A Patcher’s Tale 2015
During December 2014 Bill, Tony and I had decided to do a Marsh list for 2015. By the end of January Tony had bowed out and Bill wouldn’t tell anyone what he had or hadn’t seen. So it was down to yours truly to keep an account of the birds I’d seen and missed on the marsh during the 2015.
This was a year of changes on the tanks with foundations being laid for the soon to come wind turbines on No.1, No.4, No.5 and Lordship Marsh, whilst we had been granted a mitigation area for the birds on No.3 tank and work started to improve this area.
January – March
I started the year with the usual New Year’s day bird count. 59 species on the first day wasn’t too bad the best birds being Treecreeper and Kingfisher which are always difficult to see on the marsh. Both Red-Legged and Grey Partridge were seen on No.5 tank as the sun went down. Because the marsh is so big it is difficult to cover the whole area in a day. So over the next week or so I decided to watch Frodsham Score from the north bank of No.4 tank.
The score holds huge numbers of waders in the winter period and is the best place to see visiting geese and swans. Small numbers of Whoopers and Bewick’s Swans were present over this period. Geese included a few Pink-feet, 5 Barnacle with the regular Canada and Greylag. On one day I was lucky enough to find a single in amongst a large mixed flock of Goldfinch and Chaffinch on the north bank of No.4 whilst watching the score. The ‘local’ Great White Egrets were showing regularly along with many Little Egrets.
Away from the score I managed to find my first Coal Tit of the year along with another couple of Treecreeper. The River Weaver held several Goldeneye.
On the 21st January we had a big tide of 9.9 m. This size of tide pushes the birds much closer and the wader numbers were huge. 10000+ Lapwing with the same numbers of wintering Dunlin. Around 100 Grey Plover could be seen moving up and down the tide line along with c70 Knot, 2000 Golden Plover, Oystercatcher and Curlew. Star birds were 3 Bar-tailed Godwits. With this much food around it was not unusual to see ‘hunters’ such as Merlin, Peregrine and Marsh Harrier trying to get a meal or two.
The plantation at the west end of the marsh is usually good for Siskin and Redpoll but no joy this year. However, a Woodcock was a welcome surprise and Gt Spotted Woodpecker were chasing each other through the trees. On the 15th February I found what I assessed to be a ‘tristis’ Chiffchaff on Lordship Marsh feeding actively in the ditch and low in some nearby bushes.
High tides at the end of February produced large numbers of waders on No.6 tank. 6000+ Dunlin along with 350 Black-tailed Godwit, 400+ Curlew, 86 Grey Plover and 25 Knot. There were also 500 Golden Plover and the same number of Lapwing.
The 7th March proved a good day, it saw me not only patch ticking Nuthatch but also having great views of Collared Dove (difficult bird to get on the marsh), Cetti’s Warbler and Water Rail. The next day I had my first migrants of the spring by way of 4 Avocet on No.6 tank.
By mid-March we had still had very little in the way of any migration. However, on the 14th I got a call from Bill telling me of a new bird for me on the score – juv Iceland Gull. But wait a minute the other half had my car. So, I had the following conversation with Bill “come and get me now”. Fair play to him he came and picked me up from Delamere and got me back to the viewing point at the farm in time where Tony Broome had it lined up in his scope. Tick number two of the year UTB. (under the belt). I watched this white-winged gull for all of a minute before it flew off west never to be seen again.
List = 95 species.
April – June
The 3rd April saw my first singing Chiffchaff and No6 held a summer plumaged Little Stint. The only other birds of note that day were 2 Egyptian Geese on Lordship Marsh. Spring was well and truly underway on the 11th when 6 White Wagtails were with Pied’s at the west end of No.6 and my first Blackcap of the year was singing from the south bank of No.4. Wheatear, Swallow and Sand Martin turned up over the next few days along with Reed Warbler on No.6. Mid-month saw the first passage of Whimbrel with 3 over No.1. Willow Warbler, Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler had arrived and along the River Weaver Little Ringed Plover and Common Sandpiper showed well.
The beginning of May saw the first Swift and House Martin hit my list and lots of Yellow Wagtail. Early on the 3rd May I found a drake Garganey on No.3 mitigation tank and a Whinchat was below No.6 on Lordship Marsh. To the west end a now ‘rare’ for the marsh Tree Sparrow was first picked up on call.
Spring migrant Curlew Sandpipers started turning up with the Dunlin along with a stunning Turnstone in immaculate plumage. My first Cuckoo of the year flew away from me down Brook Furlong heading towards the Weaver Bend on the 9th May. By the middle of the month we had seen a 1st summer Mediterranean Gull and a stunning breeding plumaged Great White Egret spent an evening on No.6. At the month end a first summer Little Gull was feeding with Black head’s on the Weaver Bend kept company by a Black Swan whilst a Sanderling fed briefly on No.3.
The 3rd June produced a very unusual bird for the marsh, notably a female Long-tailed Duck on No.6, what a cracker. Additions to the list had started to slow down but then on the 20th a tweet from Dave Craven, who birds the dark side of the Mersey at Hale, told us of 4 Sandwich Tern on the river/roosting on Hale Marsh. In 20 years of birding Frodsham I had still never seen one of these noisy terns. I rushed down to Marsh Farm meeting Bill on arrival. Just as we set up the scopes the flock of gulls that contained the terns flushed off the marsh but quickly settled again. I eagerly tried to find these mega birds, but they didn’t seem to be amongst the gulls. Then Bill picked them up flying towards Hale Lighthouse. 4 birds together, fantastic.
List = 129 species.
July – September
The southerly migration of waders started in earnest in July. On the 4th there were 1200 Black-tailed Godwit on No.6 along with 18 Avocet, including 6 juveniles. Two Black Swan were with the Mutes and Swift numbers were building with c250 feeding over the north bank. The male Marsh Harrier was seen regularly collecting food for his growing brood.
On the 12th I caught up with my first Black-necked Grebe of the year showing well on the bend. ‘Blackwit’ numbers remained high and more Dunlin and the first Ruff began to arrive. On the 12th I got my only Yellow-legged Gull of the year, an adult roosting on No.6.
I got back from a week’s holiday on the 1st August and No.6 had a nice selection of species with Blackwits, Dunlin, Avocet, Whimbrel, Redshank and Knot. A Ruddy Shelduck dropped in briefly and the male Marsh Harrier, quartering the tank, had a juvenile with it which was constantly begging. A female Garganey was with the Teal.
Over the high tide on the 15th August the Blackwit numbers had risen to over 2000 and 3000+ Dunlin were keeping them company. 50+ Ringed Plover, single Barwit, a summer plumaged Turnstone, 40 Knot, Curlew Sandpiper and 20+ Ruff were all on No.6. A juvenile ringtail Hen Harrier was hunting No.5 in the afternoon.
Over the next couple of week’s I added a few new birds to the list. A Wood Sandpiper arrived on the 16th and 7 Greenshank on the 21st with Spotted Redshank on No.6 on the 22nd. Arguably the bird of the year appeared on the small pool on No.6 on the 24th a juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper. This bird was only seen by 3 observers and stayed only for one afternoon. News of a White-rumped Sandpiper at Hale on the 31st August raised our expectations but it never appeared on our side of the river.
One of the most unexpected birds of the year turned up on the 6th. In the morning I had the briefest view of a Garden Warbler ever on the south bank of No.4 along with my first Greenfinch of the year. I had left and gone home only to get a call from Allan Conlin who had been watching the score to tell me that he had just found a Fulmar and it was on the ship canal. I raced back to Marsh Farm and there it was, at the confluence of the canal and the Weaver, and not looking well at all, but it was alive and on my Marsh list. Fantastic, what a bird for the marsh!!
Hobbies over the past few years have been regular on the marsh but it took me until mid-September to catch up with one this year. This juvenile bird flew across No.5 onto No.6 chasing hirundines. It was my only one this year. Another bird which has become rarer recently is Black Tern. None in 2014 but on the 16th news of one feeding on the bend meant a lunchtime visit abandoning my desk at work. I watched the bird for about twenty minutes before it circled high and flew north never to be seen again.
On the 19th I decided to do some ‘vis-migging’ from Marsh Farm and it paid off with both Redpoll and Siskin, but believe it or not I missed an Osprey. On the last weekend of August a Cetti’s Warbler was singing from the eastern corner of No.6, showing occasionally and a Black-necked Grebe fed in the middle of the tank. A kettle of 16 Buzzards were over No.5.
List = 144 Species.
October – December
The 16th of October proved to be a red-letter day for me because I caught up with my first ever Frodsham Great Grey Shrike feeding in fields opposite the new log station on Brook Furlong. A stunning bird bringing my shrike list for Frodsham up to 3. However, I did miss the Red-necked Grebe on the bend and never did catch up with it.
Before the end of the month skeins of Pink-feet were beginning to appear and both Redwing and Fieldfare had arrived in numbers and I caught up with my first Mistle Thrushes of the year.
The 31st produced my first Common Scoters of the year, two birds floating down river on the receding tide. Not long after this sighting an interesting Lesser Black Backed type gull swam past our viewing point showing some features of Azorean Gull. However, it was distant and this will have to remain one of those birds that ‘got away’. I also missed another tick that day as Tony Broome had a Richards Pipit calling in flight going south over No.6. Gutted.
The 1st November produced my first Short-eared Owl of the year hunting over No.5 and great views of a male Brambling in the NW corner of No.6.
A Great Skua had been seen a couple of times over the past week and I eventually caught up with this superb bird on the 15th thanks to Dave Craven. Another great Frodsham tick. A little while later I picked up 5 Pale Bellied Brents feeding on the score. After an hour or so they flew across the river and landed on Hale Marsh and I was able to return the favour to Dave. I also had a redhead Red Breasted Merganser that day.
The rest of the month was fairly quiet but did produce a Goosander out on the Mersey. The Great White Egret was being seen regularly and Whooper Swans had returned with three briefly on the Weaver on the 21st amongst plenty of Goldeneye.
December is always a quiet month but it did turn up my best find of the year by way of a drake Green-winged Teal in amongst the thousand or so European Teals on No.6. On the 20th I found another two Brent Geese although this time they turned out to be of the dark-bellied variety. My final bird of the year turned out to be an adult Shag roosting on a sandbank mid river (Mersey) with Cormorants.
List = 154 species
Birds I missed were: Barn Owl, Green Woodpecker, Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher, Common Crane, Water Pipit, Rock Pipit, Richard’s Pipit, Snow Bunting, Long-eared Owl, Osprey, Common Tern, Red-necked Grebe, Mandarin, Eider, Spoonbill, Great Northern Diver, Red-throated Diver, Yellowhammer and Ring Ouzel.
So 173 was possible in 2015. It turned out to be a very good for the variety of species able to be seen at Frodsham Marsh in a single year, maybe the best ever? I missed quite a number of birds this year which goes to prove that you need to put the hours in if you want a half decent year list.
Get out there and have a go.
Written by Frank Duff.
Title image by by Paul Miller. All others images are inscribed by the relevant photograher except for Coal Tit by Tony Broome and unscribed and The Birds of Frodsham Marsh titled are by WSM.