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June 2021 Newsletter


Wetland Bird Survey 2019/20

August high tide at Hoylake and plenty of waders to count Richard Smith

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:

Pink-footed Geese

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."


Collared Pratincole on Kerr's Field, Leasowe, April 22nd David Bradley

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 over 30,000.

Collared Pratincole on Kerr's Field, Leasowe, April 22nd David Bradley


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 report 2019/20:

3. WeBS Report Online data:

Richard Smith

Collared Pratincole on Kerr's Field, Leasowe, April 22nd David Bradley

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Colour Ring Report


Blackbird with metal ring LN63843, Hoylake, November 2020 Jane Turner

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.

Black-tailed Godwits

Black-tailed Godwits at the moulting site in Caldy, April 10th 2021 Richard Smith

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 follows:

L//L-L at Caldy in August 2019 Richard Smith

L//L-L Ringed as a chick.
Ringed in southern Iceland on 17/06/2003.
In June this bird will be 18 years old. The longevity record for Black-tailed Godwits is 23 years old, but 18 is still an exceptional age for this species.
This bird has been recorded a total of 262 times, and since 2005 it has only ever been seen away from the Dee Estuary when it visited the Ribble Estuary in March 2019. I have seen it a total of 179 times which in itself must be some kind of record!
It was recorded four times at Caldy Wildfowl Collection in the second half of April 2021.

GL-LZ at Caldy in April 2021 Richard Smith
It was always standing on one leg!

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.

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April Bird News

Collared Pratincole on Kerr's Field, Leasowe, April 22nd David Bradley

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!

Sub-alpine Warbler near Burton Point, April 19th Tony Hession

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 over-flying 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.

Whimbrels. Top: roosting on Hilbre on April 25th (Hilbre Bird Observatory)
Bottom: on Caldy Shore on April 26th (Richard Smith)

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 day.

Osprey being mobbed by a Herring Gull over West Kirby, April 1st Allan Hitchmough

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.

Dawn on April 3rd, Pink-footed Geese leaving the estuary Hilbre Bird Observatory (Chris Williams).

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.

Species 2021 Location 2020 2019
Wheatear 28th Feb
Leasowe 16th March
27th Feb
Sand Martin 5th March
Burton 16th March 16th Feb
White Wagtail
16th March Leasowe 1st March
28th Feb
Swallow 18th March Leasowe 23rd March 21st March
Willow Warbler 23rd March Leasowe
26th March 24th March
House Martin 27th March
Burton 5th April
31st March
Whitethroat 10th April Heswall
8th April 14th April
Swift 16th April
Raby 21st April 23rd April
Cuckoo 24th 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 species.

Spoonbill at Parkgate on April 29th Tony Hession

Many thanks go to Steve Williams, Matt Thomas, David Haigh, Steve Hinde, Alan Hitchmough, Colin Schofield, Derek Bates, Allan Conlin, Richard Whitby, David Thompson, David Small, Richard Beckett, Bruce Atherton, Peter Sutton, Frank Burns, Dave Edwards, Mark Gibson, Jeremy Bradshaw, Roy Wilson, Chris Revell, Neil Montieth, Graham Parry, Ian Goldstraw, John Hewitt, Alan Challoner, Graham Connolly, Tony Sinnott, Paul Greenslade, Steve Houghton, Mark Woodhead, Tony Hession, Richard Speechley, Tim Kinch, Bruce Hogan, Carole Killikelly, Ken Mullins, Richard May, Steve Round, Roger Evans, Leon Castell, Richard Stell, Bill Wonderley, John Welbourn, David Bryant, Ron Brumby, Gareth Prestridge, David Bradley, John Hemmings, Steve Hassell, Gary Burton, William Keig, Pam Stackhouse, Dennis Wall, Mike Buckley, Roger Hasley, Alan Oates, Elizabeth Shand, Valentin Ponce, Linda Platt, Gill and Alistair Foggo, An Williamson, David Roberts, Teresa Starr, Peter Biggs, David Parker, Phillip Reed-Roberts, David Leeming, Mark Palin, Paul Ralston, Colin Well, Gary Shingler, John Fisher, David Roe, Rich Hurst, Peter Humphrey, Chris Davies, Hugh Stewart, Colin Jones, Kevin Cook, David Jones, the Dee Estuary Wardens and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during April. All sightings are gratefully received.

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What to expect in May

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.

Whinchat at Leasowe, April 30th Allan Conlin

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Forthcoming Events

May Highest Spring Tides (Liverpool)

Also see Tides page

26th May, 11.36hrs (BST), 9.7m.
27th May, 12.24hrs (BST), 9.7m.

Forthcoming Events

Due to Covid 19 restrictions no birdwatching events are planned for this month.

Common Buzzard over Heswall Fields, April 19th Steve Round