April Come She Will (Part 2 of 3)

April Come She Will was composed by Paul Simon. It is the shortest track on the album Sounds of Silence I have used the title and words of the song because it sums up the month of April, the following month and the seasons of 1987.

April, come she will
When streams are ripe and swelled with rain
May, she will stay
Resting in my arms again

June, she’ll change her tune
In restless walks, she’ll prowl the night
July, she will fly
And give no warning to her flight

August, die she must
The autumn winds blow chilly and cold
September, I’ll remember
A love once new has now grown old

Illustration of Collarded Pratincole at Frodsham Marsh copy

The following is an article that was first published 26 years ago in the 1987 Cheshire Bird Report and is reproduced here extended and amended slightly. It covers a period of change to and for birds, birders and birding on Frodsham Marsh.

The potential for Frodsham Marshes No 4 deposit tank as a ornithological refuge, set against the industrial backcloth of Stanlow Oil Refinery to the west and the shadowing spectre of I.C.I to the north was foreseen soon after the arrival of the Nearctic Stilt Sandpiper discovered one sunny April day in 1984. Redevelopment of the then existing disused sludge deposit tank found contractors eradicating the overgrowth vegetation and excavating the settled top-soil, to reinforce and extend the height of the retaining walls. This continued unabated throughout 1984-85 until the re-construction work finally ended in 1986. Fortunately the area was left to settle and it didn’t take long for nature to do her work. The dormant seeds began to germinate and the inner basin was a riot of self-sown thistles, Phragmites and burdock. Eventually the Manchester Ship Canal gave the order to pump silt from the adjacent ship canal into the tank in the autumn of 1987.
The inner basin of the revamped No 4 bed amounted to a large shallow lake in the western sector with enough partially submerged vegetation to encourage a wide selection of birds, notably pioneering species like Little Grebe, the ubiquitous Canada Goose and the tolerant Shoveler to established breeding territories. A series of developing Phragmites reed beds stretching along the southern fringes added variety, along with a series of muddy scrapes occupying the east and northern edges. Each scrape oozed succulent, midge infested mud irresistible for normally shy wading birds. All in all, the habitat was more reminiscent to certain areas scattered along the North Norfolk coast and the embankment at the end of the tarmac road by the Pumping Station offices was known by local birders as Frodsham’s ‘East Bank’.

The stage was set when the ‘revitalised’ No 4 tank was duly christened on 6th April 1987 in dull and misty conditions: a slight south-easterly breeze brought with it a female Marsh Harrier. This bird was to become a regular feature during the summer with daily sightings as it quartered the extensive habitat at its own disposal. That eventful day also produced a pair of Garganey and, like the Marsh Harrier these birds spent the summer here. The male was watched in its fine nuptial display to the female but alas they never give up their secrets. Other ducks preferring to spend their summer with us included a pair of Gadwall and a female Goldeneye from early April onwards, the latter species waited a full month before she met up with two bachelor drakes.

Illustration of Jack Snipe. Bill Morton.

On 9th April, two lingering Jack Snipe were rooted out of hiding and both performed well out in the open and giving remarkable views all afternoon. These were followed on the 10th by ten Little Gulls on the Weaver Bend.

The 12th April had the last wintering Short-eared Owl of the Spring. The 16th saw the first Whimbrels of the year and next day Frodsham’s first ever recorded Osprey. Unfortunately, this fishing raptor found conditions unsuitable for its needs and moved through without stopping. Spring migration was well underway on 17th when an urgent Merlin was noted hurtling north! At a more leisurely pace a solitary Black Tern found a tractor ploughing on No 1 tank an oddity enough to follow if all afternoon, presumably the disturbed insect life was reward for its efforts?

Coverage on No 4 tank produced 16 Ruff on the 18th; several males strutting their stuff in fine dandy ‘ruffs’ and then in mock ritual ‘lekking’ fights. Meanwhile, two immature Black Terns arrived for a three-day stay; their departure on the 23rd brought the arrival of a second Marsh Harrier of the spring. The 25th was vintage migration here and a real bonus when a ‘ringtail’ Hen Harrier, male and female Common Scoter, Twite and a female Ring Ouzel appeared surprisingly on easterly winds. The latter species reappeared next day and was duly added to a team out day listing on their ‘Cheshire Bird Race’. Perhaps the variety of species were harbingers of a good feast ahead.

Birding Note Book 1987 (Collaed Pratincole) copy

My birding note-book from the day.

The evening of the 28th had a few gathered birders enjoying the sight of Cheshire’s first ever Collared Pratincole. Fortunately this southern belle remained for five glorious days, performing its alternating tern like flight over the east bank. It was bound to happen but nobody predicted this one! 29th April saw the re-emergence of the original Marsh Harrier and Whimbrel numbers were approaching their peak counts. An overland Arctic Tern was watched as it moved east and put an end to the last day of April.

To be continued…