The Dee Estuary through the year

Connect with nature all year round whilst exploring the path

Paul Steele (Bald Hiker)

Listen to the distinctive bird calls from the Dee Estuary
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By Emily Lake, Communications and Campaigns Officer for Our Dee Estuary hosted by Cheshire Wildlife Trust

Welcome to the Dee Estuary. The Wales Coast Path team from Natural Resources Wales and the Our Dee Estuary project and its partners would like to show you the many wonders of the Dee Estuary and how best to enjoy it throughout all four seasons of the year.

Cover Image: Oystercatcher by Tom Hibbert


Spring heralds the arrival of new life in the natural world and the Dee Estuary in North East Wales is no different. Resident species like the Natterjack toad begin breeding in April at the same time as migratory bird species like Little terns arrive on the estuary’s shingle beaches to choose a nesting site.

Alongside the bigger species that call the estuary home are some smaller residents such as butterflies and bees. When walking along the Wales Coast Path in spring the plants and invertebrates bring flashes of colour, blink and you might miss them. Whilst taking in the panoramic view out across the water or mudflats to England make sure to observe the goings on around you as there are some real gems not to be missed.

Some of the key species to look out for are the Common blue butterfly and Holly blue butterfly that enjoy feeding on a variety of nectar rich plants that grow along the coastal path. Another striking species you might see is the Orange tip butterfly which enjoys the denser hedgerow type habitat found along parts of the path.

Some of the less colourful but equally important species of butterfly seen around the Dee Estuary include the Wall butterfly which is aptly named after its habit of basking on walls, rocks, and stony places making the Flintshire section of the Wales Coast Path a perfect place to spot one. The Dingy skipper is a rare sight but do look out for it as we do get reports of it around the Dee Estuary.

Finally we have to mention the Grayling butterfly which is the UK’s largest brown butterfly and an important species for the Our Dee Estuary project. Despite its size and reputation as a strong flyer it can often be seen on the ground sunbathing with its wings closed! The best place to see this threatened butterfly is further up the coast path at Talacre sunbathing and feeding on Sea-holly flowers within the sand dunes. Butterfly Conservation are always in need of extra pairs of eyes for their surveys and monitoring of butterflies all over the UK.


The season we most associate with the seaside is also a great time to visit the Dee Estuary. Estuaries are natural wonders where rivers meet the sea, and the Dee Estuary has one of the most extreme tidal ranges of anywhere in the UK. This creates a fascinating natural phenomenon known as a bore wave.

This is where the tidal flow meets the freshwater river, and the tide is so strong that is sends a wave up the river in the ‘wrong’ direction. There are many variables that can influence the visibility of the bore wave, but the key element is the high tide level in Liverpool Bay at Gladstone Dock. If the high tide is 9 meters or higher there is a good chance a bore wave will be visible in the straight section of the estuary between Queensferry and Saltney. This area is easily accessible as the Wales Coast Path runs directly alongside the river from Saltney to Shotton.

These high tide events are known as spring tides, not due to the time of year they occur but instead due to the lunar cycle and equinoxes. The Vernal Equinox occurs between February, March and April and the Autumnal Equinox occurs throughout August, September and into October so Summer is the best time to plan your walk along the estuary to see the bore wave when it arrives in Autumn.

If you would like to learn more about the Dee Estuary before going out and exploring it you can watch Our Dee Estuary featured on ITV Wales Coast & Country, Series 10: Episode 10 | Wales Programmes ( in 2022 showcasing the work of our partners on the Welsh side of the estuary.


Autumn heralds the arrival of many species of waders and waterfowl who migrate to the Dee Estuary every year to feed on it’s billions of tiny snails and worms and the millions of cockles and mussels buried in the 15,000 hectares of sand and mud. Timing is everything as much of this food is only available during the twice daily tidal shift. The huge flocks follow the waterline and take their opportunity to pick out the cockles, worms, and snails before they bury themselves deep in the mudflats to wait out low tide or enter the water column to start feeding themselves. Read about the cockling industry on the Dee Estuary

You can hear many birds calls on the Dee Estuary during the Autumn months. We’ve captured some of them to help you recognise them on your walks on the path. Clicking on the links below will take you to the British Birdsong website where you can hear the bird calls for yourself.

The Wales Coast Path is a great vantage point to witness this spectacle and there are many ways you can get there. The ruins of Flint Castle are the perfect place for a novice bird watcher to hone their skills and it is just a 7-minute walk from Flint Train Station or there are two car parks, the first is sandwiched between the Castle and the RNLI Lifeboat Station on Castle Dyke Street and the second is further along Castle Dyke Street closer to the Castle itself.

If you are planning a walk, then the Flint to Greenfield section of the path is a great place to start as it is relatively flat and takes approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes to walk the 4.5 miles with multiple bus services running between the two places.

If you fancy going a little further with a 6 mile or 10 kilometre route you can walk from Flint Castle to Basingwerk Abbey. Whilst out walking you can also contribute to cutting edge citizen science via the CoastSnap project


By winter the populations of waders and waterfowl on the estuary can number over 120,000 birds. Here are just a few species you can see when visiting the estuary in winter, but you will need binoculars to identify many of them.

The iconic Oystercatcher is one bird you might not need binoculars for as this striking black and white wader also has a bright orange beak, legs, and feet. The Dee Estuary supports a large population of Oystercatcher as cockles are their favourite food and the estuary has 9 well established cockle beds. Learn more about oystercatchers and their distinctive call

Over 50,000 Common Shelducks migrate here every year from the Wadden Sea off the coast of Germany where they spend the summer moulting and regrowing all their feathers which leaves them flightless and vulnerable for a significant period of time. Here on the Dee Estuary they spend the winter feeding and enjoying the relative warmth and protection of the estuarine habitat. Learn more about shelducks and listen to their call 

A globally significant population of Black-tailed godwits also migrate to the UK from Iceland with only a handful of birds remaining in the UK all year round. Learn more about black-tailed godwits and listen to their call

Some other species to look out for include Turnstone, Dunlin, Ruff, Common sandpiper and Green sandpiper, Spotted redshank and Greenshank just to name a few.

These birds are vulnerable to disturbance by activity near their feeding and roosting grounds so if you would like to help protect them here are just a few of the ways you can get involved.

Volunteering opportunities on the Dee Estuary

Our Dee Estuary

Our Dee Estuary is a cross border partnership project that is working with many different organisations and voluntary groups to help reduce disturbance to wildlife on the Dee Estuary.  Email the Our Dee Estuary team if you’d like to get involved in the project.

North Wales Wildlife Trust

Volunteering with the North Wales Wildlife Trust is a great way to get close to nature and the Dee Estuary as they have a nature reserve, Big Pool Wood, that is close to Gronant Beach. This hidden gem is looked after by a dedicated group of volunteers who are always seeking new people to join them.

Dee Naturalists

This members-only group are located between Connah’s Quay and Oakenholt. Email the group for more details

Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens

This hard working, social and dedicated group of volunteers works alongside Wirral Council to monitor the number and behaviour of birds on the estuary at West Kirby. Email the Ranger Team for more details

RSPB Point of Ayr and Burton Mere Wetlands

The RSPB Dee Estuary team have their headquarters at Burton Mere Wetlands but they work all across the Dee Estuary including in Wales at Talacre and Point of Ayr, both easily accessible from the Wales Coast Path. Contact Dee Estuary - Burton Mere Wetland team for any volunteering opportunities.

How technology can help you get the most out of your walk

We all know how important immersing ourselves in nature is for our wellbeing and a big part of that is leaving modern technology behind however there is some technology that can heighten your experience through identifying the plants and animals that you can see and hear around you.

Here are just a few of the smartphone apps (all available for iPhone and Android smart phones) that you can use to help you explore the natural world along the Wales Coast Path.

  • iNaturalist is your one stop shop for both identifying and recording your sightings of plants and animals. You can submit your observations as part of their citizen science program.
  • Seek is another app in the iNaturalist family and is used to identify unknown species of plants and animals.
  • PlantNet is purely for identifying flora, as the name suggests, and you can also log your records for others to see. You can also use this service in a web browser.
  • Merlin, created by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is a useful app for identifying bird calls, particularly when you can hear birds but you don’t always have clear sight of them. If you can see the bird but it’s not calling, then the Bird ID Wizard function will ask you three simple questions about the bird you can see and will suggest possible species for you to choose from.

All the recordings of bird calls featured in this blog come from British Bird Songs UK website. You can also download British Bird Songs UK app direct from their website, which is suitable for smartphones and laptops.