It was an early start for CAN’s Wader Identification Day as twenty members met up with Jeff Clarke, one of Cheshire’s most experienced ornithologists, in the car park near Heswall Shore on the Dee Estuary. Jeff briefly showed us the correct way to locate birds at distance. He also pointed out that a good achievable aim for many of the novices in the group would be to focus on identifying several wader species well, rather than to try and learn them all at once.

We were soon walking westwards out along the shoreline as we were greeted by the wonderfully evocative sounds of Curlew as vast flocks of Lapwing rose irregularly in the distance. Wildfowl species including numerous Pink-footed Geese, Shelduck, Teal and Pintail added to the vista.

On an incoming tide multitudes of Redshank, Knot, Dunlin, Oystercatcher and Golden Plover flew into our viewing area while Jeff pointed out key identification features, giving an unique impression or “jizz” for each species. This included some fantastic idiosyncratic “bird impressions” performed by Jeff which have to be witnessed to be believed. They serve a purpose in that it is easy to remember the action when you see the wader and you can’t help smiling remembering Jeff’s moves.

Heswall Shore 1CAN members enjoy the view from Heswall Shore.

One of the highlights of the day was the arrival of large flocks of both Black-tailed Godwit and Bar-tailed Godwit turning and twisting in the sky before obligingly landing in front of us for comparison.

Jeff pointed out that it was an ideal high tide height to observe waders, as it wasn’t too high or too low, allowing time to observe as waders were pushed slowly off the intertidal mudflats. However, eventually time and tide wait for nobody and no wader and soon the sky was alive with birds forced into the air as the waters rose. The group also rose to a higher observation point as we worked our way back to the car park as flocks of Reed Bunting and Skylark crossed the skyline before an impressive Great White Egret launched itself into the air.

It was then a short drive further up the estuary to Riverbank Road which overlooks the Dee Marshes. From here we watched the tide come in further, lifting birds out of the marshes as raptors circled overhead. Oystercatchers, Curlew, Redshank and Dunlin were a plenty as were Little Egret. Jeff skilfully demonstrated several different calls. My favourite was the trisyllabic “tyew-tyew-tyew” of the Greenshank.

riverbank (2)The view across the Dee Marshes from Riverbank Road, Heswall.

Inevitably the tide turned as the sun finally came out to warm us up. The scene started to quieten but a total of 57 bird species were seen in just a couple of hours with Jeff. Now that is what I call “Exciting Education!”.