Spring Tide at Parkgate

If you don't like to think of small furry rodents as prey then I suggest you stop reading here!!

It was the last Spring tide of the season on the Dee Estuary, so I thought I'd go yesterday (22 March) and see what could be seen. For those not in the know, the high water of a Spring tide flushes the rodents out of their hiding places on the salt marsh and concentrates them in small areas, creating a fest for predators, like Owls and Harriers. At least, that's the theory. You never know what you'll get on the day!

The car park was pretty full, even though I arrived fairly early and I soon spotted someone I knew and with others we settled down to see what the tide would bring. We hoped the cold winds would blow the tide right up to the wall, but it didn't look like it would … and then long after the scheduled high tide time, the water just kept creeping up and up and things really started to happen ...

Flocks of displaced Pink Feet flew up and down trying to decide where best to settle.

Only one Marsh Harrier was evident and she was a long way out, but we didn't mind too much as one of the real stars soon turned up. A Hen Harrier (a ring-tail).

It was still a fair way out but lovely to see one these very rare birds. It barely had to hunt, just swooping down as it passed to pick up lunch.

Of course, keeping hold of it is another matter because there's always a Lesser Black-back ready and waiting to try and take it off you.

I'm glad to report, the Harrier kept its meal that time. By this time the voles were so abundant, everyone was having a go. Amazing how many Crows we saw actively hunting as opposed to scavenging. This one wasn't even content with just one. When I got home at looked at the photo full size, I realised it has two voles in its beak!

The gull photobombing in the background is Common if anyone is wondering.

As the water came in, forming small pools right up to the wall, the poor little voles had to swim for it. At least those who came towards the spectators were safe, as the birds wouldn't hunt that close in.

And it was surprising how many there were

I think there were some shrews as well and someone showed me a photo of a Harvest Mouse they had seen too, so you had to check what was swimming otherwise you'd miss the Weasel right in front of you … it passed within a foot of a bedraggled Vole and missed it!

The other thing everyone wants to see are the Short-eared Owls and we were blessed with those too. At least three by us and others reported further along the sea wall.

I had a few sightings this winter, but not particularly close, so it was nice to get this before the end of the season

This sort of sums it up … a Shortie passes and no-one is watching the Great White Egret in the background. Needless to say, they didn't have to try too hard to catch lunch, even if midday is not the traditional time for an owl to be out.

It's not blue sky in the background but the Welsh shoreline in the haze.

There's always room for another vole...

I reckon we've been spotted

Beautiful plumage

By three o'clock we'd had just about everything and I didn't fancy fighting the Friday evening motorway traffic by waiting for the Barn Owl to come out, so I called it a day and, I have to say, not a bad day, at all. That's what Spring tide at Parkgate is about and why it's worth trying your luck if you get the opportunity. Hope you're not too disappointed if you didn't see as much on your visit Hazy!!

Last word to the departing Shorties who I guess won't be hanging around much longer


Nige   Flickr

  • Such a great report and photos Nigel, really enjoyed reading and viewing all the lovely species you managed to see and bonus to see the Ringtail too. Can't help feeling sorry for those voles running for their lives not only from the high tide but from the mass of predators hunting above them ! Unfortunately, today, we waited past high tide (maybe not long enough) and it was somewhat disappointing with only distant female Marsh Harrier and what looked like a SEO closer in but much further along the footpath than we were ! To be honest, we never go on weekends being lucky enough to visit midweek and today the car park was so full we had to park in the village and bath house car park was full with 4 deep birdwatchers ! I'm sure we'll go back soon as it is a fantastic place generally, also the area at Little Neston (Denhall Quay). Thanks again for your lovely report, it makes up for what we missed today.


    Regards, Hazel 

    "Each kindness shown to birds or men is sure to flutter back again" 

  • It certainly pays to be in the know, Nigel. I had no idea that this sort of thing happened. We don't get many spring tides in Berkshire. LOL
    What a wonderful opportunity to see so many birds of prey and the poor rodents. You certainly made the most of it with your excellent photos. I love the Ringtail carrying the vole and the Shortie looking straight at you.
    A very satisfactory visit I imagine.



    My Flickr Photostream 

  • Very nice capture Nige, I was told about it and wanted to go but I never got the call :( but i will next week after i came back from LM.


    My Pictures

  • In reply to TeeJay:

    Hi TJ -next time you are visiting your relatives in Gloucestershire, it would be worth checking the tide tables for the Severn. There is a place called Aust Warth just below the original Severn Bridge that has a very similar scenario complete with Short Eared Owls. If you do go just be sure that you do not park in the lowest point of the road - with a high tide and a strong wind the road itself will flood.




    My Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/bobs_retired_now/

  • Thanks all
    Tony, it was a great day. I've been before, but the really high water, pushed onshore by the wind, made it particularly special. I heard neither the day before or after were as good as it wasn't windy enough to push the tide right in, so I got lucky this time.
    Jim, it won't be a spring tide then, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth a visit. You'll be much less likely to get the mammals though when the water isn't right up to the wall but the Owls and Harriers can be seen anytime if your lucks in.
    Hazy, I reckon all the birds had eaten their fill yesterday and were sat at home today, partied out! By the way, the locals were telling me that Denhall may have been the better spot last year for owls etc, but they've moved further up this year and Parkgate is currently better.


    Nige   Flickr

  • What an interesting read Nigel and you certainly managed to be in the right place at the right time, and that was pretty fast reaction getting the weasel swimming away too. Lovely to see the Hen Harrier and also all the SEO's also glad to see you had a hazy glimpse of Wales!!

    Lot to learn

  • Thanks Gaynor. The weasel was a nice surprise, especially as the last one I saw was so fast I missed getting a photo! Swimming obviously slowed this one down!
    I've not actually set foot in Wales for a while, although I see it quite often from the Deeside reserves!


    Nige   Flickr