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May 2018 Newsletter

Liverpool Bay SPA.
March Bird News.
Connah's Quay Nature Reserve.
Colour Ring Report.
Forthcoming Events.
Past Newsletters.


Little Terns - review of 2017 season.

                                                       Bringing the food home Henry Cook

The Little Tern colony at Gronant had an excellent season in 2017 with a record number of breeding pairs (161) and the second highest fledgling count of 202.  

The increase in breeding pairs, up from 141 in 2016, was unexpected as we had five relative poor years from 2011 to 2015 with fledgling success and in the past that meant a subsequent dip in breeding pairs. For example, looking at the graph you can see two poor fledgling years in 1997 and 1998 resulted in fewer breeding pairs in 2002 whilst a very poor year in 2001 saw less breeding pairs in both 2004 and 2005. The increase in 2017 could be explained by high adult survival in the wintering grounds and on migration, and/or immigration of breeding birds to Gronant from other colonies because of ideal breeding habitat and good feeding. Or maybe the colony is still benefiting from the record breaking season of 2010.

                                                     Juveniles on Gronant Beach Les Hall

According to the RSPB, Gronant was the largest Little Tern colony, in terms of breeding pairs, in the whole of the British Isles in 2017. But it wasn't the most productive with that accolade going to Kilcoole, just south of Dublin, with 141 pairs producing an estimated 255 successfully fledged young. Kilcoole is only 100 miles due west of Gronant and there appears to be quite a lot of inter-change between the two colonies. We know this because a big effort has been made to colour ring Little Terns over the past two or three years and there were no less than 56 records of birds ringed at Kilcoole at Gronant in 2017, including newly fledged young birds. Colour-ringing is going to revolutionise our understanding of these birds but a couple of fascinating facts have already emerged - a bird ringed as a chick with a black ring in 1991 was recorded at Gronant in 2017 which means it is 26 years old, a world longevity record for Little Tern (previous record was 23.8 years), and the other interesting finding was that several one year old birds, including five ringed at Gronant in 2016, were recorded as well as several two year old birds. Perceived wisdom had it that the first year birds all stayed in their wintering grounds off West Africa through the summer, as did most second year birds - well, it seem perceived wisdom was wrong! 

Although 2017 was undoubtedly a good year it wasn't without it's problems with some exceptional high tides, gales and not least a fox which got into the breeding pens. Quite a lot of eggs were lost to that fox but it was early in the season so the birds could re-lay but if the wardens hadn't stopped it's activities the whole colony could well have been destroyed. This just demonstrates how vitally important wardening is and, as always, a large proportion of these are volunteers. Anybody can volunteer so if you are interested please contact either  the North Wales Little Tern Group by emailing or ring Denbighshire Countryside Services 01745 356197. 

                                      Keeping a close eye on a visitng Peregrine Henry Cook

References and Further Reading

1. Henry Cook, Ben Harrington, Sasha Taylor & Jack Slattery, Gronant Little Tern Report 2017, Denbighshire County Council Countryside Service.

2. North Wales Little Tern Group -,

3. Gronant Site Guide: 

4. Kilcoole Little Tern Conservation Project -

5. Little Terns and Sea Holly, Three Summers at Gronant Dunes by Judith Samuel.

Richard Smith

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Colour Ring Report

Sanderling G3RGBW - Les Hall

Knot Yflag(50A) Y - Jason King

Knot Oflag(EU) P - Charles Farnell


WOL-YRY (photo)

and L//L-L (photo)

GP EM (photo)

Knots x 2

Oyc AA (photo) and CA

G3RGBW - 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.


ZYZ - black on white ring.
Ringed on the River Vistula estuary, Gdansk, Poland, on 20th July 2015.
Recorded at Hoylake Shore on 5th March 2018.
Also recorded at West Kirby Marine Lake on 13th February 2017.

5UV - black on white ring.
Ringed on the River Vistula estuary, Gdansk, Poland, on 25th July 2016.
Recorded at Hoylake Shore on 5th March 2018. No other records.

Of the 14 Polish ringed Dunlin we've recorded ZYZ is only the second to be re-sighted. 


Yflag(50A) Y.
Ringed at Skogarnes, SW Iceland, on 20th May 2017.
Recorded on Thurstaston Shore on 24th November 2017.
Recorded by West Kirby Marine Lake on 1st March 2018.

Oflag(EU) 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.

Yflag(14) - 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?

Knot Oflag(PK) G - Richard Smith

Altcar Knot Catch - March 30th

Oflag(PK) G
Ringed near the Alt Estuary (Altcar) on 30th March 2018, photograph shows the bird just as it has been released after ringing. 
An excellent catch in good weather on Good Friday resulted in 496 Knots with new Orange flags and green rings. As I write this some of these have already been sighted on the Dee estuary by the Hilbre Bird Observatory. Several Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plovers were also fitted with Orange flags.

Richard Smith.
Colour-rings were also recorded by Steve Hinde, Matt Thomas, Les Hall, Steve Williams, Allan Hitchmough, Manu Santa-Cruz, Jason King and Charles Farnell.

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March Bird News

                                              Scaup on West Kirby Marine Lake, March 4th Keith Scovell

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.

Species 2018 Location 2017 2016
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.

                     The Merlin in it's favourite tree at Burton Mere Wetlands, March 30th  Mark Woodhead

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. 

Numbers 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.

      A nice contrast in size - Great White Egret and Little Egret at Parkgate, March 28th Fran 'Wild About Wirral'.

Many thanks go to Mal Seargant, Timothy Kinch, Chalres Farnell, Mark Woodhead, David Haigh, Steve Hinde, Matt Thomas, Chris Butterworth, Roy Lowry, Elliot Montieth, Paul Shenton, David Leeming, Alan Hitchmough, Steve Williams, Les Hall, Jeff Cohen, Dave Edwards, Derek Bates, Eddie Williams, Allan Conlin, Karen Leeming, Geoff Robinson, Julie Rogers, Colin Schofield, David Peate, Sheila Ryde,  Frank Burns, Gail Wilson, Dave Harrington, David Thompson, Mark Gibson, Mark Turner, Graham Connolly, Paul Mason, Linda Platt, Richard Beckett, Mike Hart, Peter Ham, Chris Leslie, Nigel Skilling, Phil Boardman, Alister Sclater, Chris Millington, David Huntingford, Barry Curnow, George Knight, Brian Kirkwood, David Bedford, Richard Whitby, Ian Blackhurst, Nigel Longshaw, Robert Pugh, Tony Breen, Dennis Wall, Michael Ball, Ian Fleming, Huw Morgan, Alan Howgate, Steve Hand, David Small, William Keig, the Lighthouse and Wirral Birding Blog, the Dee Estuary Wardens and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during February. All sightings are gratefully received.

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What to expect in April

The exciting thing about the spring migration, particularly April, is that we see species we just don't get at any other time of year or are otherwise very scarce. So we'll get White Wagtails, Yellow Wagtails, Ring Ouzels, Whinchats and Redstarts. Some mornings we'll go out and every field will seem to be full of Wheatears and every bush full of Willow Warblers. Grasshopper Warblers will be more likely to be heard rather than seen, but sometimes they sing in full view and surprisingly unbothered by  watching birders.
Take a second look at any large 'gull' overhead - it might just be an Osprey and we always see more in the spring than in the return migration. Out to sea Little Gulls will be flying towards the Sefton Coast from which they fly overland on their way to breed in the Baltic. Last year we had an exceptional passage of Black Terns and they can be either flying along the tide line or over fresh water sites such as Burton Mere Wetlands. On the sea we often get huge flocks of Common Scoters, 30,000+ have been recorded in the recent past.
Whimbrels will be passing through and can be seen anywhere along the coast but Heswall always seems to have more than any other site. I look forward to seeing Black-tailed Godwits in their glorious breeding plumage on their way to Iceland, at this time of year they use fresh water sites such as the lagoons at Connah's Quay Nature Reserve, Burton Mere Wetlands, Caldy Wildfowl Collection and even Gilroy Nature Park which at the time of writing has partially re-filled.  Dunlins will be coming through in their thousands, also in breeding plumage, and there will be good numbers of Avocets at Burton, lets hope they have another good breeding season.
Rarities are almost guaranteed, the last three Aprils have included: Lapland Bunting, Hooded Crow, Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull, Common Crane, Hoopoe, Dotterel and Alpine Swift.

                             Little Egrets at Burton Mere Wetlands, FMarch 29th David Thompson

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Forthcoming Events

April Highest Spring Tides (Liverpool)

Also see Tides page.

1st April, 12.41hrs (BST), 9.7m. 
2nd April, 13.18hrs (BST), 9.7m.  

Forthcoming Events

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. 

Little Tern Events.
Feel free to just turn up at these events but if you need further details please email 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.

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. 

Wednesday 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.

Join 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.

Sunday 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.

Sunday 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.