Frodsham Marsh is my personal ‘local patch’, generally a local patch is an area where a single person or a group of birdwatchers choose to watch over a particular area in an attempt to see or record or even just chill out to watch its birds and/or the fauna and flora in that given area.
Where and Why: Frodsham Marsh is situated in the north west of Cheshire on the south banks of the River Mersey and is a mixture of farmland, salt marsh, woodland, river and industry. It lies on the northern edge of the Cheshire plain at the village of Frodsham. The route follows several tracks taking in two rivers, an active sludge deposit tank, hedgerow bordered lanes and open farmland all of which are ideal for owls, raptors, passerines and waterfowl. There is no particular time of day to see birds but high tides create the best opportunity for birds moving to and from the river.
The marsh is accessed at the south end of Main Street in the village via Marsh Lane. Once on Marsh Lane (SJ5078) park up and follow the road on foot. Follow the road over the bridge which crosses the M56 for a few minutes: Brook Furlong Lane is ahead of you with its hawthorn hedge bordered track. The hedgerows are good for late autumn/winter blackcap and chiffchaff and in previous years waxwing and hawfinch have been seen. Continuing along the track for a third of a mile the road starts to climb up a short steep ramp (at the fork in the lane), follow the left track up the ramp to Marsh Farm (SJ498791). At the first cattle grid check the pipes that run the length of No.1 tank (SJ5079) for stonechat and wheatear.
At the farm buildings park at the second cattle grid and view the River Mersey to watch flocks of shorebirds moving about during and after a high tide. Recent finds have featured great egret and little egret, great skua, ruddy shelduck and white-winged gulls. A peregrine can often be seen perched on the blue-topped power station chimney across the Weaver Estuary at Weston Point. Retracing our steps we return to the bottom of the ramp and take the left-hand path that borders a reedy ditch and a hedgerow, this opens out into a field after climbing over a stile (this can be wet and muddy in winter). Walk along the edge of the field until you reach the river. Once on the bank you have the opportunity to look up (to your left) at the Weaver Estuary (SJ520796) where winter duck are usually in good numbers with scaup and long-tailed duck a possibility. Both whinchat and stonechat frequent this area with an opportunity of marsh harrier and short-eared owl often encountered.
Walking to your right along the river bank for a quarter of a mile, the water takes a sharp twist known locally as the Weaver Bend (SJ513793). This location is good for gulls that drop in to bathe en route to their roost on the Mersey Estuary. The ‘Bend’ is famous for attracting rarities over past years – it still produces a few surprises. Walking back the way you have come to the motorway bridge we now take the right hand road: adjacent to this is an area used as a horse paddock and can be good for yellow wagtail and barn owl with one seen most autumn/winters. Follow the tarmac road (keep a lookout for kingfisher in the ditch to your left) until you reach a ramp track to your right, this takes you to an area between two tanks .
At the top of the ramp and to your right is No.5 tank (SJ505785), obsolete as a working sludge deposit tank. It is now open rough grazing land with a reedy ditch and scattered willow and elder trees alongside the pot-holed track. A wind farm immediately becomes obvious towering overhead. The whole area is ideal for short-eared owl, merlin and all year chiffchaff. Walking along the track, to your left is an embankment which overlooks No.6 tank (SJ495779), an active deposit tank and the most productive area, particularly notable for ducks (be careful not to flush the birds, a cautious approach is to be encouraged). Big flocks of tufted duck, gadwall, shelduck, shoveler and teal with smaller numbers of pintail, wigeon and pochard often present.
There is always a chance of something much rarer with occasionally wintering flocks of dunlin using the tank at high tide while buff-breasted sandpiper, green-winged teal, ringed-necked duck and long-tailed duck are just a few recent surprises. It is also possible to find little stint wintering here from their main site on the Mersey Estuary.
Following the track to the west at the sharp S bend is No.3 tank (SJ4978) which has a series of shallow pools. This tank is No.3 and was set aside as mitigation during the creation of the wind farm. I once found a wintering curlew sandpiper here so again a good opportunity for those with a sharp eye. The open area is good for short-eared owl, merlin, marsh and the occasional hen harrier. It is possible to walk the perimeter of No.6 as the track circumnavigates the tank. At dusk huge numbers of starlings can gather to roost in the reed beds and spectacular murmurations create some bizarre shapes – they in turn attract raptors with sparrowhawk, merlin and harriers often seen together.
Lordship Lane can be reached by following Moorditch Lane as it bares left skirting the outer walls of No.6 tank (to your right) towards the outdoor carting site and model flying field. It is possible to circumnavigate this sludge tank and where it meets the ramp track between No.4 and No.6 tanks the fields (Lordship Marsh) towards the M56 motorway attracts a herd of whooper swan in the winter. If the stubble fields are flooded they can be good for linnet, stonechat and the occasional water pipit.
Sites and access
There are some access restrictions on the marsh most notably around the wind farm construction sites and it is advised that you should not enter areas where turbines are situated. The marsh is also a working site with farm vehicles and access required at all hours, so if you do use a vehicle please remember to park where you are not blocking access gates. I can not stress enough that the roads/tracks and paths are pitted with pot-holes which can fill with rain water and are potentially a problem for vehicles (vehicles have had tyres burst and suspension/shock absorbers broken-I should known). The location is not suitable for wheel chairs and the nearest public toilets are in the village. Please ensure your dog is on a lead, livestock roam freely on tracks, particaluarly during the lambing season.
Maps OS Landranger 117 Chester and Wrexham, Ellesmere Port.
Images 1 by Paul Ralston & images 2-6 by WSM.