Wirral Bird Club - Hugh's News
home | about us | programme | field meeting reports | chair's reports | archive | contact us | links | talks 

11th July 2017

I hope you are enjoying the summer! The weather has been typically variable but I think not too bad overall. I always say to myself “It could have been worse”!

On the birding scene, July is often thought of as a quiet month. The breeding season has largely finished so bird song and displays diminish, and many birds undergo a moult that can make then more indistinct and elusive. So now is a good time to look at other areas of the natural world such as butterflies and dragonflies.

I am including a few photos from a recent guided walk I attended at Whixall Moss. The weather was not ideal, being a bit cool and windy, but we still saw some nice subjects: Comma butterfly, a Heart and Dart moth and lots of 5 Spot Burnets.

At BMW, the single Cattle Egret chick is still around the nest testing its wings and should fledge any day now. A pair of Mediterranean Gulls has 2 fledged young. For both species, it is the first breeding record for the reserve.

OK, I have talked about the summer. So I don’t want to be too pessimistic but the first signs of autumn migration are already present - and the longest day was only a couple of weeks ago! But there have been sightings of waders such as Common Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank and Ruff at Burton Mere Wetlands this last week, the first birds returning south from their breeding grounds.

These initial migrants are usually failed or non-breeders, with the peak period still to come. They are often still in (partial) breeding plumage though, so can look bright and quite different to their winter garb that we are more familiar with. This may cause some confusion initially, but it demonstrates for example why the full name for the familiar winter species here on Wirral is Red Knot.

Hugh Stewart







18th June 2017

I hope you don't mind if I share my memories of my visit to Bardsey at the beginning of June. If you are not aware, Bardsey is located less than 2 miles off the western tip of the Llŷn Peninsula. It is approximately 2 miles long and 1 mile wide at its widest point. Properties are let out by the Bardsey Island Trust as self-catering holiday lettings from April to October. These range from detached 5 bedroom farmhouses, lofts and one small traditional cottage.

I stayed at the Bardsey Bird and Field Observatory, which gives the added bonus of providing up-to-date information on the birds and other wild-life present. The accommodation was great, although the ablutions were a little basic (primarily due to water restrictions) - but for me that was part of the charm of the place!

My main reason for visiting was for the birds, but the island is stunningly beautiful in its own right, a haven where you can escape the TV, wifi and telephone! It is home to thousands of Manx Shearwaters. These birds only come ashore to their nest burrows at night, but they were passing by just off-shore all the time. I counted 2016 birds in one hour! The Obs staff are monitoring Manxies for their nest productivity as well as using data-loggers to track their feeding excursions into the Irish Sea.

We went on a fascinating guided walk to see these activities. Almost everywhere you went on the island there are Oystercatchers and Chough calling and flying around. Other commonly seen birds included Gannets, Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins.

Wheatears, Meadow Pipits and Linnets were also plentiful. Of particular interest to me were the Little Owls that have taken to nesting in burrows, as there are few trees on the island!

There were also over 200 Grey Seals in a sheltered bay giving close views, and there is a daily moth-trap inspection at the Obs.

If you are looking for a peaceful break away from the modern world, try a stay on Bardsey.

Walking Gaiter Found If you left a gaiter on the coach on the Lake Vyrnwy trip, please contact me.

Hugh Stewart





25th April 2017

After the mild winter, spring migration seemed to start early. However, the lack of a settled spell of weather has meant that birds have only been coming through in dribs and drabs.

Wheatears have been fairly numerous, but birds such as Ring Ouzel, Yellow Wagtail, Redstart and Whinchat have been harder to find. I did find single Willow Warbler and Whitethroat, and heard a lone Reed Warbler at Leasowe on Friday.

Several White Wagtails were in a ploughed field beside Banks Road. There is still time for more passage birds however, given some favourable conditions. I also saw my first Swift of the year by Shotton Fields, one of my favourite birds of every summer.

At Burton Mere Wetlands meanwhile, the first Lapwing brood has already fledged (which is early), and the Avocets have started laying. The reed beds and woods are starting to fill with warblers, even though the wind can make hearing or seeing them difficult. The Little Egrets are active in Marsh Covert, and the Bluebells are also at their best now.

Finally, a reminder to start collecting your photos to show at the AGM on 25th May. If you do not want to present them yourself, I would be happy to do it on your behalf. Just load them on a memory stick and bring it along.

This has become a successful and integral part of the evening so please help contribute. See you there!

Hugh Stewart




17th March 2017

I have just returned from a holiday in Costa Rica, and I know one or two members have also been there recently.

I am pretty sure they would agree with me that it is a beautiful country with magnificent scenery and wonderful wildlife.

What was particularly encouraging was how much the local people value their rich environment and the steps they take to maintain and preserve the national parks in particular.

I hope to give a talk on the country in the next programme but here are a few 'tasters'.

Meantime, here on Wirral there are clear signs that spring has arrived. The first Avocets were at BMW in mid February.

This last week there have been reports of Wheatear, Sand Martin, House Martin and Ring Ouzel locally.

We will be looking out for more migrants during our next field meeting at Leasowe.

Hugh Stewart








16th February 2017

It promised to be a nice Winter's day so I travelled to Red Rocks in search of the Snow Bunting that had been reported over the previous day or two. I didn't have to look for long as the bird was close to the slipway and feeding on the beach and amongst the rocks.

Photographers had scattered some seed for it, and it was very obliging for the few people gathered to watch it. It was probably so full it could not fly far even if it wanted to!

After admiring the beauty of the plumage and taking a few photos I moved on West Kirby Marine Lake. The air was still and the water was so calm, that there were beautiful reflections in the mirror-like surface. Although the air temperature was only around 5 degrees, with a bright sun and no wind-chill it felt more like a Spring day. A little flock of assorted waders was sitting on the rocks, basking in the warm sunlight.

Further out on the lake were several Red-breasted Mergansers, both male and female, and a couple of drake Goldeneye. They were all diving frequently to feed and they kept reappearing in a different place, making taking photographs difficult! Black-headed Gulls loafed on the pontoon as they often do here. I could not locate the female Goosander that had been reported here though.

Having completed a full circuit of the lake, I then moved on to Thurstaston Country Park and sat down in the visitors centre to scan the feeding station. It was not as busy as it might have been on a colder day, but several male House Sparrows looked smart in their breeding plumage.

Two Collared Doves were showing signs of displaying and paring off. A pair of stunning Bullfinches turned up, but were always very wary and quickly flew back into the trees. Even a drake Mallard on the pond look magnificent. If you saw this bird in an exotic Asian country you would drool over it, but I think we often take them too much for granted!

The following day the weather changed back to the normal grey, windy conditions, so it was nice to have been out on such a pleasant day. Spring is not quite here yet and there is still time for a sting in the tail, but it was a taste of things to come.

Last night I went to the evening with Iolo Williams at Neston Cricket Club in Parkgate. It was nice to see several Club members there too. Iolo regaled us with a brilliant talk on Raptors that was entertaining, informative, and hilarious in equal measures. I don't think anyone went away disappointed. No pressure for my talk to the Club in June then!

Hugh Stewart





15th January 2017

First of all, a belated Happy New Year to you all, and best wishes for a great year's birding!

We are well into winter now, although the weather has not been too harsh - yet! Both Marsh and Hen Harriers continue to grace the Dee, notably at Parkgate, Denhall and Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB. Waders are present in spectacular numbers along the north Wirral coast, and you should get some great views if you visit to Hoylake on an incoming tide. Now, everyone has a soft spot for Waxwings, and this winter has seen good numbers irrupting into the UK. It has taken a little time but some birds are finally getting close to us. There has been the odd bird reported on Wirral, but not pinned down unfortunately. The nearest flock as I write is on Alder Drive, Great Sutton, so keep a look out for the latest sightings if you want to try and catch up with these charismatic birds.

Canal Trip

I have booked a Wirral Community Narrowboat Trust Canal Boat for an informal trip. It will be a full day on Tuesday 2nd May 2017, from around 9am until 4.30pm (starting time to be confirmed), running from Christleton to Beeston and back, hopefully taking in Wharton's Lock. The cost will be £14 per person - excellent value!

This is always a great day out and very popular, so please contact me for further details or to confirm your interest. 0151 342 8596 / 07527 828571 / hugh.stewart55@btinternet.com

I want to give first refusal to members who have not been on a trip before, or maybe not for a while. Especially welcome will be members who may not be quite as sprightly on their legs any more (it comes to us all!) and so cannot attend the normal field meetings. All you have to do on the day is walk a few steps on and off the boat, then you can sit down for the rest of the trip and enjoy the scenery and hopefully some nice birds!

Big Garden Birdwatch

As most of you will be aware, the next RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch is scheduled for 28 - 30 January. I hope as many of you as possible will participate in the survey. It is not only a bit of fun, but the data submitted is very valuable in gathering information on population trends. Of course, we have a field meeting at Erddig on the Sunday, so you may have to fit the Birdwatch around this!

If you do not have a form, you can download one at: https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch/

Hugh Stewart



27th November 2016

Winter is definitely here!

The temperatures have plummeted, so when I visited Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB on Saturday I found much of the water frozen and the reserve carpeted in thick mist. It made for some pretty scenes, but it meant relatively few wetland birds were present. At least one Moorhen was braving it out though!

The sun soon burnt off the fog however, and I had a pleasant walk around the reserve under blue skies. A Marsh Harrier quartered the reed beds. From Burton Point, I could see hundreds of duck on open water on the salt marshes below, along with 3 Whooper Swans. The cold conditions are due to last a few more days, but once the waters thaw, and especially after the next high tides, I am sure the wildfowl will return to BMW.

Gilroy Scrape

Further to the news of the draining of the scrape at Gilroy Nature Park, the latest news is that the drain has been re-filled, and the water is returning to the Scrape. However, the Council has confirmed that an application has been submitted to build houses on land including the Scrape - even though it is green belt.

If you wish to oppose any development, people are being asked to write to their MPs and local Councillors; to contact Natural England to urge them to designate the site as an SBI and/or SSSI; and there is also a facebook page to follow:


High Tides

I may have confused people at the indoor meeting! December's High Tides are on Wednesday 14th, 9.8m at 10:55; Thursday 15th, 9.9m at 11:43, and Friday 16th, 9.8m at 12:30. (n.b. These are Liverpool times, it will be 20 minutes or so later at Parkgate). It is advisable to be there at least one hour before high tide.

These are not especially high predicted tides, but as you may know, the actual height depends on the weather on the day. Even if the water does not reach the wall, you can still get spectacular views of harriers, owls, and many more species.

Hugh Stewart

23rd October 2016

I have taken a bit of leg-pulling about the number of times I mentioned the Spoonbills that graced Wirral's Burton Mere Wetlands for several weeks over the summer. So no more on them - except to say they have moved on!

However, they have now been replaced by 5 (yes five) Cattle Egrets! They are still doing what it says on the tin - following the cattle around the Scrape, picking up frogs and other morsels disturbed by the cattle's' hooves. They occasionally even perch on a cow's back! The yellow bills of this species were clear to spot allowing easy separation from the more familiar Little Egrets.

This autumn has seen constant easterly winds for the last month or so, resulting in unprecedented numbers of rare birds on the east coast especially. A first for Britain in the shape of a Siberian Accentor (yes, I had to look it up in the books!) turned up in Shetland. Then like a London bus,they started appearing in Yorkshire, Cleveland and other locations. It is a shame that none made it across to the west - yet!

But there were unusually high numbers of Yellow-browed Warblers on Wirral, and a rare Booted Warbler was found on the Great Orme, where at least 3 Black Redstarts have settled down at the old mine works.

At the time of writing, a Hoopoe is at Conwy RSPB, but quite elusive. Of note on the Dee, a ghostly male Hen Harrier is present and can be seen off Parkgate promenade in particular. Male birds often move on leaving us with "ring tail" females and young birds, but hopefully this beautiful bird will stay to delight us for the whole winter. There are also probably 5 Marsh Harriers still on the Dee estuary, so check your harriers carefully!

But it is not just about rare birds of course. The numbers of wintering duck like Wigeon, Pink-footed Geese and various wader species are increasing rapidly, and with the cooler nights this week I am finally starting to get a few more birds on my garden feeders. The autumnal tree colours are also brilliant at the moment. But while you can sense that winter is just around the corner, I don't think we can complain about the summer and autumn weather too much.

Hugh Stewart









21st August 2016

When I discovered that the last Hugh's News was in May, I couldn't believe where the time has gone. Note to self: Must try harder!

I hope you have all enjoyed the summer. I think it has been quite a good one overall, so hopefully our breeding birds have had a successful and productive season. If the Avocets at Burton Mere Wetlands are anything to go by, then they certainly have. A record 75 or so birds fledged, which is brilliant. The reserve has also been graced with a flock of up to 12 (yes 12!) Spoonbill over the last month, and they are all still present at the time of writing. They make an impressive sight when they fly around between the Scrape and their roost in Marsh Covert. One or two Great White Egrets are still making an occasional appearance at the roost. Will these two species stay to breed next year, alongside the Little Egrets and Grey Herons? That would be awesome!

However, even though we are still in August, there are signs of autumn approaching fast!

At Hoylake, Terns and the odd Skua are present, making a stop-over in Liverpool Bay to feed before continuing their way south. Mostly Sandwich and Common Terns are seen, but Little and Black Terns have also been seen. Wader numbers are building rapidly, with good counts of Dunlin, Knot and Curlew, supported by Whimbrel, Curlew Sandpiper, Sanderling and Little Stint over the high tides. Many of the Dunlin are still sporting their black bellies, and the Sanderling have not moulted into their pale winter plumage that we are more familiar with - so beware!

Wildfowl numbers will also start to grow over the next month or two. The ducks that are around already are moulting into their "eclipse" plumage, making identification more difficult. But I know you like a challenge!

For information, the pools in front of Inner Marsh Farm hide at BMW have been dug out, in order to bring birds closer to the hide and to refresh the margins. So it may be worth a visit over the next few weeks to judge how successful this has been.

Hugh Stewart


8th May 2016

It has been a stop-start spring, with very few settled days before a cold snap returned. While a few migrants returned in dribs and drabs, many birds were held back in Spain and France. Unfortunately for our field meeting, there were only a few migrants present - although we still had a good day!

However, the last few days have finally seen warmer temperatures and more favourable winds, and birds have been passing through Wirral in greater numbers and variety.

A walk around Leasowe at this time of year is always exciting, as these birds that have flown hundreds if not thousands of miles stop to rest and feed. Some birds may stay to breed, such as the Swallows and Sand Martins.

Others will move on to more northerly or higher altitude breeding grounds. These will include the Common Redstart and the Whinchat. The Willow Warbler can be heard on passage with its delicate descending song, allowing us to easily differentiate it from the similar looking Chiffchaff.

With luck you may hear the well known call of a Cuckoo, and with greater fortune you can catch a glimpse of one perched on a tree. Wheatears are usually an early migrant with the first birds appearing in March; but birds seen later in the spring are often of the Greenland race, bigger and boldly marked specimens with a more upright stance.

Hugh Stewart



10th January 2016

First of all, may I wish you a belated Happy New Year.

Some of you will have started your Year List for 2016 already. As you start with a blank page, it is a great way to re-energise your enthusiasm for seeing birds - not that you should need much encouragement! Even the species that are common on Wirral can still get the heart racing when you see them again.

So, going down to King's Gap for a high tide enables you to 'tick' Dunlin, Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, and Sanderling all in one massed flock. When a hunting Peregrine spooks them all up into the clear air, they morph into a spectacular sight as they form an ever-twisting cloud. When the falcon has caught its unfortunate prey and flies off to pluck and eat its lunch, the massed waders slowly settle down to roost again.

As well as these fairly regular species, we are currently blessed by the presence of a couple of more unexpected birds, which help boost the Year List tremendously! A rare Pallas's Warbler is at Heswall Sewage Works. Lovely site! This tiny but brightly plumaged bird breeds in Siberia and should be in SE Asia for the winter. But luckily for us its SatNav malfunctioned and it ended up on Wirral.

Several Chiffchaff, Goldcrest and a Grey Wagtail were seen here too. Also, a Great Northern Diver has been resident on West Kirby Marine Lake all month, happily feeding on crabs. It often swims quite close to the prom, allowing great views rather than the usual distant speck bobbing way out at sea.

So common or rare species,I hope you have some great birding over the coming year.

Hugh Stewart

15th November 2015

Did any members drop in to one of the Wirral Wader Festival events over the weekend? The weather could have been kinder but the festival was still a great success.

I have been saved the job of writing a review thanks to Wader Quest who have already done one!

Read more at:


Hopefully this will become an annual event.

Hugh Stewart



6th September 2015

Apologies for the the gap since the last news. I have been so enjoying the lovely summer - not! First we had constant winds and cool weather for much of the spring and summer. Then last week we enjoyed floods all around Wirral. It will be interesting to see the breeding success rates for birds this year - I fear that they may not have been as productive as usual . Now the schools are back we are due an Indian Summer later this week - how often does that happen?! How long it lasts is another matter.

But there are sure signs of the coming autumn all around us. Two or three ring-tail Hen Harriers are back on the Dee together with at least 2 Marsh Harriers. One of the latter has green wing tags, denoting it was ringed in East Anglia.

On our trip to Hilbre last week, the number of waders was starting to build. Sandwich Terns were passing through Liverpool Bay on their long passage to Africa. Several migrating Wheatears were also scattered between Little Eye and Hilbre.

The Swifts have gone - at least I have not seen one for a couple of weeks now. Have you? Swallows and House Martins are still with us but many appear to be birds moving steadily south rather than our local breeding birds.

A juvenile Red-backed Shrike was present for 2 days along Park Lane Meols, but unfortunately it has moved on now. This used to be a regular breeding bird in the UK but alas no longer. Passage birds often turn up on the East coast in autumn, but it is unusual for one to get across to our western locality so it was a nice surprise.

Wildfowl are starting to increase at Burton Mere Wetlands, where a roosting Tawny Owl and a family of Spotted Flycatchers have been seen, along with Yellow Wagtails and at least 2 Kingfishers - honest!

Don't forget the first indoor meeting on Thursday 24th September, when Gordon Yates will be giving his (final) talk to the Club entitled "A World of Birds" and using his unique cine films of the birds.

Hugh Stewart


19th July 2015

To some birders, July often seems a relatively quiet time of year. The majority of birds have finished breeding by now, and mostly stopped their singing and displaying. Many species undergo a post-breeding moult, and tend to become more seclusive during this period as a way of reducing predation risks. So seeing and identifying birds can be more tricky.

This does not mean that there are not plenty of natural wonders to be seen however. This is a great time for turning your attention to butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies for example. Over the last few days I have photographed a Peacock butterfly, and both Broad-bodied Chaser and Four-spotted Chaser dragonflies.

Mind you, these fliers are often just as hard to get a good view of and identify the species as birds can be! Common Lizards will warm themselves up in a sheltered spot as soon as the sun is out. Orchids have been plentiful in the right habitat with Southern and Northern Marsh, Common Spotted and Bee Orchids probably the most notable locally.

In truth though, there are still some good birds to be found - with some patience. Waders are already starting to return on their southern migrations. The first birds are often failed breeders and retain their breeding plumage. This can be confusing in a few instances, as some species can look very different from when they are in the winter plumage that we are more used to seeing.

Ruff, Dunlin, Spotted Redshank, Common and Green Sandpipers have all been passing through Burton Mere Woodlands. The occasional Arctic Skua has been seen off Hilbre and Hoylake, in the company of terns. Two Quail have been heard on the marsh at Parkgate. Soon wader and wildfowl numbers will increase rapidly, as summer starts to turn to autumn. What a sobering thought!

So it is well worth having a look over the next month at Burton Mere Wetlands, the marsh below Heswall Fields or the beach at between West Kirby and Leasowe for some of these migrant birds. You will certainly see black-bellied Dunlin; and you may see a truly Red Knot!

Hugh Stewart


17th May 2015

Well, we are halfway through May already, and things have certainly been hectic over the last couple of weeks.

Some birds are well into their breeding season now. A small heronry at Moore NR on our last field meeting already had well grown youngsters, with at least one fully fledged and walking around on its own. Adults were busy feeding also. A fox seen from the hide may have had its beady eye on it!

Avocets at BMW are hatching with at least 25 chicks spread around the reserve. Sedge and Reed Warblers are very vocal in the various reed beds along the Dee, as well as ubiquitous Wrens.

At the same time, Spotted Flycatchers are only just arriving in to the UK with several birds passing through Leasowe, together with the occasional Yellow Wagtail.

There are still relatively large numbers of Dunlin around Hoylake, mostly sporting distinctive black bellies. One or two summer plumaged Curlew Sandpipers have also been seen locally. But bird of the month (so far?!) has to be a beautiful adult Turtle Dove present in a horse paddock at Leasowe for just a couple of days. Its presence provided a stark reminder of the fragile existence of this beautiful Read more about the bird and see some great photos at:


Hugh Stewart


12th April 2015

After what seems like a long winter, spring has now definitely arrived and migrant birds are streaming in to the area. The warmer, southerly winds at the end of last week brought a big change.

The classic migrant hot spot on Wirral - Leasowe Common - had several Wheatear and a smart male Whinchat last Friday. Other passage birds included Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Sand Martins and Swallow. I haven't seen a House Martin or Yellow Wagtail yet, but they will soon be back too.

Peacocks, Brimstone and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies were on the wing. The trees are full of various hues of fresh, vibrant green, and more flowers are emerging. White Blackthorn blossom is evident in the hedge rows.

The rapid changes in bird numbers and flora make Spring an exciting time - my favourite time of year. That is until autumn migration starts all over!

So I recommend that you make the most of the next few weeks of hectic birding action.

It is amusing that now the first Surf Scoter has been identified for Wirral, they are being reported on an almost daily basis now. It seems that the trick is to walk out from Hoylake to the water's edge at low tide and observe the large Common Scoter rafts by Hoyle Bank for their rarer cousins. But if you do decide to try this, please beware the incoming tide. I can just envisage hoards of birders having to be rescued by the lifeboat!

Just a quick reminder of the coach trip to Slaidburn on 26th April. This is a new venue for the Club, with hopefully something for everyone. Enjoy walks in and around this picturesque village set in the shadow of the Bowland Moors. Please book with Margaret on 0151 632 4451. Thank you for your support.

Hugh Stewart



5th April 2015

A Happy Easter to everyone. After what seems an eternity of northerly winds and persistent rain, signs of spring have finally started to emerge on Wirral. The cold northerly winds have subsided and the warmth behind the sun can at last be felt.

A walk in Stapledon Woods showed carpets of bluebell leaves poking up and with just a small patch in a sheltered, sunny spot already in flower. Another couple of weeks and there should be a purple carpet on the wood floor. Tree buds were also emerging. Two Blue Tits were cleaning out a hole in a trunk in readiness to lay. A robin was singing loudly in order to enhance the bond with his mate and to proclaim its territory.

The adverse winds have reduced migration to a trickle recently, after the early signs a month or so ago. However, if the weather stays settled for the next few days as forecast, then you can expect swarms of birds to be coming through our area over the coming days. So it will be a good time to get out and about.

There have been unprecedented numbers of Common Scoter seen off Wirral this winter, with at least 17,000 birds counted (and the odd Velvet Scoter!). After much searching Wirral’s first Surf Scoter was finally picked out amongst the flock on 25th March by local birders Allan Conlin and Kenny Dummigan. Now one or two Surfs are regularly being seen off Hoylake - albeit at some distance. You do need a still day and good optics to stand the best chance.

Hugh Stewart


8th March 2015

As I sit looking out at the rain falling on the window and the bare tree branches swaying in the wind, it is hard to think that spring migration is already in progress.

However, the dwarf daffodils in bloom on the patio confirm that the temperatures are slowly rising and the days lengthening. Several Stonechats seen at Leasowe yesterday are indications that birds are already on the move.

Avocets are already back at Burton Mere Wetlands. These birds are not necessarily long-distant migrants, but soon Wheatear will be dropping in on the Wirral coast onto areas of short-grass, in order to feed up before continuing on to their upland breeding grounds. As well as at Leasowe, you can look for them along Marsh Road towards Burton Point.

Sand Martins are also early migrants, seen feeding on insects over fresh water such as Burton Mere Wetlands. Chiffchaffs now regularly over-winter on Wirral in small numbers, but they will soon be proclaiming their presence with their well known, simple song along the Wirral Way and in the woods. These species will be followed by Sandwich Tern and Little Ring Plover. I can’t wait!

As the summer visitors appear, so the numbers of wild duck, geese, swan and wader decrease.

Of course there is still time for the weather to surprise us with a last sting in the tail, but even if this does occur, it will only cause a temporary halt to the birds’ drive to reach their territories and start breeding.

Hugh Stewart


8th February 2015

As some of you may be aware already, birders from all over Britain have been flocking to New Brighton Marine Lake for the past week to view a Laughing Gull.

The Laughing Gull is a gull species that breeds along the Atlantic coast of North America, the Caribbean and northern South America. The more northern populations migrate south for the winter, sometimes in the autumn, and migrating birds may get caught up in strong weather systems and get blown across the Atlantic to Europe. A few Laughing Gulls turn up in Britain each year, but they are still relatively rare in the UK and certainly on Wirral. Hence the particular interest amongst birders.

It favours the beach area around the Perch Rock lighthouse, and usually comes onto the pontoon on the Marine Lake over the high-tide when the beach is covered.

The bird is not dissimilar in appearance to the more familiar Black-headed Gull at first glance, but is slightly larger, darker backed, and has longer wings giving it a more elongated rear end. The bird at New Brighton is in its "first winter" plumage, meaning it fledged last summer and this is its first winter. It is not in full adult plumage, as this species does not attain full adult plumage until its third year. It actually looks rather scruffy, so definitely one for the gull nerds!

People often ask if the gull will find its way back to America. One can never say never, but it is very unlikely that the bird will make the reverse trip. It could however survive here quite happily for a while, and is still there at the time of writing (Monday 9th February).

At the other end of Harrison Drive, just west of the lifeguard station, the two Snow Buntings are still present but the birds can be difficult to locate on the sand when they tuck themselves down out of the wind!

Also of local interest, a Long-eared Owl is showing well at Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB and again is still present today.

Hugh Stewart



11th January 2015

I hope you all had a good time over Christmas and the New Year. Did you add Turkey to your Year List?!

Winter has certainly arrived with us now, with snow on Boxing Day and windy, freezing conditions currently. As soon as the weather deteriorated, the birds returned to my garden in much larger numbers than before. One day between Christmas and New Year I had 12 Blackbirds in what is a modest sized back garden, avidly feeding on apples and seed mix that I had put out. I think there must have been a movement of birds due to the harsh conditions, and they flocked in to refuel. Some of them have now moved on, but I still have 5 or 6 birds present.

Several members have asked me if there are any Waxwings around this winter. The answer still seems to be ‘No’! You may remember that a couple of years ago, there was a huge influx of these birds into the UK and several made their way over to our area. These ‘irruptions’ are not annual however, usually only occurring every few years, when their natural food source in their native Scandinavia fails. Only a few birds have been reported on the East coast, and none locally that I am aware of. So I am afraid you are likely to have to wait another year or two to see them again.

Similarly, Short-eared Owls are in very short supply on the Dee this winter. It is not clear if this is due to a poor breeding season for the owls last summer; or a lack of voles - their main prey item - on the marshes. One theory is that the string of huge tides that we endured last winter decimated the rodent population. Hopefully, this is again just a natural up and down cycle, and the owls will be back again soon gracing the Dee.

If there are any Shorties present on the Dee marshes, then the high tides that are coming up soon are arguably the best chance of seeing them, together with Hen Harriers, Peregrines, Merlins and other raptors, plus the chance of Water Rail, Great White Egret, Jack Snipe etc. The next (predicted) high tides are 22nd, 23rd and 24th January, with more in February and March. The actual heights of course depend on the weather conditions on the day. Low pressure in the Irish Sea and a NW wind will help push the water into the Dee estuary.

Meantime, happy birding in 2015.

Hugh Stewart



14th December 2014

Hopefully your preparations for the festive season are well advanced!? Do not forget the birds in your garden though. Winter migrants such as Fieldfares and Redwings are arriving, Tits are forming mixed flocks, and our resident populations of Robins and Blackbirds are supplemented by birds from Northern Europe. As the natural berries, grains and insects start to diminish there will be a greater demand for food at your bird feeders. To be able to survive the cold days and nights of winter, finding food is a vital daily priority.

The long staying Cattle Egret appears to have relocated to Frodsham, after the cattle were taken off Burton Mere Wetland for the winter. The bird did become a “Sheep Egret” for a day or two, but the flock has also been moved on now and the Egret has found a new cattle herd at Frodsham. As compensation however, both Hen Harriers and Marsh Harriers are still being seen regularly, but Short-eared Owls are still scare on the marsh so far.

I came across an interesting article that related to a mass “twitch”. This was not in the UK however, but in China where a (European) Robin unexpectedly turned up, resulting in hundreds of birders and photographers descending on the site.

The full article can be read at:


Look out for more News in the New Year. I will take this opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy 2015. It will soon be time to start a new ‘Year List’, always an extra incentive to get out and about!

Hugh Stewart



23rd November 2014

Since the last article, the weather has certainly changed and temperatures have started to fall after the long, mild autumn.

A definite sign of approaching winter was the presence of two Snow Buntings at Leasowe Castle for a few days in early November. They were quite tame, allowing birders and photographers to get very close - too close in some unfortunate instances. This uncharacteristic, tolerant behaviour may possibly be because it was the first time these birds had ever experienced humans, having spent their first months of their lives in their isolated Arctic breeding grounds.

As we saw on the Field Meeting to New Brighton on Sunday, Purple Sandpipers are also back on the Dee for the winter. These hardy little waders breed in northern Scandinavia and Iceland, on coasts, rocky tundra and in mountain marshes up to the snow line, but escape the inhospitable winter on our coastline.

I have recently returned from a holiday in South Africa, taking in Cape Town and the Garden Route. It was not full-on birding, but I could not help but notice how approachable the birds there were in general, so that just walking around you could get relatively close views of the birds without spooking them. As alluded to above, this was in stark contrast to birding in the UK, where in general birds fly off as soon as they see you! Snow Bunting and Dotterel are two exceptions to this general behaviour that come to mind. Of course, the fact that many of the African birds are so colourful added to the wonderful experience. I have included just one photo as an an example, of a very photogenic Spotted Eagle Owl with one of its two chicks that was nesting right beside a busy path in Cape Town's popular Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.

Let me know if you have a birding holiday or experience that you would like to share with the Club.

As winter takes a stronger grip on our weather over the coming days and weeks, expect bird numbers in your garden to increase as their natural food sources in the fields and woods dwindle. So please keep your feeders and water dishes topped up.

Hugh Stewart



26th October 2014

The start of last week was dominated by the remnants of ex-hurricane Gonzalo passing through. The strong off-shore winds brought in a sprinkling of goodies including Leach's Petrel, together with Arctic and Great Skuas, and one or two Sabine's Gull, but the winds did not last long enough (for birders!) to make it easy to find these birds.

A Grey Phalarope was at Meols on the groyne and on the sea for a tantalising half-hour before moving on.

The single Cattle Egret and pair of Great White Egrets continue to grace the Dee - will they over-winter or will colder weather finally push them away?

The Hilbre Brent Geese flock has grown to at least 75 birds.

Looking forward to November, high tides may cover the marsh, driving Short-eared Owls and Water Rails into the open, and large flocks of Pintail, Teal and Wigeon can be present.

Wader numbers continue to increase, with Knot and Dunlin in their thousands at Hoylake or West Kirby.

Hugh Stewart


12th October 2014

A good total of 29 Greenshank were at Hoylake briefly before moving on. A Redwing was seen from Hilbre on Wednesday 8th. Is this the first of the autumn for Wirral? Winter cannot be far away!

Of special note have been a couple of reports of Cetti's Warbler - one from Red Rocks and another from Neston Reed Bed. We are on the very edge of this species' distribution in the UK, but small populations are slowly establishing in the North-West. A dozen Twite were at Connah's Quay, where a flock of 50 plus was present last winter. Hopefully they will stay again. It is always good to see this declining finch locally.

On Saturday 11th, a total of 13 Buzzards were seen kettling over Neston, a positive sign that this species at least is doing well. The high-tide roost of Black-tailed Godwits continues to grace Gilroy Nature Park, with over 1,000 birds often present there.

Common Scoters are starting to build up for the winter. They can be seen in relatively small numbers from Wirral, with 260 seen off-shore at Leasowe on Sunday 12th, but they gather in huge flocks off the North Wales coast at sites such as Llandulas and Pensarn.

Hugh Stewart



5th October 2014

Following on from the Cattle Egret and 2 Great White Egrets that graced Wirral in September, a Spoonbill this week has made an appearance, usually commuting between Point of Ayr and Burton Mere Wetlands. The Cattle Egret is still present at the time of writing, usually at Burton Mere Wetlands, and roosting with the Little Egrets overnight.

At least one ring-tail Hen Harrier is on the Dee, hopefully to be joined by other birds for the winter. I have not read any reports of Short-eared Owls yet, but they too should soon be coming down from their breeding haunts on the moors for the milder Dee Marshes.

Wader numbers are building up, as are the Pink-footed Geese, but they are not at their peak yet.

Of the passage waders, there are still one or two Little Stints and Curlew Sandpipers about, but trying to identify them amongst some 2000 Oystercatcher, 250 Dunlin, 600 Knot, and 4500 Redshank at Heswall Shore for example is tricky! Several Greenshank frequented the flashes at Parkgate.

On Thursday, 2 Whooper Swans were reported, the first wild swans of the winter, and the small but growing flock of wintering Brent Geese has started to gather off Hilbre Island.

Finally, Burton Mere Wetlands is the place to go to see Kingfisher at the moment - but no guarantees!

After a long spell of unseasonably settled weather over the last month, it looks like the next week will bring wind and rain, and hopefully push in some new, good birds. Unusually, there have been no reports of Leaches Petrel this autumn, but 2 or 3 days of strong north-west winds could bring some in close to New Brighton or Leasowe.

Hugh Stewart