Below is Phil Woollen's account of the Pallid Harrier which visited the Dee estuary marshes, first spotted towards the end of September 2017 and it gave particularly good views from September 29th to October 1st. The account is taken from Phil's A Wirral Birders Blog. Quite correctly, Phil headed his account with 'potentially a 1st for Cheshire' as it has not yet been accepted, but there seems little doubt it will be.
Pallid harrier is one of those rarities that seem to have got commoner over the last decade as they've increased their breeding range westwards into Finland. A pair also bred for the 1st time in Holland this year and there was a long staying male displaying at Bowland. With a winter harrier roost off parkgate Old Baths we've been hoping for a Pallid Harrier for some time - especially as their now almost expected on our annual Shetland jaunt. The 1st one I ever saw was when I was working in Finland in 1983 when it was still scarce over there and I twitched it with a mad group of Finnish birders. The first UK one I saw was the juvenile at Winterton, Norfolk in June 2006 - I took a very young Dan Pointon along with me! Photo of this bird I took is below:
When Alan Davies reported he'd seen an
interesting, small, long winged harrier distantly on the Dee estuary
last week my interest was aroused. Unfortunately I couldn't get down
during the week and after a few days with no news it was temporarily
forgotten. Until the weekend............
Independently both Eddie Williams and Mark Garner saw it and both confirmed it was a Pallid Harrier. Mark P arranged to come to our house and we travelled the short distance to the marshes in pouring rain to find we'd just missed the harrier by a few minutes! It was quite a social gathering of Cheshire & Wirral's finest waiting patiently in the pouring rain. At this point the bird was tentatively being aged as an adult female, not a juvenile, and to make things even more confusing there was a ring-tailed Hen Harrier in the same location that some people were watching whilst others were watching the Pallid Harrier! It didn't help when people claimed they'd seen it then asked what it looked like and what the identifying features were. No wonder the bird information services got their undies in a twist on the Sunday and were putting out Pallid / Hen Harrier!
After a long wait the bird appeared again and flew past at distance before pitching down into the marsh where it spent the next 90 minutes barely visible. A Hen harrier appeared and we were all watching that and comparing diagnostic features when the Pallid decided to fly again! This time it put on a good show to an appreciative audience and video footage and photo's were obtained seemingly proving it was an adult female.
Mindful of the spectre of hybridisation with Hen Harrier (common in Finland) a great deal of attention was paid to the all important wing formula. Jack Ashton Booth's blog was great help in this respect:
A bird we also saw at Loch Hillwell, Shetland, that had been apparently oiled by a Fulmar also caused a lot of discussion at the time. See here:
Overall we were happy it was a sub adult female rather than a juvenile. I didn't take my camera with me because of the pouring rain. Luckily Simon Slade was braver than me and took the pictures below.
A great afternoons birding with great company, a good craic, some good discussion and some good birds. As well as the Pallid Harrier there was a supporting cast of 3 Short-eared Owls (all in the air together), Hen Harrier, at least 3 different Marsh Harriers, Sparrowhawk, Merlin, Peregrine and Kestrel as well as at least 2 Great-white Egrets (seen together).Phil Woollen (2nd October 2017).
In terms of numbers recorded, it has been a record breaking few weeks for colour-ringed (CR) birds including a remarkable 95 knots. But we've also seen a good selection of other CR birds including oystercatchers. Since our little group have been logging the CRs, at least 12 years now, we've only seen a total of 10 Oystercatchers, amazingly six of those have been recorded in these past six weeks! With so many CR birds seen I can only give a few highlights, as follows:
WW-GflagO - the Gflag, which should be on the right tibia, was missing, same as one we saw last winter. Apparently the birds can get these off! (To read about the study into Icelandic breeding Oystercatchers see my article).
Ringed as incubating adult in SW
Iceland on May 27th 2015.
Recorded on Hoylake shore 20th and 22nd October 2017.
Also seen in Iceland close to ringing site in April 2016 and March and April 2017.
No other records outside Iceland.
Quite a few of our Oystercatchers have been ringed as breeding birds or chicks in north-east Scotland where there are two ringing groups - Grampian and Tay. We've seen three over the past few weeks, this one being typical:
(on yellow ring on left tarsus).
Ringed with metal ring as an adult in Ballater, Aberdeenshire, on April 1st 2012, then ringed with colour ring (T26) at the same location on March 29th 2014.
Recorded on Hoylake Shore on September 21st 2017.
Also sighted at Glen Cairn in June 2014, and in the river roost at Ballater in March 2015 and March 2017.
(black on white ring).
Ringed as a breeding adult at Skranevatnet, near Bergen, Norway, on June 5th 2016.
Recorded on Hoylake Shore on August 19th 2016 and October 9th 2017.
We continue to record these knots, below is a summary.
Total Orange flagged not recorded up to 31st October:
Caldy Wildfowl Collection - 78
Thurstaston Shore - 10
Plus a further 3 at both Caldy and Thurstaston
Hilbre - 1 (see photo of "OM" above)
Hoylake Shore - 1
Making a total of 93, 18% of the birds ringed on Sep 22nd at Altcar.
Plus there have been 45 sightings of
these birds at Crosby and Formby Point, demonstrating just how much
movement there is between the sites.
Colour-rings were also recorded by Matt Thomas, Steve Hinde, Peter Haslem, Richard Beckett, Paul Ralston, Alan Hitchmough, Les Hall, Jane Turner and Elliot Montieth.
What a fabulous month. The remnants of hurricane Ophelia was followed by storm Brian which in turn was followed by at least two more days of strong winds, all of which made for some great sea-watching. But in between these storms we had some beautiful quiet, often sunny, days making for some very pleasant birding particularly watching raptors, owls, egrets, geese etc over and on the marshes. Then there were the rarities.
The Pallid Harrier (first for Cheshire and Wirral) which was spotted at the end of September remained for two more days and there were a further three reports through the month. A Pectoral Sandpiper was at Burton Mere Wetlands on the 4th. A Sooty Shearwater during the storms on the 5th gave great views to a lucky few at Wallasey. Four records of Yellow-browed Warblers was back to more normal numbers after last year's influx and a Rose-coloured Starling was at Connah's Quay on the 16th. There was a very late record of a Melodious Warbler on October 29th at Lingham Lane, the first for Cheshire and Wirral since 1995. These are nearly always found on the coast and all previous records for our area were either on Hilbre or at Red Rocks.
To record Leach's Petrels on nine days in October was excellent, max 18 at Hilbre on the 5th. We also had Sabine's Gulls, Black Terns, Pomarine, Long-tailed, Arctic and Great Skuas and three more Grey Phalaropes to add to the 2017 total after an exceptional September.
This autumn we haven't had the massive flocks of Common Scoter seen in recent years, but 7,000 on the 2nd wasn't bad!
Just how many Marsh Harriers we've had on the estuary I'm not sure but, given the number of records received, the count of 10 counted coming into roost on the 17th was not totally unexpected. There are at least four Hen Harriers on the marshes including a grey male. It looks like it's going to be a good winter for Short-eared Owls with several counts of six and one of seven. At least one Cattle Egret has been at Burton Mere Wetlands all month and there have been counts of nine Great White Egrets at both Neston and Heswall.
4th November, 10.47hrs (GMT), 9.7m.
5th November, 11.27hrs (GMT), 9.9m.
6th November, 12.10hrs (GMT), 9.9m.
7th November, 12.54hrs (GMT), 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.
High tide on 5th Nov is 11.27hrs (9.9m) and on 6th Nov is 12.10hrs (9.9m). Best to arrive at least an hour before high tide to watch the birds being pushe din by the tide.
along to the Old Baths car park for chance of seeing a range of birds
of prey hunting over Parkgate Marsh. Harriers, peregrines and merlins
are all returning to the estuary for the winter and this is one of the
best places to watch, plus short-eared owls if we're really lucky.
The big tides on these days should push things in
chance of seeing a range of ducks, geese, wading birds and egrets as
their flocks build on the estuary for the winter.
There is free public parking at the Old Baths car park (CH64 6RN) at the north end of The Parade, and the Wirral Country Park car park on Station Road (CH64 6QJ). There are public toilets at Mostyn Square in the middle of The Parade, and a number of pubs and cafes.
Old Baths car park, Boathouse Lane/The Parade (B5135), Parkgate, Neston, Cheshire.
For further details ring: 0151 353 8478.
November, Dusk Chorus at Burton
Price: £8 per person (RSPB members £6.50)
Booking essential, ring: 0151 353 8478.
We're all familiar with the dawn chorus, but have you ever stopped to listen to the sounds of the countryside as the sun goes down? Honking geese, whistling waders and chattering jackdaws soundtrack peaceful sunsets at Burton Mere Wetlands, with one of the country's largest egret colonies returning from the marsh, and a small starling murmuration over the reedbed.
Join us for a late afternoon guided walk as the temperature drops and the birds start to prepare for another long night, returning as the light fades and many birds return to Burton Mere Wetlands to roost. Finish with a hot drink back in Reception Hide and chance of seeing a barn owl emerging to hunt.
Places are limited, so advanced booking and payment are essential.