wouldn’t consider a visit to the estuary other than at high tide, on the
look out, as they inevitably are, for rarities. But for myself being ‘a
bad birdwatcher’ (as per Simon Barnes’s marvellous book) I find being
about at low tide very enjoyable and immensely rewarding. Rewarding not in
the sense of being able to tick a few birds off my year list, but for the
sheer dramatic spectacle of seeing thousands of birds hunting, fleeing,
feeding, roosting, calling and flying. Some of you might be surprised at
my putting down roosting as a low tide activity, but many birds,
particularly the larger ones such as Oystercatchers and Godwits, spend a
lot of time roosting both at low and high tide - the living must be good!
Also I should add that my definition of ‘low tide’ is fairly flexible, but loosely take it as being from three hours after high tide to three hours before high tide, i.e. the low half of the tidal cycle.
Maps and directions
are given with the site guides.
Good places to park are either at the car park at the junction of Pasture Road and Leasowe Road (on the A551) or in North Wirral Coastal Park at the end of Green Lane (by the Gunsite). There is an embankment the whole of the length of the shore here giving great views of the birds. It is also safe to go down on to the shore (but beware embankment can be slippery) where there is firm sand for about 50 metres out. This is much used by dog walkers but don’t be tempted to go out any further as it turns in to thick mud.
counts* here are 2,000 Grey Plover, 250 Sanderling, 15,000 Dunlin, 350
Curlew, 2,500 Redshank, 7,000 Oystercatcher, 20,000 Knot and 6,000
Bar-tailed Godwits, a large roost of gulls is also usually present. Peak
numbers, especially of Knot and Dunlin can be considerably higher. About
four hours before high tide is the prime time to see these thousands of
waders, and as the tide comes in many birds move up towards Leasowe
Lighthouse then beyond to Meols and Hoylake.
At low tide there is always plenty to see - especially at my favourite times of year, late summer and mid-winter. I always look forward to the return of the Sandwich Terns in early July. They are the first of our terns to finish breeding and one of their favourite spots before heading south are the sand banks around Hilbre Island. Here several hundred roost each low tide, the juveniles constantly calling out to be fed, and with the returning calls of the adults the noise they make is unbelievable! By early August Common and Little Terns join the throng, and with the comparatively warm weather it is extremely pleasant just to sit on the grass and watch these wonderful birds. This time of year is also excellent for watching numerous sea birds such as Gannets, Skuas and Common Scoters whatever the state of the tide.
Mid-winter is far from warm, but we do have Brent Geese, Purple Sandpipers and loads of other waders around to make up for it! The rocks around the islands are a favourite feeding area for hundreds of Oystercatchers and Turnstones, and the Brent Geese feed on the seaweed on the rocks at low tide - invariably moving off to Little Eye or elsewhere as the tide comes in.
As you walk over to Hilbre it is worthwhile stopping at the south end of Little Eye and having a quick look through your telescope. The mudflats you see will just be teeming with waders and Shelduck, as described in the section below on Thurstaston and Caldy.
A bonus for coming out to Hilbre at low tide is the Grey Seal haul out on West Hoyle Bank, here 300 to 500 can be seen throughout the year.
There are three
particularly good vantage points, all with good car parking.
There is good car
parking at Flint by the castle. Walk northwards along the shore path and
you get to Flint point. From October to February this is a great place to
see duck at low tide loafing around on the far side of the channel -
thousands of Pintail and Wigeon as well as good numbers of Shelduck,
Mallard and Teal. Plenty of waders use this area too.
Point of Ayr and Gronant
|Cheshire and Wirral Bird Report 2003|
Cost of the report is £6.70 +
£1.30 p&p and copies are available from:
|Cheshire and Wirral Bird Atlas Project|
This survey is already producing some very exciting results which will prove to be really important for bird conservation in our area. Every record is linked with the habitat information for the bird, and detailed analysis will need much more time than this early snapshot. More results will be given soon in a newsletter for all participants in the Atlas project. So, there is already fantastic progress, a great tribute to the thousands of hours contributed so far by hundreds of fieldworkers. On behalf of the birds, thank you all!
David Norman - Atlas Coordinator (extracted from a much longer article published in CAWOS Bird News 65).
With most of the returns for the
breeding season now in the database it is clear that nearly 400 of the
670 tetrads have already been surveyed, with a promise of another 50 to
be done in 2005.The project has caused considerable interest, with many
of those taking part saying how much
If you would like to volunteer
to take on a tetrad please contact me (David Cogger) for the latest
list, or you can check out the
I will send you a map of the tetrad you choose and all the necessary
paperwork (instructions, record cards, etc). You can also download these
from the Atlas
Ed: Note that the tetrad allocation shown on the Atlas Website may be out of date so check with David Cogger for an update. The tetrads in Wirral which still need to be covered (as of 30th Jan) are - Puddington, Burton East, Shotwick Lodge, Saughall, Prenton, Birkenhead, Bromborough south and Bromborough north. Elsewhere in Cheshire I've picked out a few interesting sounding tetrads which need surveying - Chester City Centre, (part of) Delamere Forest, Runcorn and the Bridge, Jodrell Bank, Paradise Farm, Mersey & St Helens Canal and Windsurfing Centre (Manley).
Heswall Shore - (Kindly provided by the Wirral Ranger Service), 16th
1 Great Crested Grebe, 1 Cormorant, 53 Brent Goose, 387 Shelduck, 954 Teal, 74 Mallard, 3 Pintail, 3 Red-breasted Merganser, 10,840 Oystercatcher, 15 Grey Plover, 679 Lapwing, 9,200 Knot, 4,600 Dunlin, 24 Snipe, 5 Black-tailed Godwit, 12 Bar-tailed Godwit, 1,470 Curlew and 3,900 Redshank. Also 346 Black-headed Gull, 73 Common Gull, 3 Lesser black-backed Gull, 57 Herring Gull, 3 Great Black-backed Gull, 1 Merlin (f) and 2 Peregrine.
Connah's Quay and
Flint - (Kindly provided by
Deeside Naturalists' Society)
January Bird News
three great birdwatching experiences in January. Firstly the waxwings in
Greasby - I had 93 feeding on berries on the grass verge just a couple of
feet from where I was sitting in the car! By far the highest number I'd
ever seen and amazingly close. Second was after a cold walk to Little
following a neap high tide out. No one else was about and I sat watching
62 Brent Geese, 500 Curlew and 3,000 Oystercatchers just a few yards away
on the rocks between the islands, all completely undisturbed. The third
experience was again whilst sitting in the car. This time on the way to
the Point of Ayr when I spotted 580
Black-tailed Godwits and 100 Redshank feeding in the field next to the
road to the Gas plant, just the other side of the hedge from where I was
parked. The 'Blackwits' in particular seemed not at all bothered by my
staring at them from 10 feet away! What made all three experiences
particularly memorable was that the birds in each case were behaving
completely naturally, oblivious of my presence, and secondly I was the
only one to see it.
Getting back to Waxwings - the 93 at Greasby is a Wirral record. But records have been broken across the country including over 300 at both Chester and Ruthin, a Cheshire and Welsh record respectively. Before I finish going on about record numbers, 63 pale-bellied Brent Geese on Little Eye mid-month was the highest ever recorded on the estuary.
An adult Glaucous Gull was seen at both Hilbre Island and West Kirby. Although numbers of duck on the Marine Lake at West Kirby have been generally low this winter we did get 12 Goldeneye and 14 Red-breasted Mergansers on a couple of occasions. The drake Smew and Green-winged Teal stayed at Inner Marsh Farm all month and 25 Scaup off Leasowe was a nice surprise. Over 60 Bewick's Swan and 10 Whooper Swans were spotted frequenting the marsh near the new Dee Bridge, well out of the way from any disturbance.
12 Twite were unexpected visitors to Wallasey after a gale, presumably blown there from their normal haunt at Flint Castle where 100 were seen. 28 Red-throated Diver and 1 Black-throated Diver observed from Hilbre Island had been blown in by the same gale.
Thanks to Paul Miller of the BTO
I have the results of the gull survey undertaken on the Dee Estuary last
winter, part of the BTO Winter Gull Roost Survey (WinGS). I'll just
summarise here by listing the largest count for each species and their
What to expect in February
There are three big high tides predicted for the 10th, 11th and 12th. I say 'predicted' as I'm sure most of us realise how much the weather can influence the actual tide height. Lets just say we are well overdue for a good High Tide Birdwatch at Parkgate. But if there is high atmospheric pressure and no significant westerly wind - get down to Riverbank road car park at Heswall where you will get much closer views of the raptors and thousands of waders and duck. Hen Harriers, Short-eared Owls, Peregrines and Merlins should all put in an appearance at both Parkgate and Heswall.
There will still be plenty of waders in the estuary, specially if it is a cold month. The usual Knot, Dunlin and Oystercatchers in their thousands and Redshank numbers start to increase again prior to their departure for their breeding grounds. Purple Sandpipers usually build up to 20 - 30 birds on Hilbre Island, and last year Brent Geese didn't peak until well in to February, so may be more records broken!
On mild days it will be good to get in to the local woods to hear the bird song and remind ourselves that spring is just around the corner. Woodpeckers will be drumming, I actually heard one at the end of December! For those of us working on the new Bird Atlas (see above) it will be a nice way of identifying species for the winter survey - a technique usually employed in the spring.
Many thanks go to Joseph Wynn, Lockhart Horsburgh, Vi James, John Sharp, Dave Burn, Gill Plevin, Eric Robinson, Iain Douglas, Laura Bimson, Colin Jones, Dave and Emma Kenyon, Kenneth Davies, Ray Roberts, Bernard Machin, Steve Williams, Chris Butterworth, Martyn Jamieson, Stefan Cherrug, David Small, Joe Dear, Alex Park, John Ferguson, Jane Turner, Phil Woollen, Allan Conlin, Steve Ainsworth, Mike Hart, David Esther, Steve Renshaw, Allan Hewitt, Richard Hurst, Jean Morgan, Steve Edwards, Dave Burn, Colin Davies, 'Chris and Philx', Kevin smith, Robert Hughes, Thomas Giles, Stephen Menzie, Tanny Robinson, John Parker, John Paynter, Ian Hughes, Steve Round, the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during January All sightings are gratefully received.
February Highest Spring Tides,
10th February, 12:18hrs 10.1m. Times GMT.
11th February, 13:01hrs 10.1m.
12th February, 13:42hrs 10.0m.
Forthcoming Events (organised by the
Wirral Ranger Service,
Flintshire Countryside Service and/or the RSPB):
Thursday 10th February 11:00am Parkgate
Monday 14th February – Sunday 20th February, National Nest Box Week.
Friday 11th March, 10:30am, Parkgate
Note: Many of these forthcoming events are extracted from the 'Birdwatchers Diary 2005', which covers both the Dee and Mersey regions. Hard copies available from the visitor centre at Thurstaston, Wirral Country Park 0151 648 4371.
All material in this newsletter, and indeed the whole web site, has been written by myself, Richard Smith, unless specified.
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