Eco-tastical! (a racy little number)
29th April 2003
Recording as many birds as possible in a calendar day is a popular pursuit amongst the birding fraternity. Most attempts to do this from teams of birders usually involve rallying around a defined area, usually a county. During the 1990’s, I had the honour of “racing” with a team that included one of Chester and District Ornithological Society’s finest up and coming birders of the time, Chris Done. The excitement of months of planning meetings, sponsorship (we raised a fair bit of cash for Birdlife International), building a team of staker-outers for the day, and belting around Cheshire in hire cars all appealed to our youthful team and resulted in us recording a phenomenal 141 species during a calendar day in Cheshire in 1992.
Previous Bird Race experiences such as this were to be beneficial when we organised what we titled an “Eco Bird Race” on Frodsham Marsh on 29th April 2003. The concept was not too complex – record as many birds as possible on foot around the marsh, simples !
Frodsham was the chosen location as it was Chris’ local patch for many years, and 29th April chosen as there was a reasonable tide (& tide time!) on the Mersey, and we thought it would be a good time of year for lingering winter visitors, spring migrants and returning summer visitors.
Just after 2am, with minimal planning required to set a route, we started the days’ birding at the Weaver Bend in the industrial glow of the artificial lights on the ICI works.
Ruck sacks were packed to Baden-Powell standard, catering for a 20 hour birding marathon and all the meteorological possibilities that might bring !
And so our Hillary/Tenzing-esque long trek began with an accompanying soundtrack of the ubiquitous Lapwing, a chatty Sedge Warbler, a “Cuckoo-ing” Cuckoo, “whinnying” Little Grebe, a “reeling” Grasshopper Warbler (on Marsh Farm Scrape) and, rather appropriately as we were up with the lark, the classic melodic cadence of a Skylark, as we paced on the track along the south side of Number six tank.
Around 5am, despite the ever-increasing drizzle, the dawn chorus sprang into life, including Reed Bunting, Chiffchaff and Whitethroat.
A Buzzard rose from it’s overnight roost site in Kamira Wood (on the south-west corner of Number four tank) and flew strongly towards the Mersey. Kamira Wood also produced one of the bonus birds of the day, a Great Spotted Woodpecker !
The worst of the rain had now passed and we made our way to the south-western boundary of the site, to Spring Farm, an essential site for the day-list for those Frodsham mega’s, House Sparrow & Collared Dove. These were clinched, plus a Raven spotted soaring over the Old Man of Frodsham and views of a singing Lesser Whitethroat along the lanes, taking us over the 50 species mark before 8am.
We climbed up the embankment on the south-west corner of number four tank to encounter a shallow water pool hosting Black-tailed Godwits, Common Sandpipers, Yellow Wagtails and a drake Shoveler, whilst the first of a large, day-long movement of c200 Common Swifts powered overhead.
With impeccable timing (we knew the score!), we parked ourselves on the northern embankment of number four to see what was on the River Mersey on the incoming tide.
Great Crested Grebe, gulls, waders (Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Curlew) and ducks (Wigeon and Red-breasted Merganser) was the answer, then just before we were about to carry on trekking, I picked up a Ruddy Shelduck, a Frodsham favourite, amongst the Shelducks feeding distantly on Ince Marshes. This bird was one of at least 4 birds present on the Mersey during Spring 2003.
Two Ruddy Ducks sat innocently on the Canal Pools, while the airwaves here were tuned to Reed Warbler FM ! Pacing yourself is key to any Bird Race, and we ploughed through the hard graft of the early mid afternoon lull on number six tank, with Sand and House Martins, Swallows and Swifts keeping us entertained, and also attracting an adult male Hobby, dashing over number five tank, showing off compact size, steely grey wings, black cap, streaked underparts and orange shorts, yet another superb bonus.
As we made our way back to the log book area, we saw Grey Partridge in the fields along the Marsh Lane track, before a heavy rainstorm moved in for over an hour ! The rain stopped around 4:30pm, and the remainder of the day’s birding was spent around the River Weaver, highlights a lingering Short-eared Owl on the ICI Tank & a pair of pioneering Avocets on the Weaver, a species that was just beginning to colonise north-west England, a perfect sight under a rainbow lit sky, and the 82nd species of a quality day.
If only Carlsberg did Bird Races.
By James Walsh (upper image) & Chris Done (lower image).
Ironic that 10 years later to the day we are still getting the legacy from those pioneering Ruddy Shelduck (see the next post and ‘The Birds of Frodsham Marsh’ Facebook page for video), eds.