Both the local, Dee Estuary, and National Wetland Bird Survey Reports for 2019/20 have just been published and, as always, gives us the opportunity to see how our wetland birds are doing.
The WeBS pages on the BTO website are a tremendous
resource. The latest report can be downloaded for free and you can look
at all the updated data, including that for the Dee Estuary. But not
only that, data goes all the way back to 1965/66 when the then Birds of
Estuary Enquiry started. It might amuse you to look at that year for
the Dee Estuary when the total count, according to the table, was just
two Pink-footed Geese! But that was the only species they counted that
year (we get quite a few more these days - see below) and it wasn't
until 1970/71 that a full survey was undertaken. All the annual reports
going back to 1999/20 are also available. See Ref 3 for the link.
The index for the latest report, 2019/20, is shown below to give you an idea of the contents. Full of interesting articles, I found the four Species Focus articles of particular interest.
I will now just briefly summarise some of the highlights from the Dee Estuary:
The increase in Pink-footed Geese numbers on the Dee
Estuary over the past 10 years has been phenomenal, and shows no sign
of slowing down any time soon. In 2019/20 the Dee Estuary was the
seventh most important site in the country. An amazing achievement when
you consider the six sites with more birds includes major sites in
Scotland, such as Montrose Basin and Moray Firth as well as major
English sites such as North Norfolk and Martin Mere. I quote from the
Dee Estuary WeBs Report 2019/20: "During
the autumn and early winter many birds spend most of their time feeding
on fields along the Wirral side of the estuary and further inland along
the Dee valley (at least as far as Aldford) but usually returning to
roost on the estuary (so not recorded in Dee Estuary WeBS counts). This
winter birds were recorded even more widely eg 500 present at Bar Mere
with birds often seen arriving from the north west during the morning.
As winter progresses, they spend more time grazing the saltmarsh off
Parkgate and in late winter, with the cessation in shooting, they move
onto Burton Marsh."
There is certainly something about the Dee Estuary which the Egrets love. Last year I was reporting that in 2018/19 that the Dee Estuary had the highest count in the country for Little Egrets with a roost count of 425 in August 2018. Only 260 were counted in 2019/20 but that will be a big underestimate as a full roost count was not undertaken. However, there were a record number of pairs breeding in the estuary with a total at two sites of at least 110.
Great Egret numbers on the Dee Estuary were the second highest in the country in 2019/20 with 29, second only to the Somerset Levels with 62. Three pairs bred successfully fledging 11 young. Note the max number counted in 2019/20, on a non-WeBS day, was 35 on August 2019.
Last year I was reporting really good numbers of ducks for the winter of 2018/19, unfortunately the reverse happened in 2019/20 with all our commoner ducks showing a fall in numbers. This was thought to be due them staying further east and north due to a very mild winter on the continent. Typically Teal have shown the wildest fluctuations in numbers with a max of 3,084 in 2017/18, 9,892 in 2018/19 and 4,152 in 2019/20 ( see Species Spotlight - Teal).
Wader counts were also generally on the low side in 2019/20. But it is good to see numbers of Curlew increasing on the Dee Estuary for three years running. The Dee Estuary was the third most important site for this species in 2019/20 and the five year average is 3,553.
Knot numbers in the country increased significantly
and the index was the third highest since WeBS began in the late 1960s,
this was due to an exceptionally good breeding season in 2019. The Wash
is by far the most important site in the country for them and they
always peak there in the autumn when birds which have moulted on the
Waddensea start moving west. In 2019 numbers peaked in September on the
Wash with a remarkable 199,625.
Knot is a difficult species to count on the Dee
Estuary, at low tide they are scattered over miles of mud banks whereas
at high tide many leave the estuary altogether to roost anywhere
between Southport and Seaforth (the latter undisturbed site has become
increasingly important in recent years). What the data shows in the
2019/20 season illustrates the point. The January 12th high tide count
for WeBS was only 5,185, but a few days earlier, on January 4th, Steve
Hinde had 22,000 off Thurstaston at low tide and this was submitted as
a WeBS supplementary count and it is this larger count shown in the BTO
WeBS data. Incidentally a Low Tide WeBS count in November 2020 gave a
nice high count with large numbers of birds on Dawpool Bank off
Thurstaston, I'm not sure what the total figure was but it will be well
1. Neil Friswell (Approved by Colin Wells), Dee Estuary and North Wirral Foreshore WeBS Annual Report 2019/20.
2. Frost T.M. et al., Waterbirds in the UK - Summary
Blackbird isn't a species normally associated with this ringing report but this was a particularly interesting recovery and ringed in a sea-front garden in Hoylake.
Ringed with metal ring LN63843 at Hoylake on 29/11/2020.
Recovered alive in Vestby, Norway (just south of Oslo) on 8/04/2021, straight line distance is 1095Km.
It was lovely seeing the northward passage of
Black-tailed Godwits with many in full summer plumage but it wasn't
very productive for colour-ringed birds with just two recorded, as
Ringed in southern Iceland on 19/6/2014 as an adult female.
The first record after ringing was at the Gilroy Flash, West Kirby, in November 2014 and it has been a regular on the Dee Estuary area since.
It usually flies to the east coast after breeding being seen at Snettisham in September 2015, August 2016 and September 2018, and at Frampton Marsh in August 2017. It then moves north-west and usually spends most of October at Caldy Wildfowl Collection (2017, 2018 and 2020).
In April GL-LZ is normally a bit further north in Lancashire so it was a bit of a surprise when it was spotted at Caldy Wildfowl Collection on several occasions in April 2021.
Colour-rings were recorded by Richard Smith, Steve
Hinde and Jane Turner.
It was hard to take, a Collared Pratincole in Kerr's Field for over an hour but news only got out after it had left! A truly mega rarity with usually just the one bird a year visiting this country. A particularly charismatic species - it is a wader but behaves more like a Swallow (eating insects on the wing) and looks like a small tern in flight. It was frustrating as they often stick around at the same site for several days but there was no sign, then as I write this on May 1st I see it has turned up on a ploughed field in Kirkby (north Liverpool)* so has spent over a week in our area without being spotted. Collared Pratincoles breed in good numbers in southern Spain and also along the Mediterranean coast of France so it is probably an overshooting bird from that population. *It is some consolation that the bird at Kirkby was found by Leasowe regular Eddie Williams, which was pretty amazing!
But there were similar stories for all our major
rarities in April. A Surf Scoter was briefly seen on the 1st sitting on
the sea at Ffynnongroyw, the birder who spotted it was on a train at
the time so this has to go down as only a 'probable'. Next up was an
White Stork at Greasby on the 16th, seen by a couple of birders but it
wasn't visible from the coast so must have veered inland (it also flew
over Frodsham Marsh that same day). An 'unusual looking Whitethroat'
was photographed near Burton Point on the 19th, this turned out to be a
Sub-alpine Warbler but there was no sign of it the following day. About
the same time the Collared Pratincole was at Leasowe on the 22nd a
Serin flew along Hoylake shore, nobody saw it but it's distinctive call
was recorded as it flew over.
April is all about the spring migration with many
species only seen here at this time. Whimbrels are a particular
favourite filling the estuary up with their whistling calls at a time
when few other waders are around. They are on their way from Africa to
Iceland and north-east Europe (see The
Seven Whistler article). The first was noted at Hilbre on the 10th
with 17 at Heswall on the 17th the first double-figure count. The high
tides at the end of the month produced very good numbers at Thurstaston
and Heswall, max 143 on the 30th, with 43 at Hilbre on the 28th.
Sunny weather always seems to be good for Ospreys
and we had a total of 12 over this spring - compared to eight in 2020
and 11 in 2019. At one point in April we seemed to be seeing them every
The exodus of Pink-footed Geese was certainly prolonged this year with the first obvious flight north on March 30th and the last recorded on April 28th. The total counted, always early morning, was 16,173. To that has to be added many more which will have been missed, and large numbers were heard overnight. For example on April 13th several large flocks were recorded over Hoylake at night including one which took seven minutes to pass over - at least 10,000 in that flock alone would seem a reasonable estimate. The Dee Estuary is rapidly becoming one of the top ten sites in the country for Pink-footed Geese, a remarkable turn around from 10 years or more ago when a total of a few hundred was considered a good count (max WeBS count for winter 2010/11 was 750). There were 24,000 counted for the February 2021 WeBS and March was likely to have been even higher. There is likely to be much inter-change between here and Norfolk where numbers usually peak in December at 40,000 to 50,000, and many of the birds recorded moving north in April may well have spent the winter there.
Out to sea Little Gulls continued to be seen flying past Hilbre with several high counts, max 27 on the 4th. A lot of Gannets were out in Liverpool Bay including a feeding flock of 150 close to the island on the 25th. Over 400 Sandwich Terns on the 18th was a good number for Spring, six Manx Shearwaters were seen on the same day.
With a blocking high pressure system and
relatively cold temperatures the passage of passerines was steady
rather than spectacular and the first of the species tabulated below
all arrived more or less as expected. The first Common Redstart arrived
on the 11th with a total of 28 records for the month, and the first
Whinchat on the 15th with a total of 16.
|Sand Martin||5th March
||Burton||16th March||16th Feb|
||16th March||Leasowe||1st March
|Swallow||18th March||Leasowe||23rd March||21st March|
|Willow Warbler||23rd March|| Leasowe
||26th March||24th March|
|House Martin||27th March
||8th April||14th April|
||Raby||21st April||23rd April|
||23rd April||18th April|
Five Spoonbills arrived at Parkgate on the 23rd, as
they all seemed to be in breeding plumage perhaps they'll breed here
this year. At Burton Mere Wetlands a Bittern was still being seen
regularly and Bearded Tits, Marsh Harriers, Cattle Egrets and
Mediterranean Gulls all appear to be breeding along with many other
Spring migration will still be in full swing in
early May, indeed the migration of Whinchats, Whimbrels and Spotted
Flycatchers all peak this month. After a quiet April for waders things
will pick up again with good numbers of Dunlins, Ringed Plovers and
Sanderlings passing through, most of these will be coming up from their
African wintering grounds. For those interested in the different Dunlin
races this is the time to get down to Hoylake and Meols. As described
in my article 'Dunlin - Rings, Races and Genes' (http://www.deeestuary.co.uk/news1220.htm),
May is the time when
we see Icelandic and Greenland breeding Dunlin (schinzii and arctica
races) passing through which are then joined, around mid-May, by bigger
Dunlin of unknown origin (but probably breeding in Siberia). The much
scarcer Curlew Sandpiper may also turn up this month on their way north.
May is often a good month for terns, as well as our
breeding Common Terns and Little Terns there is always a good chance of
seeing Black Terns, as well as rarer species such as the White-winged
Black Tern present at Burton Mere Wetlands in May 2019. In fact May is
often a good month for rarities generally which in recent years have
included Hoopoe, Turtle Dove and Blue-headed Wagtail.
Also see Tides page.
26th May, 11.36hrs (BST), 9.7m.
27th May, 12.24hrs (BST), 9.7m.