Unfortunately my Christmas holiday is drawing to a close, so I thought what better way to spend my last few days than doing a bit of coastal birding. We started off a little bit further a field than my local places this time, going to the marina path off West Kirby, which is literally right on the edge of the Dee Estuary. You can get good views of Hilbre Island from here, but we weren't sure of the tide times, so we didn't attempt to walk across the sands to the island.
We started off by parking on the road alongside the Marina, getting brilliant views of Red Breasted Merganser in good numbers. There were also some cracking views of some stunning Goldeneyes (a bird which I've seen now every day since the start of the New Year). These Goldeneyes were hanging around with the Mergansers, the male in particular was the closest, enabling the family to get some superb views.
Red Breasted Merganser
After a good scan of the marina we moved on to a couple of jetties just in front of the main estuary. I noticed a few smaller birds alongside the gulls, wandering along the jetties, before swiftly flying to join a gorgeous Redshank (which was only about 4 meters away). These small birds were Turnstones, possibly one of my favorite waders.
Redshank and Turnstone
In total there were 6 Turnstone, which after a few minutes flew off calling at the same time to join the thousands of other birds out on the main estuary. An absolutely brilliant little wader to observe.
We stayed watching the Turnstones for a good ten minutes before moving on to the main estuary. The marina is separated from the sea by a stone wall and path. You can walk along this path right around the marina, but also right alongside the actual estuary.
This meant we could walk from watching the Turnstones to watching the thousands of other birds on the estuary. Before checking out the distant birds, I decided to scan all the solitary birds dotted throughout the estuary, picking up Curlew, Oystercatcher, Redshanks and Sanderling (a surprising lifer and new bird for the year).
After I'd done my best to look for all the solitary birds, I moved onto the larger flocks (when I say larger, I mean flocks of thousands), observing Dunlin in their thousands, which were accompanied by hundreds of Knot (another first for the year), and huge flocks of Redshank as well.
After I'd scanned the estuary back and fourth as far as I could several times, I stumbled across a truly striking bird. This pitch black chest came in to view with speckled silver washed wings, I knew before I had time to think that this could only be a Summer plumaged Grey Plover surrounded by a couple of Winter plumaged as well, I thought this was quite unusual, however despite this it was an absolute pleasure to observe and probably my bird of the day.
Grey Plover in Summer plumage
After a brilliant morning at West Kirby we all spent the afternoon at Leasowe Lighthouse which is basically just round the corner from the Dee Estuary. As the tide was almost completely out, most of the birds were out with it, which made it more difficult to tell what was out there.
Unlike West Kirby, many of the birds were at the tide line, as you can see in the picture below. There were thousands of gulls, however mixed in with them we scoped out Dunlin, Knot and another possible Sanderling.
Bird filled tide line
Leasowe Lighthouse was a stunning place with a wide stretch of flowing water in front of the barricade flood defenses, attracting Redshank right up close to you, allowing great views.
We didn't spend as long at Leasowe because the tide was was right, right out and we were losing light so it was getting more difficult to identify the birds; however the scope had a long range so we were able to make out a large quantity of Common Scoters beyond the tide line, and also a solitary Ringed Plover blending in brilliantly with the sandy mud.
The sun finally came out and lit up the sand banks and water closest to us and creating some great reflections.
Black Headed Gull
On the way back from the rocks where we'd hoped we might get Purple Sandpiper, we looked in to the fields and spotted a small bird perched amongst a dead shrub. My mum got a picture whilst I got great views in my binoculars and scope, I soon realised this bird was a female Stonechat. It came almost 2 meters away from us and spent it's time dropping to the ground and then sitting high up on dried shrubs.
What stays in my mind after such a brilliant day is just the total stillness and calmness of that reflective water and the engaging sounds of so many different bird songs carrying across the sand banks.