The English Shore of the Dee Estuary:- From the vast lonely sand banks around Hilbre Island to the seemingly endless marshland of Parkgate and Burton, the estuary provides a wealth of habitats for the birds. To this is added easy access along the whole coast making the Dee Estuary a Mecca for Birdwatchers. Below is a description of the five main birdwatching areas:
Hilbre Island is part of a local Nature Reserve maintained by the Wirral Borough Council. There is a bird observatory on the Island who's members have produced their own web site, www.hilbrebirdobs.co.uk. The observatory issue an annual report and bird checklist, see the web site for details. Almost anything can turn up at Hilbre during migration. Sea watches can be particularly productive typically producing Skuas, Gannets, Manx Shearwaters, Leach's Petrel, Kittiwake and Little Gull. In the sea around the Island a good selection of Divers, Grebes and sea ducks can be observed, including Red and Black Throated Diver, Great Crested Grebe, Scoters, Scaup, Long Tailed Duck and Eider. Purple Sandpiper are a Hilbre speciality being present from November to April and over 200 Turnstones are to be seen on the rocks surrounding the Islands. July and August is the time to observe Terns, good numbers of Common, Arctic, Sandwich and Little Tern pass the Island in a steady stream. Many terns use the sand banks around the island as a low tide roost. At high tide all three islands - Hilbre, Little Hilbre (also known as Middle Hilbre or Middle Eye) and Little Eye - are used as high tide roosts by a large number of waders. To the south of Little Eye are the Tanskey rocks, best seen from either Little Eye or the outer wall of West Kirby marine lake they attract large numbers of waders and Shelduck at low tide.
If you hear a weird moaning sound whilst visiting the Island, don't worry, it is just the Grey Seals. At low tide they can be seen laid out on West Hoyle Bank to the west of the Island with a maximum of 400+ in August. Dolphins and porpoises are also occasionally seen but you will be extremely lucky to see any.
A more detailed description of Hilbre Island can be found in the September 1998 newsletter. Note that the hide at the north end of the island is open only to members of the Hilbre Bird Observatory.Map and directions.
West Kirby shore between the Marine Lake and Red Rocks is a high tide
roost for thousands of waders. This area can be subject to disturbance
but the presence of
Voluntary Wardens during the winter months keeps it to a minumum. In the winter months Dunlin and Knot
should be seen in their thousands with Bar Tailed Godwit, Ringed Plover
and Grey Plover.
The Marine Lake can hold Goldeneye, Red-breasted Mergansers and Cormorants but get there early before the windsurfers drive them off. Rarer visiting duck include Long-tailed Duck, Scaup and Common Scoter. The shore on the Caldy side of the lake (next to West Kirby Sailing Club) is much more muddy than the north end, holding good numbers of feeding waders at low tide, Turnstones are a particular feature next to the Sailing Club. Carrying on up this shore leads to Cubbins Green, an area of grass, scrub and brambles which might hold some interesting migrants or breeding warblers in the spring.
Gilroy Nature Park at the inland side of the town is a locally maintained lake holding good numbers of duck, mainly Mallard but small numbers of other duck such as Tufted and Pochard can also be seen. Lapwings and other waders are often seen in the nearby muddy fields.
Off Caldy steps are Caldy Blacks, a mussel bed which should hold large numbers of waders and gulls, particularly Oystercatchers. A channel comes close to the shore here and stays close all the way beyond Heswall, affording great views of the birds at all states of the tide.
Caldy Hill on the inland side of Caldy is an area of heathland, gorse, birch wood and mature mixed woodland. A very pleasant place for a stroll with excellent views over the estuary towards Wales and Hilbre Island. In the spring it will be teeming with Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs. All three Woodpeckers, Jays, Nuthatches and a variety of Warblers and Tits can be seen at Stapledon Wood. The fields below Stapledon Wood often hold good numbers of feeding Curlew and Oystercatchers. One of the more unusual species to be seen in the wood was a Little Auk, blown there during Autumn gales a few years ago.
The Wirral Way, a path on the track of an old railway, is 12 miles long
and goes from West Kirby to Hooton in mid-Wirral. It is lined with scrub
and woodland offering cover to numerous breeding passerines, Yellowhammers
and Linnets. Wild flowers attract butterflies and in the winter thrushes
and finches feed on Hawthorn berries. In the winter many waders,
especially Curlew and Oystercatchers, feed in the fields either side of
the path. It runs close to the estuary all the way to Neston.
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An area of sandstone outcrops with heathland, birch scrub, gorse, pine woods and mature woodland. This mix gives a variety of habitats for woodland birds and is particularly attractive to Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and numerous members of the tit family. In the more mature woodland both Green and Greater Spotted Woodpeckers can be seen along with Nuthatches and Jays.
The park and nearby Wirral Way has thickets of blackthorn, hawthorn and
brambles - all excellent nesting sites and holding a mass of berries in
the Autumn, attracting Fieldfares and Redwing. The fields nearby hold
feeding flocks of Curlew, Lapwing and Oystercatchers in the Winter with
breeding Skylarks in the Spring.
The shore here is a major feeding area for Shelduck, Oystercatchers, Knot and Dunlin. Walk out on the causeway by Dee Sailing Club and it is like being in the middle of one of the better RSPB films, completely surrounded by the sight and sounds of the birds. Numerous Herons feed in the nearby channel which attracts the birds at all states of the tide. Visit Thurstaston shore 3 hours before a big high tide and you will be rewarded with the sight of these thousands of birds slowly being pushed up river resulting in a concentrated mass close inshore.
In October every year in the region of 8,000 to 10,000 Shelduck are seen
here, a spectacular sight. The marsh starts at Heswall affording good
shelter both for boats and birds. The channel (or gutter) comes within 50
foot of the shore which gives excellent views of the numerous Teal feeding
in it. The marsh edge is a major roost site for both Curlew (2730 max in
2000) and Redshank (7580 max in 2000). A large flock of up to 1,000
Blacktailed Godwit can often be seen feeding on the mud by Heswall Fields.
Peregrine Falcons, Hen Harriers and Short-eared Owls are often seen
hunting over the marsh.
I cannot think of many better places than Heswall shore on a mild Winter's day, walking along the beach just watching these thousands of birds. Get down here two hours before high water when the birds are concentrated near the shore for really spectacular views, but it's excellent here at any time.
A more detailed description of Heswall shore can be found in the November 1998 newsletter.
Parkgate is renowned for its high tide Birdwatches when up to 400 birders may be present. This only occurs on the few occasions in a year when the tide covers the marsh with heights of over 32ft/9.8 metres. At high tide Pintail, Wigeon and Teal can be seen close inshore and waders continually fly past on their way to roosts at Burton. Short-eared Owls and other raptors are observed on the lookout for rodents evicted by the rising water and also Water Rails may be seen trying to escape the tide. All the marsh off Parkgate is part of the Gayton Sands RSPB Reserve. Boathouse Flash, the channel that runs past the Boathouse Inn, often attracts a good numbers of birds, especially Greenshanks in the Autumn and Little Egrets through the winter.
An excellent description of High Tide Birdwatching at Parkgate is given in the December 2001 newsletter. At the end of Moorside Lane in Neston is a path going to the shore. High tide is an excellent time for views of Pintail, Wigeon and Shelduck with a large wader roost nearby. Just to the south of Moorside Lane is quite a large reed bed, known locally as Neston Reed Bed. This is a good spot for Reed Warblers, Grasshopper Warblers, Reed Buntings, Water Rail and maybe the odd Bittern in winter.
Denhall Quay near the Harp Inn is a fabulous place on a high spring tide
and unlike Parkgate you will have the place more or less to yourself!
There are large wader roosts on the marsh and the possibility of getting
good views of Bewick Swans on the Burton side of the Quay. As in Parkgate
the high tides bring in flocks of duck close inshore.
Between Denhall Quay and Moorside Lane is Neston Old Quay, here a stream enters the marsh and seems particularly attractive to Water Pipits in the Winter. Both Denhall Quay and Neston Old Quay make very good vantage points to observe Hen Harriers, Short-eared Owls and Little Egrets on the marsh.
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Burton Marsh, an RSPB Reserve, is a good place to look for Hen Harriers and Short-eared Owls. There is standing water here which attracts various duck including Teal, Wigeon and Mallard. A large flock of Lapwing is usually present some of which stay to breed in the spring. Bewick Swans are increasingly seen here with up to 100 present in mid winter. If you walk from the end of Denhall Lane back to the Harp Inn at Neston you will pass a series of brackish pools on your left, these are the Decca pools and attract a good selection of wildfowl and waders, plus Little Egrets and Grey Heron. The walk along Denhall Lane is especially good on a high spring tide when you will be rewarded with views of large numbers of waders and duck, the waders use this area as a high tide roost.
Burton wood is an area of mature woodland with a good variety of woodland birds including Woodpeckers, Warblers, Tits, Jay and Sparrowhawk. Haddon Wood beyond is closed to the public.
Click here for details about Burton Mere Wetlands.
In Burton the RSPB have a reserve, Inner Marsh Farm, which is open from 9am - 9pm (or dusk if earlier) and is closed on Tuesdays. There is a modest charge for non-members. This is a great place to see a good variety of raptors, waders and wildfowl. See the Liverpool RSPB Group website http://www.rspbliverpool.org.uk/RSPBIMF.htm or the official RSPB Website - http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/d/dee-innermarshfarm/index.asp - for more details and directions.
Between Burton and the A548 (by Deeside Industrial Park) is an area of
flat fields which often flood in winter, these are the Shotwick Fields.
This is often a good spot to see small flocks of Pink-footed Geese and
Bewick's and Whooper Swans.
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