West Kirby, 6th March 2022

North Wales (not the islands) from West Kirby

Just off the Wirral peninsula are three tiny islands, accessible at low tide over the sands from West Kirby, but cut off twice a day by the tide. Furthermore, it isn’t safe to walk straight to the main island itself, Hilbre, at any tide. Walkers must first cross on a slightly raised path over half a mile of sand to Little Eye then turn right, northwards, to Middle Eye and then on to Hilbre Island itself. It is two miles to the boat house at the far end of Hilbre Island, where the seals bob about in the water and look back at you. It is only safe to make the crossing when the tide is going out and there is time to get there and back without getting stranded. Tide times and safe crossing times are posted on the notice board at the Dee Lane slipway.

The path to Little Eye

We weren’t intending to visit the islands today, because high water was due just after 1pm, but we thought it would be a good day for bringing birds close to shore. It was another lovely day, with almost continuous sunshine, calm but cold, and we still needed our woolly hats. From the Dee Lane slipway we walked northwards on South Parade and then on the sandy path towards Red Rocks. The Spartina grass has come around from Hoylake and parts of the former West Kirby beach are now turning to saltmarsh. Will it be like Parkgate one day?

There were plenty of people walking over the sand towards Little Eye. Didn’t they know it was the worst possible time? We could see the sea coming in beyond Hilbre itself. In previous visits we have seen rangers in dune buggies, heading off people going the wrong way but there didn’t seem to be any about today. There were no interesting birds at first, just random gulls flying about. However, on the landward side we spotted a pair of Stonechats at the top of a spiny bush and then one or two Skylarks making low song flights. We stopped to look at a stalked plant by the side of the path. Is it Sea Kale? Yes, it looks like it. The leaves, stalks and roots are edible and are now thought to be delicacies, but we left it alone.

Strangely, a lone guitarist was standing up on the bank playing and singing a selection of sixties and seventies numbers (Paranoid by Black Sabbath 1970, Paint it Black by the Rolling Stones 1966 and Your Song by Elton John 1970). What an incongruous selection!

The sea was now in as far as the gap between Hilbre and Middle Eye. We thought we saw something like a seal on the distant sand. It was the right sort of size and shape but it didn’t move at all and they are rarely seen on the landward side of the islands. Maybe it was just driftwood. With about an hour to go to high tide a Little Egret appeared on the salt marsh. Was it waiting for easy pickings as the tide filled the marsh?

We turned back towards West Kirby then, to find a place for lunch. There were excellent views over to the Point of Ayr near Talacre on the North Wales coast. The lighthouse there shone a bright white when the sun hit it.  In the left middle distance of the picture are some of the people who had been recklessly heading for Little Eye on the raised path, found themselves in danger of being cut off and had to wade through an ankle-deep channel to get to safe sand.

On the pontoons in the Marine Lake were Black-headed Gulls, Herring Gulls, a Common Gull, Redshanks, and a Turnstone.

Five Redshank and a Turnstone

A Pale-bellied Brent Goose was swimming in the lake. They are newcomers to the Hilbre area in last few years, winter visitors from Svalbard or Greenland.

Common Gull in foreground, Brent swimming away

We had lunch in Victoria Gardens then walked back to the Dee Lane area. People were walking on the sea wall around the Marine Lake, looking  like they were walking on water. Some Cormorants, Oyster Catchers and Gulls had settled on Little Eye to wait out the tide.

At full tide all three islands were completely surrounded by water. At Dee Lane people were standing on the remaining bit of beach, dogs were running in and out excitedly and some kids were paddling.

We headed back to the station via Sandlea Park and admired the displays of daffodils and crocuses. A Flowering Currant bush was starting to bloom.

Note also that on the MNA short walk in Sefton Park on Thursday 3rd March we spotted a Coot with a white Darvic leg ring coded LNX. I have reported it to the ringer and will add the report when it arrives.   [Added 11 March. “LNX was ringed in Sefton Park on 30/11/2021 as an adult and has been seen there since a few times, I think it may be a breeder at this site. Good to confirm it’s still there – thank you!” ]

Public transport details: Train from Central at 10.05, arriving West Kirby 10.35. Returned on train at 2.01, arriving Liverpool Central at 2.37

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