yourself sitting in sand dunes over looking the sea. It is early morning in
June and even the Irish Sea looks blue in the sun. Overhead is the constant
sound of Sky Larks and all around a beautiful array of wild flowers. Out to
sea an occasional Manx Shearwater or Gannet pass by with the more hurried
parties of Guillemots and Scoter in groups of twenty or more. In front of
you a pair of Ringed Plover are feeding chicks and a young Oystercatcher is
hiding in the long grass.
The screeching of the birds is somehow very restful and you are tempted to nod off. Suddenly the noise takes on a different note as the whole colony takes flight. Its that f-ing Kestrel again looking for a breakfast of Little Tern egg and for the third time in an hour you have to rush out in to the colony shouting and bawling, waving your arms and looking like a complete idiot - just thankful it is too early for any holidaymakers to be about - yes, this is Gronant!
Gronant really is a great place to be birdwatching in the summer and we need voluntary wardens to help protect the Little Terns from marauding crows and kestrels, and the occasional thoughtless holidaymaker. Just half a day a month between May and August would be a great help, more would be even better. E-mail me or ring the local RSPB on 0151 336 7681 for more information. See the August 2001 newsletter to read about the recent history of this colony.
Bird Survey Count for Heswall Shore -
(Kindly provided by the Wirral Ranger Service). 3rd March.
1 Great Crested Grebe, 3 Cormorant, 1 Grey Heron, 551 Shelduck, 157 Teal, 20 Mallard, 11 Red-breasted Merganser, 2,512 Oystercatcher, 16 Knot, 224 Dunlin, 779 Curlew, 3,442 Redshank, 3 Peregrine, 1 Merlin and 1 Short-eared Owl.
Wetland Bird Survey
Count for Flint and
Connah's Quay, kindly provided by Brian
Grey of the Deeside Naturalists' Society. 3rd
Island for 23rd March
thanks to Chris Williams of the Hilbre Bird Observatory.
March Bird News
The spring migration is well and truly underway as you can see from the table below which shows the first sighting for some of the commoner species this spring, and the previous two years for comparison.
* As small numbers of both Chiffchaff and Blackcap over winter in the area this is the date they were first heard singing. Locations above for 2002.
By far the most numerous of the migrants so far have been Chiffchaff and Wheatear with over 30 of the former along the Wirral Way by Thurstaston and the same number of the latter on Hilbre, both over Easter. A very early Whinchat was reported on 13th March by Leasowe embankment, if confirmed this will be the earliest ever sighting for Wirral/ Cheshire.
We have had some really superb birdwatching at Parkgate during the high spring tides at the beginning and end of March. Including the last day of February a total of well over one thousand birdwatchers turned up for the six organised birdwatches. Every day saw the tide coming very close, or right up to the wall. This meant some great close up views of Short-eared Owls looking glorious in the spring sunshine.
But the highlight for me was on the 2nd of March - we were all gathered in the car park prior to the guided walk when suddenly a Merlin passed right over head closely pursued by a Peregrine. Next minute the Peregrine turned around and drifted over the car park. It then proceeded to hover in the wind for 2 minutes just 20 feet overhead having a good look at us all before slowly flying off over the marsh. For many, including myself, it was their best ever view of a Peregrine - fabulous! But it wasn't just Peregrines and Owls, other highlights included 4 Water Rail, 13 Little Egret, 30 Brambling and 12 Jack Snipe.
However, all this was tinged with some sadness as this was Jeff Clarke's last stint as Ranger at the Parkgate birdwatches after fifteen years. Many of you will know Jeff and not many will know a more knowledgeable and enthusiastic birder. But Jeff's greatest strength is to be able to convey that knowledge and enthusiasm to the public - his impersonation of a Moorhen defending its territory or a feeding Little Egret is something to behold! Jeff is moving on to Halton as Conservation and Education Officer - I'm sure we all wish him the best of luck.
What to expect in April: The spring migration will turn from a trickle to a flood. Large falls of warblers and other migrants occur from time to time, keep an eye out along the north Wirral coast and Point of Ayr early in the morning. Of course Hilbre Island is also an excellent spot to see the migration, expect several hundred Meadow Pipits a day when the passage reaches its peak as well as plenty of hirundines and warblers.
But the migration isn't just confined to land based birds, a strong west or north west wind will blow many sea birds close inshore - Gannets, Guillemots, Fulmars, Kittiwakes and several species of terns on their way north. Best view points are Point of Ayr, Hilbre and the north Wirral coast. Terns will be returning to their breeding colonies during the month, Common Terns at Shotton and Little Terns at Gronant.
Large flocks of waders - Knot, Dunlin, Sanderling - will be passing through from their wintering grounds in Africa to the Arctic. I find it particularly awe inspiring this time of year watching these flocks knowing just how far they are traveling. How welcome, and vitally important, the Dee Estuary must be as a feeding station, many birds probably flying here in one go from North Africa.
Many thanks go to
Ken Mcniffe, Dave Harrington, Dave Wilde, Gareth Stamp, John
Roberts, Julian Weldrick, Cathy McGrath, Stephen Williams, Ian Emmitt,
Christina Batey, Alan Chapman, Keith Lester, Andy Scholfield, Gareth
Williams, Eric Burrows, Colin Jones, Alan Jupp, Dorothy Jebb,
Mike Hart, John Campbell, Chris Williams, Mark Feltham, David
Hinde, Brian Grey, Jeff Clarke, Chris Butterworth, Jonathon Morton,
Gill Jakeman, Fil Moore, Colin Macleod, John Ferguson, Bill Owens,
David Esther, Martyn Jaimeson,
Carl Clee, Jane Turner and the Dee Estuary Voluntary
Wardens for their sightings during March. I rely on the goodwill of
people like this, unlike some commercial sites I cannot offer financial
Highest Spring Tides
27th April, 12.16hrs 10.2m. (all times BST)
28th April, 12.59hrs 10.2m.
Forthcoming Events (organised by the
Wirral Ranger Service,
Flintshire Countryside Service and/or the RSPB):
Saturday 6th April 12:30pm Grebes at
Sunday 21st April 10:00am - 12noon Bird Walk around
Thursday 25th April 7:00am Spring Migrants at
Point of Ayr.
Saturday 27th April 6:30pm
Note: Many of these forthcoming events are extracted from 'Birdwatchers Diary 2002', which covers both the Dee and Mersey regions. Copies available from the visitor centre at Thurstaston, Wirral Country Park 0151 648 4371 or by from myself.