On 3rd November eighteen of us gathered for the opening of the new hide at Point of Ayr. We were joined by RSPB Dee Estuary staff, Colin Wells and Geoff Robinson and RSPB volunteer Mike Ratcliffe. We had moved barely a metre onto the embankment on the western margin of the marsh when Geoff pointed out a dark-bellied Brent goose resting on the marsh. Apparently, it had been there since 1st November. For some of us this was an exciting first sighting of this species. The landward edge of the embankment is bounded by willow (Salix spp.), poplar (Populus spp.) and hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) trees which are currently providing food sources for a range of birds. These included blue tits, coal tits and a very active group of long-tailed tits.
The light that morning was good so the blue-grey cushions of sea purslane (Halimione portulacoides) contrasted well with the now senescent yellow-brown of the sea aster (Aster tripolium). The sea aster when in flower allows a heady scent to pervade the marsh, but now sports seed heads which will provide a valuable food source for birds in the coming weeks. Both these species thrive because the marsh is not grazed. The ‘trash line’ on the seaward edge of the embankment witnessed to the recent high tides. This apparent waste material also harbours a valuable seed source for birds during the winter.
We progressed along the embankment at a leisurely pace with much to see helped by Colin and Geoff explaining many features to us.
Eventually, we reached the new hide where Paul Brady (also of RSPB Dee Estuary), several BHP Billiton staff and Stan Skelton, another RSPB volunteer greeted us. Whilst some opening ceremonies may feature champagne and canapés, the treats for us were tea, coffee or hot chocolate accompanied by flapjacks and brownies, all veggie friendly and Fair Trade and the cups would be recycled: yay! Once refreshed everyone was keen to start searching for the bird life, but first there was the opening ceremony and the speeches. The ribbon was cut by one of the BHP Billiton representatives who stated their commitment to the Deeside environment and their pleasure at contributing to the construction of the new hide. Colin thanked other partners including the Environment Agency, Flintshire County Council and ENI. The hide is an open design thus, hopefully, deterring the antics of the vandals who destroyed the previous one. It is a robust design with views to the estuary and the roost sites and the RSPB hopes that with the help of volunteer wardens it will have a long life.
Finally, we could get down to the serious business of the day seeking out the birds of the estuary. We were not to be disappointed. The rising tide was providing an excellent panorama of birds easily visible from the hide. The varied roosting niches of different species resulted in oystercatchers (c.2000) roosting on the shingle ridge, while the redshank preferred the banks of the creeks and the bar-tailed godwits played ‘chicken’ with the encroaching tide seemingly daring it to move them back to the marsh. Soon we witnessed one of the dramas of the site as we watched a merlin take off in pursuit of a skylark. Despite its renowned acrobatic skills, the merlin was unsuccessful in catching its prey and the skylark escaped: it was gripping stuff. The merlin returned to perch on a fence post on the marsh where it remained for some time, but did not participate in further pursuits. Waders present in large numbers included dunlin, knot, redshank, grey plover, snipe, and curlew alongside duck species including pintail, shelduck, wigeon and teal. We stayed for some time in the hide and by sharing our viewings, apart from those species mentioned already, the tally for the day included meadow and rock pipits, linnet, starling, mallard, peregrine, grey heron, little egret, black-tailed godwit, cormorant, snipe, and common gull.
Do visit the Point of Ayr hide: it will be well worth your time, especially if you can be there at the time of the rising tide. The embankment leading to the hide forms part of the Welsh Coastal Path so you could combine your bird watching with a walk. The Coastal Path is 870 miles long so don’t try to do it all in one day!!
RSPB Dee Estuary website: http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/d/dee-pointofayr/index.aspx
Welsh Coastal path website: http://www.walescoastpath.gov.uk/default.aspx