Mersey Birders

Birding the North West

White-tailed Plover at Seaforth NR May 2010

White-tailed Plover at Seaforth NR May 2010

On the 27th May 2010, I arrived at Seaforth Nature Reserve about midday, it was sunny but a very cool north-westerly was blowing across the reserve, and even by the reserve office, the cold temperature could be felt instantly.

As I made my way down to the hide, I came across Steve Young and Pete Kinsella near hide B, photographing Butterflies, I asked if there was much in, they replied they had not been down to the hide yet.

So myself and Pete carried onto the hide and left Steve snapping away, as we entered the hide and started to set up to go thru the gulls and terns, a visiting birder who was in the hide, enquired “is that the Wilson’s Phalarope behind the terns?”, I looked to where he was looking, and saw a pair of bright yellow legs leading up to a buff coloured body, before I got to the head I’d already shouted out, “it’s a White-tailed Plover”.

Total panic ensued as we tried to get some digi shots of it before it flew off, the problem was, my hands were shaking that much it was impossible to take anything, Pete was the same, I tried to calm down and tried again, before giving up, and started phoning people to get down here quick.

Steve dashed back to his car to get his big lens, and had passed Steve White on the return back to the hide, Meanwhile the Plover flew to the scrape to the right of the hide and was showing incredibly well, time to get some shots.


White-tailed Plover Seaforth Nature Reserve 27th May 2010

As I tried to take a couple of pics, a Lapwing chased the White-tailed off, and it flew past the hide to the other scrape, but was instantly chased again by another Lapwing, this time the Plover flew round the back of the hide and away towards the eastern end of the reserve.

We went outside and waved off the oncoming birders and pointed the direction it flew, more people arrived but still no sign of the bird, it looked as though it had gone, people were checking the marina out with no luck, until suddenly it had returned unseen on the left hand scrape, before again being chased off to the other scrape, but this time it stayed.

It performed very well in front of the hide and the re-built screen allowing more permit holders excellent views, with a few more looking distantly thru the fence in the hope it came into view.

White-tailed Plover Seaforth NR 28th May 2010

The bird stayed overnight much to the relief of visiting birders who had gathered on the other side of the fence the next morning and stayed faithful to the scrape all day, but had gone on the Sunday, presumably the same bird turned up in Netherlands that morning.

White-tailed Plover Seaforth NR 28th May 2010

This is the second Lancashire record following the bird that had been initially found at Caerlaverock Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust site, on 6th June 2007 moving to Leighton Moss RSPB on 10th-17th June 2007, and only the 5th record for Britain.

White-tailed Plover Seaforth NR 28th May 2010


Tony Conway May 2010

Wilson's Petrel in the Mersey Sept 09

Wilson’s Storm Petrel on the Mersey, The first Lancashire Record


On the 5th September 2009, myself and Tim Vaughan where sea-watching from below  the radar tower at the mouth of the River Mersey, in the hope of seeing a few Leach’s Petrels, 12 had been seen the day before.


The wind was NW 5-6 cloudy with good visibility, it wasn’t looking too good, with nothing seen in over 4hrs, until Tim picked up a distant petrel mid river and heading out at a fast pace, I couldn’t pick the bird up, so started looking elsewhere, I then noticed a petrel at close range, just behind the sea wall.


I was immediately struck by how black the bird looked, and in the moment I was watching it, it started to feed with a very distinctive bouncing action, up and down as if on a string, and very butterfly like, not fluttery like a Storm Petrel, but exactly like a Wilson’s Petrel!


I quickly alerted Tim and we both watched the bird feeding with long legs dangling, wings raised straight up, picking off the surface, “it’s a Wilson’s Petrel” I shouted in disbelief and continued to watch it bouncing around just 35yds away.


As the tide was high the bird was in full view all the time from our position, we could see the under-wing was black, and had no white like a Storm Petrel, it had a very broad white rump, which wrapped round the sides and reached the back of the legs, the tail was square ended and not forked like Leach’s Petrel, the upper-wing had a broad whitish bar, which didn’t reach the wing edge as in Leach’s.


It glided on straight long wings, with a straight trailing edge, the feet clearly protruded beyond the tail, all pointing to Wilson’s Petrel.


After a few minutes of watching the bird it flew away to our left and out of sight, as if going into the Mersey towards New Brighton.


We went thru everything that we had seen, a black petrel, not smoky grey brown as in Leach’s, a slightly bigger looking bird than Storm, with no white under-wing, an obvious broad white rump, square ended tail, not forked or rounded as in Storm Petrel, the feeding action didn’t match Storm or Leach’s, with the long dangling legs and feet protruding beyond the tail in flight all indicators of Wilson’s Petrel.


We put the news out quickly so that anyone sea-watching at New Brighton might get the chance to connect with the bird.


Moments later we picked the bird up heading out of the river again about 150yds range on a direct flight and with some speed, even from the now more distant views, it always looked a very black looking bird, the whitish upper-wing bar wasn’t as obvious at this range, but the broad white rump still stood out well.


It dropped onto the sea quite abruptly, and was watched with Hilbre Island in the background, as it bobbed up and down on the swell.


We were joined by other observers, but the bird had been lost to view, but after 2 hours later, a petrel was flushed off the sea by an Arctic Skua, It was the Wilson’s Petrel again, it had drifted further north from where we had last seen it, and slightly closer in, it flew fast between the wave troughs with long glides very shearwater like, two other observers managed to get on it before it was finally lost to view.


Wilson’s Petrel had always been regarded a possibility in the Mersey due to the large numbers of Leach’s that are often blown into the narrow mouth of the estuary, but was thought more likely in a much stronger wind and with a greater number of petrels blown in to sift thru.


This will be the first for Lancashire and the second record for the north-west region, with one seen from Walney Island Cumbria on 9th October 1990, with more Wilson’s now being seen in the south-west approaches from July onwards, it is highly likely more records will follow, so keep sea-watching!


Tony Conway and Tim Vaughan

Little Bunting at Seaforth Nature Reserve Oct 2009

Little Bunting at Seaforth NR

On the 5th October 2009, I arrived early at Seaforth Nature Reserve to do my usual visible migration count, something I have done now for 21years from the same spot near the fence line that borders the south east corner of Crosby marina.


The wind was blowing from the ideal south-easterly direction with a little amount of cloud cover, which means the birds would be flying slightly lower overhead.


A good passage was observed including Chaffinch, Grey and Pied Wagtails and small numbers of Meadow Pipits. However, a good count of 268 Skylarks was noted, along with 8 Jays, 45 Tree Sparrows, 3 Little Egrets and 2 Twite all made the morning worthwhile and interesting.


I’d also had small numbers of Reed Buntings calling overhead, some of which I noticed dropping down into bushes by hide B.


The passage had virtually stopped by 11.15hrs, so I made my way towards the reed bed to check the waders on the salt water pool, as I passed Hide B, I noticed a bird moving on the small mound near the path some 25yds in front of me. With the naked eye, I could see it had a rufous face, “Little Bunting” I said to myself, I raised my bins up to double-check, and it was a Little Bunting!


The bird then flew onto another mound in front of me with some Meadow Pipits, as I fumbled in my pocket for the phone to get people down here quick, it came even closer and was calling a quiet “sip”, not the usual “tik” call that I’ve heard so many times before, I then tried to get a record shot of it, but it came too close to digi-scope, so I gave up and managed to get in touch with a couple of people on the phone who quickly joined me and watched the bird feeding at close range.

Little Bunting Seaforth NR 5th October 2009


As Seaforth Nature Reserve is permit only now, only a small crowd had gathered to enjoy the bird, after a couple of hours it flew towards the trees near hide A, much to the disappointment for those who had just arrived, it could not be relocated, (it had at one point looked as though it was flying off, but had quickly returned).

It was relocated late evening near the reed bed, so it wasn’t too much of a surprise when it was re-found still the next day feeding on the mound again, allowing those that missed it, a second chance.


This is the fifth record for Lancashire, with the last bird as recently as 26th November 2008, a 1stw trapped at Knott End-on-sea.


Tony Conway October 2009.

White-tailed Eagle at Seaforth N.R.

White-tailed Eagle over Seaforth Nature Reserve on Tuesday 15th April 2008

By Stephen Morris

I had enjoyed an excellent couple of days at my local patch of Seaforth Nature Reserve, Merseyside; on Sunday 13th April, two days earlier, I was standing on the pathway approaching Hide A when a flava Wagtail flew in calling from the west at 1230hrs, and landed right in front of me, revealing itself to be a stunning male Blue-headed Wagtail! The following day I was lucky enough to see a superb Osprey, flying north-east straight through; my first since 1997 in the area. Remarkably, Tuesday 13th April I was witness to yet another Osprey which flew north straight through at 1605hrs! I was able to photograph both of the Ospreys and achieved decent record-shots of both. Add to all this, a first-summer Eurasian Spoonbill was present all afternoon on Monday and all day on Tuesday!

At 1732hrs on Tuesday 15th April, a dread of the small numbers of gulls on the long bank of the reserve took place, which is often a good indication that maybe a raptor is flying over the reserve.

I headed for the door of hide A, and once outside looked up and immediately caught sight of a huge bird flying north-east. I watched the bird as it flew overhead from west of the zenith at an altitude of 200-250 metres. My immediate identification was that the bird was a White-tailed Eagle! I had recently been reading Marc Hughes’ account of finding An immature White-tailed Eagle over Dowyddelen in Wales, and I can only think in hindsight this must have been in my mind! I had previously seen two in the British Isles. Funnily enough, the possibility of the bird being an escaped Vulture or other species did not enter my mind.

My immediate reaction was to race inside the hide and to get my digital camera, thinking that I must secure as many images as possible of the bird in the following moments.

As the eagle was viewed overhead with my binoculars I noticed pale tail markings which appeared to look like pale centres to the tail feathers, on an otherwise dark undertail.

The eagle continued on it’s course to the east of the reserve and then became fairly distant, it began to soar up on thermals and as it did so drifted to the east, it gained considerable height and disappeared to the north again and disappeared in misty cloud. I watched and frantically photographed the eagle, and also alerted the Rare Bird Alert Information Service, and Tony Conway.

When the eagle began to soar upwards on the thermals I could see it had a white tail! I found this surprising as I was expecting the bird to be a juvenile, and dark tailed. Later analysis of the photographs I took appear to show a dark terminal band on the uppertail.

Another observer, Simon Slade from Ormskirk, appeared by the reed-bed whilst I was watching the eagle; I shouted frantically at him and he ran down the path towards me. I was able to put him onto the bird, and he was able to view it through his telescope.

I got my telescope from the hide when the eagle was distant and I watched as it steadily flew north-east. It was lost to sight at 1748hrs.

In the following days, Steve Young forwarded my digital photographs to Dick Forsman, the renowned European raptor-expert, who confirmed the identification as a White-tailed Eagle and furthermore aged the bird as a third-year, probably a third-winter individual.

I would like to dedicate this and my other finds of 2008, to my father whose enthusiasm, support, interest and encouragement I greatly miss.



White-rumped Sandpiper at Seaforth N.R.

White-rumped Sandpiper at Seaforth N.R. by Tony Conway


With this summers constant rainfall since early May, the fresh water pool at Seaforth Nature Reserve was beginning to be higher than normal winter levels, so much so that there was now no edge as such around the pool for waders or roosting duck.


I had started to lower the main pool on the Tuesday, and had cleared a 100yd stretch of the causeway of Common Ragwort and Thistles, in order to view the salt water pool from the main hide.


On Sunday  22nd July, with low tides and not much in the way of birds on the Saturday, I started to gather the tools to continue the work on the causeway in order to lower the pool, but I had to delay any work as Steve Young had arrived to do some birding and a bit of photography.


I grabbed my scope and bins, along with a pick axe and spade and joined him down to the hide to see if there was much in.


A quick scan of the fresh water pool produced the male eclipse Scaup amongst the Tufted Duck, and a group of feeding dunlin on the salt water pool, Steve who was outside scanning shouted in “not much out there but a couple of juvenile Dunlin”, to which I replied “I think I’ve got something here”, he joined me in the hide as the bird I was watching moved out from behind the dunlin, “it looks like a White-rumped Sandpiper” I told him.


He quickly got onto the bird and we watched it feeding for a short while before it flew a short distance to reveal a small square looking white rump; it was a White-rumped Sandpiper!




We moved to the edge of the reed bed to get better views of the salt water pool and more importantly was able to keep it in view as the group of dunlin were constantly joined by more and more from Crosby Beach, and each time another flock would come in the whole group would fly around the pool before landing again sometimes closer than before.


We were joined by Tim Vaughan and together we decided that news could be broadcast onto Birdline North West, as the bird was viewable from Crosby Marina by looking through the fence, as only permit holders are allowed into the reserve due to security measures.


Soon a small gathering of permit holders and viewers through the fence, were enjoying the bird which is only the second record here since a bird on 19th August 1984 found by Mike Pennington, and is only the 14th Lancashire record since a bird in Skippool Creek on the Wyre Estuary 26th July-1st August 2005.


The White-rumped was consequently seen the next day and 24th and was relocated on Crosby Beach on 26th by Tim Vaughan.


Anyone wishing to purchase much better photos of the bird go to Steve Young’s website at


Tony Conway July 2007.


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Firsts for Britain in the North West

A large number of British firsts have occurred right here in the North West region, with the earliest recorded being the most insignificant, back in the mid 1700's.

The Lesser Black-backed Gull was first described at a breeding colony on Anglesey, but due to the date there is not a lot of information about it.

The next new bird was a Nutcracker which had the sad end of being shot on 5th October 1753 at Mostyn Flintshire.

The Garden Warbler was first "collected" in Lancashire by Sir Ashton Lever and sent off for identification in the early 1800's, it was then found to be widespread over much of the British isles.

Another record from way back, was of a Collared Pratincole which again had its luck run out by being shot, this time in October 1807 in Ormskirk Lancashire, it is possible this bird had been seen in Cumbria near Bowness.

A bird that was part of a group of three birds, was identified as a Male Pallas's Sandgrouse, on the 9th July 1859, Owen Quin was the shooter on this occasion, it ended up as a specimem in Chester Museum.

A large influx of these birds occurred in 1888 when upto 2,000 birds were recorded in Scotland alone, and breeding was recorded near Harlech.

As was the way back then to shoot birds and identify them later, the first Sociable Plover was shot amongst a flock of Lapwing ( good shot or just lucky?), in 1860 at St Michael's -on-Wye in Lancashire, it was first thought to be a Cream Coloured Courser, but was correctly identified by Mr Doeg who exhibited it at the Zoological Society meeting in 1888.

An Adult male Black-eared Wheatear was shot at Bury in Lancashire in May 1875 or 1878, by R Davenport, it was of the eastern race complete with black throat.

The bird was displayed at the Zoological Society.

Another fine bird to be blown out of the sky was an Isabelline Wheatear in November 1887, at Aigle Gill in Cumbria, after being passed around it was identified by Saunders and after disection, it was found to be a female.

The second record for the North West turned up in September 1998 on Bardsey with the 3rd record at Carmel Head Anglesey Septembr 2006.

On the morning of 11th September 1957 at Bardsey Bird observatory in Gwynedd, R Moss and R Stjernstedt found a bird new to them, it wasn't until it had been trapped that the identification was confirmed as an imm male Summer Tanager a handful of people managed to view the bird as it stayed until the 25th.

Bardsey struck gold again on the 29th August 1964 with a Yellow Warbler found by Hugh Miles and R.F.Durman and the warden George Evans, the bird was trapped and roosted overnight, but sadly it died, the corpse being sent to the British Museum.

On 6th November 1973 a Little Swift was found exhausted on playing fields at Llanrwst, Denbighshire by E.Griffiths. He roosted the bird overnight and released it on the 7th where it flew off strongly and never seen again.

Chris Kehoe found a Little Swift at Seaforth Nature Reserve on 22nd May 1984, making it the second North West record.

A hot calm day on 8th August 1977 at Cabin Hill Formby Lancashire, Ken Horton found an Eleonora's Falcon, seen the next day by Anthea Coppleston, Mark Garner and Alan Adams, the bird was watched hawking over the dunes catching insects and viewed perched up.

Despite searching the day after it was never seen again.

A bird from North America, in fact America's symbol, a Bald Eagle was found by John Wilkinson at Llyn Coron on Anglesey on 17th October 1978, the bird being an adult was unmistakable, watched for 45 minutes before flying off.

Welsh birders Reg Thorpe and Jeff Stenning found a Grey Tailed Tattler at Ynys Hir RSPB reserve on the Dyfi estuary on 13th october 1981.

It was unfortuneatly kept quiet due to the local landowners not wishing hordes of birders descending upon a small reserve, the bird stayed until 17th November 1981.

Anglesey strikes again with a Lesser Crested Tern found by Clive Hurford and John Chester on 13th July 1982 at Cymyran Bay. It flew off towards Rhosneigr after 10 minutes never to be seen again.

A White-throated Robin was found on the Calf of Man bird observatory by Adrian de Nevo, J R Calladine an M Watson, on the 22nd June 1983.

It was watched feeding before dissappearing from view and never seen again.

Another new bird for Britain which turned up at Calf of Man was a Mourning Dove, found on 31st October 1989 by Aaron Sapsford in the mist nets, and identified by Ian Fisher.

It was ringed and released but found dead the next day, it is now in the Manx Museum.

The first record of American Herring Gull was found by David Quinn at Neumann's flash Cheshire on 24th February 1994, it was relocated at otterspool Promenade on the Mersey by Mark Garner and Gavin Thomas on 6th March.

A first winter Male Black-faced Bunting was trapped and identified at pennington flash C.P. on 8th March by Peter Alker.

The bird stayed and was enjoyed by thousands of birders until 24th April.

Ken Croft found a Gray Catbird whilst checking his local patch on 4th October 2001 at South Stack Anglesey, the bird was seen until the 5th.


Tony Conway


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Vagrant wintering Canada Goose on SW Lancs mosses


Plex Moss, Downholland Moss, Little Crosby

10th December 2005 into 2006 (comments taken from submission to BBRC REACT Committee)


Searching for a reported Richardson’s Canada Goose on the mosses, I relocated what I presumed to be the same bird with Pinkfeet on Plex Moss on 10th December. Soon I was joined by other birders including Steve Riley and Chris Batty. The views were not close but it was clear that this was a large Canada Goose and therefore I agreed with CB who said that it was not a Richardson’s but either parvipes (Lesser) or interior (Todd’s).


I noted “looked like canadensis but larger, longer necked, darker mantled, paler breast”.



Having never been remotely interested in Canada Goose ID before, I was keen to see this bird again and at closer range. So over Christmas I put in many more hours goose watching as well as some avid reading of the literature.


I relocated the Canada Goose on 24th December at Little Crosby and 29th-30th December on Downholland Moss.



On 29th December I had good and prolonged views of it on Downholland Moss. I noted “ it has a chin strap; a dark line down the throat. The lower basal end thicker, broader…underside of neck. Visible when bird walking away feeding i.e. viewable from rear with head low. Side-on there was at close range a gular line visible. Given range, a surprisingly constant feature”  (see figs 8 & 9)


On 30th December, I noted “looking big and when alert very long necked, vertical with long head/bill. Very dark brown upperparts, pale fringes very thin”.


The literature suggests that western forms of Canada Geese have the chin strap but so too can some feral birds. I went and studied 42 feral birds at Crosby Marina on 30th December and compared them to my photos and immediate memories of the vagrant bird.


“All marina birds structurally more subtle, gentler, birds not looking so big, long-necked nor long-billed. Birds paler brown in upperparts apart from one individual. All birds paler bellied and paler in flanks. 40 had no chin strap at all. Two birds had vague, minimal hint at close range”; being formed mostly of a stubb at both ends of the pale throat.




I still know very little about Canada Geese. Fourteen, four or two types reportedly exist, but on the basis of the current literature my personal view is that this was a Todd’s Canada Goose (interior).


I am very intrigued that one observer reporting the Richardson’s remains of the view that there was one on the mosses in late autumn. Was this the ‘small Canda Goose’ reported off the Rainford Bypass in St Helens on 30th September that I and everyone else dipped on ? Did a Richardson’s then move off with Pinkfeet to Norfolk in early winter and get replaced by a Todd’s, or has there been one vagrant Canada Goose all autumn…..?


Tim Vaughan


Status of Blue-headed Wagtail at Seaforth N.R. and Crosby Marina

A sure sign of Spring is hearing the "pseet" or "swee-eep" call of a Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava flavissima) as it flys overhead, sadly this is no longer as common as it used to be, numbers at Seaforth have dropped considerably, no longer do we see large spring flocks like the 40+ one April day in 1986 or the 65 day total in April 1987.

Todays numbers passing through can only muster 3-4 or on a good day 6-7 being the maximum.
The decline is no doubt due to different farming methods,  lack of suitable breeding areas and probably bad times at their wintering grounds back in Africa.

Amongst these Yellows are increasing numbers of Blue-headed Wagtails (Motacilla flava flava), a stunning looking bird, which can make a hard days birding special and worthwhile.

The first ever record at Seaforth was way back on 6th May 1978, since then there have been over 22 records as follows:

  • 1on 6th May 1978
  • 2 on 9th September 1981
  • 2 on 28th April 1986
  • 1 on 25th April 1988
  • 1 on 28th April 1990
  • 1 on 12th May 1992
  • 1 on 25th May 1992
  • 1 on 1st-3rd August 1994
  • 1 on 5th June 1996
  • 1 on 16th June 1997
  • 1 on 5th-11th July 1998
  • 2 on 28th April 1999
  • 2 on 1st May 1999
  • 1 on 24th April 2000
  • 1 on 25th-26th April 2001
  • 1 on 1st May 2004
  • 1 on 29th April 2005
  • 1 on 24th April 2006
There is clearly two periods when Blue-headed Wagtails move through, the last week in April to the 2nd week in May and again when most of the Yellow Wagtails have gone through towards the end of May and into the first two weeks of June.

Key days to connect with this bird appear to be, 24th April (2), 25th April (2), 28th April (3) and 
1st May (2).

Other interesting races that have been recorded, include, Grey-headed Wagtail (Motacilla flava thunbergi) with 4 records and Syke's Wagtail (Motacilla flava beema) 3 records, 1 probable Ashy-headed Wagtail (Motacilla flava cinereocapilla) and a Black-headed Wagtail (Motacilla flava feldegg),

Grey-headed Wagtail
  • 27th May 1987
  • 9th May 1992
  • 12th May 1992
  • 1st July 1999
Syke's Wagtail
  • 29th April 1986
  • 5th May 1996
  • 13th-15th Sept 96
Black-headed Wagtail
  • 25th April 1987

Tony Conway

Jamminig in on the Sooty Tern

10th July 2005


Cemlyn 1530 hrs – 1625 hrs

0/8 cloud, wind NW 0-1, hot


Of course, it was a bit incredible that I was opting out on the Sooty Tern. I really did not want that feeling of buoyancy, sailing offshore on a boat NO THANK YOU !!….but then the bird was an absolute MEGA…


The others sailed on flat calm seas and saw it early morning. They wondered how I was ever going to cope with having not seen the bird nor shared in the experience. Mid-morning things then changed….as I sat with grandson on my knee out on the patio…the phone rang, the Sooty Tern was now at Cemlyn ! I was stunned and didn’t say much in response…others even thought that I was disinterested. Far from it - but I knew that I could not leave immediately. The man was coming to discuss and measure up kitchen and bathrooms – it was not the moment to be speeding off.


I managed to last a fair few hours…then by 1330, I had shown enough domestic patience and almost ran out of the house to the car. I really was not looking forward to the trip on my own but it had to be done. I put my foot down and traffic was shockingly good for a hot Sunday afternoon. I did get lost briefly – déjà vu when I had my worst experience of getting lost when twitching alone – on Anglesey ! Soon enough I was winding down the narrow roads to Cemlyn and squeezing past the large numbers of parked cars in the lanes. I did actually manage to find a proper spot in the car park, much to my relief.


Then I yomped across the shingle towards a crowd of 150 people and yes….Sooty Tern showing well. I had made it.



An absolutely amazing bird and it was good to spend the next forty minutes watching it fly about and then land on the tern islands. I was very lucky to see this bird. If it had never had come to the mainland would I have never seen it ?


In the scorching hot weather I walked back to the car totally elated. I had the forethought to bring iced cold water and fruit to eat and so was able to re-energise and relax back at the car - and relish the thought of the success that I had just enjoyed. The prompt return drive home also meant that I still had some evening to share when I rejoined the family...


Tim Vaughan

Great Grey Shrike at Leasowe

Whilst out birding at Crosby Marina, a conversation with Jane Turner from Hoylake coincided with her receiving a text of a Great Grey Shrike at Leasowe. Very soon I was off on a circuitious route to get there....home...then pick up PK and AJC at their broken down vehicle....and over to 'the Dark Side' i.e. Wirral. Meanwhile, further phone calls and text messages on my own phone and then a pager message all confirmed the news.

Eventually arriving at the site, the Great Grey Shrike was still present in the hedgerow at the back of Leasowe lighthouse. Along with other NW birders already present (Chris & Steve Williams, Barry Barnacal, Frank Duff, Alan Conlin, Mark Turner et al some of whom were sreshly arrived from the Hilbre Subalpine Warbler) we enjoyed good scope views of a fairly mobile bird. At one point, it actually flew up chasing a bee at 50 ft over our heads !

A Lesser Whitethroat was singing nearby and with others arriving e.g. Chris Galvin, Steve Round, John Tubb we were happy to get on our way back to Never Never land - just in case we had our own fall of migrants.....which we didn't.......Incidentally this is the third GGShrike that PK has twitched at Leasowe and the fourth twitched on N Wirral.


Tim Vaughan

Bird Finding


(Article submitted to Birding NW mag in 2005 but unpublished)


I’m really pleased, I’ve just found a Tree Sparrow at my local patch. In spite of twenty records, this is only my second sighting. It is also the first at the reserve for years. I found the bird loosely associating with Goldfinch flock….


Such is the thrill of birding and I’m constantly intrigued as to what I might find next and how I might maximise my chances. What are the factors that affect what I am going to see ? Location ? Days in the field ? Skill ? Persistence ? Luck ?


There was a great article in Birdwatch in Feb 2000 by Ken Shaw. Ken pointed to the great birding places like Shetland as the places to seek out birds. Indeed on the Surfbirds website is a list of self-found birds from some of our keenest national and NW birders. However looking at the web-published lists, many birds seem to have been found by visiting famous birding sites. What about local bird finding ?


Living in the North West, what is the potential ? One could travel around the region from site to site at key times e.g. North Lancs mosses in Winter, Anglesey and Great Orme in May, North Wirral in September, Heysham in October. I think that we all do variations of that. Another option is to go twitching – locally as Frank Duff  did in Cheshire in 2005 or nationally as many of us do. However, what about local patch bird finding ? What is the potential before we even step out of the front door ?


I have been asking myself which sites produce a good return for their dedicated locals ? Looking at some of the top British birding areas is mouth-watering. Look at the finds list for one year !


Birder 1

Birder 2

Birder 3

RB Shrike

Purple Heron

Calandra Lark

Surf Scoter

American Wigeon

Siberian Chiffchaff

RB Flycatcher x 2

Black Kite

Pallid Swift

Honey Buzzard


Icterine Warbler

Barred Warbler

Little Crake

Yellow-browed Warbler

Icterine Warbler


Pallas’ Warbler

Shore Lark

Little Swift



Red-rumped Swallow


WW Black Tern

Richard’s Pipit



Savi’s Warbler



Tawny Pipit


Osprey x 2

Black-headed Wagtail



Mealy Redpoll



Wilson’s Petrel x 7+



Oh to have those birds ! Was it skill, was it time in the field, was it the location ?


At my local patch, Seaforth, finding a mere Pectoral Sandpiper would be highlight of the year. There are no records ever – it would be rarer than Yellow-browed Warbler. (However, there is something quite special about finding a gem like a Yellow-browed at the edge of Liverpool).


Finding birds that are scarce or rare by local standards is important to us birders. Steve Williams described in Birding North West (May 2005), the excitement of finding a Dartford Warbler at Hilbre. A mega find, yet the species breeds in Britain. Finding a Seaforth Little Auk (two records) is not quite like finding one at Flamborough (peak day count 6,216) ! Finding a first or second record for your local patch must surely count highly ? In local patch birding you get excited about common birds. For instance, if I don’t find the next Seaforth Green Woodpecker, I expect to be driving there at high speed !


In spite of all this, what if all the effort put into a local patch in the NW was put into a prime locality elsewhere ? How different would the finds list be ? No matter how hard we try, we are surely limited by geographic location ? There are only a limited number of really rare birds that we might discover…..but then who would have predicted Semipalmated Sandpiper at Brockholes, Yellow-breasted Bunting at Hilbre, Grey Catbird at South Stack or White-crowned Sparrow at Seaforth ? Odds must be in your favour if you do your local patch regularly but I have concluded that it’s more than that. I have arrived at the following simple equation;


Well-informed + patient + skilful + persistant x days in the field + good location + reading the weather + checking the right place /divided by/  luck ! = potential


Based on that formula, I wonder what is waiting to be found and must get my daily dose of searching…or maybe I need to move to Scilly, Spurn or Shetland ?


Tim Vaughan