You may have seen in the news at the end of last year that the Liverpool Bay Special Protection Area (SPA) has been expanded, giving greater protection to a number of bird species. This is certainly good news so I thought I would fill in with some details.
The SPA has been increased in area by 48% and the map below shows the current area in purple with the seaward boundary of the original SPA shown as a green dotted line (this line was drawn by myself so should be regarded as an approximation). It has also been extended into the Mersey Narrows going right past the Liverpool waterfront. The only other addition is just west of the Gronant Little Tern colony where an area off Prestatyn is now included, presumably a Little Tern foraging area.
The original Liverpool Bay SPA was designated in 2010 so it is good that it has already been upgraded. It was originally designated for it's wintering population of Red-throated Divers (estimated as 922 individuals, 5.4% of GB population) and Common Scoter (estimated as 54,675 individuals, 3.4% of the European population).This list of designated species has now been increased as follows, together with upgraded estimate of numbers:
You may wonder at the over-precise numbers for some of the counts above but they are just an average of several counts - I'm not really sure why they don't give a range or round the numbers off.
A lot of work has been done surveying Liverpool Bay in recent years, both before the original SPA was designated and since. This includes aerial surveys of wintering birds carried out by the Wetlands and Wildfowl Trust between 2001 and 2011. The JNCC Report about their assessment of wintering birds includes some fascinating maps and reveal, among other things, that the area of Liverpool Bay just north of the Dee estuary contains the highest concentration of Red-throated Divers (see Ref 2). It also reveals that the major reason for the seaward extension of the SPA was the presence of Little Gulls in that area, and not, as I had assumed, the presence of Common Scoters.
In addition numbers from the Seabird Monitoring Programme have been used, and there have also been boat based and shore based surveys identifying the important foraging areas for Little Terns and larger terns, particularly Common Terns.
This was carried out between November 2016 and February 2017. The report written about this consultation reveals a few interesting details:
There were 33 formal responses, mostly
neutral. Nobody formally objected but I quote "We consider
that responses from two stakeholders constitute objections despite not
explicitly stating this in their responses". The 'objections' were from
the British Marine Aggregate Producers Association and Tidal Lagoon
Power Plc. I won't go into details but the activities of these firms
could pose a potential negative effect on the SPA, and in turn the
expanded SPA could pose a negative effect on their
business. Natural England/Natural Resources Wales/JNCC give a
robust and detailed response to these objections - for details see Ref
The three main bodies in support appears to have been the Lancashire Wildlife Trust, the North Wales Wildlife Trust and the RSPB, all of which submitted very similar responses and I quote the RSPB response as an example:
RSPB - Supporting response and made the following comments:
1. Requested that Great Cormorant should be added as a qualifying feature because i) cormorant is a qualifying feature of Puffin Island SPA and Liverpool Bay SPA completely surrounds Puffin Island SPA and ii) the numbers roosting on Hilbre island support >1% of the biographical population. RSPB jointly submitted WeBS data with LWT to support their comments.
2. Concerned that passage common tern and sandwich tern were not included as qualifying features due to significant numbers along the Sefton Coast and Ribble area.
Disappointingly, Natural England/Natural Resources Wales/JNCC rejected both the requests re Cormorants and terns basically saying the evidence wasn't strong for their presence in qualifying numbers in Liverpool Bay SPA but that their main concentrations were in existing estuarine SPAs and that these should be amended as appropriate. However, as you see above Great Cormorant is now specifically mentioned as part of the 'assemblage of at least 20,000 waterfowl or seabirds' which is something of a victory in itself.
Liverpool Bay SPA is now one of the largest in North-west Europe. When taking account all the adjacent SPA's (such as Lavan Sands, Dee Estuary, Ribble Estuary, Morecambe Bay etc) the whole area can now be regarded as a 'super SPA' and is of crucial importance to both estuarine and sea birds.
4. Richard Smith, Common Scoters, http://www.deeestuary.co.uk/news0514.htm.
5. Richard Smith, Species Spotlight - Cormorant, http://www.deeestuary.co.uk/news0415.htm.
6. Richard Smith, Common Scoters,
Liverpool Bay SPA and Windfarms,
It is becoming increasingly apparent – both from anecdotal and
first-hand experience - that many people are accessing Connah’s Quay
Nature Reserve despite not being current members.
Notwithstanding the fact that non-members are uninsured when on site, it is clearly unfair to paying members that some visitors are using the facilities for free. It also creates a situation whereby regular visitors to the reserve are either reluctant or unwilling to publish details of any scarce birds that visit the site given what has occurred on previous occasions.
If you are a non-member and wish to visit us in the future, please ensure that you are carrying a 2018 Permit. Both new members and those wanting to renew an expired membership can find the renewal form at: http://www.deenats.org.uk/joinus.html .
Hereafter, anybody suspected of not being a current member will be asked to produce their Permit and failure to do so could result in them being asked to leave the site.
It is understandable however, that on occasion, current members may wish to bring prospective members to the reserve and in such cases exceptions will be made. After all, we have some excellent wildlife to enjoy here at Connah’s Quay and we are keen to encourage as many people as possible to join us.
Chair, Deeside Naturalists’ Society.
- note, the Red (R) ring is very faded and could
easily be mistaken for Yellow, see photo above.
Ringed at Sandgeroi harbour, SW Iceland, on 28th May 2013.
Recorded at Hoylake Shore on 3rd March 2018.
Also recorded at Hoylake in early Nov 2014. All other records are from Formby Point and Ainsdale Beach usually in March/April and August/September so we don't know where it spends the winter, but it was at Formby Point on 17th February 2018.
P (P= pale blue)
Ringed on the Alt Estuary (Sefton coast) on 22nd September 2017.
Recorded at Formby Point on 6th October and 4th November 2017.
Between 20th February and 19th March 2018 it was recorded eight times on the mud just by the southern end of West Kirby Marine Lake.
- on tibia.
Ringed at Dynjandisvogur in NW Iceland on 25th May 2014.
Recorded at Meols Shore on 20th March 2018.
This bird was recorded at Southport in April and October 2016, and again there in March 2017. It was at Crosby on 2nd September 2017.
So this bird has only been sighted in Spring and Autumn, where does it spend the winter?
Colour-rings were also recorded by Steve Hinde, Matt Thomas, Les Hall, Steve Williams, Allan Hitchmough, Manu Santa-Cruz, Jason King and Charles Farnell.
The 'Beast from the East' was in full swing early in the month with the coldest prolonged spell since December 2010. Cold weather movements included 11 Shoveler at Hilbre (rare here), up to seven Scaup both at Hilbre and West Kirby Marine Lake (probably the same birds), movements of Redwings and Fieldfares were noted and there was a notable influx of Jack Snipes and Woodcocks. Although probably not related to the cold weather over 20 Brent Geese started feeding on West Kirby Marine Lake, these were often close to the Scaup making for an unusual spectacle - they certainly made for some nice photos.
Because of the cold weather everyone thought that the first spring migrants would be severely delayed but the first Wheatear was one of the earliest we've ever had, and, although later than 2017, the other species were not unusually late. Continuing poor weather did mean migration was very slow but that isn't unusual in March, lets hope for some better weather in April!
The table shows the first date each migrant species was seen.
|Wheatear||9th March|| Leasowe
|11th March||23rd March|
|White Wagtail||14th March||Hilbre||4th March||15th March|
|Sand Martin||15th March||West Kirby||11th March||16th March|
|Willow Warbler||27th March||Greasby||17th March||29th March|
|Swallow||29th March||West Kirby||14th March||24th March|
|House Martin||27th March||7th April|
||17th April||13th April|
|Swift||19th April||22nd April|
||24th April||21st April|
Out to sea the first Sandwich Tern of the year was spotted from Hilbre on the 30th and there was a small but steady passage of Little Gulls, max 24 on the 26th. The over-wintering flock of Eiders was present all month, reaching 12 on the 24th. Common Scoters reached 15,000 on the 7th but didn't seem to stay long, when I saw them they were an awful long way out into Liverpool Bay. A Velvet Scoter was recorded from Leasowe Lighthouse on the 5th.
A female Merlin seemed to take up permanent residence in a tree next to the reception hide at Burton Mere Wetlands, with one or two recorded elsewhere on the estuary.Large numbers of Pink-footed Geese were seen including two counts of at least 10,000. Knot numbers were high during the cold spell with up to 30,000 early in the month but most had disappeared by the month-end, either flying east to the Waddensea or north to the Ribble. Avocet numbers were exceptional at Burton Mere Wetlands with reports of a record high number of 122 on the 18th.
Scarcer birds included regular reports of one or two Water Pipits at both Neston Old Quay and Burton Mere Wetlands, up to four Mediterranean Gulls at Burton Mere Wetlands, two reports of over-flying Red Kites, a Black Redstart at Hoylake andreports of Cetti's Warblers at various locations.
of Twite at Connah's Quay and Flint haven't been quite as high this
last winter but there were at least 60 at the end of the month. These
days Great White Egrets are ever present with six the highest count on
the 25th, we can but hope that they'll breed here this summer.
1st April, 12.41hrs (BST), 9.7m.
2nd April, 13.18hrs (BST), 9.7m.
Organised by the Wirral
Ranger Service , Flintshire
Countryside Service and the
RSPB (Dee Estuary):
All these events and walks have bird interest, even those not advertised specifically for birdwatching. No need to book for these events unless specified - please check below.
Feel free to just turn up at these events but if you need further details please email firstname.lastname@example.org or ring Denbighshire Countryside Services 01745 356197. For the events actually at the Little Tern colony in Gronant Sand Dunes please park at the car park opposite Crofters Pantry Cafe on Shore Road, Gronant (Shore Road is sign posted 'Lower Gronant/Presthavens' from A548). Walk over the railway bridge and turn left through the five bar gate opposite Presthavens Sands Holiday Park, to the right you will see a footbridge over the river which you walk over to reach the dunes. Also see Gronant Site Guide which includes a map.
Anybody can help with the preparations for the new season at the only Little Tern Colony in Wales, and one of the most productive in the country thanks mainly to the volunteers and wardens doing such a fantastic and important job. I would recommend bringing refreshments, sturdy footwear and warm clothing.
6th April:7 pm - 8:30 pm Gronant Little Terns, an illustrated talk by Henry Cook, (previously a Little Tern Warden at Gronant) Gwaenysgar Village Hall, LL18 6EL 7 pm - 8 30 pm. £3 adult admission, under 16's free.
23rd - 27th April: 10 am - 4 pm
Construction of the hide and perimeter fence at the Little Tern Colony
in Gronant Dunes.
1st - 5th May: 10 am start - Electric fence construction at the Little Tern Colony in Gronant Dunes.
25th April and Sunday 29th April, Bluebells and Birdsong
at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands.
Price: £10 per person / £8 RSPB members
Booking essential - ring 0151 353 2720.
us for this guided walk through Gorse Covert, a semi-natural ancient
woodland at Burton Mere Wetlands which happens to be one of the best
bluebell woods in the area. Admire the beautiful spring spectacle, and
learn about other woodland plants, whilst being serenaded by the array
of birds noisily defending territories for nesting.
Stick around afterwards to enjoy the rest of the reserve, and even lunch or a snack in the Reception Hide.
Sturdy footwear and a reasonable level of fitness is required. Advanced booking and payment essential.
6th May, Dawn Chorus at RSPB
Burton Mere Wetlands.
Price: £12 per person (£9.50 RSPB members)
Booking essential - ring 0151 353 2720.
It's International Dawn Chorus Day, so join us at Burton Mere Wetlands to experience the magic of the reserve waking up as the sun rises. With a wonderful mix of woodland and wetlands, there's no better place to experience the early morning birdsong.
An expert guide will help identify the bird calls and songs around you, plus all the other kinds of wildlife that makes its home here. Enjoy a hot drink afterwards in the Reception Hide, then a chance to explore the rest of the reserve on your own before it opens at 9am.
Advanced booking and payment essential.
13th May, Burton
Marsh (RSPB) Birdsong and Breakfast.
Price: £15 per person / £12 RSPB members (includes full breakfast)
Booking essential - ring 0151 353 2720.
Meet at the junction of Station Road and Denhall Lane, west of Burton village.
Join us for this exclusive event as part of Wirral Walking Festival; a gentle walk along the Burton Marsh Greenway as far as Burton Point before retracing our steps to Denhall Lane as far as Nets Cafe for a full English breakfast.
A variety of warblers are busy establishing breeding territories here at this time of year, whilst the marsh is peppered with other summer migrants such as wheatears and alive with the songs of skylarks and meadow pipits. This early morning walk will offer chance to see and hear the marsh coming to life for the day in this busy time for nesting and migrating birds.
The route is along a fully accessible paved track. Booking and payment in advance essential. Price includes breakfast at Nets Cafe.