Ted Abraham (Birding by my Pants!)

Ted birding Westleton Heath, Norfolk in 1971 with his daughter Wendy. The times may change but Ted’s haircut doesn’t! Paraphrasing Ruth Miller.

Looking back over more than half a century, I have many great memories of days spent birding at Frodsham – the thrill of finding a good bird, the tension and excitement of successfully twitching a major rarity and particularly the cheerful companionship and humorous banter of fellow birders. But as years pass by it is strange that it is the most distant memories which remain the most vivid in the mind.

My first ever visit to Frodsham was back in my student days in the late fifties. I don’t recall the exact day but probably mid-August 1958. In those far off days there was no real ‘grapevine’ for local birders – no birdlines, no pagers, no mobile phones, no internet. For news of recent sightings many of us relied on the ‘countryside’ article by Eric Hardy which was published every Monday in the Liverpool Daily Post and Mr. Hardy made frequent reference to waders and wildfowl at Frodsham and the adjacent Weaver Estuary including many species I had never previously seen. I just had to visit the area and see it for myself.

As a poor student I had no transport other than a bicycle and I set out very early one fine morning to cycle to my nearest rail station. This was Blundellsands & Crosby on the Liverpool to Southport line. No fewer than three different local train journeys were made before I arrived mid-morning at Frodsham station. Walking down to the main street, I turned right and eventually found myself walking through Rocksavage Marsh on the NE side of the Weaver.

Finally I arrived at Weston Marsh – in those days a green and verdant area of brackish marsh managed as a bird reserve by the Merseyside Naturalists Association (but today obliterated by a small sludge deposit ground and known to birders simply as the rather inaccessible far bank of the ‘Weaver Bend’). Walking out onto the marsh I flushed a small party of Black-tailed Godwits – a new bird for me and a great start to the day. Returning to Frodsham village, I walked back the length of the main street and then found Marsh Lane and made my way out onto Frodsham Marsh itself. I had no idea which farm track to take but eventually found myself at an attractive chain of small pools alongside the Ship Canal. I later learnt that these were known as the ‘Canal Pools’ and they were quite open and muddy, not overgrown as they are today. Anyway they held an excellent number and variety of waders including Ruffs – another ‘tick’! There were doubtless other new species which I failed to identify or maybe misidentified but I only had a battered pair of ex-Army binoculars (brought back from WWII by my Dad) and the ‘Observers Book of Birds’.

Anyway it was a gloriously warm sunny August afternoon and I had found two new species and there was more of the marsh to explore – this day was going really well. Then disaster struck! Departing the Canal Pools, I found it necessary to climb over a barbed wire fence. Clumsily I slipped and managed to get entangled in the top strand of barbs. Struggling to extricate myself from this unwelcome predicament, I succeeded in tearing a massive strip in  the top front of my trousers in the worst possible place. I had notebook, pencil, bottle of water and sandwiches in my rucksack but had neglected to equip myself with needle, thread or safety pins. Although wearing clean underpants (in case I fell under a bus – thanks Mum!) I have the painful recollection of the journey back to Crosby on crowded trains being excruciatingly embarrassing. Happy days!

On my next visit to Frodsham Marsh I was privileged to meet the late great Ron Allan. Ron was a true gentleman and I remember well his healthy complexion. Eric Hardy always said this was caused by a ‘lifetime of tanning by Stanlow petroleum fumes’.  Ron taught me everything I needed to know about the layout and best birding spots on Frodsham Marsh – information for which I was truly grateful and lucky enough to have the opportunity to make good use of in the next 50 years.

Ted Abraham