One Yank and I’m Off!
My university days wasn’t all about learning and twitching but regular trips were made by train from Manchester to Frodsham station and the short hike to the marsh there where we explored the famous ‘beds’. I vividly remember walking along the bend around the I.C.I tank in the early morning mist and watching several Short-eared Owls. No. 4 tank was the American wader hotspot in Cheshire (although I’m sure Sandbach regulars will argue that point) at the time and many trips were made in the hope of pulling an ‘Yank’ wader out of the bag.
Sure enough I ticked my first Wilson’s Phalarope at Frodsham in September 1981. In this period there was no internet or mobile phones and Friday evenings were spent sitting in the students union bar whilst someone got on the phone to Nancy’s to find out what was about. If nothing was about Frodsham was the easiest place to get to for a days birding. The Weaver Bend attracted good numbers of wildfowl and I seem to recall flocks of Smew (well at least 3-4) in successive winters. Spring, as now, was a good time to visit the marshes and if there had been a fall you were guaranteed plenty of Wheatears, Whinchats and Yellow Wagtails with Ring Ouzel making an especially good day. Much has changed over the years and in 1979 the thought of Marsh Harriers settling in the area was never even considered. At that time the only place to see Marsh Harriers was Minsmere with the whole UK breeding population numbering around 3 pairs. Recent sightings at Frodsham of Red Kite are also a sign of the changes as ‘the’ place to see them was Tregaron Bog in Wales. The UK population numbered less than 14 pairs! Cetti’s Warblers were confined to the south and southwest whilst Little Egrets were extinct as a British breeding species and didn’t re-colonise until the 90’s. Its unbelievable today but I twitched my first one in Devon!
As for Great White Egret…..don’t even go there. Small numbers of White-fronted Geese still occasionally visited the nearby Gowy water meadows and odd birds were seen at Frodsham.These are now a rare bird in Cheshire. Other losses from Frodsham include breeding Corn Bunting and regular wintering Twite.
A trip to Frodsham Marsh was always followed by a pint at the Bears Paw before getting the train back to Manchester – in winter we were invariably in front of the open fire warming ourselves after experiencing the chill of the infamous Frodsham winds. The photo above (bottom left) in 1979 and shows me alongside Andy Swash and his (now) wife Gill. Standing behind are Dr. Lesley Lace & Dr. Martin Jones who both now lecture in Biological Sciences at Manchester Metropolitan University. An accomplished group!
Frodsham has a fantastic record for rare birds and rare bird breeding attempts with the first County records of Black-winged Stilt, Spoonbill and Avocet nesting or attempting to nest. It’s great to see the area getting more attention in recent years and I’m sure it’s only time before it turns up another ‘rare’.
Wilson’s Phalarope on the I.C.I tank by Tony Murphy, Great White Egret on No 6 tank by Paul Crawley and line drawing of the breeding Black-winged Stilts by Julian Hough. Eds.