Dee Estuary: A Wind of Change

A wind of change is sweeping across the Dee Estuary, a chain reaction has been taking place ever since the 4th of March when the first wave hit; subsequently more shock waves followed suit on the 11th, 14th, 16th, 17th & finally on the  19th. On the Dee Estuary situated between the county’s of Flintshire and Cheshire, Spring isn’t just something that’s pops up to say hello, but it’s an event that captives the entire population.

cropped-hilbre1.jpg
Hilbre Island (Middle Eye) – The Hilbre Archipelago is by far and least the most beautiful, isolating & transfixing site on the Dee to witness the magic of Spring unfold.

In terms of birdlife it’s all every much quiet but with within a blink of the eye the festival has begun. On the 4th of March the Dee Estuary had it’s first sign of Spring with the island of Hilbre hosting a single “White” Wagtail, at the time it was a somewhat insignificant record as it weeks earlier than last years first record of the spring so many failed to predict the event which was about to follow. Over the following week the action had died down until the turn of the 11th came around when it all kicked off again but with this time Northern Wheatear at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands, Sand Martin at Hilbre Island & Ring Ouzel near Connah’s Quay NR! It’s worth mentions that 3 species compared to last years arrival times were freakishly early. Northern Wheatear was 12 days earlier than that of 2016’s record, Sand Martin was just 5 days with Ring Ouzel a staggering 3 weeks ahead of 2016’s 1st record for the Dee Estuary; This theme of early bird gets the worm continued throughout the month with a pair of Barn Swallow at Leasowe Lighthouse on the 14th – 10 days early, a Whimbrel on Hilbre Island was just about a months head start, 2 Willow Warblers in Shotton Village on the 17th – 12 days early and to round it off to date (20th) a Common Whitethroat was heard singing in Heswall on the 19th which was an astonishing 3 weeks early and only the 2nd record for the UK this year!

Seeing a typical spring migrant such as the Barn Swallow, Sandwich Tern or Northern Wheatear is nothing short of heart warming, as it reminds you that those long summer days with crystal clear skies, no trace of wind and the air filled with the sound of love aren’t a long way to go. But something which we often tend to over look or in fact forget is the migration of some of our much more familiar birds. Take the humble European Stonechat for example, to the minds of many may  it’s a resident that sticks to its breeding grounds throughout the year weather its rain, wind or shine. Yet the matter of the fact is that for populations up north where the winters are too harsh to survive that they have no other choice but than to migrate south for much more bearable winter.

Along the banks of the Dee Estuary  there’s usually no more than 10 pairs of European Stonechats that remain faithful throughout the year along her banks from beginning to the end. Yet during  mid-late March as many as 100 birds can be seen along her banks with the majority of the numbers coming from sites such as Point of Ayr, Burton Marsh, Red Rocks & Leasowe Lighthouse were a single party can compose up to as many as 20 birds.

Stonechat in flight @ Leasowe_edited-1
European Stonechat (S.r hibernans) – One of over 10 birds in a loose party at Leasowe Lighthouse on the 14th whilst on the hunt for a reported Siberian Stonechat.

But it isn’t just Stonechats which can go undetected during the great migration; Western Marsh Harrier, Common Ringed Plovers, Little Gull, Spotted Redshank & Northern Lapwing are amongst many species which depending on the site are the first signs of spring. For my Birkenhead Docks it’s the return of Northern Lapwing, Common Ringed Plover & Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Cemlyn Bay it’s the screeching Sandwich Tern, at Woolston Eyes NR on the out skirts of Warrington it’s the rare and elusive Black-necked Grebe, RSPB South Stack & RSPB Bempton Cliffs both join together with Northern Fulmars, Razorbill, Common Guillemot & Atlantic Puffin, Gilroy NP hundreds of Black-tailed Godwits spent a few days feeding up before departing for Iceland and for the folks down on the Dee Estuary nothings says spring is back than the return of the Northern Wheatear.

1st cycle Little Gull @ RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands_edited-1
Little Gull (Hydocoloeus minutus) – The Little Gull is a tricky spring migrant to get as being a gull it doesn’t stay put for long. But every so often you can strike lucky like myself and Luke Anderson did on the 19th at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands.

To everyone Spring is a time which has its beginnings signalled by the arrival something which has a value to them: for me its the Northern Wheatear, for Wirral birding legends Allan Conlin & Jeremy Bradshaw its the Ring Ouzel and for Mr Davenport from my Collage it’s the Barn Swallow. Spring means different things to different people but what’s important is that we have that one thing which every year reminds us that the wind of change is happening and the days of summer

Thanks for reading,

Elliot.

 

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