Having seen photo’s of a Common Sandpiper at Ditton Brook, that one of the patchers had taken, had been ‘re-identified’ online as a Spotted Sandpiper, I was keen to go and see for myself, not because I doubted the original identification, but because I couldn’t form an opinion or argue for or against without actually having seen the bird for myself (which is always the best way). The photo in question was a relatively poor quality picture of a bird at an odd angle and into the light. So, with a sense of adventure, I headed down the M56 motorway and came off at Junction 12 as I normally do, but turned right, not left and drove towards Runcorn Bridge. It was a struggle. The car’s auto pilot tried to carry on left and I had to fight to get it to veer north across the river. There was also no coffee stop, no frothy latte, no banter with the experts who knew exactly how I liked my coffee in the morning. What was I doing!? I persevered and eventually wound my way around to arrive in Hale Village and having asked for directions, pulled into Pickering Pastures LNR car park. Phew, I made it! No border guards, no visa stamp, no inoculations and not even an interpreter needed. Bill had implied I would expect all of these.
I headed for the white bridge over Ditton Brook, staring longingly at the tall white turbines in the distance, about two miles across the Mersey, that marked the position of where I felt I should be on the weekend and at Frodsham Marsh. I stopped and watched some Goldcrest, their tiny size evident as they sat about a metre away. Blackbird abounded and fed on the path and in the leaves under the trees. The wind was cool, a breeze from the east whilst the sky remained gloomily grey, perhaps promising brightness at times but failing to actually deliver. I arrived at the bridge and noticed a couple already on the bridge. Rob and Carol Cockbain, two regular stalwart. We chatted about the sandpiper and local birding and they wandered off back towards the car park. I waited patiently for a sign of a wader, dodging the steady stream of cyclists that had planned their day out along the Trans Pennines Way, and as it happened, me. A few saw that I was trying to wait quietly for a bird and apologized for disturbing the peace and quiet. Most just talked loudly and carried on their way. The tide came in quickly. A nearby Cormorant caught a big flatfish of some description and swallowed it whole in no time.
I watched out across the river. A gathering flock of waders fed and preened on the nearest sandbank. 500 Golden Plover, 700 Lapwing and 1500 Dunlin, watched over in turn by a Peregrine on a heraldic shield on the bridge. Dave Craven turned up, a birding friend I’d never actually met in person. Another local birder on the Hale side, who along with Ian Igglesden, regularly gripped us Frodsham birders off with tales of good birds almost every day. As if by magic, Dave declared a sandpiper present on the mud along the brook and we both grilled it thoroughly in an attempt to confirm the original identification as a Common Sandpiper. It wasn’t difficult because that’s just what it was, a Common Sandpiper with all the correct plumage and structural requirements. Job done, we walked back towards the cars where we parted company, Dave heading off back home and me pouring a coffee and munching on my sandwiches.
I finished the food and walked over to the screen hide where birds fed around the feeders. More Goldcrests. The photograph (image 3) showed one to have black feet and legs, aren’t they usually yellowish? Ian Igglesden appeared and we walked back to get the cars before driving around to Carr Lane pools. Full of birds, I was hoping to see a Water Pipit. There’d been up to five on this site. One called and landed amongst the grass, giving good views as it fed unconcernedly. 5 Little Egret darted about the pools in amongst the Teal. A Merlin perched up on a thin vertical branch, its tiny size evident and a Cetti’s Warbler called and showed briefly from the channel by the bridge. I left Ian there with a couple more regulars and headed off westwards and home, getting lost almost at once and took the long route via the M62. As it happened it didn’t make much difference, around 36.5 miles. Frodsham Marsh was a mere 26 miles.
It had been a good day and completely different to birding Frodsham Marsh. More people but less traffic noise and a lot more close birds. Birds that you didn’t have to strain to see through a haze in the distance. It does make such a difference. However, a patch is a patch and walking about seeing very little on the south side didn’t seem to matter and as I left I was already mentally planning my route out for tomorrow. Intending to try for Woodcock.
Observer: Tony Broome (images 1 & 3-4 & 6-7.
The rocky/muddy shoreline below the railway bridge. The heraldic shields often provide a handy perch for a Peregrine (see image 4).
No Man’s Land as seen from West Bank/Pickerings Pasture Trans Pennine Trail.
Achieve images (2 & 5 & 8-10 ) by WSM.