18.05.14. Birdlog (Tony Broome Guest Blog 1)
My first look at Spring
After a full week of work in the days and three nights on call, I awoke this morning with a decision to make… To go or not to go, that was the question. The choice was either to do all those tasks at home that had been waiting or to drive the 26 miles to Frodsham Marsh for my first visit of the Spring. Time is precious. But it was May 18th, there was a south-easterly blowing and the sky was a perfect Azure Blue…I arrived later than I would have liked and parked at the base of the entrance road to No.6 tank at around nine o’clock. The song of Whitethroats filled the air. I sipped the strong latte that I’d just picked up from the Texaco station near Fluin Lane in Frodsham. It smelt good.
The distant tirade of Skylarks complimented the Whitethroats and a wave of birding optimism enveloped me. The ditches were lined with Cadmium Lemon Oilseed rape and Titanium White Cow Parsley, against a backdrop of the fresh new Bright Green cereal crops.
I decided to walk around No.6 and set off with a spring in my step. I’d do a day list. At the top of the dirt road I walked around the first gate and peered westwards over the sludge tank and the little water that remained. Tufted Ducks, Mallards and a Gadwall… but not much else. I continued walking, the hurried ramblings of Sedge Warblers now competing with the Whitethroats for attention. One male sat in the open on a post and I snapped a few shots. I liked warblers…. they never failed to make my step falter, no matter how common they were. Then a car pulled up. It was my fellow birder Frank Duff who brought me up to speed with what was about.
Now until that moment I’d still been fairly up-beat even if the paucity of ducks had been a bit of a surprise. The Frodsham regular soon made me realise that there wasn’t much about and the afternoon’s tide was the best hope of anything of note appearing. Never mind, I’d carry on walking and watched the car disappear into the distance. I soon caught Frank up however, at the slope halfway along the tank. We looked at the near patch of water… Nothing! I looked into the distance, No.6 tank seeming to stretch away into the distance a lot further than I remembered. The next useful pool was another 500 metres further on. It was at that point that optimism drained through my boots and I thought of everything I should be doing at home…. and I jumped into Frank’s car, abandoning not only my walk but my day list attempt. The further pool held a Little-ringed Plover, a pair of Gadwall and a single Black-tailed Godwit. We turned around and I picked up my car and followed Frank to Marsh Farm.
The track was dusty and it seemed to take an age to reach the farm. It was nice to see Wheatears fly along the barbed-wire fences, the flashes of their white rumps bright in the sunshine. It was hot by now, around 22c. Gazing out over the Score, we both half-heartedly tried to wish a rarity to appear. How about a Montagu’s Harrier….or a Spoonbill…..the list was long. Even Frank’s exclamation that there was the male Marsh Harrier approaching only lifted spirits whilst we watched it. What a beautiful elegant bird, floating on outstretched wings as it quartered the pool and reeds a few meters away. Okay, I admit, I was as impressed as I always was when I saw one.
I ate my stale turkey sandwiches that were the last on the shelf in the Texaco shop and munched on cheese and onion crisps.
It was nice in the sunshine but birds were few. Frank decided to leave for home and I followed, stopping briefly at the old log to scope the ‘Shooters pools’ in the distance and found a single Avocet. Another good bird. But, the list of tasks at home nagged at me and I headed back down the M56 towards Wilmslow….. a day initially full of optimism cut short. But why?
It wasn’t east coast quality but what I’d had was good. Male Marsh Harrier, Avocet, Little-ringed and scores of Whitethroats and Sedge Warblers…. Everyone has pressures of some description and sometimes it’s difficult to justify just doing nothing. Was that the reason? Maybe the fact that other sites nearby had seen rarities but none ever seemed to find their way to Frodsham Marsh, such as Ring-necked Duck, Spoonbill, and White-winged Black Terns, all of which were close by over the last couple of days. Was that it? Were my expectations any different to anyone else’s? I didn’t think so. Frank had left at the same time as me, all hope having been left on the track at Marsh Farm. But birders are always optimists. Nothing one minute then euphoria the next. Birding’s like that. It always has been. It always will be.
I think that from my point of view, my lack of enthusiasm today was a combination of things. The work that lay in wait to ambush me as I arrived home but also the fact that I’d just come back from birding abroad and was used to watching wader sites full of birds. The contrast with Frodsham was absolute and it felt like a waste of time. It wasn’t of course. Birding is never a waste of time. It just feels like it sometimes.