Wirral Wader Festival: Wet, Wild and Wonderful

Once again on the mighty Wirral peninsula would be holding host to Wader Quest’s very own Wader Festival, the first of its kind for the UK happened last year, can you guess were ? Yes of course, it’s every Waders favourite destination the Wirral. The idea of the event is to raise public awareness to sheer quantity of Waders that bless shorelines of the UK and just how much trouble there in at the moment: Lapwing, Snipe and Woodcock have seen their populations crash over the past couple of decades with declines ranging from 50%-over 80%, (See Chris Packham’s petition at the end of the post), with most recently it’s been Curlew, Purple Sandpiper, Knot, Dunlin & Redshank who’ve been hit the hardest; even on a global scale theirs very few wader species who are on the up, in the UK it’s the Little Ringed Plover & Oystercatcher who together are increasing in breeding range whilst birds such as Dotterel and Golden Plover are seeing their decreasing at an alarming rate!

After last year’s not being as big as we’d hoped it to be due to the torrential rain and gales force winds putting everyone off leaving the safety of the house (As I was the Official Photographer for the event last year I had to cycle across the Wirral in it all….with 2 flat tires J). But thankfully this year god seemed to be on our side and well, apart from the Saturday which was just rain….rain….and yes more rain, on the Sunday it was cracking the flags, who would have thought that you could get sun burnt in October! For this year instead of cycling here there and everywhere, I’d be sticking with the Cheshire Wildlife Trust at their Red Rocks nature reserve in NW Wirral adjacent to Hilbre Island. Whilst on my rounds last year I paid a quick visit to the reserve to pop in and say hello to Mr Wilde and the crew before heading off to other events at Hoylake and New Brighton. For those who haven’t even heard of Red Rocks, well it is as the name suggests got red rocks, 230 million old Desert Sandstone from the Permian Ear to be exact (My love for Geology coming into use), but it’s not the Geology which Red Rocks is famous for, neither is it because it’s the only place in Cheshire and were you can find Natterjack Toad. Red Rocks should sound familiar to us birders because of one thing and one thing alone, the rarities: Cory’s Shearwater, Balearic Shearwater, White Stork, Montagu’s Harrier, Gyr Falcon, Kentish Plover, Spotted Crake, Corncrake, Dotterel, Collared Pratincole, White-Rumped Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Grey Phalarope, Ring-billed Gull, Roseate Tern, Caspian Tern, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Black-billed Cuckoo, Wood Lark, Red-Rumped Swallow, Richard’s Pipit, Tawny Pipit, Red-throated Pipit, Citrine Wagtail, Savi’s Warbler, Blyth’s Reed Warbler, Aquatic Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Icterine Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Dartford Warbler, Greenish Warbler and Cirl Bunting, is just a snippet of some of birds Red Rocks has held host to over the years. We were that this year something else could be added to that list whilst on Wader Watch.


This stunning Citrine Wagtail was the first record for Wirral & Cheshire and was found and photographed at Red Rock by patcher and co Jane Turner (@Turnershbo) & Eddie Williams

When it came to Saturday, the first day of this weekend long event the weather was well, sort of a repeat of last year just that there was no wind just the rain which just didn’t seem to end, instead just deciding on how heavy to be, varying from a light drizzle to the heavens have opened. When I arrived I was met by Steve & Clare from the Cheshire Wildlife and Hayden who’d they’d burrowed from the Cumbrian Wildlife Trust; with the Marquee set up and signs up advertising the event, we all took refuge under the marquee and were joined by a few of the Dee Estuary Wardens who were down for the high tide to make sure that irresponsible dog owners didn’t wonder along the marsh whilst the 7000+ wading birds that roosted their at high tide weren’t disturbed. I’m afraid to say that on both day there were several periods of disturbances ranging from Dogs bolting across the marsh and into the flock of roosting waders, unmarked Motor Bikes racing along the coastline as the birds were coming in and the latest form of disturbance drones. But the Waders did a brilliant job at dealing with the matters and made them aware of their actions as well as telling them what their actions for birds.


The returning Brent’s brightened the mood in the utter downpour

With the weather putting many people off coming out doors it meant that there were very few people out and visiting our stand. Not what we wanted to happen but it did give us plenty of time to set up the scopes and check what was about at this monster of a site: 13 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, 50 Bar-tailed Godwit, 700 Shelduck, 20 Skylark, 3 Snipe, 6000 Oystercatcher, 300 Curlew and 1 Sandwich Tern were the highlights from the day at Red Rocks. We thought we’d done pretty well, but later that day when I got to Thurstaston (the Wader Fest HQ) I only found out that less than 1 mile away at Hoylake there’d been Meditterian, Yellow-legged and Caspian Gull! I thought that I’d done pretty well with 1 Sandwich Tern (rather rare in October), but Hoylake even beat that with 6…


This fella (the leucistic Oystercatcher) which yours truly found has been returning to Red Rocks every fall for the past 3 years



3 of the 13 Pale-bellied Brent Geese passing Red Rocks as the tide made its way in

When the tide started to retreat so did the waders, back onto the glorious Dee Estuary. It was then we packed up and I headed up to Thurstaston with mum to say hello to every up there: Rick & Ellis Simpson from Wader Quest, Allan & Ruth Davis aka the Biggest Twitch, Colin Wells, Dan Trotman and Helen Banister from the RSPB along with Matt & Ron Thomas to name a few. When I did get to Thurstaston I arrived just in time to join Ruth & Alan for the guided walk round the site which as you can guess it we were all drenched by the time it was over, but we did get to see some pretty nice birds: Little Egret, Meadow Pipit, Black-tailed Godwit, Pintail and the highlight being Golden Plover, with still some traces of its drop dead georgous summer plumage. After the walk it was then time to pack up at the Centre and head home looking forward for tomorrows much improved weather conditions which would bring out the visitors.

Well I never, for once the weather man didn’t lie and when it came to the dawn of Sunday the 2nd of October wasn’t a cloud to be seen, the sun was out and teamed up with the beautiful blue sky to create the perfect day for a Wirral Wader Festival. It was evident when I arrived at Red Rocks that today something was going to be found because were as yesterday we’d just about managed 5 visitors, just walking down the beach towards the marquee there were at least 30 scattered along the beach and a quick peep through my camera showed that there were plenty of people to keep Steve, Clare and Hayden busy.

Walking down to the marquee I was joined by fellow young Cheshire birder George Dunbar; winner of the “Martin Garner Young Birders Competition” last month at Spurn, who’d be spending the day with me as he was having his first proper day of birding on the Wirral mainland. Due to the sheer quantity of people about we spilt up, Steve and Hayden taking the main marquee as myself, Clare and George were sent to the south end, which as we were setting our self’s up there Graham Connolly, a good friend and Wirral birder joined us for the high tide period. With the gang chatting away and greeting passers-by we soon turned ourselves to the birds; there was no sign of any rare gulls, waders or terns, but there was still plenty of other birds around. George spotted a flock of 4 Great crested Grebe flying out of the estuary whilst I relocated yesterday’s flock of 13 Pale-bellied Brent Geese and also a dead bird…


An absolutely beautiful capture by George Dunbar (@George_Dunbar) of the Brent Geese with Middle Eye in the background

Intrigued to see what it was, myself and George headed out to the shore line to see what the bird was. We could see that there was a white front and black back, Oystercatcher was what first sprang to mind but on closer inspection it turned to be yet another Guillemot. This is the 5th dead bird to be washed up along the shore line between Red Rocks and Hoylake in the past 2 weeks not including an ill Razorbill seen at Point of Ayr and a dead Guillemot at Frodsham Marsh the week before. We claimed the bird from the rising tide and headed back were later I took the head and a wing for my ever growing collection, whilst George took the body back to his were he’ll soon be perform a post mortem to see what the cause of death what, as on all of the birds I’ve collective there were no external injuries and particularly on this bird there was a very good amount of fat. Could it be plastic which the bird ingested that caused its death? We’ll find out soon…


Another one of George’s brilliant images from his visit

Walking back along the marsh we came across a ill Dunlin, a small flock of Ringed Plover and a fish which neither of us could ID as well, neither of us are an expert.


Any help would be appreciated (Image @George_Dunbar)

As the day continued yet more and more birds and more and more visitors were still in the area and everyone was having the time their lives. When the event had finished we once again packed up, said our fair wells and myself and George headed up to the Centre were we once again said our hellos before it was time to head back home and prepare for yet another week in school.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post there is a petition which has been set up by the conservation legend Chris Packham calling for urgent and much needed introduction of moratorium and any regulations to ensure that shooting is sustainable. As it stands the shooting industry is anything but sustainable, its slowing wiping out our waders which 50 odd years you’d see here there and everywhere, but waders such as Woodcock, Snipe and Golden Plover are on the brink, mostly due to the endless slaughter by shooters, “BTO, JNCC and RSPB Bird Trends data report a 76% decline in Woodcock in the last 25 years. Although the wintering population is increased by migrants, BTO and GWCT studies of shot birds report that 17% are UK residents. It is Red Listed. In the same period Snipe (Amber listed) have declined by 89%. Between ’93 and ’13 Golden Plover decreased by 17% in England and 25% in Scotland.”, I urge you, if you haven’t already then sign this petition because Europe has already lost over 421 million birds in the last 30 years. Let’s not add to that. Below is a link to the petition which already has seen over 13,000 people sign it, take action, join the fight and lets defend mother nature.

Petition: Introduce a moratorium on the hunting of critically declining wading birds


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