Heswall Shore - 17th May.
Cormorant 13, Shelduck 26, Mallard 2, Oystercatcher 330, dunlin 2, Snipe 4, Whimbrel 4, Curlew 150, Redshank 7, Common Sandpiper 2, Great Blackbacked Gull 1, Heron 2. Also seen during the count - Wheatear 3, Linnet 2, Reed Bunting 4, Pied Wagtail 2, House Martin 50, Whitethroat 1.


May Bird News
May has been a strange month on the estuary. Most days it seems deserted although a closer look reveals small groups of Oystercatchers and pairs of Shelduck. Oystercatchers don't breed until they are 4 years old so these are immature birds staying on their wintering ground. The Shelduck breed locally and are comparatively tame at this time of year giving good views of displays and aggressive territorial disputes. Some days, however, are completely different with thousands of Knot and Dunlin passing through on their way to the high Arctic to breed. I stood at Red Rocks at high tide and watched flock after flock flying north. May also brings the Whimbrel and excellent views of these were to be had at Hilbre Island.
Inland the star birds of the month were a Nightingale at Heswall and a Golden Oriole at Thurstaston, both staying for just one day. An American Wigeon has been at Inner Marsh Farm for most of the month along with up to 3 Spoonbills. 2 Roseate Terns were seen briefly at IMF and up to 700 Black-tailed Godwit were a magnificent spectacle in their summer plumage.

Forthcoming Events
Next Spring High Tides
14th June, 1223hrs 9.9m.
15th June, 1312hrs, 9.8m. (times BST)

Young Ornithologists Club at Ness Gardens
A complete listing of events for 1999 can be seen for this group who have a series of monthly outdoor and indoor meetings.

Forthcoming Events (organised by the Wirral Ranger Service, Flintshire Countryside Service and/or the RSPB):

3rd June. Sunset Walk to Hilbre. Evening.
An evening stroll across the sands to Hilbre. A walk of 4 miles in 4 hours. Bring warm clothing and a snack. Ring 0151 648 4371/3884 to book.

5th June. Early Morning Wildlife Walk. 4.30 am - 6.30 am.
Join the ranger at first light for a wildlife walk around Wirral Country Park. Ring 0151 648 4371/3884 to book.

9th June. Flora and Fauna Around Royden. 7pm - 9pm.
An evening stroll through the meadows, woodlands and wet areas of Royden Park. A Ranger-led walk with wildlife recorder Margeret Gilmour of the Cheshire Wildlife Trust. Ring 0151 678 4200 to book.

17th June. Sunset Walk to Hilbre. Evening.
An evening stroll across the sands to Hilbre. A walk of 4 miles in 4 hours. Bring warm clothing and a snack. Ring 0151 648 4371/3884 to book.

27th June. Food for free in the Dunes.
A leisurely walk through West Kirby sand dunes to Red Rocks looking at the amazing feast of wild plants on offer. Meet at Dee Lane Slipway, west Kirby. Booking essential, 0151 648 4371/3884.

1st July. Sunset Walk to Hilbre. Evening.
An evening stroll across the sands to Hilbre. A walk of 4 miles in 4 hours. Bring warm clothing and a snack. Ring 0151 648 4371/3884 to book.

11th July. Birdwatch at Gronant Tern Colony. 9.30am.
Visit a bustling colony of Little Tern at Gronant, a beautiful area of marsh, sand dunes and shingle full of wildflowers with Skylarks singing overhead. Meet at Presthaven caravan site, Gronant, near Prestatyn. Ring the RSPB on 01352 780 527 for details.