I have taken the opportunity of sifting through loads of old bird magazines that have been sitting in in the loft! I used to refer to them periodically for information on birds and bird sites, but confess that they have just been gathering dust recently. Flicking through them again now, it is interesting to see what was in the articles in past years.
Do you remember when Foot and Mouth Disease devastated the UK in February 2001? Like now, we were severely restricted from visiting the countryside for several months and many farm animals were sadly slaughtered – although fortunately there was not the same risk to human life as there is with Covid-19. Frustrating though it was at the time, we coped then, and we will hopefully cope again now.
The status of some birds on Wirral has certainly changed in the last 20 or 30 years. I still remember “twitching” a Little Egret at Parkgate not long after I moved to Wirral in 1990! Back then they had started to frequent the South of England in summer but had still not bred in the UK. Now they are so common that we almost take them for granted on a walk long the Dee. As for Great Egret, Cattle Egret and Spoonbill, these were still “mega” rarities! These species are now slowly colonising England too. It will be interesting to find out what has been breeding this year, once we can visit out-of-bounds sites again. Watch this space!
Conversely, the odd Pied Flycatcher, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Wood Warbler were still nesting in locations such as Stapledon Woods and Eastham Woods, but sadly they have long ceased to breed on Wirral.
Blackcaps are now regular winter visitors to gardens, involving birds from central Europe rather than UK breeding birds which migrate south. This is a relatively new adaptation however, an interesting change in behaviour that may be linked to our milder winters in recent years.
Some things do not change however. The sad persecution of birds of prey has been prevalent for years especially of raptors on moor land, and does not show signs of diminishing. Red Kites were down to just a handful of breeding females in mid-Wales in the 1980s. Through a combination of reinforced protection (including the protection of nests by the SAS!) and latterly several re-introduction schemes, their numbers have increased significantly. Birds are being reported more and more frequently over Wirral which is wonderful. This magnificent bird is still at risk from shooting or poisoning in some areas though, notably Black Isle in Scotland.
The photos of the Little Egret and male Pied Flycatcher are mine. The other images are all from Barry’s garden again. Doesn’t he do well for wildlife! They feature a Goldfinch feeding a fledgling; Carrion Crow; Harry the hedgehog; and my favourite which is a frog in his pond. OK, a couple aren’t birds but it is all part of life’s rich pageantry.
That’s all for now folks!
For this latest issue, we have a report kindly sent in by Andy and Jo Morton of a trip to New Zealand earlier in the year.
“We have recently returned from holiday in the north island of New Zealand and would like to share our experiences of some of the birdlife there. We didn’t go equipped for bird watching or filming, but were observant of what was around us.
We spent most of our time in coastal areas (Auckland, Bay of Islands, Napier, Wellington), and common to all of these were the three resident gull species (black billed gull, red billed gull and black backed gull) and variable oystercatcher. In the Bay of Islands we travelled out into the bay where we saw tākapu (Australasian gannet) diving for fish, spotted shag, black shag, and white fronted tern, with great shearwater tipping their long wings into the water further out to sea. Elsewhere on the water we saw a white faced heron and black swans.
South of the Bay of Islands near Whangarei, we drove around the windy coastal roads where we came across pukeko (Australasian swamphen), quail and wild turkey by the side of (and sometimes in the middle of) the road.
Inland around Hamilton and Rotorua, we saw a number of native species – tui, welcome swallow, common myna, North Island robin and Australian magpie. Almost everywhere we went there were familiar species that had been introduced into New Zealand by European settlers – house sparrow, blackbird, song thrush and mallard. Out in the open countryside was the common sight of the swamp harrier circling for prey.
In Rotorua, there is a conservation project to protect the brown kiwi and we were lucky enough to see one in the dark.
Finally, in Wellington there is a large conservation area called Zealandia, with forest and lake habitat, and we were able to see tui, takahē, tieke (saddleback), kaka, kereru (New Zealand pigeon), fantail, koirimako (bellbird), little shag and brown teal. Tui have a noisy, unusual call that combines bellbird-like notes with clicks, cackles, timber-like creaks and groans, and wheezing sounds. They also copy other sounds (even the famous Nokia ringtone). Takahē is an endangered species that is being bred at Zealandia (and it even appears in the Air New Zealand in-flight safety video – see https://www.youtube.com/user/airnewzealand), as is the kaka, a large noisy parrot.
Back in 2012 we visited the south island, where we saw albatrosses and petrels whilst whale watching off Kaikoura, and also little blue penguin and yellow eyed penguin on the Otago peninsula.”
Andy & Jo Morton
I hope you will indulge me in this latest Hugh’s News, as it is very much about me! And some birds, of course.
I am sure that everyone lucky enough to have a garden has spent a significant amount of time in them during lockdown, gardening and enjoying the sunshine. I have certainly spent more time out the back than I would normally.
As soon as I started digging the beds, a pair of Robins started following me looking for insects. From feeding them through the winter and spring I know they were nesting in next door’s garden and were feeding chicks. As the days passed, they became more bold in my presence, getting ever closer to me. So I thought I would try tempting them with a little raw minced beef, on top of the usual daily supply of sunflower hearts and rolled oats.
They were soon coming to feed even when I was still close to the feeding area, allowing me to get some nice photos. One of the Robins appears to have ruffled feathers on the belly which I think is the brood patch on the female. The other bird which I assume is the male is more pristine still. I have just briefly seen a young Robin on the fence, so at least one youngster has successfully fledged.
Soon a pair of Blackbirds cottoned on to what was happening and started muscling in on the beef! They nearly always took all the meat away in their bills in one visit, leaving the Robins looking rather forlorn!
I now need to buy more mince on my next weekly shop, but I think it is a price worth paying for the enjoyment of these intimate encounters with my garden birds.
It is a little over a week since the last issue, and a week closer to starting to loosen the lockdown shackles!
After I confessed last time to not obtaining a photo of a Whitethroat from Heswall Fields, Peter and Jane Ham kindly sent in a cracking image of one that Peter snapped. It is better than anything I would manage!
Barry has sent a few more photos in of birds in his garden. He has an amazing variety visiting, but it must cost a small fortune in feed! I wonder if the House Sparrow here is the same one that flew into his house last week? Barry mentioned that the Black-backed Gull he saw appeared particularly dark on the back. This was probably a dark intermedius sub-species on its way to Scandinavia. Our local breeding birds of the graellsii race tend to be a little lighter grey comparatively (but still a noticeably darker grey than a Herring Gull). The whole Lesser-black Back/Herring Gull complex is however very complicated – even for Larid fans, let alone me!
We received a follow-up email from Martyn Jamieson informing us that one of the black-tailed godwits in ‘his’ South Uist creek was colour-ringed, so he got the ‘scope on it and sent details and a photo in to the experts. He has now had a report back showing its history of sightings. The bird is 15 years old and quite a well-travelled bird, visiting Iceland, Ireland, The Netherlands, Portugal and finally Scotland over the years since it was first ringed!
Walking the same route regularly under lockdown means it soon becomes hard to find new bird species. Instead, I found myself noting other interesting natural sights. I think the gorse is at its best now, and the odour emanating from the bright yellow blooms reminds me of coconut and suntan lotion! Oh to be able to go on holiday now! Tadpoles were swimming on the surface of the pool in Heswall Fields – at least when there were no dogs paddling in it. With the warm weather, butterflies are plentiful with Speckled Woods seen in shady glades.
After the showers last week, did you notice the particular smell that occurs when it rains after a dry spell? This characteristic smell is known as “petrichor” – I’ve been looking for an opportunity to use this word since I learnt it a couple of years ago!
There has been the odd new bird as well of course, and I have added House Martin to my lockdown list recently, and this morning 5 Swifts over Heswall. That has made my day!
Until the next time, keep smiling!
So we are nearly at the end of April, and some birds already have young. I briefly saw a fledged Robin from a nest in our neighbour’s garden. Other species are still to start laying, especially the summer migrants that are only just arriving. Other species are yet to complete their journeys here, like Spotted Flycatchers and Swifts. So you can see that the migration and nesting periods can be spread over several weeks, even months. Blackbirds and Robins (amongst other species) may have two or even more broods in a year if the conditions are favourable in terms of weather and food availability.
Barry took his home birding a bit too literally when a cock House Sparrow came into their house for a look around! After it had decided that Pam keeps a very tidy house and that there were no titbits to be found, he left again.
Bill captured a colourful Jay in Arrowe Park. Normally I think of Jays as being secretive for most of the year, only becoming more conspicuous in the autumn when they are busy collecting and caching acorns to feed on over the winter. How do they remember where they hid them all?! I have noticed however that they have been a bit more evident on my walks over the last two or three weeks. I’ve not managed to snap one though – they are quite wary birds normally. Bill also found the “rarity of the week” with a Tree Pipit. The 2004-2007 atlas of Birds in Cheshire and Wirral shows no records of breeding Tree Pipits in Wirral, so this was probably a migrant bird stopping off to refuel.
You can tell my birding has gone a bit flat when I have to resort to taking photos of Pheasants! But a male bird with his mate on the marsh at Parkgate did look colourful in the early morning sunshine. A Wren was belting out its loud and varied song from a branch beside the Wirral Way, at a rate of up to 8 notes per second! Nearby a Chiffchaff was enjoying a brief rest before resuming its busy feeding and calling pattern. I did see my first Whitethroat of the year today though – sorry no photo!
It looks like the glorious weather we have enjoyed throughout April may be ending this week, but we cannot complain too much really. Think what it could have been like if we had had to endure persistent rain and grey skies for the whole of lockdown. The gardeners at least will be grateful for the watering, I am sure. We may just have to pick the times for our walks a little more carefully in order to avoid the showers.
So until the next time, take care as always and stay safe.
Well, it came as no surprise to me that we have another 3 weeks of isolation at least! I hope you are not going too stir crazy stuck at home. I have actually found that the last month has gone quite quickly (surprisingly), I think by keeping busy on various tasks and activities, so I hope the next month passes just as rapidly.
Since my last instalment, I have seen my first pair of Swallows, so summer has officially arrived! On Wednesday I also saw a single House Martin down Boathouse Lane. I always smile and feel good when these birds return to breed, and marvel at the huge return journeys they make every year. Wheatears are still passing through, and I have seen a couple of male birds on my walks. They can turn up on any field with short grass or that has been recently ploughed, so keep an eye out.
We have received a number of contributions from members, so a big thank you for sending these in to share.
Long-standing members may remember Martyn Jamieson, one of our Honorary Members now living in the Outer Hebrides. As well as being situated in such a beautiful place, he is also fortunate that there have been no Covid-19 cases reported there so far!
Martyn has sent us an update on what he has been seeing from his croft with photographs. These include a pair of White-tailed Eagles he saw from his window! The adult eagle (on the right, big, probably a female) had caught a greylag, and the immature came along hoping to share. This was a bit smaller, so probably male. The hooded crow between the two eagles really gives an idea of the scale of these huge raptors. They are not known as “flying barn doors” for nothing! A week or so previously he encountered a very noisy otter, that called incessantly for hours. Martyn thinks it was probably a cub recently abandoned by Mum. At one point it chased a couple of greylags just for devilment, just like a puppy. Unlike the English otters that favour rivers and are largely nocturnal, the otters in Scotland tend to be coastal and their feeding more governed by the state of the tides. So they can frequently be seen during the day. Are you a teeny bit jealous of Martyn now?!
Bill has shared some photos too. A Starling posing in the sunshine in his neighbour’s garden looks really magnificent. We often don’t take a second look at this species but the markings can be stunning. On his local walk down to Arrowe Park, Bill saw a Heron and a two-headed Mandarin Duck!
How did you get on with the Find the Bird photo from Brian last time? It is easier to pick out if you were able to zoom in on the photo. There is in fact a Treecreeper creeping in the crevice!
There is growing evidence to show that taking an interest in birds, and nature in general, can be really positive for one’s mental health. So during these troubled times, we should consider ourselves fortunate that we can still benefit from our mutual love of birds, even from looking out from our windows and gardens.
So keep the binoculars handy, keep smiling and keep safe!
Thank you for the comments and photos that I have received over the last few days. As well as being interesting to learn of your experiences, it also means I don’t have to think so much on what to write about!
I saw a pair of Buzzards high over – almost certainly a pair close to their nest site. Later in the year after breeding, you can often see family groups of at least 4 or 5 Buzzards circling in the thermals. This is a more and more common sight on Wirral – when I came here only 30 odd years ago, one had to go to Wales to see a Buzzard.
Bill Wonderley was sent a photo from a member of the public who saw a Wheatear on their daily walk and wondered if it was a Greenland Wheatear. This is a sub-species of the Northern Wheatear that breeds in the UK, but which goes as far as Greenland and Canada to breed. I could not tell the subtle differences between the races from the photo but the Greenland Wheatear normally migrate later in the spring than just now so I doubt it was one.
I had a call from a non-member who told me that she has had a pair of mandarins turn up on her Spital pond! They will be looking for a tree hole to nest in, or a nest box with a large hole! This is not a joke – I know that they do use purpose-made nest-boxes.
On my own walks, I have been cheered by the songs of many species now on territory. This includes not only the regular garden Robin and Blackbird, but also several Song Thrushes that remain so elusive for much of the year. Chiffchaffs are seemingly everywhere there are some trees, and I have seen and heard one Blackcap.
I am pleased to see far more Greenfinches than for a long time, further evidence to me that they are making a recovery after their numbers fell due for several years to a fungal disease. They are quite noticeable in their fluttering song-flight. As a reminder that some of our winter visitors are also on the move, I saw a small mixed flock of Redwing and Fieldfare. It is impossible to know if they had spent the winter locally or were returning from further south or west, even from Ireland. Either way, they will soon depart our shores for Iceland and Scandinavia.
For this article’s photos shown below, the first is of a Wren that Bill saw in a local brook. This is an unusual sight – maybe it thought it was a Dipper! Also attached are pictures of Greenfinch and Song Thrush, two of the songsters I have mentioned.
Lastly, Brian Bishop has kindly sent a “Find the Bird” competition. No prizes, just a bit of fun! I will share the answer next time.
On a final note, best wishes to you all for Easter. I have decided to relocate for a change of scenery over the holiday weekend – I am going to try the view from the other end of the sofa! Happy, safe birding.
Yesterday was of course due to be the March indoor meeting. It was a difficult decision to suspend our programme, but really it became inevitable as the scale of the pandemic threat increased. Hopefully we can all get through the coming weeks without too much turmoil and then begin to resume a more normal life again.
In the meantime, due to social distancing I should have more time to update members regularly on this blog. No excuses! I hope you particularly like the articles at this time of isolation.
Of course, we are just beginning to enter the main spring migration period, always an exciting time of year after the long winter. It is just a pity that the opportunities to get out to witness it are limited this year. Before the more strict lock-down instructions were issued, I know that Avocet numbers were increasing daily at their main breeding site at Burton Mere Wetlands, with over 100 birds seen. Wheatears are beginning to trickle in on the coast and Hilbre, and numbers will swell over the next 2 or 3 weeks. Chiffchaffs have been seen and heard singing. These are the usual early migrants but the number of species coming through will build now, especially with good weather.
I am already looking forward to seeing the first Swallow and Sand Martin of the year over my garden, always a inspiring moment that tells you that summer has arrived. A little later, screaming Swifts will be wheeling overhead. A single Spoonbill dropped into Burton Mere Wetlands on Tuesday 17th March before relocating to Parkgate. Two birds were then reported on the 25th! Could they become a breeding pair? Time will tell.
I have decided to include a few photos from previous Field Meetings to make up for this week’s cancelled visit to Heswall. These are from 2015 and 2016! I hope you enjoy them.
If you have any observations from your gardens or your exercise walks, please let me know and I will share them with members.
Send to email@example.com.
In the meantime, stay safe. I will post again soon hopefully.
This winter continues to be particularly mild to me, with just a handful of mornings when I have had to scrape the frost off my car windscreen. Has that been your impression too? Even the Welsh hills across the Dee have only had a dusting of snow on the odd occasion that I have noted.
The results for my Big Garden Birdwatch in January were pathetic! The variety and numbers of birds that I recorded in the allotted hour were the lowest I have seen for many a year. I am sure this was related to the especially clement weather we had at the time. The lack of birds does not necessarily reflect a fall in bird populations, but rather indicates there was lots of natural food for the birds around the locality and so they were less reliant on “food bank” hand-outs! How did your count go?
However, while we have escaped the severe cold, we have certainly made up for the lack of snow with plenty of wind and rain! At least the ducks and geese like it! Storm Ciara gave Wirral a true battering, and Storm Dennis is about to sweep across as I write. The wind chill factor was noticeable at times, but even these events do not last long.
I have spring bulbs blossoming and various buds showing well in the garden, as I am sure you have. The lawn has barely stopped growing. So while we may yet get a sting in the tale, it looks like spring may be just around the corner. I hope I haven’t spoken too soon!
A promising sign is that the first Avocet returned to Burton Mere Wetlands on Thursday 13th February – last year it was just a day later on 14th February. This species is always one of the first of our summer migrants to return, and the especially early re-appearances may well indicate that the Dee birds winter in the UK rather than on the continent. Soon, we should have Wheatear and Sand Martin passing through, then we can really welcome in spring and the flood of other summer visitors. Bring it on!
I am aware that we have a few new members that have joined the Club recently. Welcome to everyone to the new Programme for 2019 – 2020, and to this article. Hugh’s News is an occasional piece posted on the Club’s website with random thoughts on (mostly) bird related topics that I hope you will enjoy. While my name is used on the header, we welcome any comments or ideas from Members. Similarly, contributions for the Newsletter that is published 3 times per year are gratefully received.
On a recent walk at Leasowe Common, I found two small rodents in the grass right by the side of the path. After some research on-line back home, I decided that they were young Field Voles. The small ears, roundish face and relatively short tail differentiated them from mice. They were fairly exposed, and were not moving around much. There was no sign of a parent, but maybe they were close by waiting for me to move away, so I decided to leave them be. Hopefully they survived. Of course, they are potential food items for a number of birds, as well as stoats or weasels, so the outlook was not too good if they didn’t learn some field craft quickly.
I went to the Parkgate Old Baths car park today for the high tide. In stark contrast to the inclement weather we experienced on Saturday’s field meeting at Meols, the morning was sunny and mild with very little wind. With these benign conditions, the tide did not come in that far, but there was still a good variety of birds on show. At least 3 Marsh Harriers were almost constantly patrolling the marsh. Several Great Egrets were also evident, as was a single Cattle Egret – unusual this far down the river – along with the ubiquitous Little Egrets. A Spoonbill made a brief appearance before disappearing into a creek never to be seen again! Sight of the day was a Peregrine determinedly chasing a Merlin in front of us. I don’t think the larger raptor was looking to catch the smaller one, probably just annoyed that it was on its “patch”. A few Pink-footed Geese are already on the Dee for the winter, but the numbers will build over the next few weeks, as will wader flocks. A few tardy Swallows passed through on their way to Southern Africa, perhaps one of the last images of the summer gone. If you missed these high tides, there will be more at the end of October. I will aim to provide more details nearer the time – remind me if I forget!
The consensus is that the mystery chat we saw at Gronant on the July field trip was a juvenile Stonechat. This species breeds in the area and so was always the more likely, but it was not an easy bird to nail down (not literally!).
Rare bird of last month was a Gull-billed Tern that stayed for a few days near Thurstaston. Blaze and I visited a couple of times but missed out on both occasions because the state of the tide was not right – either too high or too low! We have reached 45 species for the year now, but are still debating whether to tick the Guineafowl under the bird feeders at Nets Cafe!
This year the UK is experiencing a massive influx of Painted Lady butterflies from southern Europe. These are annual migrants to our shores, but once every decade or so they arrive in their millions in May and June, with numbers augmented now by breeding from the early arrivals. I have had 10 – 12 on my Buddleia this week when the sun is out, along with more regular Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and Large White.
This year’s Wirral Wader Festival will be hosted entirely at Burton Mere Wetlands, a decision based on tides, weather, and RSPB Dee Estuary’s 40th anniversary. The dates of the event are Saturday 31 August and Sunday 1 September. There will be a range of stalls and activities including making badges and pom-pom waders, a ‘creatures in the mud’ activity, and hide bird guides. There will be also a full optics demo event if you are thinking about buying new binoculars or a telescope. Drinks and cakes will be available if you need refreshments.
I hope you enjoyed my talk on Bardsey if you attended. That was the last meeting on the current programme as we take a break for the summer. However, you don’t have to suffer withdrawal symptoms for long – we start again with a visit to Hilbre over the high tide on Friday 30th August. Look out for more details from Mike a few days before the trip.
Big Garden Birdwatch Results
We can now reveal 2019’s Garden Birdwatch results. Once again, the house sparrow has hit the top spot. At number two is the starling, closely followed by the blue tit and the blackbird. The woodpigeon flies in at number five, followed by the goldfinch, great tit, and robin at number 8. The top eight remain the same as last year, so it’s a battle for numbers nine and 10. The chaffinch has seen off the long-tailed tit to be at number 9, and the magpie has crept in at number 10.
These are the national figures, but of course there will be variation across the country and even from garden to garden in the same region. How did you fare?
Great Egret Successfully Released
The RSPCA had to carry out a water rescue after a Great Egret became entangled in fishing line at Thornycroft Hall near Macclesfield, Cheshire. The bird was unable to free itself at the site and concerned anglers contacted the animal welfare charity after spotting the distressed egret. Despite some injuries, the bird is doing well and has now been released back into the wild at Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB reserve following a full recovery. Nice to hear a story with a happy ending.
I have some news from the home front. We have just bought a Border Collie puppy which will certainly curtail my birding, in the short-term at least! So I have decided to start a new bird list, to add to my current British, European and World lists. “Birds seen while walking the dog”! Until Blaze has completed his vaccinations, we are restricted to the garden, so we are missing out on lots of passing migrants. However, we already have Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and a fly-over Raven ticked, as well as a few common garden birds. I will post occasional updates on our progress!
While I have been away on holiday, I missed the unseasonable warm weather that the UK experienced. I say “unseasonal” but in fact I can remember 2 or 3 short periods of hot weather in February or March over recent years. Are they connected with global warming – who knows? Certainly it is a big contrast to the long, cold spring of 2018. A consequence of this recent heatwave and associated favourable winds was the early appearance of several migrants on Wirral.
The first Avocet was back at Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB on 14th February, with at least 50 birds by 27th of the month. They are now showing signs of starting to nest as I write this article in the first week of March. At Fort Perch, New Brighton, a Sand Martin on February 16th was the earliest ever for Cheshire and Wirral. The first Wheatear of spring on 27th February at Hoylake Langfields was 11 days earlier than last year. A day later, a White Wagtail in the horse paddocks at Leasowe was 15 days earlier than last year.
If you have missed these first summer visitors, do not worry as there will be many more arriving over the next month or two. Join us on the next couple of Field Meetings at Leasowe and Blacktoft Sands RSPB for a good chance of seeing them.
Of course, a sudden deterioration in the weather to cold or wet conditions could hold migration and breeding back, but birds are pretty resilient and will generally cope with this change as long as it does not last too long.
There are still plenty of winter visitors on the Dee though. There is another Raptor Watch this Sunday 10th March from 1pm until dusk at Parkgate Old Baths Car Park. And High Tide Birdwatches on Thursday 21st March, Friday 22nd March and Saturday 23rd March from 10.30am-2.30pm, also at Parkgate. The RSPB will be on hand to help point out the birds.
As for my holiday, you will have to wait until 2020 for my talk about it. But I have provided a small clue below!
A happy New Year to you all, I hope you enjoyed the festive season and are already well into your 2019 Bird List!
January High Tides
As you know, we were forced to cancel December’s field trip to the Dee due to the inclement weather. However, there are some good opportunities coming up to make a visit to see the spectacular birds currently on the marshes. There are a number of predicted high tides over the next week which, with the right weather conditions (low pressure in the Irish Sea and westerly winds), may bring the water up to the wall at Parkgate. Even if the water does not totally flood the marshes, there should still be some good views of Marsh and Hen harriers, Peregrine, Merlin, Short-eared Owls, and possibly Bittern. Noisy skeins of Pink-footed Geese should also be seen flying overhead.
The best dates, tide heights and times should be [but check the weather forecasts too]:
Tuesday 22nd January, 9.9m at 11:48.
Wednesday 23rd January, 10.0m at 12:36.
Thursday 24th January, 9.9m at 13:23.
It is recommended that you are there an hour or so before the high tide time, to get a good spot and experience the developing drama. The RSPB will be at Parkgate Old Baths on Wednesday 23rd January to help point out the wildlife as it shows itself. I hope to be there too!
But don’t worry if you don’t make it, there will be more spring tides in February and March, including a possible 10.2m tide on 21st February at 12:20!
Not coinciding with a high tide specifically, but there will also be a Raptorwatch at Parkgate Old Baths organised by the RSPB, between 1pm and dusk on Sunday 10th February, where many of the same species may be seen.
You can just turn up to any of these events.
Well, after 3 visits and over 3 hours in total staring into the reed bed from the screen, I finally saw the famed Bearded Tits at Burton Mere Wetlands! Hurrah! There were 4 birds in total, a little way off at the far end of a channel in the reeds that they seem to favour, but eventually they perched in good view as they fed on the seed heads. They were too distant to get a photograph unfortunately, but I have finally “ticked them”! I know some other members have seen them already too, and not all had to spend quite so long looking! But my patience was rewarded in the end, they are such exquisite and charming birds.
If you haven’t managed to see them yet, there is another chance of getting views on our forthcoming coach trip to Blacktoft Sands on 14th April!
As we pass slowly into winter, it is perhaps a good time to reflect a little on the summer just passed. I am still waiting for the Breeding Birds Survey results to see how birds faired across the country as a whole. There were many contradictory stories of the effect of the long, cold spring on species like Swallows and Swifts, but what a great summer is was when it eventually arrived! So the data will be very interesting – I will write about this further when the data are released.
The breeding figures from the RSPB Dee Estuary team for key species are encouraging though. Lapwing fledged 115 chicks, Redshank at least 45, and Avocets 67. Excellent numbers! A pair of Marsh Harriers raised 3 young at Neston Reed Bed, a first for the estuary. After coming back from the brink of extinction as a British breeding bird, with only one pair nesting in 1971, their population has grown rapidly.
I wonder what the next new species to breed on Wirral will be? Bearded Tits, still present but elusive at Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB, would be a good bet. Actually Bearded Tits did breed in 2003 and 2004, also at Neston Reed Bed, but not before or since. How about Bittern, with 2 birds being seen regularly on the salt marsh over this last month? Or maybe Red Kite, as I have mentioned before with their increasingly frequent sightings from the expanding Welsh population. I would be happy with any one of these species breeding on Wirral.
As you are possibly aware already, the RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch will be held from 26th – 27th January 2019. To maximise your own garden counts, I suggest that you should start feeding your garden foods now, if you have not done so already. With the falling temperatures, birds will become increasingly reliant on garden feeders. By getting them used to your avian restaurant now, numbers will hopefully build up over the next few weeks and you will have a more productive time. It also helps enormously if the weather is cold on the day of your count, as birds will be even more desperate to refuel!
If I don’t see you at the Field Meeting on Saturday 15th December, I hope you all have a great Christmas, and I will see you again in the New Year. Thank you for your continued support of the Club and its programme.
Marsh Harrier Breeding Success
We’ve got another first breeding record for the Dee Estuary – Marsh Harriers! A pair bred successfully at Neston Reedbed and fledged 3 chicks. A juvenile bird with a very gingery cap (adult females have a cream coloured cap) which is being seen regularly at Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB is most probably one of the brood.
Our own Bill Wonderley played a small part in this story as a volunteer warden for the RSPB, keeping an eye on the reedbed one evening a week, and helping to ensure breeding and roosting birds were left undisturbed. Little did he know the outcome would be this rewarding!
Sadly the Cattle Egrets did not repeat last year’s breeding at BMW, but there is still a bird present in the area, so fingers crossed for more good news next year. There are also several Great White Egrets on the Dee still, so surely it is only a question of time before this species breeds too!
Hen Harrier Day
This Sunday 14th August there will be a Hen Harrier Day event at Parkgate. The gathering is not aimed at spotting Hen Harriers on the Dee salt-marsh – most birds will remain on their moorland breeding grounds for a few more weeks yet. But rather this is one of several similar events being held around the UK spreading the word on the sad plight of Hen Harriers, other raptors and even mountain hares that are being persecuted on upland grouse moors. This will mark the fifth year for Hen Harrier Day, with the number of events and attendees growing each year. The weekend dates are chosen to coincide with the start of the grouse shooting season on the “Inglorious Twelth”.
Speakers will include well known naturalist and TV personality Iolo Williams, and leading conservation campaigner Mark Avery (ex. RSPB Conservation Director). The day starts at 12 noon at the Old Baths and is scheduled to finish at 3pm. If you plan to go, parking may be at a premium so I recommend turning up early and going for a stroll first. You could even spoil yourself with an ice-cream!
Hope to see you there in support of a great cause.
If you were at the AGM in May, you know that I did not show my photos due to a technical glitch! So I am attaching some of them here now – mainly because I do not have any photos of Marsh or Hen Harriers! So you will have to put up with Little Grebe, Song Thrush, Merlin and a juvenile Mute Swan.
I hope you enjoy the rest of the long, hot summer! See you in September for the new and exciting Club programme.
Those of you present at the last Indoor meeting will know that I didn’t have any announcements to make! As many of you are possibly aware, birding can sometimes become a little quiet at this time of year, as we move between the breeding season and the peak autumn migration period. The ongoing high temperatures we are enduring do not help either, as many birds seek shade to avoid the worst of the heat. Already adult birds are starting to moult their feathers and become (even more) skulking as they hide from potential predators!
There are still young birds to be seen though, such as this cute juvenile Pied Flycatcher we saw at Elan Valley; and a young Great-spotted Woodpecker (with the red cap) that was being fed by mum at a peanut feeder at Burton Mere Wetlands. The young bird soon learned to feed itself! Goldfinches have been coming to my own garden for a few days now.
Small numbers of waders are starting to return to the Dee from their summering quarters, either to stay for the winter or as a staging post before carrying on further into southern Europe and Africa. These early birds are often failed breeders but may still show some or all of their breeding plumage, like the Turnstone with some remnant chestnut feathers I saw on Hilbre. You can of course be in the right place at the right time. A Green Sandpiper dropped into BMW Reception Pool and gave great views. A Song Thrush sang heartily from the conifers where we parked at Cynwyd on Tuesday. This species seems to me to be very elusive while breeding but starts singing again for a while when the young have fledged, as if to celebrate raising another brood successfully!
While it can be difficult to find birds just now, there is a still lot of other wildlife to seek out. Orchids including a single Pyramidal Orchid have been showing at BMW. Butterflies are around in good numbers too together with dragonflies and damselflies.
A couple of events for your diaries:
Firstly, the annual Exhibition of Wildlife Art is on again at Gordales from 27th to 29th July. Free admission, and open Friday and Saturday from 9.30am until 6pm; Sunday 10.30am until 5pm. Well worth popping in if you are passing by.
There will be a Hen Harrier Day event at the Old Baths, Parkgate on Sunday 12th August from 12 noon until 2pm. Speakers will include Iolo Williams and Jeff Clarke. This event is to publicise the ongoing plight of Hen Harriers specifically and other wildlife in general that are suffering badly from illegal persecution. It should be entertaining and informative.
Finally, you may have heard that Mersey Ferries and the RSPB are hosting a ‘Liverbird’ Bird Watching & Nature Discovery Cruise on the River Mersey and out into Liverpool Bay, on Sunday 19th August. Sadly this cruise is sold out already! If we hear of additional dates, we will let you know a.s.a.p.
So finally we had some warm and sunny weather over the bank holiday weekend! Even if it did not last for long, it put a smile on everyone’s face for a few days at least. This winter seems to have been never-ending, and the cold and wet weather has certainly had an effect on our local birds. Migrants that come to the Wirral to breed over the summer have been really slow returning from their wintering grounds in southern Europe or Africa.
While I have seen House Martins and Swallows now, I have still to spot a Swift – although some have been reported locally. All these species rely on insects for food, so bad weather severely limits their ability to find prey items. All is not lost however, provided we have a settled period soon. Many other species, primarily the resident birds, are well into the breeding season though. Blackbirds and Robins have been active in my garden, and Goldfinches have been feasting on sunflower hearts in good numbers. At Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB reserve, young Lapwings, Canada Geese and a single Tawny Owl have all been spotted.
Wirral was graced with a rarity recently, with an Iberian Chiffchaff present at Thurstaston for a few days. As the name indicates, this species breeds in Spain and Portugal, but clearly over-shot its normal range. It is very difficult to tell the difference visually from the more familiar Chiffchaff, but luckily it has a distinctive call. You will have to come to the AGM to hear it!
Unfortunately the canal trip planned for Thursday this week had to be cancelled at the last minute because of a problem with the boat. Obviously disappointing news but there is always next year!
I am looking forward to next week’s field meeting to Moelydd – a new location for me. By then all the summer migrants will surely have returned and we will see some good birds! Hope to see you there.
I had heard that a flock of 5 Scaup had taken up temporary residence on West Kirby Marine Lake, so on Monday morning I popped along to see if they were still there. Now these are birds that are normally seen off the coast on Wirral in the winter, about a mile away, bobbing up and down in the waves and so difficult to see well. They breed in Iceland, Scandinavia and into northern Russia. Occasionally, especially after stormy weather, one or two birds may take refuge on a lake or reservoir. Some of you may remember we saw a male bird on a field meeting to Colemere in January 2017, but while the views were good they were still a little distant.
On the Marine Lake however, and in stark contrast to the Jack Snipe at Burton Mere Wetlands on Sunday, the Scaup were right by the railings at the North end busily diving to feed. There were 3 males and 2 females. The close views allowed a great opportunity to study the beautiful plumages of both sexes, and the diagnostic elongated head shape with no hind crest that helps distinguish them from the closely related Tufted Duck.
There were also a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers further out towards the middle of the lake, and the usual mix of waders roosting on the rocks as the tide came in. These were mostly Redshank, with smaller numbers of Turnstone and Dunlin, and a single Knot.
By now, my fingers were getting cold so I returned to the car! I do not know how long these birds will stay before returning to the sea, but I recommend having a look for them if you can.
The cold weather has also brought in more Redwing and Fieldfare, and many of you have told me that you have had them in your gardens, along with wintering Blackcap. Sadly, the extreme low temperatures and snow will undoubtedly cause fatalities to many birds, despite our efforts to feed them and provide fresh water. Small birds are especially susceptible to the cold because they have a greater surface area to volume ratio and so lose heat more quickly. Some species combat this by huddling together on branches or in holes. 63 Wrens were once found roosting together in one box! Provided this winter is an exception rather than the new norm, the populations should hopefully recover over the next year or two.
As I write, the weather is getting a little milder so Spring is maybe not so far away, and birds can start their breeding season in earnest.
I have to confess that I have not done a lot of birding since the start of the year! I seem to be turning into a bit of a fair-weather wuss, which meant I missed a famed Wirral birding event. The beginning of January saw some strong winds coinciding with high tides and the water came right in to the wall at Parkgate and elsewhere on the river.
The result, so I heard, was a birding extravaganza, with great views of harriers, short-eared owls and other raptors. Water Rails were flushed off the marsh and small rodents such as voles and mice swam for their lives! An occasion like this is arguably one of the most sensational natural world sights in the UK. Did any members make it to Parkgate or elsewhere for the high tide? If so, let us know how you faired.
With the weather remaining inclement, it should have increased the numbers of birds and different species seen on the Big Garden Birdwatch. I hope many of you joined in and enjoyed the annual bird watch from the comfort of your armchair. Now that is my idea of birding!
I am planning another day trip with the Wirral Community Narrowboat Trust on Thursday 10th May. The boat will take us from the Cheshire Cat at Christleton, at around 9.15am, along the Shropshire Union Canal to Wharton’s Lock and Beeston, where we stop for lunch, before returning to Christleton about 4:30pm.
The boat has a toilet, and free tea/coffee is provided, so you only need to bring your lunch and binoculars! The cost will be around £13 – £14. Priority will be given to members who have not been on a trip before or not for some time; then it is first come – first served!
Please email me to book or for more details. firstname.lastname@example.org
The snow and sleet that many of us experienced over the last week or two was confirmation, if it were needed, that winter has truly arrived. With the harsher conditions, birds are visiting the feeders in larger numbers, and they may become reliant on these food supplies. It is great to feed the birds in your garden, but be careful about suddenly stopping as this may put them at risk of starvation, if alternatives are not readily available.
Blackcaps, almost certainly from the continent, have been reported in gardens already, with our own breeding birds departing for southern Europe. Short-eared Owls and both Hen and Marsh Harriers are still being spotted regularly from locations such as the Harp Inn, Parkgate or Denhall Lane. Blackbirds and other thrushes hunt out berries and fallen apples.
A reminder that the 2018 Big Garden Birdwatch is coming soon, from 27-29 January (or as near as possible to these dates). Here are a few tips to help you:
1. Be prepared – fill your feeders and refresh the drinking water.
2. Start early – the early bird really does catch the worm!
3. Get comfy with pen and paper, drink, snack at hand.
4. Use the RSPB website to report your findings; or use the form in Nature’s Home.
5. Share the experience, and get your friends interested.
This will be final Hugh’s News of the year so, on behalf of the Committee, I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
I thought I had to end with a seasonal Robin photo – sorry it was not in the snow!!
On a recent short holiday in North Norfolk, it occurred to me how the distributions of several familiar birds have changed over just the last couple of decades. Species that one had to travel away from Wirral to see, to more southerly or easterly counties, are now regularly seen on the Dee Marshes.
When I moved to Wirral 27 years ago, a Little Egret was still a national rarity, certainly away from the south coast, and I remember visiting Parkgate to “twitch” one. Now they are so familiar we almost take them for granted! They have been joined in the last few years by both Cattle and Great White Egrets, the former breeding for the first time this summer. Avocets and Cetti’s Warblers are now regular breeders.
There has been a regular Hen Harrier roost at Parkgate for some time, but we are now also graced by Marsh Harriers year-round.
Sadly there are some negative trends too. I saw several Grey Partridge around Holkham Gap, a species that is increasingly rare on Wirral.
But there are still more potential settlers. Red Kites have colonised Norfolk, and Bearded Tit and Bittern are regular species there. All three of these species have been seen periodically on Wirral, so how long before these birds are resident?
“It’s an ill wind” as the saying goes. Well the strong winds and heavy rain last week brought some good birds to our shores – if you were prepared to brave the blowy conditions! There were many sightings of Leach’s Petrel and Grey Phalarope from various points along the North Wirral coast from New Brighton to Hoylake and Hilbre.
There was a supporting cast of the occasional Sabines Gull, Manx Shearwater, Black Tern and Little Gull. There was also a Red-necked Phalarope at Frodsham! I did not manage any photos of these rarer species, but numbers of our more familiar waders are building up now for the winter and I did see a group of Turnstones bathing on the rocks at West Kirby Marine Lake. The first ring-tail Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owls have been seen on the salt marsh. Hopefully there will be enough voles to keep these magnificent birds here over the winter.
As we pass into autumn, most birds have finished breeding now although you may find the odd juveniles from the late brood like this Moorhen preening itself in the sunshine at Burton Mere Wetlands. On calmer days, family groups of Buzzards can often be seen circling in the thermals, “meewing” to each other. Of note, I saw a young Wood Pigeon in my garden with what appears to be a mite or growth on its face. Can anyone identify it? No prizes, but I would be interested in any suggestions.
Wirral Community Narrowboat Trust is very proud and honoured to have been awarded the Queen’s Award For Voluntary Service in June 2017. This Award is considered to be the MBE of volunteering. The Award was announced on 2nd June 2017, and two representatives of the Trust were invited to a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in recognition of the achievement. Our Club has been a regular supporter of the Trust through our Canal Trips, and I have passed on our congratulations to the Trust. I am already thinking about planning another trip next May!
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.
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!
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.
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!