Totally Tropical on the River Mersey by James Walsh

Totally Tropical on the River Mersey by James Walsh

Flamingo, Weaver Bend, Frodsham Marsh, 1989.

A look into the Frodsham Marsh Pretty Flamingo Phenomena

keep calm and love flamingos

Flamingos of one species or another graced Frodsham & the Mersey Estuary over 14 different years between 1973 to 1999. All birds are thought to be adults & it is highly likely that all the birds were escapes from captivity – rumours have regularly circulated on the Cheshire birding scene of these sightings being linked to Belle Vue Zoo (Greater Manchester) that closed officially in September 1977.

The exact numbers of birds is unknown but it would be fair to say that two potential vagrant species have occurred, European Greater Flamingo (one bird from late 1976 throughout 1977) & Lesser Flamingo (sightings of one bird in 1984, 1987/88 & 1996-1999. In the definite escape category is Chilean Flamingo (present intermittently, 1973-1983, including counts of 3 birds during 1975-1977) & American  Flamingo (one bird intermittently 1978-1989). It would be very difficult to make a case for either of these species being genuine wild vagrants !! The ecology of these birds is an interesting aspect of these occurrences.

Flamingos can live for up to 70 years given the right conditions & it appears that birds found the Frodsham/Mersey Estuary area to be happy feeding grounds, with some surviving for at least several years. Where birds went to when they weren’t viewable at Frodsham is mostly open to speculation as there were sometimes years between sightings. One thing for sure is that all these birds must have managed to have found plenty cyanobacteria as Flamingos (especially Lesser) seem to be very specialist/choosy filter feeders. Also it would seem reasonable to say that if birds did escape from Belle Vue Zoo that once they had tasted freedom they might well have followed the Manchester Ship Canal to navigate their way to suitable feeding areas. Whatever their origins, the sight of a Flamingo in the incongruous setting of the industrial River Mersey has cheered up many a birders soul (& bemused members of the general public) over the years!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5kWxOGCFfqs If you don’t want to watch this 1985 television film about life on the Manchester Ship Canal all the way through then you must watch the timeline from 1.47 to 4.04 min. A really atmospheric insight into old-school Flamingo spotters…Classic

This article, although just skimming the surface of a very intriguing subject, hopes to document the occurrences in a balanced & informative manner, with appropriate reference to relevant information.

For birders wishing to discover more, a good starting point is the Flamingo Specialist Group http://www.flamingoresources.org/fsg.html

FRODSHAM FLAMINGOS, SPECIES BY SPECIES

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Potential Vagrant Species:
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European Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber roseusOne in late 1976, and throughout 1977.
Although not on the Official British List, the UK 400 Club counts European Greater as a genuine vagrant, including 2 flying past Portland Bill (Dorset) in July 1975 & a flock of 12 flying offshore from Weybourne/Sheringham (Norfolk) in July 1980 (pages 45-46, Rare Birds In Britain 1990, LGR Evans)
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The Frodsham European Greater is presumably thought to be guilty by association with the late 1970’s escaped Chilean & American Flamingos but it might be possible to make a case for a wild vagrant (starting with “this bird appeared in late 1976 just after an exceptionally hot summer with a prolonged period of southerly winds”) that has been attracted by escaped birds eg the Greater in Norfolk/Suffolk/Kent in 1990 that is considered by some birders to be a genuine vagrant was often in the company of an escaped/feral Chilean.
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Lesser Flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor)
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One Weaver Bend from 13th-23rd May 1984. A single bird on 5 dates in May, 4 dates in October, 5 dates in November and 10 dates in December 1987 and until 26th March 1988. Over 8 years later, one appeared on Frodsham Score on 29th September 1996 (after a visit to Rostherne Mere) & was seen frequently on The Score by estuary watchers, especially roosting at high-tide, until it was shot by a reckless wildfowler in 1999.
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I remember speaking to the incredulous birder who walked into the Rostherne Observatory one day in autumn 1996 at dawn to find a Lesser Flamingo paddling out on the water!
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This series of sightings raises a few questions such as whether all these sightings relate to the same bird ? If all sightings do relate to the same bird where would a bird so big & pink hide for over 8 years ? And perhaps even whether an escaped or wild bird would be more likely to swim across a deep mere ?
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A bizarre occurrence just over the border in Greater Manchester! An adult Lesser Flamingo at Manchester Airport on 3rd July 2011, apparently this bird caused disruption to air traffic for 4 hours! (scroll down the gallery for an image).
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This species is (also) not on the Official British List. It is mostly found in Africa, but genuine vagrants are thought to be occurring in Europe. There are currently 7 acceptable records in Turkey, up to six have been seen together at Laguna de Fuente Piedra, Malaga, Spain (though currently not added to the Spanish list), while vagrants have also been recorded in Morocco, Kuwait and Israel since 2005′ (Richard Bonser, pers comm) Evans “Rare Birds In Britain 1800-1990″ (page 46) also lists a long-staying adult at Salinas de Levante (Mallorca) June 1988-May 1989, with possibly the same bird in southern France from June 1989 & 2 adults at Etang L’Arnel and Palavas-les-flots, Herault (France) in May 1992 & April 1993. The book also quotes “Records in Belgium, Denmark (4), Netherlands (2), West Germany, Poland & Norway have all been dismissed as relating to escapes” but does not give further information.
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The International Species Action Plan for Lesser Flamingo (2008) says it is the most numerous flamingo in the world (perhaps 3 million birds) & that increasing numbers are sighted each year in the Middle East & Mediterranean region, & occurs as a vagrant in 26 additional countries/territories to the 30 countries it is regularly seen in. It also says they don’t breed very well in captivity. In 2010 there were 60 registered institutions with 1,482 birds worldwide (although these numbers are just the ones that are registered, doesn’t include illegal/unregistered private collections). The ratio of wild:captive birds then seems to be about 3 million:3,000.
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The above photo link is of a perhaps wild Lesser in Spain within a flock of Greater.
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Definite escaped species

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Chilean Flamingo (Phoenicopterus chilensis) One 1973, up to 3 birds winter 75-76 and throughout most of 1977, one in August, Sept & 4th Dec 1978, one on 10th Jan 1979, 2 on Ince marshes on 9th Sept 1979, 2 from 6th-9th and one on 17th august 1980. One on 26th-29th July and 15th august 1983. Thought to relate to a total of just 3 individuals. With the numbers that were involved Frodsham perhaps narrowly missed out on a feral Chilean colony a la Zwillbrocker Venn (Germany/Holland border) ??

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American Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber ruber) Also known as Caribbean or Rosy Flamingo, one in August-September 1978, one on 4th December 1978, one 10th January 1979, one from 6th-9th & 17th August 1980, one on 4th October 1984, one March & 29th July 1989. A totally tropical American Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber ruber) Weaver Bend, March 1989. Original image by M S Garner. This bird was perhaps present in the Frodsham area for over 10 years, successfully retaining its’ “rosy” plumage (see photograph at top of page).

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CONCLUSION

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This article aims to provide simple background information regarding Flamingo occurrences at Frodsham & the Mersey Estuary. An absolute minimum of 6 birds of 4 different species have been recorded. All species are discussed briefly, including potential vagrant species & definite escape species.

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http://www.manchesterbirding.com/flamingodoc.htm

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The situation is complex. For example, see this article for a juvenile Flamingo in Greater Manchester in May 2002 by Ian McKercher (including pictures) that seems to be taking the UK Flamingo debate to the next level. It is worth noting that there was a (so far) unconfirmed report of a Flamingo (perhaps even the same bird) at Neumanns Flash in the Weaver Valley in late Spring 2002. The Frodsham/Weaver/Mersey area obviously provides decent habitat for wandering Flamingos whatever their origins. If you are lucky enough to find a Flamingo make sure you take notes & photographs, especially if it’s a juvenile bird ! Looking to the future, globally, there appears to be a number of wild Flamingo research projects that ring &/or satellite track, so to save us all the confusion, it would be quality if the next Frodsham Flamingo is a proven wild bird from one of these programmes.

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james-walsh-and-orangeutangesReferences:

Sightings up to 1989 courtesy of Bill Morton/Frodsham Marsh Birdlog and extracts from ‘The Birds of Frodsham Marsh’ by MS Garner & WS Morton, sightings in the 1990’s courtesy of Chester & District Ornithological Society Newsletter & Cheshire & Wirral Ornithological Society Bird News; Lesser Flamingo European occurrence information courtesy of LGR Evans “Rare Birds In Britain 1800-1990” (& Richard Bonser).

http://salfordquayswildlife.blogspot.co.uk/

Email: salfordbirds@yahoo.com James Walsh

1 thought on “Totally Tropical on the River Mersey by James Walsh

  1. Pingback: Mersey Paradise – mancunianbirder

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