Mersey Barnacle Geese

30.03.05. Barnacle Goose and Canada (dusky cheeked) Geese, Marsh Farm. Bill Morton

March 2005. Barnacle Goose at Marsh Farm (escape, feral or wild?) and a Canada Goose hybrid. Note the latters leg colour, neck sleeve and dusky check patch. Image by WSM.

With recent sightings from Frodsham Score and Wigg Island it appears that we should not be so judgmental about the likes of Barnacle Geese in Cheshire and, following the record listed below perhaps we should be a little more open-minded.

Over the years several singletons and small flocks have been seen on or over the Mersey Marshes and often dismissed as feral or escapees.  When 2 adult and 3 juvenile Barnacle Goose were present on Hale Marsh on 28th November 2011 the two adults were colour ringed and were identified to be birds ringed in the Svalbard archipelago (Norway).

Interesting that our ubiquitous Canada Geese grazing out on the marshes in the winter obviously contain a variety of mixed parentage species. Every so often they are confirmed to attract some truly Wild Arctic species.

The Darling Birds of May (Part 3 of 3)

What better way to start the final instalment of this three parter than some words from William Shakespeare with the immortal line from his sonnet 18. The line ‘rough winds do shake the darling buds of May’ is plagiarised here in my title. It was Billy who coined the word ‘birding’ so, I guess he’ll forgive me for altering it slightly?


Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

The Darling Birds of May

Birding Note Book 1998 (Temminck's Stint & Little Gull)

As if April wasn’t enough early May was one of those halcyon days of summer that marinate through the mind and keep your thoughts warm during those long winter days. Seven splendid looking Black-tailed Godwit, brightly plumaged Curlew Sandpiper, Temminck’s Stint (the first of many) and a peak count of 16 roosting Whimbrel were all noted in the bird log. Following closely 4th May had a potential first for Cheshire when a group of visiting birders found an Ortolan Bunting. Other highlights of that day were another Temminck’s Stint (remaining to the 5th), a Peregrine Falcon patrolling the airways above the tank and an ornithological treat for both Martin Gilbert and myself. A fine male Black-tailed Godwit performed its aerial display to a land-based female. He then accelarated high into the cloudless sky and pivoted on his axis, turning a 180, closing his wings and pirouetting into a tumbling skydive seemingly dropping like a stone only to go into a sweep back before the ground swallowed him up, all stirring stuff!

The 7th brought out a one day Avocet (which in its day was really rare), sharing the eastern scrape with an Iberian flava Wagtail, possibly indicating the waders origin?

The 10th produced a mini-wave of north and north-east bound waders. Dunlin numbers increased from 130 to 920 within a matter of days. Associated with this passage was two Little Stint and a single Curlew Sandpiper both resplendent in fine summer dress.

Birding Note Book 1999 (Broad-billed Sand) copy_edited-1

The weather took a horrendous turn on the 11th. In the afternoon a determined Dave Clugston conjured up Frodsham’s second Broad-billed Sandpiper but, before it could be seen by others it melted away within the Dunlin flock and disappeared from view. Dawn next day (12th) rose with an air of expectation as the assembled birders laughs and banter cynically turned to moans and groans as the realisation grew that the wader would not be found. With the strong west-north-west winds and persistent rain their spirits and numbers dwindled. However, with renewed optimism I and a few regulars returned in the evening for a social bird watch. Our reward was just when by some divine intervention the clouds rolled back and the evening light bathed the area in glorious sunshine. From the assembled throng (a Scandinavian smorgarst board of feverishly feeding Dunlin) emerged the immaculately stripey Broad-billed Sandpiper, sharing the same area of glutenous mud was an equally immaculate Temminck’s Stint (you just couldn’t write the script)!

The Broad-billed Sandpiper vacuum was filled on the 13th by two brick-red Sanderling, four rusty and white Little Stint and three blushing Curlew Sandpiper, all of these are normally rare spring transients in Cheshire.

Birdline North West’s ever hungry phone line reported four Temminck’s Stint at Frodsham Marsh and a Franklin’s Gull near Rostherene Mere. I was isolated birding in Norfolk at the time and the lure of new birds in Cheshire had me immediately hitching back home the following day. The number of Temminck’s Stints was alas exaggerated but at least I was on the right side of the country, just in case! The Marsh Harrier was again on view and was a welcome diversion from the activity around it. The final Temminck’s Stint of the spring was flushed from deep cover on the margins of the western pool on 21st and thus ended Frodsham Marsh’s link with a nationwide invasion of the species in 1987. A fitting end to a sunny day was ten Black-tailed Godwits heading north into a cobalt blue sky.

Birding Note Book 1987 (Gull-billed Tern) copy

By the end of May, migration had run its course but the Weaver Bend over shadowed for so long by No 4 tank, finally hit back…and it hit back hard! An evening visit by a Gull-billed Tern surely left the observer’s head spinning as it flew past him?

Bill Morton

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…

The Big Ship Sails on the Ally Ally Ho (Part 1 of 3)

MSC route

The Big Ship Sails on the Ally Ally Ho

The rhyme and song were often sung by children playing skipping games – the lyrics suited the ritual chants for children ‘jumping in’ the skipping ropes. Perhaps the term ‘big ships’ provide a clue to the origins. The Manchester Ship canal was opened in 1894 and is the eighth-longest ship canal in the world, being only slightly shorter than the Panama Canal in Central America. The MSC was built for ocean-going ships – there were only six ships in the world too big to use the Ship Canal. These big ships started their journeys on the canal which led to the sea. The Manchester Ship Canal connected Manchester, W England, with the Mersey estuary at Eastham, Birkenhead. Perhaps this is the origin of the song…

This article intends to inform the reader about the historical value of the Manchester Ship Canal to Frodsham Marsh from the 19th Century to present. The development of ‘sludge tanks’ and how they have shaped the land for birds and birding in Cheshire in the 1980’s is told in three parts.

The marshes at Frodsham and Helsby have seen changes to their land since medieval times but nothing prepared them for the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal and it’s completion in 1894. With the onslaught of the Industrial Revolution in Northern England a new era of prosperity was sweeping the land. A sea port positioned in Liverpool needed ready access to goods that were manufactured from the industrial areas of Manchester and beyond to service an expanding economy. The cumbersome and slow going canal system positioned inland was limited to the amount it could transport. A radical concept and the need for bigger, better and faster water vessels to service this insatiable appetite was required. The only alternative was to construct an ocean-going water course suitable to support ships to penetrate the main hubs of industry inland. So a decision was made to build a large canal system and a major engineering feat was embarked upon with the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal from 1887.

The Mission Hall at Marshville, Frodsham Marsh

Mission huts were established at ‘Saltworks Corner’ for the ‘navvies’ who were recruited from far and wide but mostly consisted of Irish and Dutch labourers. construction methods were to be state of the art, with new machines and devices employed alongside the army of “navvies” (an abbreviation of “navigators” – the men and boys who dug the canal).

Construction work where the de-masting berths will be at Eastham looking towards Mount Manisty probably about 1891

Excavation work on the construction of the MSC at Stanlow looking east to Frodsham

24.04.1890 at Weston Point 2

The MSC at Weston Point (Christ Church still stands today) looking east to the Weaver Estuary.

MSC at Ellesmere Port Filling. 11th July 1891

The Mersey enters the MSC for the first time at Ellesmere Port.

LR Image 010 Temporary Bridge

A temporary bridge for work access.

Frodsham Sludge Pool (2) 17.5.53

An old image of No 4 tank looking south 1953. Image by Rob Cockbain.

This is all fascinating stuff but what has this got to do with Frodsham Marsh?

Well, there is a by-product from the Manchester Ship Canal because every time the lock gates at Easton are opened they are inundated by thousands of tons of river water and its ensuing silt. This silt is washed along the entire length of the canal and would eventually clog the artery it supplies. One way of clearing this mud is to engage dredging vessels which would pump it out of the canal to a containing area: dredging boats were commissioned to facilitate this purpose. The next step requires an area to pump the silt (sludge) from the bed of the canal into a secured area. This also provides a controllable area and a site for additional pumping after it settles. It was decided that Frodsham and Helsby marshes had the landmass to contain a developing series of deposit grounds for the silt to be pumped into. The first ‘sludge tank’ was appropriately No 1 tank, situated on salt marsh (The Corner) at the mouth of the Weaver estuary. This was followed by Numbers 2, 3, 4, 5, and finally 6 which is presently still in use. At various stages over the intervening years extensions to the width and height of the deposit tanks have evolved. As mentioned earlier No 6 tank is presently ‘active’ but, this article (in its three parts) is concerned with the construction, development, and settling. The other two articles colour the picture more with a rich variety of birds that were attracted to the water filled scrapes that were created during ongoing work on No 4 tank in the 1980’s,

18.11.12. Reed Bunting, Pumping Station Frodsham Marsh. Tony Broome.

The MSC today with an ocean-going vessel ploughing its course past Frodsham Marsh and Score.

Unfortunately, I have not come across any more older images of the sludge tanks from the early part of the 20th century but if you do or have some please send them to me and I’ll insert them in this post.

Listed below are links to more archival material concerning the Manchester Ship Canal.


Part 1: The History of No.6 tank

Part 2: April Come She Will

” A pink, a pink, you know? A Pink Flamingo on Frodsham Marshes”. Thanks to James Walsh for putting me on to this one.

Manchester Ship Canal…/big%20ditch.htm
The Big Ship Sails on the Ally Ally Ho




Illustration of Egyptian Vulture.. Bill Morton

The idea behind this is to put my work out there again and generate some work from it. So, if you like what you see and would like to use my work then drop me an email at In the mean time here are a couple of samples and for more… .

Art work watercolour of Wall  Lizard)

Watercolour of ‘Living Fossil’ used in a cover design for an environmental education pack.

13.01.13. Birdlog.

13.01.13. Birdlog.

12 Little Egret and a single Great White Egret (the latter was watched flying along the ship canal by the observer), 30 Whooper and 7 Bewick’s Swans, 2000 Canada Goose, 15 Pink-footed Goose, 500 Wigeon, Numerous Golden Plover and 2 Grey Plover, 5 Oystercatcher, 500 Dunlin, 6 Black-tailed Godwit and 3 Bar-tailed Godwit. An adult  Yellow-legged Gull on the score made for an overall impressive watch.

Additionally, a Chiffchaff was along the Holpool Gutter west of No 4 tank and 3 Lesser Redpoll in Alder trees at the old fertiliser plant.

Observer: Frank Duff.

Dunlin flock with Stanlow Point in background. December High water counts WeBS. 2

No, it’s not the Great African Plains with vast flocks of Red-billed Quelea but an impressive shower of Dunlin on the Mersey Marshes during the December WeBS counts. Over 35,000 Dunlin are out there! .

Dunlin flock with Stanlow Point in background. December High water counts WeBS

If you fancy a similar experience and help count them at the same time drop Dermot Smith an email at; and have a chat. Below Common Teal forced by the rising tide to seek fresh feeding waters.

Toni Ray Sherlock Teal out of the 'gutter'.

All images by Toni Ray Sherlock.

12.01.13. Birdlog (WeBS Count)

12.01.13. Birdlog (WeBS Count).

12.01.13. Ravens, No 5 tank, Frodsham Marsh. WSM (11)

Christ Church spire at Weston Point and Stobart’s warehouses beyond. But, more importantly one of over 30 Ravens hanging out at Frodsham today.

Frodsham Score: 16 Whooper and a single Bewick’s Swan, 5 Little Egret, 1 Great White Egret, 4 Pink-footed and 20 Barnacle Goose. 34 Raven opposite Marsh Farm/Score and another 14 on No 5 tank (dwarfing a flock of 30 Jackdaws) as predicted after the high tides and feasting on sheep carcasses washed up on the score. The wintering Common Sandpiper heard calling along the ship canal.

12.01.13. Dunlin roost, No 6 tank, Frodsham Marsh. WSM.
Dunlin roost, No 6 tank,
No 6 tank was fairly quiet on the high tide: 1,000 Dunlin, 6 Grey Plover, 300 Golden Plover, 1,300 Lapwing, 67 Mallard, 256 Common Teal, 4 Shoveler, 17 Pochard, 19 Wigeon, 23 Tufted Duck, 14 Cormorant some in breeding plumage! Also a Merlin chasing the Dunlin off the tank and 2 adult Peregrine were resting up on the familiar blue-topped chimney.
A mixture of finches today most notably Siskins on No 3 tank and Brambling on the track onto No 6 tank.
Observers: Brian Rimmer, Frank Duff. Lee Lappin, WSM and Paul Shenton (check Paul’s blog at

06.01.13. Birdlog & Nature Notes # 17

06.01.13. Birdlog

Today, Frodsham Score continues to hold the Great White Egrets8 Little Egret, 20 Whooper Swan, 5 Bewick’s Swan and a single Barnacle Goose. An interesting thread from James Walsh/Salford Birds via Bird Forum of a Derbyshire Barnacle Goose.

‘Goldies’ over No 6 tank. Image by WSM.

Birds on No 6 tank constituted 100 Common Teal, 18 Pochard, 20 Tufted Duck, 6 Pintail , 500 Lapwing, 300 Golden Plover and 100 Dunlin.

A pair of Stonechat continue to winter along the track bordering Lordship Marsh and 2 Chiffchaff were along Rake Lane, Helsby. Goldcrest are widespread so one lingering along the banks of No 4 tank was expected if not a little elusive at times

Observers: Frank Duff, Brian Rimmer, Mike Turton.

Nature Notes # 17

06.01.13. Octospora rutilans, Delamere Forest. WSM.

06.01.13. Octospora rutilans, Delamere Forest. WSM.

On a walk through Delamere Forest this afternoon came across this widespread but uncommon fungi. Octosporo rutilans (I think?) related to the Orange Cup and a tad like the bitten lip from the film ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ or is that just me?

Observers: Sparky & WSM.

05.01.13. Birdlog

05.01.13. Birdlog

Frodsham Score again came good with 2 Great White Egret, 7 Little Egret, 7 Bewick’s  and 36 Whooper Swan, 500 Canada Geese and 10 Raven (PO).

05.01.13. Weaver Estuary, Frodsham Marsh. WSM

Weaver Estuary was rather quiet but 10 Little Grebe, 108 Tufted Duck, 6 Pochard and 13 Goldeneye were all keeping close to the jetty (WSM).

No 6 tank seemed to hold the birds with 800 Lapwing, 500 Golden Plover and 64 Dunlin were either feeding or roosting, or both. On the duck front 200 Common Teal, 4 pairs Pintail, 7 Wigeon and 30 Tufted Duck.

Upwards of 12 Raven were again on No 5 tank with some birds heading inland to roost.

Additionally, 60 Linnet on No 6 and No 3 tanks.

2 Twite on No 3 tank in very low scrub bush with 8 Goldfinch and 5 Linnet got very clear views of both birds in scope at about 40 metres in good sunlight (Mike Turton).

Observers: Mark Payne, Phil Oddy, WSM.

04.01.13. Birdlog

04.01.13. Birdlog

04.01.13. Sparrowhawk & Crow at the Weaver Bend by Findlay Wilde.

A Sparrowhawk is given short shrift from one of the locals. 2 Ringed Plover were about the Weaver Bend and 800 Lapwing over No 5 tank .

No 6 tank2 Cormorant, 2 Pintail Duck, 30 + Teal, 6 Pochard, 20+Tufted Duck.

 No 3 tank: 2 Raven, 2 Buzzard, Kestrel, 30+Siskin and a stunning male Bullfinch in the hedgerow east of No 5 tank.

Observer: Lee Lappin, Findlay, Harley and Nigel Wilde