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July 2022 Newsletter


 

 Snowy Egrets, Pacific Swifts and other tall stories


When I first started this website I was no more than a casual birdwatcher so it was both a privilege and an eye opener to get to know the local birding community - many of which have since become good friends. It was a steep learning curve for me, to say the least, and I soon learnt that some birders you could trust their bird identification skills with your life - and if they weren't sure about something you could be sure they would say so. Others, like me, are happy to go along with what the experts say! But then you get some who are, lets say, over-enthusiastic seeing rare and scarce birds where there aren't any, so another thing I learnt was to be sceptical when necessary, and that's quite a skill to learn as people can get upset if you doubt them.

Over the 24 years of the life of deeestuary.co.uk I have been sent many thousands of records the vast majority of which have been absolutely reliable, a few where there have been obvious mistakes which, for the most part, have been easy to spot but then just a handful have been rather strange for one reason or another. It's some of these latter ones which I thought would be amusing to share with you and probably tells us more about human nature rather than birds. To save embarrassment I have not named anyone, although I'm sure many locals will recognise them, but I would say they all involve what most people would regard as experienced birders.

Nightingales and Wood Warblers at Connah's Quay.

By 2004 my website was well established but it's always been the case that I get fewer records from the Welsh side of the estuary simply because there are fewer people birding there. So I was pleased in April that year when I started getting reports from Kelsterton Wood which is an area of woodland not far from Connah's Quay Nature Reserve. I didn't know the birder in question but recognised the name as someone involved with the Deeside Naturalists Trust.
I got two emails initially detailing totals of warblers heard - nothing unusual, just counts of singing Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs etc. but very welcome records. Then out of the blue I get "this morning I heard two Nightingales and 10 Wood Warblers in Kelsterton Wood". This came without any comment, you'd think singing Nightingales and multiple records of Wood Warblers were commonplace in Flintshire - which they most definitely are not! Also very strange was the fact such a remarkable record wasn't reported anywhere else. Nightingales are not completely unknown here on the west coast of the UK but they are very rare with just the odd record of single birds, nearly always in May and are single individuals who have over-shot their normal range. According to 'The Birds of Wales - 2021' there were a total of just 16 records in the whole of Wales between 2000 and 2019. A singing Wood Warbler, even two, at Kelsterton would not be particularly unexpected but even so the presence of just one or two of these scarce warblers would certainly excite the interest of local birders - but having 10 all singing in one small wood was totally unbelievable!
So what was going on here? What was the motive for sending me obviously duff info? Was he testing me, knowing I was an inexperienced birder? Did he have a chip on his shoulder about Welsh birds being reported on an English website? Was he just a fantasist? I can't remember my reaction at the time, but am pretty certain I just ignored it and I never heard from that person again.

We usually see one or two Wood Warblers around the Dee Estuary each year, this one was at Leasowe May 2021
© Peter Sutton


An Iceland Gull and mass delusion at Meols.

You've probably heard of twitches, or even been to one, where the first person to see the bird thinks it's species X. And then everyone else arriving to see the rarity just goes along with the original ID until some 'know all' turns up, perhaps a day or two later, and says - 'it looks like species Y to me' - and everybody is left with egg on their face! Well, something similar happened at Meols in April 2005.

I remember getting a text 'Iceland Gull at Meols' and I dashed down to have a look as I'd never seen one. Although regular in some parts of Cheshire they are less than annual on the Dee Estuary/North Wirral so it was a good rarity to see here and when I arrived many local birders were there including the north Wirral's regulars. With so many experienced birders present it didn't even cross my mind to question the identification, photographs were taken and everybody went home happy. Then I got an email - 'examination of the photos suggest it might not be an Iceland Gull and it's now thought to be a leucistic Herring Gull'. It was quite a shock to find out that even the most experienced birders get it wrong sometimes, but it also amused me  to find out these experts were human after all!!

A mega over West Kirby?

The sighting of a rare bird always causes excitement but it is somewhat dampened if only one person gets to see it, particularly so if that person has a bit of a reputation for reporting birds nobody else gets to see. Such was the case for a Pacific Swift over West Kirby in September 2007 which was greeted with incredulity and even anger by some birders. Pacific Swifts are mega rarities and up to 2007 only three had been accepted by BBRC, although it must be said a lot more get reported than accepted (most are reported as 'probables' as was the West Kirby bird) and the fact that there have been two further 'probable' Pacific Swifts in our wider area since 2007 (one at Southport and another at Hale) suggests that the West Kirby bird wasn't quite as unlikely as it might seem (and it did appear after prolonged easterly winds).

Being only ever a probable and with just one person seeing the bird it was no surprise this record was rejected by the BBRC - but not before a letter was sent by some irate birders to BBRC strongly suggesting the record was unsafe, an unprecedented step! I have never known a birder to polarise opinions so much. Those who knew him well, including myself, were of the opinion that he was an experienced and reliable birder, not only that he had recently co-led a birding tour to Japan where Pacific Swifts are commonplace so knew the species well. He is a birder who is out in the field nearly every day and usually alone - so it was no surprise he was often the only one to see particular birds. Other birders saw him as a 'stringer', and for those who don't know here is the definition of a stringer - "a birder who repeatedly claims dubious sightings. Dubious species or dubious counts, often flyovers, or 'passing through' in some way, and characteristically NEVER seen or witnessed by any other birder." What do I now think after 15 years since the Pacific Swift was claimed? Well, I just don't know and think it's best to leave it like that.

Egret Lores

News of rare birds rarely get into the local press but this was in the Liverpool Echo in October 2008 "Mersey birdwatchers are in a flap over what could be one of the rarest visitors to UK shores in years. At the weekend, Wirralís twitching community exploded with talk of a Snowy Egret sighting which, if confirmed, would make it only the second time the American bird has been sighted in the UK. Experts say the borough could have to brace itself for a flood of hundreds of birders from across the country."

It was a bright sunny day at Meols on Oct 18th 2008 when a birder saw an egret which immediately set alarm bells going as it appeared to be a Snowy Egret, and if that was the case it would be only the second one ever recorded in the UK. The bird seemed to have two identification characteristics of a Snowy Egret - yellow lores and light coloured legs. At the time this was the first I've heard of 'Lores' in relation to birds but it is the bare skin between the eyes and the bill (see photo below).

Unfortunately, despite much searching, the bird wasn't relocated and also unfortunately the photos taken on the 18th were inconclusive as the bird was somewhat distant. However, during the following two days a Little Egret (probably a juvenile) was seen variously described as having 'yellowish lores' and 'pale legs and lores'. The birder who saw the original Egret seemed sure this Little Egret seen on the 19th and 20th was not the same bird he had spotted, but it has to be said that the light conditions were very different being bright sun on the 18th and dull and overcast on the 19th and 20th.

If it was a Snowy Egret it was never relocated either here or elsewhere in the country - so definitely one that got away!

The lores (the bare skin in front of the eyes) are clearly different here. But in the field things can be a lot more difficult with birds in breeding or non-breeding plumage, juveniles different from adults, poor light conditions making colours difficult, and so on............. bryndekocks.com/blog/little-egret-vs-snowy-egret/


A mystery bird at Leasowe

It was a mild February day in 2011 when I got an email with rather vague details of a bird the observer didn't recognise which was in one of the paddocks at Leasowe Lighthouse; he'd seen it that morning but it had disappeared. It appeared to be some kind of wading bird so I replied giving him my mobile number asking him to ring if he saw it again. An hour later my mobile rang, the bird had reappeared.

He still didn't know what it was and I tried to make sense of his description. I distinctly remember asking about the bill and the answer was that it was heron like. So the conclusion was that we had a small heron type bird which was mainly grey/brown in colour. I quick look in my Collins Bird Guide and I realised there wasn't much to choose from and I came to the conclusion that it was probably a Little Bittern and that's what I put out - 'a probable Little Bittern'. Needless to say there was no further sign of this bird when other birders, including myself, turned up to look for it. Looking back at this now I'm embarrassed by my conclusion. I'd made assumptions which weren't valid not least that it was possible for a Little Bittern to be in north-west England in February when, in fact, they spend the winter in Africa - but in my defence there had been recently been some strong southerly winds so just maybe! More understandably, perhaps, was that I assumed the person who saw this bird was an experienced birder - although I didn't know him well I did know he was a regular at Leasowe Lighthouse so it was a reasonable assumption to make.

I remember getting irate with somebody who suggested that it was probably just a Snipe, and I pointed out that it had been reported by a birder and not just some non-birding dog walker which some had concluded. It was only later, when a friend of mine said she had seen a Black-tailed Godwit in that field that same morning, that I started having doubts about this whole embarrassing episode. I'm sure you will think that surely any birder knows what a Black-tailed Godwit looks like, but they are rare along that part of north Wirral so it may well be that a casual birder who only visits the Leasowe area was not familiar with them. On the other hand may be it was something very rare and we all dipped out on it!

Lesser Yellowlegs and an anonymous verifier

This involved a birder who always went out by himself and seemed to see a lot of birds, including the occasional rarity, which nobody else ever saw. But he had a strange attitude to his fellow birders which basically was "I found this rare bird a couple of days ago, but I'm not going to tell you where it was, you'll have to find it for yourselves". Every other birder I know is only too keen to share their find, if only to confirm the identity and the more people that see it the more likely it is that it will be accepted by the relevant rarity committee.

The most notorious incident involved a Lesser Yellowlegs supposedly seen on July 14th 2017 along the River Dee channel somewhere on the outer edge of Burton Marsh. The news of this mega rarity didn't get out until three days later as this birder only put it on his thread on BirdForum and it was hidden amongst a long list of other birds he'd recorded that day. It was as though he attached no more significance to seeing a Lesser Yellowlegs than a Redshank! Although I wasn't aware of it at the time apparently he got a LOT of stick and was ridiculed for not telling anybody about it.

This must have upset him as a week later, on the 21st, I get an email from him saying he'd gone out to the same spot that morning with, and I quote, "a Verifier who wants to remain anonymous" who had confirmed the identification as a Lesser Yellowlegs. No details of exactly where it was, no photograph, no identification details - just an anonymous verifier!!Needless to say I greeted this with total disbelief and said so on my website - for which I received an angry email but, luckily, he hasn't been in contact since. The sad thing is is that the original record on the 14th could well have been genuine, but only he knows that.

No doubt about this Lesser Yellowlegs at Inner Marsh Farm in August 2010 © Phil Woollen

So there you have it, a selection of strange, and sometimes bizarre, stories of bird sightings. All very different.
It's interesting that over the 24 years of this website I've only knowingly been lied to twice and both these occurrences are described above. It's possible I've been a victim of 'stringing' much more often without me realising - but I'd like to think if that is the case it has happened only in a handful of cases. Certainly there have been many cases of mis-identifications but they have, mostly, been picked up either by myself or my more expert birding friends.
Rather than carrying on pontificating perhaps I should just finish by saying 'it takes all sorts'!

Richard Smith


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Colour Ring Report

Knots

Knots Orange Flag 38L and N5NRNP photographed in early June near Arctic Bay, Baffin Island, Canada © Jack Willie


Orange Flag 38L was ringed at Ainsdale on 04/03/2022.
I quote my friend Richard Du Feu (keen wader ringer and colour ring spotter) on twitter:
"Over 100 sightings have come in this year from outside of the UK of the Merseyside colour ringed (orange flags) Knot. The most remarkable is 38L which has appeared in Arctic Bay, Baffin Island, 4,100km away. This is very much in the area of uncertainty between Rufa and Islandica races."

Clare Kines (who describes himself as a retired Mountie, denizen of the Arctic and a keen birder) put the above photo on Twitter and I quote:
"My friend, Jack Willie, took this shot of two ringed Red Knots (islandica ssp) that he found. On the left 38L, was ringed in Merseyside UK, the bird on the right we donít have details yet, other than it was ringed in the Netherlands."

This is the first record in Canada of an Orange Flagged Knot. When breeding the knots are scattered across the vast areas of remote tundra in northern Canada so sightings of colour ringed birds there are indeed rare. Arctic Bay is a town on the east end of Baffin Island.

Shelduck

Shelduck Lime ring (ZJ) on Caldy Shore, June 2022 © Steve Hinde

Lime ZJ
Ringed at Martin Mere WWT on 19/11/2018.
Recorded:
At Martin Mere in February 2019, and November and December 2019.
It was at Heysham (Morecambe Bay) in September 2020 before returning to Martin Mere in October 2020 where it seems to have spent that winter.
It was at Woolston Eyes (near Warrington) in March 2021 and February 2022.
Caldy Shore on 13/6/2022.

Given it's appearance on Caldy Shore in mid-June it seems possible that it has been breeding locally, it's next stop is likely to be the Mersey Estuary where it will undergo moult along with thousands of other Shelduck.

Black-headed Gull

Black-headed Gull 2PSH on West Kirby Shore, June 2022 © Richard Smith


Yellow Ring (2PSH)
Ringed at Pitsea Landfill Site, Essex, on 12/03/2016.
Recorded:
West Kirby shore or Marine Lake in November 2016, October and November 2017, September and November 2018.
There was then a gap in sightings until November 2021.
Last seen on West Kirby shore on 24/06/2022.

The recent record is our only summer sighting of it, probably indicating it bred locally. All other records have been in the autumn so we don't know where it spends the winter or where it breeds.

Colour Rings were recorded by Richard Smith and Steve Hinde on the Dee Estuary, and Jack Willie in Canada.

Richard Smith

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June Bird News


Wood Sandpiper at Burton Mere Wetlands, June 18th © Carole Killikelly

Spotted and Common Redshanks, Burton Mere Wetlands, June 28th © Chris Wilding


An Osprey over Burton, a Wheatear at Leasowe and small waders on Gronant beach early in the month indicated that birds were still migrating north but by mid-month a Little Ringed Plover and six Spotted Redshanks were back at Burton Mere Wetlands followed by an early Wood Sandpiper there on the 18th. Waders at Heswall on the 10th, including five Whimbrel, and at Hoylake on the 13th were probably non-breeders. One of the Whimbrels was colour ringed and was still at Heswall 10 days later nicely confirming it's over-summering status (although we were unable to read the letters on its ring). Also over-summering were several hundred Black-tailed Godwits at Burton Mere Wetlands, and more unusually there were five Bar-tailed Godwits with them. Also unusually an immature Little Gull spent the month around Heswall Shore being seen regularly over high tide.

White-winged Black Tern at Burton Mere Wetlands, June 6th © John Hewitt

A bird well to the west of where it normally would be expected was a White-winged Black Tern at Burton Mere Wetlands on the 6th. The first returning Sandwich Terns turned up at Hoylake and West Kirby on the 14th and the first Mediterranean Gulls away from their breeding colonies were four at Heswall on the 17th, and they had increased to eight by the 27th.

Around 70 pairs of Avocets bred at Burton Mere Wetlands. A pair of Marsh Harriers also bred there for the third year running and a young bird was seen, we also suspect the Bitterns bred again but no sign of any young yet as I write this but they are very difficult to spot in the reeds. There is yet another record season for the Little Terns with 200 nests counted at Gronant, lets hope that translates to a record number of fledglings. The smaller Little Tern colony at Point of Ayr is also doing well with 32 pairs, another record high.

Little Terns at Gronant, June 3rd © Ian Sheppard


Eider off Connah's Quay Reserve, June 15th  © Peter Haslem
A first for the reserve

Many thanks go to Matt Thomas, Steve Williams, Steve Hinde, Alan Hitchmough, Richard speechley, Allan Conlin, Richard Whitby, David Small, Bruce Atherton, Mark Woodhead, Jane Turner, Jeremy Bradshaw, David Leeming, Dave Edwards, Paul Mason, Carole Killikelly, Roy Wilson, Mark Gibson, Bill Wonderley, Peter Haslem, Mal Sergeant, John Hewitt, Neal Simpson, Chris Lewis, Ian Sheppard, Chris Wilding, Kelvin Brittan, David Roe, Jim Hutton, David Leeming, Ian Goldstraw, Andy Mehta, Mike Kay, Andrew Ingham, Bridget Jarvis, the Dee Estuary Wardens and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during June. All sightings are gratefully received.

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What to expect in July


I associate three species in particular with July - Sandwich Terns, Black-tailed Godwits and Mediterranean Gulls. Sandwich Terns will be filling up the mouth of the estuary with their raucous cries and will be bringing their newly fledged young with them. Best places to see these are at Gronant, Point of Ayr, Hilbre, West Kirby and Hoylake. Thanks to colour ringing we know these will have bred all around the Irish Sea - Cemlyn Bay on Anglesey, several colonies along the east coast of Ireland and Cumbria - and also at sites in Northumberland. The Dee Estuary and adjacent Sefton Coast are a vitally important stopover points for them before they make their way south with many flying as far as the tip of South Africa (see Sandwich Tern Article).

I feel privileged to live a short walk from one of the most important Black-tailed Godwit post-breeding moulting sites in the country. This is at Caldy Wildfowl Collection (next to the busy A540) and the first ones will begin arriving either in the last few days of June or the first week in July. They always look glorious at this time of year in full summer plumage and numbers will rapidly rise until well over 2,000 will be there by the month-end when we may get the first juveniles arriving. By the end of August or into September there could be 6,000 here!

Mediterranean Gulls will also be in full summer plumage early in the month, looking like a Black-headed Gull on steroids! There will probably be at least ten or so in the estuary and I always enjoy scanning through the gull flocks at West Kirby and Thurstaston knowing there's a good chance of seeing a few. Again, colour ringing tells us where these breed and some come all the way from the continent including as far east as Poland.

July is often a very good month for rarities and over the past three or four years these have included Hoopoe, Melodious Warbler, Long-billed Dowitcher, Roseate Terns, Gull-billed Tern and Terek Sandpiper.


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Forthcoming Events

July Highest Spring Tides (Liverpool)

Also see Tides page

14th July, 12.18hrs (BST), 9.3m.
15th July, 13.09hrs (BST), 9.4m.
16th July, 13.59hrs (BST), 9.3m.

Forthcoming Events


Free and open to anyone. There is free parking at the car park on Gronant Road, opposite Crofters Cafe. Walk over the railway bridge and at the end of Gronant Road turn left through the gate then right over the bridge takeing you across the river, then follow the boardwalk to the Little Tern Colony.
More details at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-big-little-tern-count-tickets-341938496247, note that pre-booking is not required.

See other events at https://events.rspb.org.uk/deeestuary