01.12.19. Birdlog.

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I started this morning’s walk at Brook Furlong Lane where a smart male s>urasian Sparrowhawk sped past me at knee height and tried in vain to catch one of the many Fieldfare and Redwing that were feeding in the bushes.

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On the Weaver River a small flock of Tufted Duck joined the usual duck species and a group of 9 European Goldeneye which were all females.A herd of 12 Mute Swan and c300 Canada Goose which were sheltering on the river away from the shooting parties out on the salt marsh.

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A large mixed flock of Northern Lapwing and European Golden Plover were moving about on the Mersey estuary with several Common Buzzard keeping them on the move.

A wintering Common Sandpiper flew east along the Manchester Ship Canal and a single Great Crested Grebe was fishing and managed to catch a small fish.

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The Canal Pools held many more Canada Goose with c50 Eurasian Coot, Eurasian Teal, Northern Shoveler, Mallard and Tufted Duck.

A pair of Stonechat were along the path and a flock of c60 Eurasian Curlew passed overhead towards Lordship Marsh.

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The sound of gunfire put a mass of Canada Goose into the air which soon was followed by several hundred Pink-footed Goose and the Eygptian Goose flock were with the Ruddy Shelduck in with them.

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The stubble fields alongside the Holpool Gutter were empty apart from a few Eurasian Curlew and Northern Lapwing.

Walking along Lordship Lane and Reed Bunting, Chaffinch and European Goldfinch were commonplace and were being shadowed by another Eurasian Sparrowhawk.

Looking over Lordship Marsh from the junction of No.4 and No.6 tanks and the Whooper Swan herd could be seen in the far distance and back in their winter fields after being disturbed yesterday.

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A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over No.6 and another bird was seen on No.4 tank.

A Marsh Harrier was hunting the reed bed on No.6 and another pair of Stonechat were on the path edge. A family group of 5 Mute Swan joined the usual ducks on the tank with c80 Eurasian Curlew and European Golden Plover were feeding on No.3 tank.

Observer and images: Paul Ralston.

29-30.11.19. Birdlog.

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A long weekend off from work and a early morning walk around the Ince and Frodsham Marshes where I started at Moorditch Lane with 2 Common Kestrel were hunting in the pony paddocks and several Raven were struting about in the stubble fields.

On to No.6 tank where the duck numbers were reduced but still held Northern Shoveler, Cmmon Pochard, Eurasian Teal. Tufted Duck and Mallard alongside a few Canada Goose. A Sparrowhawk was flushed from the path I walked along and took off carrying a European Blackbird.

Three Common Buzzard included one sat in a tree drying out in the early morning sun, the other two were hunting the reed beds and were joined by a Marsh Harrier which flew over No.3 tank flushing a flock of Eurasian Teal and Northern Shoveler off one of the scrapes.

Reed Bunting, Chaffinch and Meadow Pipit were numerous during my walk as were European Goldfinch and Linnet flocks.

A look over Lordship Marsh from the junction of No.4 and 6 tanks in an attemp to locate the Cattle Egret flock from last week proved negative, but c50 Eurasian Curlew were feeding in the fields there.

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Walking along the Holpool Gutter and more Eurasian Curlew (c80) were feeding in the stubble with 6 Black-tailed Godwit and c60 Northern Lapwing. The calls of many Pink-footed Goose could be heard over the saltmarshes and a large flock were dropping down to feed amongst the Canada Goose herd which were already settled on the marsh.

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A gathering of c15 Little Egret and 3 Great Egret were dotted about the marsh and another Marsh Harrier was out by the river.

On the Canal Pools were c50 Eurasian Coot and a few Eurasian Teal and Mallard being noted. On the Manchester Ship Canal there was 3 Little Grebe and 5 Great Crested Grebe and a Common Sandpiper crossing to the far bank. Another Eurasian Sparrowhawk flew over the canal to ambush a European Starling flock feeding in the long grass and managed to nail an unfortunate victim.

A mass of Northern Lapwing and European Golden Plover were their usual nervous selves and took to the air time, time and time again as anything they took be a threat. Fieldfare and Redwing were feeding along Brook Furlong Lane and a flock of c40 Black-tailed Godwit flew east.

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Driving back home I stopped off to look over Lordship Marsh from Helsby and could see the Whooper Swan herd and 3 Cattle Egret were in the distance but would have been invisible to see from Lordship Lane on the marshes itself.

Observer and images: Paul Ralston.

30.11.19. Birdlog.

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I had an hour to kill this morning so a walk along Rake Lane from Helsby was rewarding with a flock of c30 Reed Bunting feeding along the lane with House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Meadow Pipit and Pied Wagtail.

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A flock of c100 Eurasian Skylark dropped in to the stubble to feed alongside c40 Eurasian Curlew and a Stonechat was sat on the fence.

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Shooting was taking place on Lordship Marsh which forced the Whooper Swan from the frosty fields herd and the 3 Cattle Egret equally got a frosty reception and they too look for somewhere quieter to feed.

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The Whooper Swan flock made their way towards the  Mersey estuary while the egrets circled around and landed by the Holpool Gutter before moving again towards Ince.

Observer and images: Paul Ralston.

The South Mersey Marshes (WeBS) Bird Count by Shaun Hickey

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The South Mersey Marshes

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A small group of bird watchers are lucky enough to have access to the south Mersey marshes once a month to carry out a WeBS (https://bto.org/our-science/projects/wetland-bird-survey) BTO bird survey.

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This part of the estuary is cut off by the Manchester Ship Canal so public access is near impossible. The only way to cross onto this part of the estuary is by crossing over from Eastham locks where the River Mersey meets the Manchester Ship Canal, a small boat used by a farmer at the Marsh Farm, Frodsham marsh, or a small ferry at the Stanlow oil refinery, this latter is the one that we counters use. Here’s an account by myself about spending a day here walking 10-14 miles with a bit of history and natural history on ‘our’ marshes.

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There are three areas that is covered by our counters and we cover Mount Manisty, the Point and Ince/Frodsham marshes.

If you are heading towards Manisty bay then a pair of decent wellies are needed, because you will return across a marsh that has just been covered with the tide. During the summer months this area of the marsh is waist high in vegetation so that can add to the difficult walking conditions.

Another route that we take is towards Ince/Frodsham marshes. This is the route I will concentrate on in this account.

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The other spot we count the birds is known as Stanlow Point. This area is a sandstone outcrop on Stanlow Island. This area has plenty of history with ruins of an Abbey dating back to 1178, all that remains is a few old sandstone walls, most of the stone work was recycled to build a farm house in the 1800’s. When the refinery was established in the 1950’s the farmhouse was flattened and six terraced houses were built along with other buildings associated with the refinery. The houses were flattened in the late 1980’s, but some of the disused refinery buildings still remain with nature slowly reclaiming them back. More here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanlow_Abbey

The count day begins 3-4 hours before high tide and we meet at the oil refinery factory to check in with their security. From here we head to another part of the site to receive a visitor pass and another security check. We then park our vehicles and get ready for the day ahead. We are then taken by a refinery mini bus to the ferry terminal where we take a short crossing of the canal and onto the banks of the marshes.

The oil refinery is very much in use with oil tankers bringing crude oil in and other tankers taking the finished products out to the world beyond. Once across the Manchester Ship Canal we pass through a locked gate and onto Stanlow island itself. A small walk takes us pass some disused building and down to the area where the River Gowy enters the River Mersey saltmarsh after being syphoned under the ship canal.

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We approach the embers of the River Gowy as it finally enters ‘the big river’ to see what birds are feeding on the exposed mud. Eurasian Teal are the main species here with Common Redshank, Common Shelduck and Mallard. The teal can be in their 1000’s during the winter months and to watch them take to air in one massive flock is truly magical. From here all the counters are designated their allocated count spots and head off in their own directions, and for me it’s a long walk to Frodsham Score that lays 8 miles away. I cross the River Gowy and join the bank of the ship canal to my right. The first area is always good for passerines, mostly Goldfinch, Linnet and Stonechat. During the warmer months this is a great place for migrating Northern Wheatear.

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A quick scan over the salt marsh on my left and Canada Goose, Little Egret, Grey Heron and Common Shelduck are frequently seen. The sounds of Eurasian Curlew fill the air with their bubbling calls, but seeing them in the long vegetation is near impossible. I flush the odd Common Redshank as I trudge along. The canal on my right is very quiet with the odd Mallard where usually Gadwall are here, but not today.

I approach Ince banks on my right as the refinery comes to an end and farmland takes over. This area has a monument (a rail signal post) commemorating the days when the canal was built and 10 men were killed in a rail accident and they are buried at Ince church, all in one grave. DISASTER ON THE MANCHESTER SHIP CANAL. 1891-07-23| Flintshire Observer Mining Journal and General Advertiser for the Counties of Flint Denbigh – Welsh Newspapers. More here: https://newspapers.library.wales/view/3787282/3787284/3/LIVERPOOL

Onward with the bird count and 2 Great Egret show themselves, but disappear immediately into one of the deep gullies that drain the salt marsh on the ebbing tide. I flush a Woodcock from a patch of gorse bushes, it flew straight over the canal into a small wooded area and was lost to sight. As I’m walking along the bank the occasional Common Snipe takes flight. In the distance on the canal there are 50 Eurasian Coot and their numbers are building up. I have no idea why they come to this area during the winter but something attracts them.

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My first bird of prey is a male Common Kestrel hovering over the bank ahead of me and then 2 Common Buzzard are over the pig farm. I pass an old brick building that I’ve been told stored dynamite in a munishion magazine whilst the canal was being built. There are more Canada Goose herds out on the rivers edge with just their heads popping above the vegetation.

A large group of Long-tailed Tit bound around me like I wasn’t there. A quick scan across the marsh and a large flock of European Starling are feeding on the ground until a Merlin comes from nowhere and puts them into a small bait ball. The Merlin flew straight passed me and out of sight. A few Common Shelduck are dotted about and I see my first Eurasian Curlew.

I take a sharp left across the marsh towards the rivers edge. It’s a short walk if you know the route which avoids missing the many gullies that can be a few metres deep and the same width across. Flushing more Common Snipe with Meadow Pipit and the odd Eurasian Skylark. A small number of Canada’s are feeding to my my right a closer look through my binoculars produced 8 Egyptian Goose and 1 Ruddy Shelduck.

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At the rivers edge further towards Frodsham there are Eurasian Wigeon everywhere with Mallard and Great Cormorant which line up alongside Eurasian Oystercatcher. Now to my left I can see huge flocks of Dunlin opposite Stanlow Point and Manisty. On the river there’s a few Great Crested Grebe with more Common Shelduck bobbing up and down on the incoming tide. Small groups of Eurasian Curlew fly up river with more Common Redshank and Eurasian Teal which join them. I retreated back away from the incoming tide towards the ship canal embankment taking a slightly different route where I am fortunate to flush out 2 Jack Snipe and more pipits. Another Merlin again flew straight across in front of me, no more than 10m away.

In the distance ahead towards Helsby I can here the yelping cries of Pink-footed Goose and a quick look through my optics and I can see the first skeins appearing followed by wedge after wedge heading right towards me. They approach the marsh and the formations break up as they look for somewhere to land. The sound of the geese is truly amazing. Most of the geese land on the marsh to my left. I quickly pull out the scope and the clicker counter is in overdrive. I count 2000 ‘pinkies’ now on the marsh between myself and the ship canal path. Another 1000 came over Ince to my right, they didn’t land but went straight over head and up river towards Manisty.  I couldn’t avoid walking towards the grounded birds, so the inevitable happens they take to the air once again this time heading towards Frodsham Score and out over the river. They finally landed again on the rivers edge where I was standing 15 minutes earlier! A very special moment to treasure and I was completely on my own!

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Back on the canal bank I head left over the Holpool Gutter and onto Frodsham Score. I walk up to the ‘Alun Williams’ gun turret that was left behind after WW2, and is still there looking a bit rusty but ready for the next invasion (There’s also another pill box at Ince where the clay pigeon shooters play).

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More Eurasian Curlew and good numbers of Great Black-backed Gull are near the Weaver Sluice Gates. High tide has just passed, so I head back to Stanlow where another male Common Kestrel is hunting over the score. Little Grebe on the canal with a scattering of Pied and 2 Grey Wagtail feeding on both banks. A male Western Marsh Harrier is near Ince Berth and a few more Common Buzzard linger about.

I finally got back to Stanlow Point where I meet the other counters and we talk about what we have seen and usually have a moan about the weather and an update on the football scores. The ferry awaits and takes us over the ship canal and to our the mini-bus and we are soon back at our cars in no time.

We tot up our sightings and the day comes to a close. When I next do my count I’ll try and write another update from Manisty.

Observer and images: Shaun Hickey.

24.11.19. Birdlog.

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I started with a watch over Lordship Marsh this morning from Smithy Lane in Helby where the herd of 14 Whooper Swan were feeding in the flood water by the farm.

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I then moved on to Moorditch Lane and the first of many Redwing and Fieldfare were again present in numbers sharing a telegraph line with a couple of Common Kestrel.

Onward next to No.6 tank where Northern Shoveler, Common Pochard, Northern Pintail, Mallard and Eurasian Teal were all feeding in the shallower waters with 4 Mute Swan.

The local Common Buzzard were hunting the reed beds and flushed a group of 10 Common Snipe, it’s clearly evident that without persecution, raptors like the buzzard can thrive and adapt easily to a variety of different habitats and situations.

Looking over No.3 tank and a flock of c800 Northern Lapwing were with a few Golden Plover which dropped into the fields close to Marsh Farm.

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Across the Manchester Ship Canal and on Frodsham Score saltmarsh the wintering flock of (now) 14 Egyptian Goose were sharing the area with several Little Egret which spread out with the Canada Goose herds. A Cetti’s Warbler was singing in a reed bed along the path and a male Stonechat was playing hide and seek with a Common Kestrel, which eventually lost interest and moved on.

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The stubble field alongside the Holpool Gutter had a few hundred Northern Lapwing and Eurasian Curlew with a Merlin sat on a bale of hay watching over them all.

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Hundreds more winter thrushes were feeding along Lordship Lane attracting the attention of at least 2 Eurasian Sparrowhawk and a Peregrine. Many Pied Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Reed Bunting and Dunnock were all active along the lane, and a Jay flew off the bank of No.4 tank.

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Early afternoon and a look over Lordship Marsh from the junction of No.4 and 6 tanks gave me the opportunity to observe a group of egrets could be seen in the distance, and on closer inspection revealed 3 Western Cattle Egret and 2 Little Egret with c80 Eurasian Curlew. The new Cattle Egret flock brings the total number ever sighted here to 6 records.

Observer and images: Paul Ralston.

23.11.19. Birdlog.

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A few DIY painting jobs indoors kept me away from the marsh until lunch time. On arrival the ducks were keeping to the west side of the open water which is spreading deep into the vegetated areas of the tank. The Eurasian Teal flock numbered c700 birds, but difficult to assess their numbers properly due to birds feeding deep into cover.

A slight increase in the numbers of Northern Pintail to 47 was impressive, but not so impressive compared to the thousands wintering here in the 1970’s & 80’s. Northern Shoveler reached a good count of 147 and much smaller counts of Gadwall and Mallard. A flock of 28 mostly drake Common Pochard outnumbered the Tufted Duck here today.

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Out over on Frodsham Score were c1000 Northern Lapwing dispersed from their feeding grounds with several hundred Golden Plover also seen.

I walked along Moorditch Lane where a Weasel dropped its vole prey when it saw me, but I stood still long enough for it to retrieve its meal. There were hundreds of Fieldfare roaming the hawthorn berry bearing hedgerows with smaller numbers of Eurasian Skylark, Song Thrush and Blackbird following suit.

The track between No.5 & 6 tanks had a couple of Cetti’s Warbler and a roving Long-tailed Tit flock had 3 Goldcrest and a briefly glimpsed Firecrest. A Great Spotted Woodpecker and a calling Chiffchaff made a good selection to the already mentioned passerines.

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Hundreds of Black-headed Gull were joined by Stock Dove (one with crossover deformed bill) Rook, Carrion Crow and Western Jackdaw in the flooded fields of Lordship Marsh.

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The highlight for me was a Western Cattle Egret (the marshes 4th record) with 3 Little Egret. A couple of Water Rail were calling from the reeds on No.4 tank

There were 3 Marsh Harrier hunting the rapidly flooding reed beds while a Short-eared Owl kept close to the banks. The usual Common Buzzard, dusk hunting Common Kestrel and roost seeking Raven flocks were still around as I walked back in the dark.

Observer and images; WSM.

22.11.19. Birdlog.

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It was the last hour of light and a walk around No.6 tank seemed a good idea. The Fieldfare flock continue to strip the berries off the bushes along Moorditch Lane while a patrolling Eurasian Sparrowhawk and a Common Kestrel put in attendances. On No.6 were Northern Shoveler the dominant species with c300 noted. There were smaller numbers of Mallard, Eurasian Teal and at least a dozen Common Pochard.

More Mallard and Northern Shoveler were on the pools on No.3 tank along with the resident Euraisan Coot.

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A charming flock of European Goldfinch and Chaffinch were feeding on the dried flower heads along the lane and a single Marsh Harrier hunted the reed bed.

Looking over Lordship Marsh from the junction of No’s 6 and 4 produced a couple of Little Egret and 12 Whooper Swan again in flooded fields by the motorway.

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A tally of c1000 winter thrushes contained mostly Fieldfare, but also Redwing, European Blackbird and Song Thrush feeding in the bushes and stubble fields alongside hundreds of Eurasian Starling. A flock of c60 Eurasian Curlew and 5 Black-tailed Godwit left Lordship Marsh and made their way towards the estuary for the evening.

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Observer and images: Paul Ralston.

17.11.19. Birdlog.

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Starting at Ince today and its pools which were quiet with just 14 Mallard, 5 Eurasian Teal,  2 Gadwall, 10 Eurasian Coot, 8 Moorhen and 4 Little Grebe. Eurasian Curlew numbered 34 near the pig farm, and an additional 15 were at Ince berth and c 70 alongside the Holpool Gutter.

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Winter thrushes were in abundance along the lane and Manchester Ship Canal where a Great Spotted Woodpecker followed them along the canal path. A mass of Northern Lapwing were high up over the Frodsham Score salt marsh, most only visible with my binoculars and a flock of c300 Golden Plover were noted with them. A flock of Great Black-backed Gull were resting on the marsh and several Little Egret were dotted about the marsh.

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The Ruddy Shelduck was again near the gutter and 6 Egyptian Goose were further out along the marsh.

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The ‘splashing pool’ held 29 Mallard and 15 Northern Shoveler while the ‘phalarope pool ‘ held only 14 resident Eurasian Coot.

Looking over the reed bed on No.6 tank a single Marsh Harrier and 2 Common Buzzard were again active in the area .

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The Whooper Swan herd could be seen in the distance on Lordship Marsh and 2 Little Egret and c400 Black-headed Gull were feeding in the flood water.

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A female Eurasian Sparrowhawk was hunting the thrush flock in the woods near to the Growhow Works and a Common Bullfinch and another Great Spotted Woodpecker were near the incinerator plant.

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A large skein of Pink-footed Goose flew over towards the Mersey estuary and a short while later a smaller number c40 flew back south. Two Flocks of Black-tailed Godwit passed overhead heading inland to wherever they were feeding.

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The Northern Lapwing flock c1000 was seen over the stubble field, but I didn’t see them land in the area.

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A small patch of past their sell by date Puff ball fungi were noted in the nettles and brambles along the verge.

Observer and images: Paul Ralston.