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Xmas Day Birding - The Dee Estuary at Parkgate, Neston (1 Viewer)


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Well, with living by myself now, parents both departed to the heavens above, a brother I rarely see, and teenage kids living with their mother except at weekends, I decided that it would be more-miserable to sit in my flat and bored on my jack jones, so after a half hour long visit to see the kids and what Santa had brought them, I was off on the 1.5 hour-long 65 mile journey to Parkgate, one of my favourite birding spots in the UK.

Weather was rainly 'en route' but thankfully despite threatening clouds overhead, not a drop of rain landed on my very bald head between 11am - 4.30pm, when I departed. Temperatures were also quite reasonable with a gentle south-westerly breeze. Today also coincided with a 9.4m high tide, and although it was to have effect, it needs to be around 10m and accompanied by north-westerlies to bring the sea tide all the way across the marsh to the sea wall. I have previously enjoyed these high tide 'wildlife spectacles' at Parkgate, Neston for twenty years, with the highlights being many, but notably seeing a Spotted Crake being flushed out of the reedbed by the encroaching tide, which was then picked up but dropped by a Black-headed Gull. The crake than swam the remaining ten metres and made it to a crevice in the wall, where it remained until the tide went out. No such drama today but it was still very enjoyable.

Today, upon my arrival, I was the first at the Parkgate Old baths car park, which constitutes a quite brilliant watchpoint as it juts out onto the marsh slightly. You can scan from beside your car, or settle back in it when inclement weather hits. As the tide came in, large flocks of Teal, Lapwing, Pintail, Shelduck, Dunlin, and Knot flew around, whilst skeins of Pink-footed Geese and Canada Geese settled on the marsh but seemed baffled by the water increasingly surrounding them. Snipe sporadically flashed past, and Curlew's called continuously. 40 Golden Plover were seen briefly in flight, but there was no sign of the wintering Bittern nor any Short-eared Owls, both which I have seen here previously. Hundreds of Starlings, Skylarks, Linnets, and Meadow Pipits flitted around, with smaller numbers of Goldfinch, Chaffinch, and Reed Bunting, whilst a Stonechat or two popped up closer in. Redwings also flew overhead. Up to 12 Great White Egrets, at least 15 Little Egrets, plus Grey Herons sat around on the tideline, waiting to pluck any unfortunate vole that had not retreated.

There are several points along the Dee Estuary coast line, where you can observe activity, and inevitably you cannot be in two places at once. Families out for pre-Xmas dinner walk were all wishing me a Happy Xmas, but they didn't realise that in my isolation on such a family day, I was actually as happy as a pig in the proverbial, being at one with nature. Where I am possibly at my happiest. Bah humbug!

I specifically love Parkgate, not because of the beautiful village that it is, but because of the raptor watching that the huge variety of wildfowl and waders, and passerines and voles too attract. Upon arrival, I counted 7 Marsh Harriers out on the marsh, mainly by the tideline. 2 Peregrines were settled on posts out by the tide line too, sporadically creating absolute chaos amongst the birds being unsettled by the encroaching tide. 2 Merlin's were also seen on posts but distantly, whilst a 3rd bird pursued Dunlin vigorously. Up to 4 Kestrels, a female Sparrowhawk, and a Buzzard were typically closer on view and easier to observe. Typically, as I settled in my car for a cuppa from my flask, just as I was lifting the cup to my lips, a male Hen Harrier passed in front of the car! Bloody typical, this is always the most-anticipated moment of my high tide events for me, and I think for most. I jumped out of the car and 'scoped' it as it passed once or twice before seeming to go to an early roost at 1.30pm! As dusk approached at 4pm, it did fly around again, gaining quite some height, as up to 15 Marsh Harriers flew around before dropping in to roost. A juvenile Peregrine also created chaos close in, nearly connecting with a startled Little Egret which bobbed its head.

At around 4.30pm, the harriers had just about all settled, with the Hen harrier inevitably being the last to do so in near darkness, in fact there may have been two of them, but I just couldn't quite ascertain any plumage detail.

And then it was all over! A drive home on 'quietish' roads meant I was home by 6pm, where I heated up a curry and had a beer. It had been a fantastic day.

Happy Xmas everyone! I hope you got what you wanted, I certainly did!
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