As a Wirral Birder , tales of old from Frodsham Marsh seemed almost mythical to me as a then young boy with a rapidly growing interest in birds and particularly rare ones and how to identify them.
Whilst local patches such as Hilbre Island and the North Wirral shore were great places to learn, they never until very recently delivered on American waders. Frodsham was always the place to head for ‘locally’ if you were to begin your education on American wader identification.
However it is not an American wader that is my most memorable day at Frodsham but a European one and quite a charismatic one it was too.
Whilst at school on 29th April 1987 the local birding grapevine buzzed to life and news soon broke about a local ‘goodie’. After making a number of calls from my parents phone I made arrangements and was collected by an older school friend (one old enough to drive) and off we headed to Frodsham’s No.4 tank. At warp speed we made it from the Wirral to Frodsham in next to no time.
On arrival I excitedly, ran up the embankment to see… a Lapwing and lots of them, no sign of our target bird! A combination of despair and (yes) disbelief developed into a feeling of how could we have travelled 25 miles from Wirral not to see it?! The older ‘wiser’ locals assured me it was still present and that it was sitting out of sight amongst the vegetation (yeah right!).
There was clearly only one course of action left in my quest to see this mega tick and that was to get something to eat, leave the site and go to the local ‘chippy’ in Main Street!! My ever hungry teenage stomach had won over and we both left to go for some fish and chips. Looking back and with nearly 30 years hindsight what an incredibly costly and naive move that could have been, there hasn’t been another one in Cheshire since that bird!
Arriving back at the No.4 tank an hour later fully sated and heavily laden with stodge. I scrambled up the embankment. The older ‘wiser’ locals were right. It was still here. Hawking up and down the tank and a sight which was both graceful and charismatic of all the waders that I had ever seen any where in the world this was my first ever COLLARED PRATINCOLE. WOW !
Taking in all the salient features of the bird I didn’t care that on that balmy Spring evening I was being bitten alive by midges. Nor that I hadn’t done my physics homework or indeed the ‘rollicking’ that was awaiting me (for not doing my homework) when I eventually got home, after all I said I would only be an hour. It was all worth it as Frodsham had once again delivered and left me with memories that are as clear today as they were all those years ago; a Collared Pratincole in my own county – stunning!
My trips to Frodsham have become less frequent over the last 30 or so years as my dedication to my Wirral list is my primary focus. However, even to this day I will still visit at least a couple of times a year to see something rare or scarce that has been located on one of the deposit sludge tanks.
There have been big changes at Frodsham Marsh over the subsequent 29 years but three things remain constant. The area remains an important site for waders, the locals continue to find good birds and most importantly ‘Four Seasons chippy’ is still there too!
Written by Allan Conlin lighthousebirding.blogspot.co.uk
Extract from Allan’s notebook and an early image from a birding trip to Spurn Bird Observatory which are from left to right: Simon Lloyd, Levi Williams, Bill Aspin, Allan Conlin (the only one apparently birding!) and Paul Freestone.
Illustration by WSM.
More from Allan here: lighthousebirding.blogspot.co.uk
Kenny Dummigan come on down!