Tony Broome Guest Blog 2
It’s not every day you get a second bite of the cherry and after Tony’s recent Frodsham Marsh Guest Blog 1 it was with an air of expectation that his third visit in a week came up with the goods.
Friday 29th May 2014
A week can make all the difference and with three days completely free of household choirs, I headed for Frodsham Marsh to try my luck again.
This was partly due to a Lesser Scaup and a Red-necked Grebe being found last weekend after I bleated on about the marsh being dead… Anyway, I arrived on Friday morning and drove up to No.6 tank where the Lesser Scaup was sitting on the bank with Mallards and Tufted Ducks. A huge rarity a few years ago, it is now annual and not even a BBRC rarity any more.
I took some notes and looked for all the salient points which hopefully it possessed. It seemed to have them and I also noted that its tail was milky brown coloured, the inner tertials were brown marbled and the back was browner toned than the black of the head, breast and under tail coverts. I would have thought that these pointed towards a first summer bird, but ageing ducks is fraught with problems.
A young boy and his mum arrived from Liverpool, the eagerness in his face obvious. Where was it? I let them look through my scope and he wrote it into his book. He’d only started birding recently and was notching the ticks up fast, around 125 species so far including last week’s Little Bittern and now this duck. Tellingly, he’d not seen Greater Scaup or Eurasian Bittern. I asked him which field guide he used. He didn’t. He used his smart phone. A sign of the times!
I moved on, wandering along the Weaver Causeway down from the old birdlog position at the southern corner of No.1 tank and out to the river. On the other side of the water, asleep most of the time, was a splendid Red-necked Grebe in full summer plumage. When it did become active it was a show stopper, a very rare bird in Cheshire these days and in summer plumage even more so. Many hardened twitchers came to see it as a plumage tick in the UK. I carried on along the bank when a commotion alerted me to a raptor above and I looked up to see an Avocet in flight dive bombing a male Marsh Harrier which vacated the area rather rapidly.
Twenty years ago I would only have only witness an event like this in Norfolk. Now, both species were regular breeders this far north!
The two pairs of Avocets had five young between them. I stood and watched them for a long time before turning my attention to other things.
One of my favourite plant families are umbellifers, the tall flat or globe-topped flowers with green or purple stems. I always kept a look out for them as the flowers on some are a magnet for insects. Along the River Weaver through Frodsham Marsh there were four in flower, Cow Parsley, Hogweed, Wild Angelica and Hemlock Water Dropwort. The last two really were attractive even on a dull day like today and I left the path and walked down the bank to the waters’ edge, studying the umbels of aromatic flower heads over the next couple of hours. The plants were alive with crawling in insects, I snapped away and would identify them at leisure later.
I strolled on to the old ICI tank for a brief look at the Weaver Bend but with water levels maintained at a high level, it wasn’t anywhere as good as in the ‘old days’. I headed back to my car by the old birdlog position, pausing en route to look again at the Avocets and the grebe, before I departed the marsh for home. I stopped again to see if I could see the Grasshopper Warbler singing along Brook Furlong Lane. Alas, I never did see the ‘Gropper’, the bird was hidden in dense cover.
A really good day, making up for the lack of migrants on my flying visit last weekend. I decided I would give the marsh another go and come back again tomorrow.
Saturday 31st May 2014
Saturday morning and the car headed west once more, sunshine in the forecast and lots of scarce northward-bound migrants in the country. I called in at Costa Coffee in Frodsham and got take-out lattes for Bill, Frank and myself. Unfortunately, by the time I got to the old log, they’d been crushed by something falling over in my boot and all I was left with was a boot full of coffee and a few dregs…Ce la vie.
I wanted to have a wander around No.4 tank by the Manchester Ship Canal but got waylaid by Bill, Frank and Arthur and the Red-necked Grebe which was fishing mid river. Quite a lot of birders arrived in dribs and drabs, Paying homage first to the grebe before going for the Lesser Scaup.
I headed off for No.4 tank and as I arrived the sun came out and lit up a lovely blue sky. Butterflies and damselflies came out almost at once and despite a lack of anything bird-wise, it was a pleasant amble down as far as the Hoopool Gutter.
I sat on the banks of the ship canal and basked in the warm sun. The dredger ‘W.D. Mersey’ sailed quietly passed, did a three-point turn on the canal and began pumping dredgings from the ship, through its pipes connected to the pumping station and through to No.6 tank. I walked back, photographing some insects and an obliging Blackcap, back across No.4 tank to the car. I called in for the Scaup again and met Bill and shared my coffee and a biscuit with him (he never brings anything to the party!).
All of a sudden a distant “tew tew” made Bill call “Greenshank”! A summer plumaged bird dropped onto the tank, calling frequently before tucking its head in its back and falling to sleep, presumably having just arrived from a long flight. I wondered where it had just come from or where it was heading?
So, a very enjoyable couple of days with some good company, birds and insects…I will come again!
Images by Tony Broome, Allan Conlin and WSM