A 9.2 metre tide out on the river had me settled on the banks of No.6 tank with a roosting flock of c4000 Dunlin fidgeting on the edges of the flooded tank. A small group of Golden Plover dropped in with the usual assembly of c500 Lapwing and the 11 Ruff present look like there are here for the winter.
The rough grassy and reedy edges alongside the track attracted a Chiffchaff which was difficult to locate.
Walking out to the NE corner of No.4 tank led to a meet up with the lads. An impressive count of 14 Little Egret were popping in and out of the tidal gutters and two (widely separated) Great White’s were also noted on Frodsham Score. There were 11 Whooper Swan which loosely associated with 23 Mute Swan on the salt marsh. Several hundred Wigeon out on the river and several thousand Canada Geese were on both sides of the water. 23 Pink-footed Goose were also on the salt marsh with the Canada’s and a juvenile Marsh Harrier barely bothering any of the birds as it flew along the tidal edges out there.
Shorebirds were another main feature with 5000 Dunlin, 46 Grey and (220) Golden Plover, c10,000 Lapwing, 230 Curlew, 78 Oystercatcher and 230 Black-tailed Godwit being notable.
Water Rails were calling from several different locations on the marsh totaling 6 birds. A Rock/Water Pipit flew over and 70 Linnet were tantalizingly too far away to identify any Twite out there. A mobile Kingfisher was below the banks on the canal and it or another was on the ‘Splashing Pool’. A Siskin flew south, while a Grey Wagtail was on the banks of the ship canal. Further over on the marsh 25 Fieldfare and 2 Redwing were along the hedgerows along Brook Furlong Lane.
Observers: Tony Broome (and image 3), Frank Duff, WSM.
After leaving Tony and Frank to continue their watch elsewhere I made the decision to walk the perimeter of No.4 tank with the intention of reaching the Growhow works.
Walking west alongside the Manchester Ship Canal 2 Green Sandpiper flew along the water to the east. There was very little of note along the course of the Holpool Gutter except for a Grey Wagtail and a couple of Mallard.
Negotiating the water-filled, pot holed track from the Growhow works to Lordship Lane was bad enough on foot so I don’t recommend anyone bringing a vehicle this far unless you have a ‘Landie’. I eventually found a good spot on the muddy track between No.4 and 6 tanks and (metaphorically) pulled up a seat to watch one of natures free big screen spectaculars. After a short wait the Starlings began to arrive and assemble over No.4 tank, soon after the sun slid below the horizon. Small groups of tens were followed by groups of hundreds and they rapidly joined forces to form a huge herd of thousands. Typically for the species roost flocks they soon started their sky ballet, pirouetting, twisting, splitting, reforming, spiraling and at times pulsating as one gigantic mass. All in all a thoroughly entertaining show and I had it all to myself.
With this amount of free food on offer it was no surprise to see a Merlin take advantage of the situation and pluck one for a night-cap. The young Marsh Harrier (seen earlier) sailed through causing the Starlings to do a flock shimmer in an attempt to confuse the raptor (featured in image #5). If all this birds of prey activity at the roost wasn’t enough to shred a Starlings nerves, then the appearance of a Sparrowhawk gliding its way through to grab a less agile bird. It was this bird that tipped the balance and forced the rest of the flock to drop into their reed bed roost sooner they perhaps they would liked. I estimated there were c10,000 birds in this evening roost and hopefully as the winter progresses their numbers may increase.
Thanks to Paul Ralston and Shaun Hickey for keeping an eye on this roost over the last few weeks. If you get the opportunity to see these birds then anytime from 3.45pm on a sun set evening with a windless day is best.
We normally associate murmurations with Starlings, but a roosting flock of 240 Black-headed Gulls were disturbed by a raptor on No.6 tank and they performed a bizarre flight circuit up, over and around No.6 tank all against the neon lights from Frodsham beyond the marsh.
In the light available I managed to count 280 Tufted Duck, 300 Common Teal and 12 Shoveler on the flooded tank. A Barn Owl was hunting the rough grassy areas of No.5 tank and a more vocal second bird screeched over my head in some kind of territorial dispute with the first bird before the light finally succumbed.
Rounding off the day nicely was a medium-sized Bat species flying along Moorditch Lane in the half-light before home finally beckoned.
Starling murmuration on No.4 tank this evening: http://vimeo.com/112587744 (unplugged)
Observer: WSM (video and images 1, 2, 4, 5 & 6)