Winter 2000

Wildlife Highlights -
Spring and Summer 2000

Article by Philip H Smith

The Sefton Coasts reputation as one of the most important wildlife areas in northwest England was enhanced during this millennium year with lots of exciting finds made by the many naturalists, both professional and amateur, who study the dunes and shores.


Seaforth Nature Reserve came up with an unprecedented sequence of rarities in late spring, beginning with a north American Bonaparte's Gull on 24-25th May This was soon followed on 27th May by a summer plumaged White-winged Black Tern; hut these were only the hors-d'oeuvre for a spectacular male Blackpoll Warbler which delighted hundreds of twitchers on 2nd June. It was the first spring record in Britain for this north American wood warbler. Only a week later, on 9th June, a Terek Sandpiper from Siberia put in an equally unexpected appearance.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the Sefton Coast, Marshside Nature Reserve had two Temmink's Stints in May and a Cattle Egret in June, while the reserve recorded its first breeding Teal.

Back at Seaforth, migrating Little Gulls peaked at 250 in late April, while 157 pairs of Common Tern nested, producing 110 young. Yet another rarity here was a Marsh Sandpiper on 22nd July

Good records from the sand-dune area included Ringed Plovers making at least 15 breeding attempts at Birkdale with about 15 young fledged. A pair of Barn Owls also nested on the coast, raising four chicks. Passage birds included a Storm Petrel in late May when a dead Pomarine Skua was found on the beach. A late summer movement of Sandwich Terns peaked at 250 on 29th July on Birkdale shore.

Amphibians & Reptiles

All along the coast, it was a bumper breeding season for the Natterjack Toad with large numbers of toadlets emerging from many slacks and ponds. Also encouraging were several sightings of Sand Lizards.


Despite less than ideal weather, it seems to have been a good summer for duneland butterflies. Usual numbers of Dark Green Fritillaries appeared at Ainsdale, while three broods of Holly Blues and Speckled Woods were reported. Small Skippers also did well. Most notably, 2000 was a "Clouded Yellow year" with widespread sightings of small numbers from late June, but especially in August. A few of the pale form helice were also noted. Another migrant from the south, the Painted Lady, put on a good show in August with, for example, dozens on Sea Aster at Marshside. By September, Peacocks, Red Admirals and Commas were present in good numbers.

Dragonflies were excellent, the star being a new one for South Lancashire, the Red-veined Darter, two of which appeared at Seaforth on 6th July, one remaining to the 12th. Emperors were more numerous than usual, for example Seaforth had at least 12 sightings compared to only one previously There was a record count of 77 Four-spotted Chasers at Birkdale Sandhills on 16th June. Another good sighting here was a Common Hawker on 30th July Ruddy Darters again did well and there was a late August influx of Black Darters. The summer ended with an invasion of Migrant Hawkers, a species only recorded here for the first time in 1997. In total, dozens appeared at wetlands all along the coast.


The chief highlight of an exciting summer was a single spike of Lesser Butterfly Orchid on Altcar Rifle Range, apparently the first recorded on the coast since 1957. The followed on from a spectacular display about 15,000 Green-winged Orchids, also Altcar, where the mowing regime has bee tuned to perfection. Also remarkable was the single plant of Henbane near Wicks Lane which many botanists made a pilgrimage see. Other outstanding finds were Common Cudweed and Smooth Cat's-ear on the Ainsdale Sand Dunes National Nature Reserve

A detailed survey of the Birkdale green beach found 152 different flowering plant compared with 90 two years ago, with hi increases in such choice species as Long bracted Sedge, Lesser Centaury; Strawberry Clover and Parsley Water-dropwort. I addition, Baltic Rush was found here for the first time. Finally, ongoing studies of rare hybrid willows have been rewarded wit important discoveries, including some new Britain.