28.01.18. Birdlog.

A quick route march around No.6 tank resulted in seeing the herd of Whooper Swan behind the blue slurry tank but it was too distant to see if the Bewick’s were still present.

The pair of Marsh Harrier were high above the marsh in the nice Spring like weather. The usual Peregrine was sat out on the blue topped chimney at Weston Point while Common Buzzard activity has increased with many sparring for their suitors.

The first of 5 Stonechat encountered on our peramble was on No.4 tank where a Common Snipe bolted from the track ahead. The Goldfinch charm were busy dancing back and to from the sludge tank banks to the thistle covered edges to No.3.

A flock of Black-tailed Godwit headed out to the Mersey estuary while most of the duck that were on No.6 were disturbed by an ignorant drone flyer. Those that returned included 42 Common Pochard and lesser numbers of Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Common Shelduck, Common Teal and 32 Pink-footed Goose flew over from the north-east..

Observers: Sparky & WSM (and images).

Additional observations from Hale shore looking across to Frodsham Score/Ince marshes included: 4 dark-bellied Brent Goose and a Great White Egret.

Observer: Dave Craven.

27.01.18. Birdlog.

Walking out this dull wet morning and my normal start from Ince village. The usual suspects were on the pools at the pig farm with Mallard, Common Teal, Gadwall, Coot and Moorhen along with a of pair of Mute Swan for good measure.

There were 19 Little Egret in the fields near Ince berth while a flock of 30 Curlew were busy refueling. On the Manchester Ship Canal were more Mallard, Gadwall and Tufted Duck with 4 Great Crested Grebe.  The salt marshes was being shot over by the wildfowlers, so flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover were kept in the air as was a Great White Egret and several Little Egret.

The ‘Splashing Pool’ had 30 Tufted Duck with a pair of Little Grebe and a large charm of Goldfinch added a bit of glamour feeding nearby on the thistle seeds.

A sign of Spring was the bobbing catkins on the bank of No.6 tank as I walked along Lordship Lane. A pair of Kestrel were hunting  together  but moved on when a Common Buzzard  decided to hover in on their area. Further west along the lane was the Whooper Swan herd seen in the distance and close to the M56 . The Curlew and Stock Dove flock were feeding in stubble fields near to the GrowHow Works and a Grey Wagtail was in the ditch by the bridge there. A herd of 30 Mute Swan were resting in the fields alongside the Holpool Gutter.

Observer: Paul Ralston (images 1-3).

I delayed my visit until after the morning rain eased to a trickle. Looking across the open water of No.6 saw a much reduced flock of c250 Shoveler with Common Teal reaching c300 and a poor showing by Tufted Duck and Pintail. Common Pochard were back to their best with 49 present. It was good to see the shorebirds back resting up on the sludge tank with a mixture of 16 Ruff, c540 Lapwing, 100 Golden Plover, 220 Black-tailed Godwit and 23 Redshank. A Peregrine kept the waders busy with the usually timid Goldie’s heading straight out to the estuary while Lapwing were circling around and around with the godwits, both undecided to settle for any length of time. Another Peregrine was sat out on the blue topped chimney overlooking the Weaver estuary.

I took a stroll over to the ramp at the south-west corner of the tank to look out across Lordship Marsh but the Whooper Swan herd was hiding behind the blue slurry tank, I could only see 5 youngsters in the open while the rest were partially obscured.

A local rarity are two Brent Goose on Frodsham Score.

A further walk to look over the Mersey Marshes produced a couple of dark-bellied Brent Goose feeding by the Holpool Gutter that crosses the saltings. A small skein of 18 Pink-footed Goose headed inland but towards dusk c250 headed north over No.4 tank.

The only passerines of note during the day were 4 Stonechat at Marsh Farm and a Cetti’s Warbler on No.5 tank.

A male Marsh Harrier was joined by a female where they were exchanged in some talon grappling over the marsh. The pale morph Common Buzzard was again hanging out by the Pumping Station while a female Merlin was perched up on the fence line before causing havoc with the thousands of Lapwing murmurating over the score. At dusk 4 Marsh Harrier were present and it appeared that two of them headed west while the other two drop into the reed bed for the night.

Observers: Paul Crawley (images 4 & 7), WSM (images 5 – 6 & 8 – 10).

R.H. Allen – Celebrating a Pioneer

R.H. Allen (2)

Ron H Allen 1902-1978

It is forty years since the death of R.H. Allen on 28th January 1978, it was RHA that pioneered ‘birding’ in North Cheshire at a time when the only people enjoying countryside pursuits were carrying guns. In Ron’s day that phrase ‘birding’ never existed outside of a line mentioned by William Shakespeare. Ron was one of the first of the modern post war bird watchers and it was solely down to his diligent counting and observations from Weston and Frodsham Marshes that made others aware of the potential of these sites. He also set the foundations for modern birding in North West Cheshire that still exists to the present day. I wanted to mark Ron’s involvement at Frodsham and perhaps enlighten people to the man and his legacy. The above photograph shows Ron seated at the front of the table on the left hand side and behind him his George Rutter. George lived locally at Weston and watched over the marshes there. George was a lock keeper at Marsh Lock and it was George that alerted Ron to a pair of nesting Common Scoter on Weston Marsh.

The following is an extract from the 1977 Cheshire Bird Report written by local birding folk hero Eric Hardy of Liverpool.

Although one held pre-war field-meetings and published surveys and several records of interesting species by the Mersey at Stanlow and Frodsham Marshes’ original sludge beds, it was Ron Allen’s 30 years of systematic post-war duck counts and his annual surveys of estuarine waders which gave these habitats international as well as national significance. His death at the age of 76 in January 1978, will be regretted by all who were greeted by his smiling face, tanned by Mersey sunshine and Stanlow petroleum fumes, as he appeared on the marsh by his clothes-prop of a telescope stand.

Born at Waterloo, he came to live overlooking the marshes at Runcorn’s Weston Point just after the last war and found a new outlet for his ornithological interest. As a regional organiser for the original duck counts and Shelduck moult-migration survey in 1974, I organised counts at all the possible waters to select priorities. Ron’s beat along the Weaver produced the most exciting results, meriting the concentration he subsequently devoted to the area. (“Bird Ecology at Frodsham Marshes”, R.H.A Allen in Merseyside Naturalists Association Bird report 1952 – 3, pp 34-37).

He took up the Shelduck moult-migration survey collecting a team of equally enthusiastic co-operators for 22 annual summer eventing watching noting departures from Mersey and Dee, until he mapped the annual emigration across the Peak. In 1954, when M.N.A. formed the first bird reserve in the Mersey estuary, by the Weaver at Weston Marsh, in response to the policy of wildfowl conservationists to form at least one refuge from shooting in every British estuary, Ron became its honorary warden. Later when N.M.A. formed the tidal Stanlow bird reserve, Cheshire’s largest nature sanctuary, as its contribution to Conservation Year, he became its honorary warden. Ever ready to share his observations, he was pleased to conduct visiting societies to view the wild, unpinioned winter, waterfowl, and waders.

From 1957-71, Ron conducted an annual Northwest Shelduck Census of adults and young from North Wales to the Solway. The labours of his hard-working duck-counting team covered every high tide as well as the national monthly count-counting team covered every high tide as well as the national monthly count, produced the largest estuarine counts of Teal and Pintail in Britain and Ireland, and nationally high counts of Shelduck, Wigeon and Dunlin. I have masses of his field-notes and tabulated counts since he started the surveys, adding to those from Jack Hughes, who farmed lonely Stanlow Point before the war and to Squire Bankes of Weston Hill’s punt-shooting records before the Ship Canal was cut. His Shelduck notes appeared in M.N.A’s Reports 1950-1971 and a joint paper with G. Rutter (joint warden at Weston Marsh) in British Birds, 49 pp 221, & 50 pp 262-274.

Retirement from his management duties in the Cheshire cinema industry gave him more time for a field-work, as well as his other interest being vicar’s warden at Weston Church. He lately belonged to several more bird and conservation societies. I had many private outings as well as society meetings with Ron all his ornithological years he was a kindly, modest man who never spoke a word in malice, never faked a record and bore no jealousy. His mind was as friendly as the Cheshire countryside he loved to visit. Ornithology needs men of his inspiring character. He was president of M.N.A. 1955-80.

Graham Thomason is kindly continuing the organisation of the Mersey Duck and Wader counts.

Eric Hardy.

23.04.16. Common Shelducks (displaying) and Black-tailed Godwits, No.6 tank, Frodsham Marsh. .Bill Morton.

Ron’s close friend Don Weedon remembers the man

“What about Ron Allen”.

19.09.15. Don Weedon, No.4 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton.

Whenever I was down on the marshes it usually involved me messing about really and I wasn’t into birding then. I remember seeing a Buzzard down there (it would have been a rare bird at the time) but thinking back it must have been a Short-eared Owl. Me and my mate would go fishing we’d even go off fishing to the River Gowy near Chester on our single geared bikes catching gudgeon fish which we’d take home and put in a fish tank. It was after many visits to the marsh that I first met Ron Allen who was the voluntary warden on Weston Marsh which was managed in those days by the Merseyside Naturalists Association. He was a well spoken man and his day job was an accountant for Cheshire cinema’s. I always referred to him in a formal way ‘Mr Allen’ more for my respect for the man himself.

R.H. Allen (4)Mr Allen lived in Weston Village and his wife was prominent in the local community, she was the lady chair for Runcorn Golf Club. Although Ron never owed a car he would often catch the bus to Frodsham Bridge where he would walk out to the marsh from there. He was credited in finding a pair of Common Scoter breeding on Weston Marsh which would raise an eyebrow these days and once put me onto a Baird’s Sandpiper on the Weaver Bend or Weston Marsh, I can’t remember where because there was so many ‘yanks’ in those days. He then asked me to do counts for what then was called ‘The Mersey Estuary Enquiry” or duck counts as we called them in those days. I did that for many years. The best bird I remember seeing on those counts was a Glaucous Gull. I never had a car myself and it wasn’t until I was 33 that I managed to own one. It would have been Graham Thomason who gave me a lift to Stanlow to get the ferry across the Manchester Ship Canal to the south Mersey salt marshes.

Eric Hardy had a typical scouse sense of humour despite him being a military man and a Captain in WW2 in charge of messenger pigeons. Like Mr Allen, Eric never had a car and he would rely on public transport to ferry him about. I used to go with my brother-in law Peter Mayers who could drive and we both used to be members of MNA and both worked at the Old Quay yard and did maintenance at Frodsham Pumps on the Manchester Ship Canal. Peter knew Bill Owen the stoker on the pumps who worked 24 hours on 24 hours off. Bill in turn knew Mr Hardy then and he introduced us both to him.

I had a dark complexion with black hair and whenever the summer sun shined I tanned very quickly. On one occasion on the Mersey Marshes we could see Eric ahead of us and as we approached him he said in a loud military voice “I knew it was you Don but this lot thought you were an illegal immigrant”, this confused his group (and obviously comments like that were of a time and a place).

Ron Allen used to bird watch on the marshes with Boyd and Coward (both heavy weights of the national bird watching scene). He was a regular contributor to various journals and his Shelduck moult migration from the River Mersey to Heligoland was featured in British Birds magazine and the MNA reports. When the North Cheshire RSPB group was formed in the 1970’s Ron was picked to be their first field officer and I became deputy field replacing him when he fell into ill-health with Altziemers Disease. Despite his illness I would take him out every other Tuesday mornings we’d go to Marbury Country Park or Frodsham Marshes for a walk and a chat. I remember in the latter stages of his life on one of our walks he spotted a female Mallard which was quacking and said “look Don one of my favourites”. He eventually ended up in hospital and after a visit by Stan Edwards of the North Cheshire RSPB group he didn’t recognise him and sadly Ron passed away soon after.

Don Weedon.

Images of Ron (1 & 4) courtesy of Andy Ankers.

Image of Don (3) and Shelducks by WSM.

Below a link to accounts of the Shelduck moult migration.

British Birds R.H. Allen and G. Rutter

WSM.

20.01.18. Birdlog.

Out on my jaunt this morning at first light making Ince once again my first port of call. Firstly, a Common Buzzard was sat on top of a lamp-post at junction 9 of the M53 on my way to the marshes. A couple of Little Egret passed overhead at the roundabout on the service road to the GrowHow Works furtiliser plant which boded well. The morning chorus produced a Mistle Thrush singing in the drizzle with some Great Tit calling in the trees by the pig farm. The farm pool had many ducks including Gadwall, Mallard and a few Common Teal along with several Coot and Little Grebe.

A good count of 21 Little Egret were at the Ince Berth fields which have previously produced a sizeable count in recent years.

On the Manchester Ship Canal with a few more Gadwall joining the Tuffted Duck, Coot, Little and a single Great Crested Grebe there.

The south Mersey salt marshes had a flock of c1000 Golden Plover which were restless with the birds flying west and a similar number of Lapwing settled back down on the marsh after the disturbance subsided.

The usual herd of 22 Mute Swan were back in their usual field alongside the Holpool Gutter and a Oystercatcher was a first for the year and back on its territory along the ship canal bank. A flock of Redshank made themselves known as they made their way along the canal banks.

I didn’t have time to walk around No.6 tank but instead chose to make my way back around No.4 taking in Lordship Lane on the way. There were 28 swans on Lordship Marsh of which two were Bewick’s and Whooper’s tallied 25, plus 8 Mute Swan and the (presumed) ‘Icelandic’ Greylag Goose keeping everyone in order. A flock of c40 Curlew were feeding in the stubble fields and a pair of Stonechat were on the fence near Rake Lane.

Walking back to the pig farm and a Kingfisher flashed across the lane from the ditch and made its way on to one of the pools.

Observer: Paul Ralston (image 1-3).

After Paul had put in some hard leg work it was obvious the drizzle rain wasn’t going to ease off, so I delayed my arrival until late morning. It was my WeBs count today due to commitments tomorrow. I set up my scope and looked over No.6 tank where the ducks from yesterday were still present. The birds were again sheltering close to the flooded sea aster beds and included 345 Shoveler with a further 75 birds present on No.3 tank, Common Teal were reduced from yesterday with c300 birds. Mallard reached 67, while 12 Pintail were present with a couple of drakes competing for the attention of a female. There were 29 (drakes) Common Pochard with 6 Tufted Duck and several Common Shelduck.

A good sized flock of c300 Black-tailed Godwit, 1000 Lapwing, 20 Redshank and a solitary Ruff were resting up.

The Canal Pools had 12 Tufted Duck along with 34 Coot, a couple of Little Grebe, a Oystercatcher and a female Sparrowhawk eyeing up the vast Golden Plover flock in the fields nearby.

Frodsham Score was rather quiet but despite this a Great White Egret was with 9 flighty Little Egret. The Lapwing flocks were constantly harassed by a male Peregrine perched on a piece of drift wood out on the edge of the salt marsh.

Shorebirds on the outer edges of the score marsh were distant but produced 10,000 Dunlin, 28 Grey Plover and Lapwing which I estimated at 3000+ birds joining 1000+ Golden Plover which were similarly disturbed by a Sparrowhawk off No.2 tank. 

A lone Stonechat was flicking away on the banks of the Score.

The south-west corner of No.6 tank is the best spot to view the swan herd out on Lordship Marsh and when I arrived there were just 22 Whooper’s left over from Paul’s earlier count, fortunately the two Bewick’s Swan were still present and looking good. A few hundred Curlew were also in the fields by Rake Lane.

A Cetti’s Warbler gave out a snatch of song while numerous Water Rail were quarreling in the reed beds of No.4. A distant flight of 150 Fieldfare could be seen heading off to their roost.

There were 3 female Marsh Harrier sitting out in the willows on No.6 prior to their evening roost and a few thousand Starling pasted over but headed north without stopping. Another Peregrine (a big female) was sat out on the blue topped chimney surveying the Mersey estuary.

Observer: WSM (images 4-10).

19.01.18. Birdlog.

The combination of an early dart from work and a relativity clear evening sky was enough for me to head down to the marsh.

On arrival the brisk cold south-westerly concentrated the duck flocks on No.6 tank to seek shelter on the edge of the sea aster/daisy beds. A quick scan revealed 357 Shoveler, 29 Common Pochard, 12 Pintail, 14 Common Shelduck and c400 Common Teal. The receding water level encouraged a flock of 267 Black-tailed Godwit and c300 Lapwing which were nervously shuffling about. A flock of c200 Curlew flew into roost on the drier areas of the tank and although impressive their numbers are well down on previous winters.

A Marsh Harrier was quartering the reed beds but that was about the limit of raptor activity.

The evening Starling roost didn’t materialised and following previous years the flocks winter roost have been mostly restricted to the end of last year.

As the evening light diminished the yelping calls of Pink-footed Goose could be heard and then three skeins of c200 birds were watched as they flew over from the south to settle on the salt marshes.

Observer and images: WSM.

14.01.18. Birdlog

A flock of c1000 Golden Plover over high tide period this morning near Marsh Farm. A Marsh Harrier was over No.6 tank where the usual duck species were present. A few Redshank and small group’s of Black-tailed Godwit all high heading to the south-east in six different groups and in groups of 6-10 birds. A big charm of Goldfinch were on No.3 tank and pretty awesome to watch.

Observer: Gary Worthington.

Image by Paul Ralston.

13.01.18. Birdlog.

Out this morning from Ince where 9 Little Egret were feeding together in a sheep field with another 5 dotted about the general area.  There were Gadwall, Common Teal, Mallard and 4 Mute Swan on the pools with 6 Grey Heron and a Little Egret feeding in a flooded area. On the Manchester Ship Canal was a flock of c40 Gadwall, 2 Little Grebe and a single Great Crested Grebe noted.

A flock of nervous Lapwing took to the air as wildfowlers were walking out on the salt marshes in pursuit of their quarry. The fields adjacent to the Holpool Gutter held a herd of 14 Mute Swan and 8 Greylag Goose and another 9 Mute’s were on the canal. A flock of Pink-footed Goose passed overhead but were not fooled by the ‘fowlers’ decoys and were later seen dropping down on Lordship Marsh. Several flocks of Golden Plover in their hundreds were circling high looking for somewhere to land before making their way in the direction of Marsh Farm.

Along Lordship lane a Kingfisher was in the ditch by the model flying club and a Green Sandpiper was by the junction of tanks 6 and 4. Another Green Sandpiper was flushed by a Sparrowhawk a few hundred yards further along the ditch. The Whooper Swan herd could be seen in the distance by Spring Farm with more Pink-footed Goose landing closer to the M56 motorway.

Observer: Paul Ralston (images 1-3).

After making an off piste visit to Marbury Country Park to see their Hawfinch flock and a head on car crash with another vehicle (no one injured persons but the car is another matter). I eventually made my way to the marshes for some TLB (tender loving birding).

On arrival some of the duck flock on No.6 tank were sheltering from the icy south-easterly wind beneath the south banks. The Common Pochard flock contained mostly drakes which numbered 39 birds. It was surprising there were no Tufted Duck but Wigeon have increased reaching 21 with 7 Pintail, c60 Mallard, c450 Common Teal, a few Gadwall, 2 Fulvous Whistling Duck and 325 Shoveler.

The water level is significantly reduced to expose a good section of mud on the margins of the ‘gone over’ sea aster beds. There were several hundred Lapwing with Redshank, 20 Black-tailed Godwit and 3 Ruff. Every wader rose into the air when a patrolling Peregrine forced them to create a wader murmuration over the tank. A few gulls mostly Black-headed with Lesser Black-backed and an adult Yellow-legged Gull came in to bathe.

I walked up to the south-west corner of No.6 to look across Lordship Marsh where the 23 (6 immature) strong herd of Whooper Swan were hanging out with a solitary adult Bewick’s Swan. A Water Pipit flew overhead calling and landed in the flooded field below. A big skein of several hundred Pink-footed Goose were flushed from the fields alongside the motorway and headed back en masse to Frodsham Score (presumably Paul’s geese from earlier).

A scan over the banks of No.4 looking north towards Frodsham Score produced a gutter hopping Great White Egret and a minimum of 6 Little Egret. The Canada Goose herd were in big flocks close to the ship canal and thousands of Dunlin could be seen feeding on the estuary mudflats.

A large gathering of c1000 Lapwing were sheltering on the salt marsh while numerous Great Black-backed Gull were competing with c50 Raven on carrion left over from the previous weeks very high tides.

I didn’t linger to see the Starling roosts but birds were heading north-east in scattered flocks and my watch ended with a female Marsh Harrier carrying dried reeds at dusk.

Observer: WSM (images 4-14).