1st May 2005

West Kirby High Tide Roost.

Gronant Little Terns.
April Bird News.
Forthcoming Events.
Latest Newsletter.

Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens' logo.

West Kirby High Tide Wader Roost - 2004/2005

The Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens have completed the 2004/05 season at West Kirby, pleasingly numbers of waders were up after three relatively poor years. The wardens' main job on the beach is to protect the wader roost from disturbance, but a very useful secondary role is to count the birds and below is a summary of the data for  2004/05 compared with the previous two winters. The wardens are down on the beach over every daylight high tide over 8.8 metres between  early September and the end of March, nine species of waders are routinely monitored.

  Oyster- catcher Ringed  Plover Grey Plover Knot Sanderling Dunlin Bar-tailed Godwit Curlew Redshank
Average Count  2004-2005 313 8 198 1113 26 2429 55 51 73
Average Count  2003-2004 533 6 69 309 7 1326 32 97 39
Average Count  2002-2003 909 4 39 188 22 785 27 174 18
Maximum Count 2004-2005 7000 100 2000 15000 400 10000 700 400 1000
Maximum Count 2003-2004 8557 90 600 7000 150 10000 350 650 470
Maximum Count 2002-2003 8000 100 800 5000 400 9000 1900 1000 380

The average counts give a good indication of how each species is doing year on year. Seven out of the nine species increased last winter (2004/05), in particular our two most numerous species, Knot and Dunlin, which increased six fold and three fold respectively compared with 2002/03. The graph below demonstrates how numbers changed across each winter - 2002/03 to 2004/05.

Note - a session is an 8 to 10 day block of wardening as governed by the tides.

Interestingly counts during the first half of the winter were more or less the same for all three years, the difference being from mid-December onward when numbers soared this last winter, particularly in late February. In previous winters we have found the same - counts for the first half of the winter tend to be very similar, but with marked differences from mid-December to March. Whether this is caused by food shortages in some winters, adverse weather further east or some other cause is not known.

Grey Plover, Knot and Dunlin - high tide at West Kirby, January 2005, © Richard Smith.

2004/05 was the warden's 19th season and the graph below shows how the wader counts have varied over that time.

As you can see numbers have fluctuated considerably, but in a very predictable manner - a nice smooth sine wave with only one year in 19 askew from the rest (99/00, that was the year I joined the wardens!). We don't really understand why numbers fluctuate in this manner but I will elaborate on this in a future newsletter. Just out of interest, the mean count in 2004/2005 was 4,265, very close to the average over the 19 years, 4,740. Counts have increased in the past two winters and according to the graph we are due another peak in two years time - I look forward to it!

If you wish to know more about the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens see the wardens' web page and follow the links at the bottom of that page - in particular, appeal for wardens, the history of the DEVW and DEVW Bird Report 2001. Also you may ring the Coastal Ranger for more information on 0151-678 5488. We are always in need of new wardens so if you want to combine a bit of conservation work with your birdwatching please join us.

Many thanks for the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens for allowing me to use their data, in particular Roy Palmer who processes the data and produces  some very interesting graphs.
The Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens own the copyright
© for all the data in this article and permission must be obtained if you wish to use it in any way.

 Richard Smith.

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Gronant Little Tern Colony

The Little Tern colony at Gronant will soon be all hustle and bustle as the birds return to breed. This is the only colony in Wales for this species, and over the past couple of years one of the most productive in the whole of the United Kingdom. In 2004 we had 89 pairs which produced 167 fledged young and in the record breaking year of 2003 110 pairs produced 190-200 fledged young. All this has been achieved due to the hard work and dedication of the wardening team and we are once again appealing for people to put themselves forward as voluntary wardens.

2005 will be my sixth year of voluntary wardening and I've enjoyed every minute. Despite being only a few hundred yards from several busy caravan parks it is like a different world out on the wildflower covered sand dunes, full of singing skylarks and meadow pipits. There is always plenty to see - Little Terns of course, but also a good selection of waders, Common and Sandwich Terns, Gannets, Common Scoter, loads of Cormorants and assorted gulls, and, given a strong west wind, Manx Shearwaters. Up to six grey seals are regular off the beach, and porpoises and dolphins have been seen occasionally.

The Denbighshire Countryside Service are organising the voluntary wardens this year so if you want to volunteer then email Garry Davies at garry.davies@denbighshire.gov.uk.  Garry can also be contacted by phone - 01745 356197 or 07884490345.

Richard Smith

Steve Round © Little Tern at Gronant,  2003.

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April Bird News
The spring migration continued throughout the month, a steady flow rather than anything spectacular. April 22nd was a typical day with plenty coming through - Grasshopper Warblers, Ring Ouzels, Wheatears, Yellow Wagtails - but the pick of the bunch was undoubtedly the first Dartford Warbler for Hilbre Island found by Steve Williams.. The first Sandwich Tern was seen off Hoylake on the 4th, Common Terns from Hilbre Island on the 13th where the first Little Terns were seen on the 17th. Four Little Terns were back at Gronant on the 25th. The Black Redstart which spent two days at Stanley Road Hoylake at the end of March stayed until 1115am on the 1st before disappearing, literally seconds before Steve Round came down to photograph it!
Species 2005 Location 2004 2003
Wheatear 16th March Caldy 17th March 9th March
White Wagtail 17th March West Kirby 14th March 6th March
Sand Martin 17th March Hilbre 18th March 8th March
Willow Warbler 25th March Hilbre 31st March 24th March
Swallow 25th March Hoylake 18th March 12th March
House Martin   2nd April Thurstaston 28th March  15th March
Swift 17th April Willaston 20th April 24th April
Whitethroat 18th April Leasowe 15th April 17th April
Cuckoo 1st May  Point of Ayr 3rd May 4th May

There were quite a few Short-eared Owls around with this one below hanging about near Thurstaston Visitor Centre most of the month, it has a few feathers missing from each wing. It was another good winter for Short-eared Owls although it is probable that the ones here now are passing through from elsewhere - further south, presumably.

Steve Round © Short-eared Owl at Thurstaston, 21st April 2005.

Whimbrel came through steadily all month with most of them seen from Hilbre Island, 12 were there on the 29th. Very good numbers of Black-tailed Godwit were at the head of the estuary with 1,600 at Inner Marsh Farm and 2,532 at Oakenholt. Eight Spotted Redshank was the highest number reported to me, these at Inner Marsh Farm. Numbers of Turnstones on Hilbre Island noticeably dipped mid-month as they migrated north, but picked up again at the end of the month to 120 or so, presumably these were birds passing through from further south.

Richard Smith © Turnstones at Hilbre turning in to summer plumage, 19th April 2005.

One to two Avocet were hanging around Burton Marsh and Inner Marsh Farm for several days but no sign of any staying to breed. Three Ospreys and three Marsh Harriers passed through. On a very clear day Chris Butterworth was lucky enough to spot a Red Kite circling over Garth Wood on the Welsh side of the estuary, he was standing on West Kirby Shore at the time!

A Lapland Bunting was well spotted flying over Hilbre but what was thought to be an Iceland Gull on the shore by Leasowe Lighthouse turned out to be a leucistic Herring Gull (leucistic means when a bird's colour is very pale, rather than pure white like an albino). Not as exciting as an Iceland Gull but very unusual, nevertheless.

What to expect in May

With the departure of our over wintering waders and duck the estuary can seem very empty in May, apart from the odd flock of waders hurrying through on their way north. Despite this there are probably more species present in and around the estuary in May than any other month. We have all the spring migrants present including the late arriving Spotted Flycatcher and Cuckoo. As already mentioned waders are passing through, and this can include rarities such as Pectoral Sandpiper and Temminck's Stint. The Black-tailed Godwits which winter on the Dee Estuary breed in Iceland but up to 1,000 immature birds spend the summer here. We can also get rarities turning up as 'overshoots', migrants, usually inexperienced young birds, which have overshot their normal breeding areas and flown further north or west than intended.

Breeding in our tern colonies will get fully under way with much shrieking and tooing and froing! The Common Tern colony at Shotton is the largest in Wales (and probably the second largest in the UK) and pairs have increased for the past five years running, last year 656. The Little Terns at Gronant have also done very well over the past two years, with 89 pairs fledging 167 chicks last year.

We can get good numbers of seabirds out to sea given a fresh west wind, including four species of terns, Manx Shearwaters, Gannets and Common Scoters.  

Many thanks go to  Clive Ashton, Iain Douglas, Roy Palmer, Colin Jones, Dave and Emma Kenyon, Ray Roberts, Charles Farnell, Steve Williams,  Chris Butterworth,  Jane Turner, Phil Woollen,  Allan Conlin, Mike Hart, John Kirkland, Alan Chapman, Mike cocking, Brian Roberts, John Roberts, Steve Round, Colin Wells, Tanny Robinson, Steve Roberts, Frank Huband, Mal Smerdon, Matt Thomas, Mark Feltham, David Small, Mark Wilde, R. Davey, Mark O'Sullivan, Steven Liston, Peta Sams, Andrew Ingham, Steve Renshaw, Dave Burt, John Boswell, Alan and Sandy Evans, Jeff Stephens, Jean Morgan, Sabena Blackbird, Leon Castell, Rob Bithell, Howard Jones,  the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens  and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during February.  All sightings are gratefully received.

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Forthcoming Events
May Highest Spring Tides, also see Tides page.
7th May, 11:26hrs 9.5m. Times BST.
8th May, 12:07hrs 9.5m. 

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

Sunday 1st May, 5:00am – 7:00am, Dawn Chorus for Commoners.
Experience this magical time of day by listening to the variety of birdsong over Thurstaston Common and the woodlands of Royden Park. Light refreshments available afterwards. Booking essential. Phone 0151 648 4371/3884.

Saturday 7th May, 6:30am, Breakfast Birdwatch.
Join the Warden for an early morning birdwatch at the RSPB Inner Marsh Farm reserve. The trees and bushes will be alive with bird song while lapwings display overhead. Costs inclusive of continental breakfast are £5.50 members and £6.50 non-members. Booking essential. Further details and tickets from the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Sunday 8th May, 6am - 9am. In search of Birds.
Search for warblers and other spring migrant birds along the hedgerows and adjacent fields along the Wirral Way. Suitable clothing and footwear essential, bring binoculars if you have them. Booking essential, ring 0151 648 4371.

Saturday 14th May, 10:00am – 5:00pm, Warblers Galore!
Put your eyes and ears to the test as we try to identify the many different species of warblers. There will also be a display of optics for birders by Calumet and Canon in the Visitor Centre. Bring a picnic and make a day of it. Meet at Wirral Country Park Visitor Centre. For more details phone 0151 648 4371/3884.

Saturday 21st May, 10:00am & 2:00pm, “Meet the RSPB” at Inner Marsh Farm.
This event is for non-RSPB members only and is an opportunity to find out about the work of the RSPB on the Dee Estuary, and to visit the reserve at Inner Marsh Farm. There will be an illustrated talk introducing the RSPB, followed by a tour of the reserve and a visit to the hide overlooking the wetland pools. Refreshments will be provided. The event is free of charge but spaces are limited. To book call the RSPB on 0151 336 6251.

Wednesday 25th May, 8:00pm–10:30pm, Evening Birdwatch.
Join the Rangers for a leisurely birdwatch around Royden Park and parts of Thurstaston Common in search of birds that are active at this time of day. Sorry, no dogs. Please bring a torch, warm clothing and a pair of binoculars if you have one. Booking essential. Tel: 0151 648 4371/3884.

Saturday 4th June, 1:30pm, Orchid Spectacular at Inner Marsh Farm RSPB Nature Reserve.
The reserve’s wetland fields become carpeted with marsh orchids in the spring. Join the Warden on a walk around this special part of the reserve not normally open to visitors. Learn about how we manage the reserve over afternoon tea. Booking essential. Tickets are £3.00 for members and £4.00 for non-members. For details and to book phone the RSPB on 0151 336 7681. Please book early to avoid disappointment.

Sunday 5th June, 1:30pm, Orchid Spectacular at Inner Marsh Farm RSPB Nature Reserve .
A second opportunity to join the Warden on a walk around a special part of the reserve not normally open to visitors. Event followed by afternoon tea. Booking essential. Tickets: £3.00 members and £4.00 non-members. To book and for further details call the RSPB on 0151 336 7681. Please book early to avoid disappointment.

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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