The birdblog year started with a guest post by Ray Scally who join me on a trek down to the salt marshes to see for himself the birds on the edge of the River Mersey. A Great White and several Little Egret, Whooper Swan, Pink-footed Geese, Peregrine and Merlin were all good indicators of the rich bird life we have out there. His day total of 61 species was a good start for the month. Paul Ralston is an unsung hero of the marshes and his weekly sojourn from the western edge of Ince always produces some highlights. His first visit of the year on 2nd broke the previous high count for Little Egret with 20 birds coming to roost to trees adjacent to the Ince Berth. A Barn Owl and a partially leucistic Blackbird were also noted by Paul. A 1st winter Marsh Harrier was active in the area and a short blast from the repertoire of a Cetti’s Warbler was heard deep in the reed beds. The first of many ‘sinensis’ Cormorants were noted coming into roost onto No.6 tank. A Woodcock was to be expected during a cold snap where it was skulking under brash wood while a wintering Green Sandpiper drew my attention calling over the ‘Splashing Pool’. A couple of Egyptian Geese were seen and the Whooper Swan herd had increased to 18 birds. Two-three Short-eared Owls were performing well on No.5 tank. A Barn Owl was found dead mid month and was probably a victim of the continuous periods of rain we had been experiencing. The Starling murmurations lasted as long as their reed bed roosts could support their combined weight and 10,000 spiraling in the air was quite impressive and produced some interesting patterns including this ‘Orca‘ shape. Winter counts on the river saw Grey Plover, Bar-tailed Godwits and Knot coming closer inland, three species which aren’t seen in any great counts. Pink-feet numbers increased to three figures and Great White Egrets doubled their’s to two. The 29th was a sad day with the passing of Martin Garner after a long illness. Martin was a leading light in the forefront of bird identification both nationally and internationally. He was one of the instigators of the Frodsham Marsh Birdlog in the 1980’s and in retrospect this blog. The month concluded with PR finding a Hen Harrier over the west end of the marsh.
The month began with a ridiculous 25 Little Egrets roosting up in trees close to Ince Berth and the first lambs of the Spring were emerging on 4th. The ‘Carbo’ roost on the dead trees on No.6 were still bringing ‘sinensis’ forms with them. A Water Pipit was flushed from the wet patches on the eastern side of No.4 tank and typically flew high not to return. A Greylag with the Whooper Swan herd throughout the winter was presumed to have been of Icelandic origin? The Great White Egret was strutting its stuff out on the salt marsh of Frodsham Score and a wintering Chiffchaff was heard contact calling from the reed beds on No.4. A Marsh Harrier showed up on No.4 earlier in the month and must have been the bird that wanders up and down the Mersey valley all winter?. Common Pochard is a not so common duck these days so a flock of 40 was an impressive count. The 10th produced a Short-eared Owl, Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Peregrine and a Merlin which shows yet again there is a healthy supply of food available for them. The first flocks of shorebirds appeared mid month including 100 Ringed Plover and an Avocet was new in. The first of the years Mediterranean Gulls dropped into bath prior to heading out to the Mersey estuary at dusk. The monthly WeBS counters turned up a pale-bellied Brent Goose on the score marshes. The third week brought in a record roost count of 30 Little Egret and two Great White’s out on the marsh looked like they always belonged there. A massive post roost of 30,000 Starling blackened the skies at dusk and attracted the attention of both Merlin and two Short-eared Owls, but most headed to the unflattened reed beds near Northwich via Runcorn bridge. The month ended with a herd of Pink-footed Geese on the salt marshes.
Spring sees a time of change with wintering species moving out and new summer birds moving in. The 3rd saw three separate Iceland Gulls out on the Mersey estuary which were viewable from Marsh Farm. Time spent gull watching from the farm also turned up 7 Avocet feeding on the mudflats adjacent to the Weaver Sluices. The two Great White Egret were again present on the salt marshes while 30 Little’s were in one field at Ince. A skein of Pink-footed Geese were again seen and Med Gulls continued to make appearances. An impressive flock of 1,000 Golden Plovers over the marsh were calling constantly. The end of the first week saw a Barn Owl disturbed from its hedgerow roost site along the west end of the marsh. A report of a Glossy Ibis over the M56 wouldn’t make it pass the Cheshire records committee so we’ll have to wait another day for our first ‘proper’ one here. A dark bellied Brent Goose showed up on Frodsham Score during the tide. A Green Sandpiper could often be seen along the ship canal. A couple of Short-eared Owl were still about mid month and shorebirds featured strongly with 1,000 Black-tailed Godwits, 500 Golden Plover and 30 Ruff. By the month’s end there were quite a few summer migrants in full song or moving north but also winter migrants still present with Pink-feet, Goldeneye, Whooper Swans and an Iceland Gull present.
There were numerous summer visitors present on the first day and like the end of last month we still had a few winter birds reluctant to move north. There were Whooper Swans and Pink-footed Geese still out on the marshes. An Osprey flew north while Marsh Harrier, Goosanders and Cetti’s Warbler were seen on the 3rd. The second week of the month saw an incredible 183 Raven flying south to roost over the marsh and constituted a county record! The remaining Golden Plovers were gearing up for their push north while a flock of 1,680 Black-tailed Godwit were building up to stay or move on. The last two weeks had good numbers of shorebirds moving through and with them was a partial summer plumaged Curlew Sandpiper, a Bar-tailed Godwit, 16 Avocet and 400 Redshank, the latter being a really good count. The Frodsham Festival of Walks I guided this month was eventful for both its birds and its weather. The highlights being a thunder-storm raining down Whimbrels, a cracking Short-eared Owl and the everlasting image of groups of birders/walkers huddled together in groups to shield off the horizontal rain. Ray Scally paid another visit and sketched a drainage ditch along Moorditch Lane that had been dug out by German and Italian prisoners of war in the 1940’s. Moorditch Lane joins up with Lordship Marsh and was once an extensive flood marsh but today is partially used by model aircraft and a hovercraft company so disruption for birds here is quite high.
The first Garganey of the summer was a fine male on (mitigation area) No.3 tank. A count of 36 Whimbrel was a highly impressive flock on flooded fields off Godscroft Lane. Those very fields would later in the year be used by a recreational use (go figure as they say). A late Short-eared Owl was spotted hunting the sludge tanks on 17th. Another drake Garganey showed up on No.6 tank later in the month while Avocets were busy sitting on eggs. The Short-eared Owl was loathed to leave the area and lingered long into the latter days of the month. A couple of summer plumaged Curlew Sandpipers included a one footed bird that had been seen at Seaforth a week earlier. The third period saw a Cuckoo arrive to the marsh and two drakes Mandarin flew into a ditch never to be seen again? A lonely Red Kite headed north over Lordship Marsh. The month ended with c3 Med Gulls and the remaining Curlew Sandpipers were still present.
It was a quiet month until the 8th when the drake Green-winged Teal resurfaced on No.6 tank. The Avocet flock reached a total of 37 birds. The teal was present again a week later while three Garganey were notable. A 1st summer Little Gull put in a brief performance on the river. A new high of 42 Avocet were countered on the marsh and a Cuckoo was observed. Common Swift numbers were reaching several hundred and they would become one of the spectacles of the summer with birds flying so low you could hear their bills snapping overhead.
The beginning of the month was notable for even more Avocets with numbers reaching a record peak of 64 birds on 5th. The first returning Green Sandpiper was seen and a wandering Egyptian Goose from Hale Marsh popped over the water for a summer break to Frodder’s. A flock of 500 Sand Martin gathered for a few days on six. Cuckoo’s have been thin on the ground this summer, so it was good to watch a juvenile bird on No.5 tank. A loose flock of 71 Raven cruised south to their roost site over the sandstone hills. The water level on No. 6 was too high and so the expected arrival of summer migrating shorebirds did not materialise! The end of the month featured a Black-necked Grebe, 2 juvenile Marsh Harriers, a Hobby zipping through and a female Common Scoter was on Six.
The Black-necked Grebe continued its stay into the month and the first 3 Little Stints of early autumn were seen. A Greenshank graced Six and a fly over Tree Pipit was heard by one of Cheshire’s acclaimed young birders (Findlay). There were two Hobby’s by Marsh Farm while a regular passage of Med Gull’s wandered through en route to the river. There were 25 Curlew Sandpiper and 2 juvenile Little Stint on 21st and the month ended with a splendid 1st summer Little Gull performing nicely on the Weaver estuary.
A Great White Egret reappeared out on the salt marshes. A couple of adult Hobby took up temporary residence with some excellent views by Marsh Lane and in fields by Marsh Farm. The first juvenile Garganey of the autumn appeared with 15 Ruff and the ever-present Marsh Harriers were patrolling the marsh. An early passage of Pink-footed Geese moved south over the marsh on 17th. Upwards of 5 Great White Egrets were a new high total for the Mersey marshes. The first Otter this century was spotted on the River Weaver close to the ‘bend’ on 20th. A few days later a dead Guillemot was found on the edge of the Weaver estuary and both Little Stint and 15 Curlew Sandpipers were still being seen. The juvenile Garganey was found on the secluded pool and put in a lengthy stay while one of the few Cetti’s Warblers that can occasionally be found on the marsh sang out loud from the same are of reed beds.
Two Black-necked Grebes were found by the MNA group and 8 Bar-tailed Godwits were hiding out on the Weaver estuary. There were 7 Curlew Sandpipers still about on No.6 tank and a big movement of Pink-footed Geese continued moving about. An adult Med Gull was found bathing in the waters of No.6 and was seen following a plough for several days in fields off Moorditch Lane. The juvenile Garganey was refound and the first Merlin of the autumn was seen. A 1st winter drake Red Crested Pochard was present at dusk in poor light but could not be found the next day. It is presumed the same bird that reappeared in south Cheshire some days later? A young female Sparrowhawk got in trouble by jailing itself behind a wire mesh fence until it was rescued on Marsh Lane. A new record high of 293 Shoveler was on No.6 tank. The WeBS counters on the salt marshes had a great day with a couple of Black Swans, A Glaucous Gull and 4 Great White Egrets. The mass arrival of Yellow-browed Warblers did their best to avoid being found on Frodsham Marsh but it wasn’t for the want of trying. It was no great surprise when one appeared just outside the area on the banks of the Gowy Gutter and several were regularly seen at this time over on the Hale side of the river. The third week saw the arrival of the first Whooper Swans of the autumn/winter period. The month ended with a late Curlew Sandpiper and a couple of juvenile Common Scoter on the River Weaver.
There were 4 Curlew Sandpipers still lingering on No.6 tank in the first week and 100 Knot were out by the Weaver Sluice gates. Meanwhile the Whooper Swans could still be found on Ince and Frodsham Score salt marshes. Wintering birds were beginning to settle in to their routine while a wintering Chiffchaff and Cetti’s Warbler occasionally called/sang or popped their heads above the parapet. Raptors were again in both good numbers and variety with the wintering Marsh Harrier leading the favourites. Likewise, a wintering Common Sandpiper was on Weaver estuary. The Great White Egret popped out of the tidal gutters on the salt marshes long enough to be counted. Not to be out done there were 20 Little Egrets to keep it company. A Barn Owl was seen along Moorditch Lane at the end of the month and a cold snap forced hundreds of Scandinavian thrushes to the berry laden hedgerows.
The last month of the year saw the Whooper Swan herd relocated to fields adjacent to the M56 motorway, but weekend disturbance forced them back to fields west of No.4 tank. They reappeared here again on 31st. Out on the salt marshes the Great White Egret tally reached 3 birds. Golden Plovers were peaking at an impressive 1,000 birds and they were mostly associating with c2,000 Lapwing. There were 3 Little Stint hanging out on No.6 tank mid month. An estimate of 5 Common Sandpipers were on the Mersey estuary but didn’t fool us for one moment (unlike some local and national birders who had a false start with a single photograph posted on the blog). The usual Green Sandpiper(s) ranged widely and popped up at several locations. A sub-adult Marsh Harrier could be found roosting at dusk and a Water Pipit broke cover to show its self on No.6 tank.
I would hazard a guess this year was not the most productive on record for rare birds. The water level was artificially high on No.6 tank during the main wader migration periods. The lack of any contingency plans for the mitigation promised by the working group involved on No.3 tank was woeful. The continued disturbance from the wind farm construction and contractors contributed to this poor birding year. However, ever the optimist there were some incredible counts including Little Egret, Great White Egret, Shoveler and Raven. A mixed bag of fortunes so, we’re hoping that 2017 at least produces some great birds and birding for all those that regularly put time and effort in recording the bird life of Frodsham Marshe :O).
Tony Broome: Images 6 &14
Bill Morton (WSM): Compiled and images 1 & 4 & 7-11-12
Paul Ralston: Images 3 & 10 & 13
Findlay & Heather Wilde
Illustration (5) by Ray Scally
Image of Martin by Yoav Perlman
…and all those who took the time to pass on their sightings.
Good Birding for 2017