The South Mersey Marshes (Mount Manisty) by Shaun Hickey.

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South Mersey Mersey Marshes – Mount Manisty

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A small group of bird watchers are lucky enough to have access to the South Mersey Marshes once a month to carry out a BTO Wetland Bird Survey. We have three areas to cover which include; Mount Manisty, the Point and Ince/Frodsham Marshes.

When a BTO WeBs counter is issued an area on the Mersey Marshes to count birds then it would be advisable to have a pair of decent wellies, because you will return across a marsh that has just been covered with the tide and is very, very wet. During the summer months the area of the marsh is waist high in vegetation so that can add to difficult walking conditions. Today I have been issued the task of counting the wildfowl and waders at this Mount Manisty.

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The other sites within the vicinity is Stanlow Point. This area is a sandstone outcrop on Stanlow Island and is part of the sandstone ridge that extends south-east to Whitchurch.

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The counters day begins 3-4 hours before high tide and we all meet at the oil refinery to be checked in with site security. From here we head to another part of the site to receive a visitor pass and another security check. We park our vehicles and get ready for the day ahead.

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An oil refinery mini bus takes us to the small ferry where we cross the Manchester Ship Canal and onto the Mersey Marshes. This part of the refinery is very much in use with oil tankers bringing crude oil in and other tankers taking the finished products out and beyond to the outside world. Once across the ship canal we pass through a locked gate and onto Stanlow Island. A small walk takes us passed some disused building and down to the area where the River Gowy enters the Mersey Estuary after syphoning under the Manchester Ship Canal we have just passed over.

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We usually approach the river where the Gowy enters a deep tidal channel and it is from this point we get to see what birds are feeding on the exposed mud. The usual species are Eurasian Teal with Common Redshank, Common Shelduck and Mallard. The Eurasian Teal can be in their 1000’s during the winter months and to see them take to air in one huge flock is truly magical. After an initial briefing we head off in our various directions to cover the estuary. For me it’s a six mile round trip to Mount Manisty and Manisty Bay and to give you some perpesptive for people who are not familiar with this area, then the site is alongside the Manchester Ship Canal at Ellesmere Port, Cheshire and directly opposite from Liverpool Airport across the mile wide river.

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We head around Stanlow Point where we are greeted with a huge expanse of exposed mudflats at low tide. Out on the mudflats the birds are well spread out feeding away, there are Dunlin, Red Knot, Grey Plover, Eurasian Teal, Eurasian Curlew and Common Redshank being the main species. Overhead a few hundred Northern Lapwing are fluttering about looking for a safe area to settle. There’s quite a few Canada Goose along the marsh edges with a few more wallowing in the mud out on the estuary. Good numbers of gulls are present with Great Black-backed Gull standing out from the crowd. I say my farewells to Ian Coote and Ruth who are staying at the ‘Point’ and I head off across the saltmarsh with Mount Manisty far off in the distance.

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A couple of Grey Wagtail are a good start to the day on the high tide mark right behind the ‘Point’. The first area that I pass is a rather large flash of water tucked away in the corner of Manisty Bay against the ship canal bank. I often look at this place and think maybe it was once used as a type of duck decoy pond? There’s a Great Egret patrolling the far bank with a dozen Little Egret keeping guard and always on the lookout. A small group of Common Redshank see me and take flight and circle around before heading over the high banks towards the ship canal. As I walk around the right hand side of the flash I flush 2 Water Rail from the long grass plus a few Common Snipe. There are more egrets scattered over the marsh towards the rivers edge with a total of 22 being noted.

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I hug the canal bank to my left approaching the Ellesmere Port Boat Museum on the opposite side of the canal. There’s a metal gantry perched on steel sheet piles that keep the ship canal separate from the marsh from here I gain access on top of the gantry to see what’s on the canal and have a good look over Manisty Bay. There are reasonable numbers of Black-headed Gull here with a solitary Great Crested Grebe alongside a fishing Great Cormorant and more Mallard boosting their numbers.

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Back down on the marsh the walk continues. Most of the waders and ducks are out on the river, or in the long vegetation out of sight from me. I can hear Eurasian Curlew and Common Redshank with the odd whistle of Wigeon.

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A Fox is keeping its eyes on me occasionally standing on its hind legs to gain a bit of height over the long grass.

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A female Marsh Harrier is patrolling the edge of the marsh disturbing everything it approaches. I in turn push Chaffinch, Linnet and European Goldfinch flocks all along the canal bank always keeping a good distance away. The numbers of Wren that I’m flushing out is unreal, and really I should have kept a count, but an estimate of 70 is a conservative one.

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Along the lower bank of the ship canal is a row of timber posts that must have been used to carry a pipe line in years gone by. These posts provide great plucking stumps for the local raptors. I always like to have a look for pellets and slowly rip them apart to see what’s been on the menu (I guess Chris Packham would love it here)

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I approach a large gully on my right hand side it’s roughly 3m-4m deep. I’ve attached two images, one at low tide and another at high tide.

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This gulley was once a main channel to Ellesmere Port docks before the ship canal was built and cut it off. Along the route of the gully is an old wooden tripod that was once a lamp post when the waterway was used for shipping. These posts are also another great plucking post for raptors.

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The hollowed out timbers are a raptor catchment base with pellets, lots of seeds and shells from the crops of the dead birds.

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A quick glance over my shoulder and a large Common Buzzard is having a tussle with another raptor that I first take to be a Marsh Harrier, which I spotted a short while earlier. Not entirely convincing myself about its idenity.  I untangle my binocular strap that had wrapped around my camera strap and then both birds disappeared behind the canal bank out of sight, I continue onwards…

… and westbound, the ‘mount’ is very much in touching distance now and I approach the it to my left with a huge reed bed that I have to navigate first. A large mixed flock of finches were feeding on the floor, mostly Chaffinch, Linnet and European Goldfinch with a few Greenfinch, 4 Common Bullfinch with both Blue and Great Tit in good numbers too. Reed Bunting were everywhere and two more Water Rail are flushed with one calling as it flew into the reeds. At that momont I receive a text from Ian Coote who was at the ‘Point’, he stated he had seen a large hawk with the possibility it was a Northern Goshawk which had flown over him and his fellow counter earlier and had put up all of the egrets, but more importantly it was now heading towards me! This got me thinking about the buzzard/harrier tussle I had seen earlier…was it/wasn’t it? The last bird you would expect to see hunting the marsh would be a Goshawk.

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Mount Manisty is man made mound of rubble and spoil from the evcavation of the Manchester Ship Canal 125 years ago this year. Archive photographs show the ‘Mount Manisty’ without a single tree on it. Today, the ‘Mount’ is completely covered in trees and bracken. I have battled my way to the top over many counts and years, but not today. On top of the ‘Mount’ is a trig point that was built by the Ordnance Survey when they mapped the UK in the 1930’s. There’s also another trig point at Stanlow Point.

As I walk along the bottom of the ‘Mount’ this is the first time I can see the water’s edge up close. A flock of Red Knot and Grey Plover are feeding with Common Redshank and good numbers of Eurasian Teal which are dotted about. Right around the corner is a small beach where Rivacre Brook syphons under the canal before discharging into the River Mersey. It’s strange to think that the small brook at the end of the road where I live ends its course at this point. There are some old workings which have been left next to the syphon head and they look like some kind of sluice gate?

A wintering Common Sandpiper is bob-bobbing about with a few more Grey Wagtail along the waterline. More Common Shelduck are out on the river with good numbers of Eurasian Curlew being spotted on the river’s edge towards Eastham Locks.

With high tide an hour or so away I start to head back as I don’t want to be cut off by the tide and then have to wait for it to to recede, or battle my way through trees and bracken instead.

More Eurasian Teal and Common Redshank are noted being pushed up river by the ever approaching tide. This end of the ‘Mount’ is quite square in shape and as I turn the first corner there are two Carrion Crow mobbing a bird at ground level. At first I though it was a Sparrowhawk, but when it takes flight right towards me less than 30m away it gains a bit more height and is most definitely the Goshawk which I and Ian et al had seen earlier. A dark heavily streaked individual bird and presumably a juvenile. It flew right through the trees and disappeared in a flash. I was very happy with that one as I’ve only ever seen them at a distance before and definately a Mersey Marsh tick!

Back around the reed bed I just beat the tide and I head to one of my vantage points on the elevated canal bank. From this spot I can see where the large gully enters the Mersey Estuary. The tide has now filled the gully and covered the edge of the marsh. Wigeon, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Eurasian Teal , Eurasian Curlew, Common Shelduck and lots of Common Redshank are counted. A large group of Great Cormorant are watching the tide come and go as they stretch their wings out. I had forgotten about the looming clouds that are approaching from the south and the rain begins to fall. I wrap up and head back towards the ‘Point’ with my hood up and head down. A few Stonechat and Common Snipe are added to today’s list and a few more Common Buzzard as well.

A Sparrowhawk was keeping the finch flocks on edge alongside the canal bank and another raptor is patrolling the marsh, this time a fine Peregrine. I take cover against the canal bank to watch the hunt between predator and prey unfold like I’ve done many times before. I’m always amazed at the speed of birds of prey and the area they cover in such a short time. It veers to my right over the canal bank out of sight. It then turns up on my left 100m away heading towards the river. Eurasian Teal, Common Redshank and Eurasian Curlew all fill the air, but it completely ignores them heading straight towards a flock of Wood Pigeon. They typically panic, but the falcon hurtles straight through them heading out over the estuary towards the Dunlin flocks that are flying over the river. The Peregrine makes a stab right into them but with the poor visibility I loose sight of the bird and don’t see it again. More Common Snipe are flushed on my way back across the recently flooded marsh with me almost standing on one.

By the time I arrive at the ‘Point’ the rain has settled in for the duration, the sight of 35,000 Dunlin landing on the recently exposed sand banks spread out as far as you can see, they are joined by Grey Plover, Red Knot, Common Redshank, Oystercatcher, gulls and geese. A superb spectacle to witness and such a privileged to have all this wonderful wildlife on our doorstep. I eventually meet up with Ian and we trudge back towards the ferry chatting and enthusing about the Goshawk and how well Liverpool FC are doing in the Priemership and how poor Chelsea (Ina’s team) are.

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WeBs is co-ordinated by the British Trust for Ornithology and they are always looking for extra counters to join us at this amazing place. If you would like to experience just some of the Mersey magic come and join us. There’s a Comments box at bottom of page. Please let us know if you are interested or simply spare a comment on how you liked this article.

A huge thank you to my friend Ady McCabe for his amazing aerial photos of the Mount Manisty area from on high.

Written and illustrated by Shaun Hickey.

The South Mersey Marshes (Part 1) by Shaun Hickey

Additional articles covering this area are here:

Round the Back pt 1 by WSM

Round the Back pt 2 by WSM

The South Mersey Marshes (WeBS) Bird Count by Shaun Hickey

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The South Mersey Marshes

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A small group of bird watchers are lucky enough to have access to the south Mersey marshes once a month to carry out a WeBS ( BTO bird survey.

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This part of the estuary is cut off by the Manchester Ship Canal so public access is near impossible. The only way to cross onto this part of the estuary is by crossing over from Eastham locks where the River Mersey meets the Manchester Ship Canal, a small boat used by a farmer at the Marsh Farm, Frodsham marsh, or a small ferry at the Stanlow oil refinery, this latter is the one that we counters use. Here’s an account by myself about spending a day here walking 10-14 miles with a bit of history and natural history on ‘our’ marshes.

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There are three areas that is covered by our counters and we cover Mount Manisty, the Point and Ince/Frodsham marshes.

If you are heading towards Manisty bay then a pair of decent wellies are needed, because you will return across a marsh that has just been covered with the tide. During the summer months this area of the marsh is waist high in vegetation so that can add to the difficult walking conditions.

Another route that we take is towards Ince/Frodsham marshes. This is the route I will concentrate on in this account.

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The other spot we count the birds is known as Stanlow Point. This area is a sandstone outcrop on Stanlow Island. This area has plenty of history with ruins of an Abbey dating back to 1178, all that remains is a few old sandstone walls, most of the stone work was recycled to build a farm house in the 1800’s. When the refinery was established in the 1950’s the farmhouse was flattened and six terraced houses were built along with other buildings associated with the refinery. The houses were flattened in the late 1980’s, but some of the disused refinery buildings still remain with nature slowly reclaiming them back. More here:

The count day begins 3-4 hours before high tide and we meet at the oil refinery factory to check in with their security. From here we head to another part of the site to receive a visitor pass and another security check. We then park our vehicles and get ready for the day ahead. We are then taken by a refinery mini bus to the ferry terminal where we take a short crossing of the canal and onto the banks of the marshes.

The oil refinery is very much in use with oil tankers bringing crude oil in and other tankers taking the finished products out to the world beyond. Once across the Manchester Ship Canal we pass through a locked gate and onto Stanlow island itself. A small walk takes us pass some disused building and down to the area where the River Gowy enters the River Mersey saltmarsh after being syphoned under the ship canal.

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We approach the embers of the River Gowy as it finally enters ‘the big river’ to see what birds are feeding on the exposed mud. Eurasian Teal are the main species here with Common Redshank, Common Shelduck and Mallard. The teal can be in their 1000’s during the winter months and to watch them take to air in one massive flock is truly magical. From here all the counters are designated their allocated count spots and head off in their own directions, and for me it’s a long walk to Frodsham Score that lays 8 miles away. I cross the River Gowy and join the bank of the ship canal to my right. The first area is always good for passerines, mostly Goldfinch, Linnet and Stonechat. During the warmer months this is a great place for migrating Northern Wheatear.

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A quick scan over the salt marsh on my left and Canada Goose, Little Egret, Grey Heron and Common Shelduck are frequently seen. The sounds of Eurasian Curlew fill the air with their bubbling calls, but seeing them in the long vegetation is near impossible. I flush the odd Common Redshank as I trudge along. The canal on my right is very quiet with the odd Mallard where usually Gadwall are here, but not today.

I approach Ince banks on my right as the refinery comes to an end and farmland takes over. This area has a monument (a rail signal post) commemorating the days when the canal was built and 10 men were killed in a rail accident and they are buried at Ince church, all in one grave. DISASTER ON THE MANCHESTER SHIP CANAL. 1891-07-23| Flintshire Observer Mining Journal and General Advertiser for the Counties of Flint Denbigh – Welsh Newspapers. More here:

Onward with the bird count and 2 Great Egret show themselves, but disappear immediately into one of the deep gullies that drain the salt marsh on the ebbing tide. I flush a Woodcock from a patch of gorse bushes, it flew straight over the canal into a small wooded area and was lost to sight. As I’m walking along the bank the occasional Common Snipe takes flight. In the distance on the canal there are 50 Eurasian Coot and their numbers are building up. I have no idea why they come to this area during the winter but something attracts them.

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My first bird of prey is a male Common Kestrel hovering over the bank ahead of me and then 2 Common Buzzard are over the pig farm. I pass an old brick building that I’ve been told stored dynamite in a munishion magazine whilst the canal was being built. There are more Canada Goose herds out on the rivers edge with just their heads popping above the vegetation.

A large group of Long-tailed Tit bound around me like I wasn’t there. A quick scan across the marsh and a large flock of European Starling are feeding on the ground until a Merlin comes from nowhere and puts them into a small bait ball. The Merlin flew straight passed me and out of sight. A few Common Shelduck are dotted about and I see my first Eurasian Curlew.

I take a sharp left across the marsh towards the rivers edge. It’s a short walk if you know the route which avoids missing the many gullies that can be a few metres deep and the same width across. Flushing more Common Snipe with Meadow Pipit and the odd Eurasian Skylark. A small number of Canada’s are feeding to my my right a closer look through my binoculars produced 8 Egyptian Goose and 1 Ruddy Shelduck.

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At the rivers edge further towards Frodsham there are Eurasian Wigeon everywhere with Mallard and Great Cormorant which line up alongside Eurasian Oystercatcher. Now to my left I can see huge flocks of Dunlin opposite Stanlow Point and Manisty. On the river there’s a few Great Crested Grebe with more Common Shelduck bobbing up and down on the incoming tide. Small groups of Eurasian Curlew fly up river with more Common Redshank and Eurasian Teal which join them. I retreated back away from the incoming tide towards the ship canal embankment taking a slightly different route where I am fortunate to flush out 2 Jack Snipe and more pipits. Another Merlin again flew straight across in front of me, no more than 10m away.

In the distance ahead towards Helsby I can here the yelping cries of Pink-footed Goose and a quick look through my optics and I can see the first skeins appearing followed by wedge after wedge heading right towards me. They approach the marsh and the formations break up as they look for somewhere to land. The sound of the geese is truly amazing. Most of the geese land on the marsh to my left. I quickly pull out the scope and the clicker counter is in overdrive. I count 2000 ‘pinkies’ now on the marsh between myself and the ship canal path. Another 1000 came over Ince to my right, they didn’t land but went straight over head and up river towards Manisty.  I couldn’t avoid walking towards the grounded birds, so the inevitable happens they take to the air once again this time heading towards Frodsham Score and out over the river. They finally landed again on the rivers edge where I was standing 15 minutes earlier! A very special moment to treasure and I was completely on my own!

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Back on the canal bank I head left over the Holpool Gutter and onto Frodsham Score. I walk up to the ‘Alun Williams’ gun turret that was left behind after WW2, and is still there looking a bit rusty but ready for the next invasion (There’s also another pill box at Ince where the clay pigeon shooters play).

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More Eurasian Curlew and good numbers of Great Black-backed Gull are near the Weaver Sluice Gates. High tide has just passed, so I head back to Stanlow where another male Common Kestrel is hunting over the score. Little Grebe on the canal with a scattering of Pied and 2 Grey Wagtail feeding on both banks. A male Western Marsh Harrier is near Ince Berth and a few more Common Buzzard linger about.

I finally got back to Stanlow Point where I meet the other counters and we talk about what we have seen and usually have a moan about the weather and an update on the football scores. The ferry awaits and takes us over the ship canal and to our the mini-bus and we are soon back at our cars in no time.

We tot up our sightings and the day comes to a close. When I next do my count I’ll try and write another update from Manisty.

Observer and images: Shaun Hickey.

Additional articles covering this area are here: Round the Back pt 1 and here Round the Back pt 2

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


03.06.17. Birdlog

The Summer doldrums have arrived early to this part of Cheshire.

Most of the Black-tailed Godwit flock have relocated at Carr Lane Pools for the forseeable future. A visit to the marsh this morning produced few birds to whet the whistle. A look from Marsh Farm and the River Weaver wasn’t much better. I decided to to have a second look at the Iberian Chiffchaff at Kelsall which was a better alternative to what was on offer on the marsh this morning.

After getting some close views of Cheshire’s VIB and a Spotted Flycatcher it was back to the marshes and a circumnavigation of No.6 tank. On arrival at the viewing area which overlooks the north side of the sludge tank the Black-tailed Godwit flock had increased with a respectable 4-500 birds. The Dunlin flock that was here earlier was still present with 58 birds and a couple of Little Ringed Plover were chasing each other on the drier areas of bare ground.

The reed beds seem to be alive with Reed Warbler and one particular bird hoisted itself to the top of the reeds to belt out a song (video here: A Cetti’s Warbler was again vocal and it needed to be with the drone of both the model aircraft and hovercraft off Lordship Lane.

A Peregrine hurtled through but didn’t divert from its course while nearby a male Sparrowhawk was on the prowl. A few Common Buzzard were riding the thermals and were joined by a female Marsh Harrier.

A late rain shower brought down several Common Swift and a few hirundines but soon after they gained height and were lost in the big blue yonder.

A view of the western half of No.6 tank (above) totally dry with newly emerging phragmites coming through.

Ducks were all over the place with 6 drake Common Pochard being the standout species (yes it’s that good here!).

The mitigation pools on No.3 tank are drying up just as quickly and held a couple of Black-tailed Godwit, Lapwing and 4 Avocet.

There were at least 2 Painted Lady Butterfly at two widely separated spots today so I would guess there were many more. Small Tortoiseshell are increasing with Green-vein White and Speckled Wood’s emerging.

Observer and images: WSM.

The Marshes c1900

the-weaver-estuary-frodsham-marsh-c1900-2I have been looking a long time for images of Frodsham Marsh shortly after the Manchester Ship Canal was completed and today I have been successful. The first image shows the Weaver estuary (inner top left) with its marshland edges and the cultivated fields stretching inland to the village of Frodsham. At the far right hand side is the Weaver Bend with the small island visible and Weston Marsh which today is under a disused sludge tank.






The second photograph shows the flooded No.1 sludge tank occupying the river marshland area.The container walls are excavated soil taken from the interior of the sludge bed and are no higher than a couple of metres.   It is only speculation what this tank situated a stone’s throw from the River Mersey would have attracted all those years ago. There were no ornithologists/bird watchers in the area to catalogue the huge flocks of waders, not to mention the numerous Nearctic shorebirds that surely must have appeared each autumn. I’ll have to get me one of those time travelling machines when they get invented.

On both images it is interesting to note the lack of development in Runcorn and across the Liverpool skyline.


A Patcher’s Tale 2015

A Patcher’s Tale 2015

15.10.15. Great Grey Shrike, I,C.I tank, Frodsham Marsh. Paul MillerThe Frodsham Marsh Challenge 2015

05.05.14. Red-legged Partridge, Frodsham Marsh. Paul Crawley

During December 2014 Bill, Tony and I had decided to do a Marsh list for 2015. By the end of January Tony had bowed out and Bill wouldn’t tell anyone what he had or hadn’t seen. So it was down to yours truly to keep an account of the birds I’d seen and missed on the marsh during the 2015.

14.11.15. (Wind turbine base setting, No.5 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton (2)

This was a year of changes on the tanks with foundations being laid for the soon to come wind turbines on No.1, No.4, No.5 and Lordship Marsh, whilst we had been granted a mitigation area for the birds on No.3 tank and work started to improve this area.

14.09.15. Kingfisher, Frodsham Marsh. Paul Ralston (6)

January – March
I started the year with the usual New Year’s day bird count. 59 species on the first day wasn’t too bad the best birds being Treecreeper and Kingfisher which are always difficult to see on the marsh. Both Red-Legged and Grey Partridge were seen on No.5 tank as the sun went down. Because the marsh is so big it is difficult to cover the whole area in a day. So over the next week or so I decided to watch Frodsham Score from the north bank of No.4 tank.

10.02.15. Whooper Swans (juvs) and Bewick's Swan, Ince Marsh. Bill Morton.
The score holds huge numbers of waders in the winter period and is the best place to see visiting geese and swans. Small numbers of Whoopers and Bewick’s Swans were present over this period. Geese included a few Pink-feet, 5 Barnacle with the regular Canada and Greylag. On one day I was lucky enough to find a single in amongst a large mixed flock of Goldfinch and Chaffinch on the north bank of No.4 whilst watching the score. The ‘local’ Great White Egrets were showing regularly along with many Little Egrets.

07.10. 12. Coal Tit, No 5 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Image by Paul Crawley.
Away from the score I managed to find my first Coal Tit of the year along with another couple of Treecreeper. The River Weaver held several Goldeneye.

28.11.14. Lapwings and Golden Plover, No.6 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton (1)

On the 21st January we had a big tide of 9.9 m. This size of tide pushes the birds much closer and the wader numbers were huge. 10000+ Lapwing with the same numbers of wintering Dunlin. Around 100 Grey Plover could be seen moving up and down the tide line along with c70 Knot, 2000 Golden Plover, Oystercatcher and Curlew. Star birds were 3 Bar-tailed Godwits. With this much food around it was not unusual to see ‘hunters’ such as Merlin, Peregrine and Marsh Harrier trying to get a meal or two.

15.11.14. Great Spotted Woodpecker, Brook Furlong Lane, Frodsham Marsh, Bill Morton

The plantation at the west end of the marsh is usually good for Siskin and Redpoll but no joy this year. However, a Woodcock was a welcome surprise and Gt Spotted Woodpecker were chasing each other through the trees. On the 15th February I found what I assessed to be a ‘tristis’ Chiffchaff on Lordship Marsh feeding actively in the ditch and low in some nearby bushes.

11.10.14. Grey Plovers, No.6 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton

High tides at the end of February produced large numbers of waders on No.6 tank. 6000+ Dunlin along with 350 Black-tailed Godwit, 400+ Curlew, 86 Grey Plover and 25 Knot. There were also 500 Golden Plover and the same number of Lapwing.

07.03.15. Cetti's Warbler, Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton

The 7th March proved a good day, it saw me not only patch ticking Nuthatch but also having great views of Collared Dove (difficult bird to get on the marsh), Cetti’s Warbler and Water Rail. The next day I had my first migrants of the spring by way of 4 Avocet on No.6 tank.

14.03.15. Iceland Gull, Frodsham Score Banks,l, Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton

By mid-March we had still had very little in the way of any migration. However, on the 14th I got a call from Bill telling me of a new bird for me on the score – juv Iceland Gull. But wait a minute the other half had my car. So, I had the following conversation with Bill “come and get me now”. Fair play to him he came and picked me up from Delamere and got me back to the viewing point at the farm in time where Tony Broome had it lined up in his scope. Tick number two of the year UTB. (under the belt). I watched this white-winged gull for all of a minute before it flew off west never to be seen again.
List = 95 species.

03.04.15. Egyptian Goose, Lordship Lane, Frodsham Marsh. Alyn Chambers.

April – June
The 3rd April saw my first singing Chiffchaff and No6 held a summer plumaged Little Stint. The only other birds of note that day were 2 Egyptian Geese on Lordship Marsh. Spring was well and truly underway on the 11th when 6 White Wagtails were with Pied’s at the west end of No.6 and my first Blackcap of the year was singing from the south bank of No.4. Wheatear, Swallow and Sand Martin turned up over the next few days along with Reed Warbler on No.6. Mid-month saw the first passage of Whimbrel with 3 over No.1. Willow Warbler, Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler had arrived and along the River Weaver Little Ringed Plover and Common Sandpiper showed well.

18.06.15. Swifts, Weaver Bend, Frodsham Marsh (3)

The beginning of May saw the first Swift and House Martin hit my list and lots of Yellow Wagtail. Early on the 3rd May I found a drake Garganey on No.3 mitigation tank and a Whinchat was below No.6 on Lordship Marsh. To the west end a now ‘rare’ for the marsh Tree Sparrow was first picked up on call.

05.05.15. summer Curlew Sandpiper (bird 2 with Ringed Plover), No.3 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton (4)

Spring migrant Curlew Sandpipers started turning up with the Dunlin along with a stunning Turnstone in immaculate plumage. My first Cuckoo of the year flew away from me down Brook Furlong heading towards the Weaver Bend on the 9th May. By the middle of the month we had seen a 1st summer Mediterranean Gull and a stunning breeding plumaged Great White Egret spent an evening on No.6. At the month end a first summer Little Gull was feeding with Black head’s on the Weaver Bend kept company by a Black Swan whilst a Sanderling fed briefly on No.3.

03.06.15. female Long-tailed Duck, No.6 tank, frodsham Marsh, Cheshire. Bill Morton (2)

The 3rd June produced a very unusual bird for the marsh, notably a female Long-tailed Duck on No.6, what a cracker. Additions to the list had started to slow down but then on the 20th a tweet from Dave Craven, who birds the dark side of the Mersey at Hale, told us of 4 Sandwich Tern on the river/roosting on Hale Marsh. In 20 years of birding Frodsham I had still never seen one of these noisy terns. I rushed down to Marsh Farm meeting Bill on arrival. Just as we set up the scopes the flock of gulls that contained the terns flushed off the marsh but quickly settled again. I eagerly tried to find these mega birds, but they didn’t seem to be amongst the gulls. Then Bill picked them up flying towards Hale Lighthouse. 4 birds together, fantastic.
List = 129 species.

July – September
The southerly migration of waders started in earnest in July. On the 4th there were 1200 Black-tailed Godwit on No.6 along with 18 Avocet, including 6 juveniles. Two Black Swan were with the Mutes and Swift numbers were building with c250 feeding over the north bank. The male Marsh Harrier was seen regularly collecting food for his growing brood.

On the 12th I caught up with my first Black-necked Grebe of the year showing well on the bend. ‘Blackwit’ numbers remained high and more Dunlin and the first Ruff began to arrive. On the 12th I got my only Yellow-legged Gull of the year, an adult roosting on No.6.

08.05.13. Whimbrel, Frodsham Marsh. Paul Crawley (2)

I got back from a week’s holiday on the 1st August and No.6 had a nice selection of species with Blackwits, Dunlin, Avocet, Whimbrel, Redshank and Knot. A Ruddy Shelduck dropped in briefly and the male Marsh Harrier, quartering the tank, had a juvenile with it which was constantly begging. A female Garganey was with the Teal.

10.05.15. (frosty) Dunlin in flock, No.3 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton (62)

Over the high tide on the 15th August the Blackwit numbers had risen to over 2000 and 3000+ Dunlin were keeping them company. 50+ Ringed Plover, single Barwit, a summer plumaged Turnstone, 40 Knot, Curlew Sandpiper and 20+ Ruff were all on No.6. A juvenile ringtail Hen Harrier was hunting No.5 in the afternoon.

24.08.15. Pectoral Sandpiper (juvenile), No.6 tank (secluded pool), Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton, (1)

Over the next couple of week’s I added a few new birds to the list. A Wood Sandpiper arrived on the 16th and 7 Greenshank on the 21st with Spotted Redshank on No.6 on the 22nd. Arguably the bird of the year appeared on the small pool on No.6 on the 24th a juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper. This bird was only seen by 3 observers and stayed only for one afternoon. News of a White-rumped Sandpiper at Hale on the 31st August raised our expectations but it never appeared on our side of the river.

06.09.15. Fulmar, Weaver Estuary, frodsham Marsh. Alyn Chambers (2)

One of the most unexpected birds of the year turned up on the 6th. In the morning I had the briefest view of a Garden Warbler ever on the south bank of No.4 along with my first Greenfinch of the year. I had left and gone home only to get a call from Allan Conlin who had been watching the score to tell me that he had just found a Fulmar and it was on the ship canal. I raced back to Marsh Farm and there it was, at the confluence of the canal and the Weaver, and not looking well at all, but it was alive and on my Marsh list. Fantastic, what a bird for the marsh!!

01.05.13. Hobby, Helsby Hill, Nigel Case.

Hobbies over the past few years have been regular on the marsh but it took me until mid-September to catch up with one this year. This juvenile bird flew across No.5 onto No.6 chasing hirundines. It was my only one this year. Another bird which has become rarer recently is Black Tern. None in 2014 but on the 16th news of one feeding on the bend meant a lunchtime visit abandoning my desk at work. I watched the bird for about twenty minutes before it circled high and flew north never to be seen again.

10.09.15. Little Grebe and Black-necked Grebe, No.6 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton (1)

On the 19th I decided to do some ‘vis-migging’ from Marsh Farm and it paid off with both Redpoll and Siskin, but believe it or not I missed an Osprey. On the last weekend of August a Cetti’s Warbler was singing from the eastern corner of No.6, showing occasionally and a Black-necked Grebe fed in the middle of the tank. A kettle of 16 Buzzards were over No.5.
List = 144 Species.

October – December
The 16th of October proved to be a red-letter day for me because I caught up with my first ever Frodsham Great Grey Shrike feeding in fields opposite the new log station on Brook Furlong. A stunning bird bringing my shrike list for Frodsham up to 3. However, I did miss the Red-necked Grebe on the bend and never did catch up with it.

Before the end of the month skeins of Pink-feet were beginning to appear and both Redwing and Fieldfare had arrived in numbers and I caught up with my first Mistle Thrushes of the year.

31.10.15. Azorean Gull (adult), off Frodsham Score, Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton (4)
The 31st produced my first Common Scoters of the year, two birds floating down river on the receding tide. Not long after this sighting an interesting Lesser Black Backed type gull swam past our viewing point showing some features of Azorean Gull. However, it was distant and this will have to remain one of those birds that ‘got away’. I also missed another tick that day as Tony Broome had a Richards Pipit calling in flight going south over No.6. Gutted.

27.12.15. Short-eared Owl, No.5 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton

The 1st November produced my first Short-eared Owl of the year hunting over No.5 and great views of a male Brambling in the NW corner of No.6.
A Great Skua had been seen a couple of times over the past week and I eventually caught up with this superb bird on the 15th thanks to Dave Craven. Another great Frodsham tick. A little while later I picked up 5 Pale Bellied Brents feeding on the score. After an hour or so they flew across the river and landed on Hale Marsh and I was able to return the favour to Dave. I also had a redhead Red Breasted Merganser that day.

14.03.15. Goldeneye drake, Weaver estuary, Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton

The rest of the month was fairly quiet but did produce a Goosander out on the Mersey. The Great White Egret was being seen regularly and Whooper Swans had returned with three briefly on the Weaver on the 21st amongst plenty of Goldeneye.

27.12.15. Common Teal and Green-winged Teal, No.6 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton

December is always a quiet month but it did turn up my best find of the year by way of a drake Green-winged Teal in amongst the thousand or so European Teals on No.6. On the 20th I found another two Brent Geese although this time they turned out to be of the dark-bellied variety. My final bird of the year turned out to be an adult Shag roosting on a sandbank mid river (Mersey) with Cormorants.
List = 154 species

Birds I missed were: Barn Owl, Green Woodpecker, Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher, Common Crane, Water Pipit, Rock Pipit, Richard’s Pipit, Snow Bunting, Long-eared Owl, Osprey, Common Tern, Red-necked Grebe, Mandarin, Eider, Spoonbill, Great Northern Diver, Red-throated Diver, Yellowhammer and Ring Ouzel.

So 173 was possible in 2015. It turned out to be a very good for the variety of species able to be seen at Frodsham Marsh in a single year, maybe the best ever? I missed quite a number of birds this year which goes to prove that you need to put the hours in if you want a half decent year list.

Get out there and have a go.

Written by Frank Duff.

Title image by by Paul Miller. All others images are inscribed by the relevant photograher except for Coal Tit by Tony Broome and unscribed and The Birds of Frodsham Marsh titled are by WSM.

Frodsham Marsh Birding Review 2015

20.11.14. Barn Owl, Frodsham Marsh. Paul Ralston27.12.15. Short-eared Owl, No.5 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Bill MortonJanuary 2015.

14.03.15. Barnacle Goose and hybrid partner, No.1 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton

An immature Marsh Harrier lingering from 2014 continued a lengthy stay on the marsh with regular sightings making for a welcome distraction from the unfolding birdathon ahead. Likewise, a wintering Chiffchaff could be found along the tracks of No.5 tank. Stonechats are always a welcome sight from post festive bingeing. A Grey Partridge with some Red-legged Partridge will only get a mention for the fact they were put down for shooting so they shouldn’t really count on anyone’s year listing. On the outskirts of the marsh a Kingfisher was one of two present here and a Treecreeper was a rarity in woodland at the less visited boundaries. With all these small morsels flying about it wasn’t a surprise to see Merlin checking out the menu.

Lapwing were gathering in numbers with 1,000 birds and 600 Golden Plover present with them at times were a couple of Ruff. The 9 Greenshank spotted on Ince Marsh must have surprised the observer. The wintering herd of 28 Whooper and 9 Bewick’s relocated here after spending the first part of the winter out on Frodsham Score. A Barn Owl was notable with it, or another, ranging widely from No.4 tank to the horse paddock on Moorditch Lane.

The Holpool Gutter was a good bet for Green Sandpipers so one at the beginning of the month was expected but a Brambling which was nearby is usually a hit or miss species on the marsh. Frodsham Score is really the best spot to see egrets with both Little and Great White’s a certainty.

The Canada Geese out on the Mersey marshes have amassed an unenviable record herd here so it was no surprise to see other species being attracted to the salt marsh. A flock of Barnacle and Pink-footed Geese stuck around for a few weeks.

The first signs of seasonal change were marked by a ‘sinensis’ Cormorant joining the carbo’s on No.6 tank – a species usually associated with Spring passage here. Mid month saw in a Coal Tit (a local rarity) flew through.

28 Barnacle Geese flew in and raised the question about their origin. It is worth noting a flock over at Hale marsh some years ago contained a colour ringed bird which proved to originate from Svalbard.

A big tide forced some useful shorebirds onto Frodsham Score with 3000 Golden Plover, 8000 Lapwing, 200 Grey Plover, 100 Knot, 10000 Dunlin, 50 Oystercatcher and typically for this time of year 3 scarce Bar-tailed Godwit to be found wintering on the river.

A new female Marsh Harrier and Woodcock (FD) ended the month on a high note.

February 2015.

04.03.13. Stonechat (male), Frodsham Marsh. Stuart Maddocks

A bird that appears ever-present whatever month of the year is our resident female Peregrine, often found surveying her Queendom across the Mersey Estuary.

Sequencing nicely into a new month were the big Whooper Swan herd on Ince Marsh.  The herd included a mixed Mute Swan flock which rose to a combined 67 birds with a Black Swan amongst them! A large herd of Canada Geese on the edge of the river included an incredible 27 Barnacle Goose (birds en route north?). Nearby, 7 Pink-footed Goose were in and out of a narrow tidal gutter.

The female Marsh Harrier reappeared and was joined by a male later in the month. Great White and Little Egrets continued their stay on the river. A Goosander (WSM) on the Weaver Bend was notable. The quieter areas of the marsh held Stonechats and the back waters had Kingfishers.

The swan herd relocated again were 10 Mute, 26 Whooper (6 juvenile and 20 adults) and 9 Bewick’s Swan (adults) to the fields east of Rake Lane.

More Brambling where encountered and a Chiffchaff emerged from hiding – all keenly watched over by the Merlin. Another Chiffchaff along Lordship Lane had all the hallmarks of a grey eastern bird? A once regular bird on the Frodsham and Helsby marshes and now restricted to a passage migrant was a Tree Sparrow (FD).

A good count of 9 Ruff, 6000 Dunlin, 86 Grey Plover, 500 Golden Plover, 600 Curlew, 350 Black-tailed and a solitary Bar-tailed Godwit, 500 Lapwing, 25 Knot and 100 Redshank were all present on the highest tides. With all this shorebird activity it wasn’t long before a marauding Peregrine with its dial set on cruise control flew over the area and caused pandemonium over the river. The best Stonechat count of the winter was of 5 birds together.

The month ended on a positive note with the herd of 25 Whooper Swan (including 5 juveniles) in fields east of Hill View Farm and 15 Pink-footed Geese on the salt marsh.

March 2015.

14.03.15. Iceland Gull, Gantry wall, Frodsham Marsh. Tony Broome.

A watch from the northern banks of No.4 tank was rewarded with a Marsh Harrier, 5 Pink-footed Goose and a solitary Bar-tailed Godwit.

Also noted on this warm Spring day was a Stoat, a Buff-tailed Bumblebee and 2 Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly. You could be forgiven for thinking that Spring had truly sprung but the Whooper Swan herd could still be found lingering by Spring Farm.

A chance sighting of a very vocal and animated Cetti’s Warbler (FD, WSM) was rewarded with some fine views. Additional birds close by included a Nuthatch, a TreecreeperCoal Tit, 5 Bullfinch, several Jay and a sub-singing Chiffchaff – a reward for those observers that found them considering the rarity value of most of these birds here on the marsh.

A party of 6 Stonechat and a passing Yellowhammer were good finds. The first Sand Martins of the year moved through. Five Avocet settled on No.6 tank.

A 2nd winter Iceland Gull (WSM) picked out from the gull hoards out on the Mersey Estuary was initially spotted the previous week from Hale shore and finally got in range  to scope it from the south side of the river. A little earlier in the day  a Common Crane (WSM) flew in from the west and headed over the Weaver Bend to the east.

The first Wheatear of the year arrived in time to share the marsh with the reluctant Whooper Swan staying put.

Large groups of roosting Black-tailed Godwits were close to a thousand strong with similar numbers of Curlew and scattered flocks Oystercatcher, Grey Plover, Knot, Dunlin and the odd Bar-tailed Godwit. Out on the tide edge were 2 Little Egret and 300 Wigeon.

A partial Eclipse of the Sun on the 20th was a brief diversion from the birding on the marsh. Out on Ince Marshes and Frodsham Score a good high tide revealed 452 Shelduck, 290 Wigeon, 12 Gadwall, c40 Common Teal, 1 Greylag Goose, c200 Canada Geese, 1 Great Crested Grebe and just 1 Little Egret.

Steadily on the increase due to the carrion laying about the marshes are Raven with 40 birds about the ship canal embankment enjoying their feast. As I walked back to the car 32 Pink-footed Geese arrived from towards Ince and flew overhead moving south-east (surely the wrong way!).
A White Wagtail and another Cetti’s Warbler rounded off the month.
 April 2015.
10.02.15. Mute Swan, Whooper Swan and Bewick's Swan, Ince Marsh. Bill Morton
An impressive flock of 15 Little Egret in the fields between the Pig Farm and Ince Berth was unexpected. There were 11 Whooper Swan within the herd of 50 Mute’s on the Ince Marsh fields and a single bird was still present mid month. . A pair of Egyptian Geese were found initially on No.5 tank before relocating to Lordship Marsh. A brief look over No.6 tank around lunch time resulted in the first Little Stint of the year. A Cetti’s Warbler shot off a blast of song and a Green Woodpecker (PR) was at the east end of the new excavations of No.4 tank. The first Swallow (2) flew through and on the way out was a female Brambling with a small Chaffinch flock on the track above No.6 tank. Also noted was a White Wagtail with the Pied’s on No.3 tank. A male Ring Ouzel spent the morning along the northern bank of No.5 tank. Marsh Harriers were pairing up and the last of the Merlin moved through.
May 2015.
30.05.15. (male) Red-backed Shrike, No.1 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Graham MansonThe male Marsh Harrier was busy while 8 Avocets moved in. The early highlight was a Redstart (AC) found along Moorditch Lane. Fresh arrivals featured a drake Garganey (FD) and Grasshopper Warblers made their presence known.
Out on Frodsham Score were a couple of late Pink-footed Goose and 3 Little Egret with 17 Raven and a Cuckoo was singing. Two summer plumaged Curlew Sandpiper (WSM) presented themselves to No.3 tank. Nine handsome summer plumaged Dunlin were busy refueling for their next adventure north (included a frosty Greenland bird-WSM) and within their throng was one of the most pristine summer dressed Turnstone ever! One of the highlights of May was a stunning summer Little Stint (WSM) briefly with the Dunlin flock and 4 Turnstone.
A solitary 1st summer Mediterranean Gull and a very late pale-bellied Brent Goose was found by Neil Blood on the Weaver Bend. A Great White Egret was present in the morning on No.3 tank, a welcome surprise after a lengthy period of absenteeism. An Osprey (WSM) headed north; 9 Whimbrel dropped in on the Weaver Bend and the male Marsh Harrier flew over No.6 in a north-easterly direction. Late in the month a Little Gull was on the Weaver Bend and a Sanderling was on the mitigation area.
The very last day of May produced probably the most handsomest of the year’s birds when a faultless male Red-backed Shrike found by Graham Manson and Peter O’Connell  along the wooden fence that borders the pipe line on No.1 tank. Sadly, it only entertained those two very lucky souls.
June 2015. 
03.06.15. female Long-tailed Duck, No.6 tank, frodsham Marsh, Cheshire. Bill Morton (1)
A couple of Peregrine were looking out from the blue-topped chimney and below on the Weaver Estuary there was a summering flock of 500 Black-tailed Godwits. The Cuckoo was attracting the attention of a couple of interested females while over on No.6 tank an out of season female Long-tailed Duck found by Sean O’Hara stayed for just a few hours. A Mediterranean Gull and a Little Gull were good value. A non-breeding flock of 150 Black-headed Gulls brought in a summer Bar-tailed Godwit. The first returning Green Sandpiper was noted and 3 summering Wigeon were not that unusual having a summer retreat on the marsh. Two Sandwich Terns roosting on Hale Marsh (DC) were picked up from Marsh Farm after they woke up and headed back out to the sea (FD,WSM). Both Marsh Harrier and Hobby were viewed from the marsh. A massive flock of 144 Gadwall was the biggest ever count for the marsh. Another Mediterranean Gull put in an appearance in the third week.
July 2015.
14.07.15. juvenile Black-necked Grebe, No.6 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Paul Lee
The month got under way with an incredible 27 Avocet and the arrival of the first Green Sandpiper of the return migration. A thousand summering Black-tailed Godwit and an early Ruff were notable.
A Little Gull and Mediterranean Gulls were present early on with the former staying for a couple of weeks and commuting between the Weaver estuary and Pickerings Pasture across the river. July is always a good time to catch up with ‘reeling’ Grasshopper Warblers and the area south of No.6 tank is traditionally a favourite spot. A small party of summering Wigeon (WSM) put in the occasional appearance.
A summer plumage Knot was a welcome addition to the month and both Great White Egret and Marsh Harriers added a spice of the south.
A young Black-necked Grebe (WSM) was one of several encountered over the following weeks.
The returning northern shorebirds were much in evidence mid to late month and a nearby Red Kite (PR) just missed being in the Frodsham Marsh catchment area. The only Common Tern (WSM et al) of the year showed its self at one of my organised bird walks.
A Garganey was fresh in late in the month and likewise an adult summer Little Stint. A very rare bird in terms of its occurrence was a Green Woodpecker (SO, AC) by the ramp onto No.5 tank. It or another was seen several days later by No.4 tank. A new Black-necked Grebe (WSM) appeared and stayed for a few days. A Spotted Redshank was a welcome addition late in the month.
The month ended with a new Garganey.
August 2015. 
Ruddy Shelduck_edited-1
The Garganey continued its stay into August and was joined by a Ruddy Shelduck which was picked up by Master Findlay Wilde. Out on the Mersey Estuary the Great White Egret lingered. A Green Woodpecker put in the briefest of appearances.
The sight of 2000 post breeding/young Canada Geese was a sight to behold as they flew off to the river at dusk.
Three new Ruddy Shelduck (WSM) joined the Common Shelduck throng on No.6 tank. An early ringtail Hen Harrier (FD) spent a few hours quartering No.5 tank mid month. Return wader migration was building up nicely with a fine selection of northern breeders.
A fine Wood Sandpiper (WSM) joined in with the waders present on No.6 tank with 1200 Black-tailed Godwit and a splendid summer Curlew Sandpiper. The first juvenile Little Stint (WSM) appeared on the 14th. Two new Wood Sandpipers (PR) were found on the secluded pool. A Hobby hurtled through mid month. The 27 strong Ruff flock attracted another Spotted Redshank which lingered for a couple of months.
Early autumn is a time of change and the first Pintail (WSM) arrived on 20th with another Garganey. A Yellow-legged Gull (FD) was new in on No.6 tank.
A new force awakens (to steal a much hyped film of late) with the likes of Findlay Wilde and a visit on 22nd by another young padawan in the guise of Elliot Monteith. Elliot joined Bill for his first ‘proper’ visit to Frodsham Marsh. A new Ruddy Shelduck (was a tick for Elliot) and we discovered/rediscovered a Spotted Redshank on No.6 tank which was a good introduction to the marsh for Elliot.
The next day a Redstart (AC) showed briefly to one observer along the south banks of No.4 tank. The 24th was a good day when a juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper (WSM) revealed itself to three people but unfortunately not to a wider audience.
Late in the month another Hobby showed to one lucky observer and both the Wood Sandpiper and Spotted Redshank were still available for viewing on No.6 tank. The month ended with the first returning Golden Plovers.
September 2015.
06.09.15. Fulmar, Weaver Estuary, frodsham Marsh. Alyn Chambers (2)
A firm favourite for many was the almost ever-present Wood Sandpiper which was hiding on No.6 tank. A Hobby and Black-necked Grebe (WSM) were new in for the month. A juvenile Little Gull was by the Weaver Sluice Gates on the Weaver Estuary.
The Wood Sandpiper was again present with a good bevy of other summer and juvenile sandpipers.
A highlight of September was a sickly Fulmar found by Allan Conlin flying over the Manchester Ship Canal before relocating on the Weaver Estuary close to Marsh Farm. Two Great White Egrets were again out on the southern Mersey marshes and a couple of Hobbies were noted. A luecistic Swallow (WSM) dropped in on No’s 5 & 6 tank during a rain deluge before sailing away into the sky.
A Black Tern (Mike Giverin,FD) spent an afternoon on the River Weaver by the Bend but didn’t linger into tea time.
The Hobby was seen again and the first Merlin of the autumn passed through and was seen off by 3 Kestrels. A Garganey was flushed off the Canal Pools with a group of Common Teal. The same observer (AMB) watched an Osprey fly through to the south and 10 Goosander fly west along the ship canal.
A new Black-necked Grebe (WSM) appeared late in the month and a Cetti’s Warbler (WSM) sang from the corner of No.6 tank.
October 2015.
05.10.15. Common Crane, No.3 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Bill MortonThe month began with 300 Tufted Duck on No.6 tank. A couple of Common Cranes found by Sean O’Hara spent two days on No.3 tank before moving out to Frodsham Score at dusk. Then an adult winter Mediterranean Gull came in for a pre-roost bathe before moving off to the gull roost on the Mersey Estuary. The first skein of Pink-footed Geese moved south and the Cetti’s Warbler resurfaced.
13 Avocets and 4 Great White Egrets were out on the salt marsh. A partial summer plumaged Red-necked Grebe found by Shaun Hickey & Paul Kurs spent a very elusive 6 days by the Weaver Causeway. The first Whooper Swans settled on the Mersey marshes for their lengthy stay but no juveniles were noted. The Red-necked Grebe was joined by a pair of Mandarins (Don Weedon) and are presumably birds from further up river?
The Spotted Redshank reappeared when the water levels on No.6 tank dropped. There was a red-letter day on the 15th when a Great Grey Shrike (Paul Miller et al) spent a couple of days in and around fields east of No.5 tank and on its first day it shared the area with the Red-necked Grebe. Such is the magic of Frodsham Marsh!
A potential rarity in the form of a small race Canada Goose (AMB) shared the score with several hundred Western Canada’s on 18th. Other birds of note included: a Rock Pipit (AMB), Cetti’s Warbler and a late Swallow (WSM). On the 21st the first autumn Short-eared Owl put in an appearance. The bizarre sight of a flock of 9 Egyptian Geese (WSM) that flew in from the east stopping briefly for a refresh before heading almost immediately to the west was notable.
Another Marsh Harrier was spotted and again another Mediterranean Gull stopped off to bathe.
The last day was good and produced Mediterranean Gull, Goldeneye, Hen Harrier (AMB, WSM), 2 Common Scoter (DC et al), 5 Great White Egret (DC et al). Tony Broome plucked out a Richard’s Pipit which headed south. However, the Spoonbill (DC, II) that was tantalizingly close, but out of sight below the embankment of Frodsham Score was close but not close enough.
November 2015.
01.11.15. Long-eared Owl, No.5 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton
The new month started off just like the end of October. A Long-eared Owl (WSM) was perched out on a post while Short-eared’s flew around at dusk on 1st. Earlier in the day a Spotted Redshank was present on No.6 tank. A Marsh Harrier, Brambling and a late Wheatear were also about.
The 12th saw Tony Broome find a Water Pipit on the Weaver Estuary and both a Spotted Redshank and Great White Egret were still about.
Another red-letter day on the 16th saw Hale/Within Way/Pickerings Pasture stalwart Dave Craven finding a bunch of rare Mersey Estuary birds with a Great Northern Diver, Red-breasted Merganser, while here Tony and Frank saw 5 pale-bellied Brent Geese. Dave hit back with Kittiwake and a Great Skua from across the river. Other back-up birds included Short-eared Owl, Whooper Swans, Merlin and Great White Egrets. Another Red-breasted Merganser (FD) appeared on 21st.
December 2015.
27.12.15. Short-eared Owl, No.5 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Findlay Wilde.
The month began with a Barn Owl spotted by one of the turbine construction workers early on morning.
Chiffchaffs have been absent this winter probably due to the mild weather we have been experiencing so one along the track on No.5 tank was notable. Short-eared Owls have been prominent at the year’s end and brought a welcome opportunity to get some photographs of them in flight over No.5 tank.
The largest skein of Pink-footed Geese occurred early in December when 400 birds headed east from Hale Head. Canada Geese reached a peak of 2000 birds out on the salt marsh.
The 13th was notable for the impressive counts of Dunlin out on the Mersey Estuary with 68,000 birds counted. These numbers are both a testament to the cleanliness of the river and its importance as a wintering/staging post for these Arctic birds. A Green-winged Teal (FD) was picked out from within a flock of 1-2000 Common Teal and stuck around until 27th before relocating to the Dee marshes.
The Whooper Swan herd numbered 16 birds out on the salt marshes with a couple of Great White and 14 Little Egrets there as well.  A Woodcock (PR) was seen flying over the marsh.
A winter adult Mediterranean Gull (WSM) briefly stopped off to No.6 tank and a Cetti’s Warbler (NW,FW) was quite mobile popping up here and there. A couple of dark-breasted Brent Geese (FD) were spotted from No.4 tank out on Frodsham Score. A Shag first observed from Pickerings Pasture (by DC) was also seen from the Frodsham side (FD) and constitutes the first record this century.
The ever-present Marsh Harrier ended the year as it started quartering the reed beds on No.5 tank.
On the very last day of the old year the Green-winged Teal (FD) decided that it was more preferable at Frodsham Marsh than its two-day stay on the Dee marshes. A couple of Green Sandpiper appeared on the Weaver Bend, a skein of 50 Pink-footed Geese headed south-east and a Stonechat made a visit to the Ship Street entrance.
Compiled by WSM.
12.07.15. Great White Egret, no.6 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton
05.06.14. Common Scoter female), No.6 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton18.08.15. Wood Sandpiper, No.6 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Paul Ralston. (1)
18.08.15. Wood Sandpiper, No.6 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Paul Ralston. (4)
24.08.15. Pectoral Sandpiper (juvenile), No.6 tank (secluded pool), Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton, (2)
Dunlin by Shaun Hickey (6)13.12.15. Shaun Hickey's WeBS count images from Frodsham Score (4)19.10.15. River Mersey and birds. Shaun Hickey (3)19.09.15. Common Teal, Canal Pools, Frodsham Marsh. Tony Broome (2) 13.09.15. juvenile Peregrine, Frodsham Score, Frodsham Marsh. Tony Broome (1)
13.09.15. Chiffchaff, Frodsham Marsh. Tony Brome (4)A selection of images from 2015 (click on image to enlarge): Paul Ralston (images 1 & 17-18); Stuart Maddocks (images 1 & 4); WSM (images 2-3 & 5-6, 7, 11-13, 15-16 & 19); Graham Manson (image 6), Paul Lee (image 8); Elliot Monteith (9); Alyn Chambers (10); Findlay Wilde (14); Shaun Hickey (images 20-22) and Tony Broome (images 23-25).
Observers credited with sightings where stated: Tony Broome (AMB); Frank Duff (FD), Alyn Chambers (AC); Dave Craven (DC); Paul Ralston (PR); Sean O’Hara (SO); WSM (Bill Morton).

Old Tom the Birder (part 2)

Old Tom the Birder (part 2)

Tom Edmondson

A photograph of Tom taken in 1953.

Tom's letter

Attached is a letter Tom sent me a few years ago and was something he would often do. One of the old school ornithologists who corresponded through letters and photographs illustrating his marsh visits. His letter (pictured) mentions an encounter with Martin Gilbert on Frodsham Marsh and Martin would spend many hours walking with Tom helping him spot birds and pointing them out for this elder birders ailing eyesight.

I could drone on all day long about Tom but I think these links below give an opportunity for Tom himself to tell his own story and the work he committed to his passion for birds and the areas he liked best.

Ornithology and Conservation in the Leigh District 1938-1956

A brilliant historical article about Leigh birding by Tom sums up his pioneering days.

A History of No. 6 tank (part 3)

The first occurrence of breeding Black-winged Stilt in Cheshire by Ted Abraham

No6 tank through its deveoplement by Bill Morton (13)

The excavated scrape/pool where the Black-winged Stilts eventually settled to breed (flooded area at the left hand side of the picture). In the foreground is Martin Gilbert’s tent which he used to observe/record behaviour and also discourage potential egg collectors.

Black-winged Stilts doodle. Bill MortonA party of three birds-male, female and white-headed immature male – was found by Ken Croft near Cemlyn Bay on the North Anglesey shore at 15.15 hrs on 10th April. The birds were feeding in flooded fields alongside the track to Ty Lian Farm to the West of the main Cemlyn Lagoon. They remained here to dusk on 21st April. Display and attempted copulation were observed and it was thought possible that the adult birds might attempt to breed. However after a clear night, there was no sign of them on 2nd. During their 12 day stay in the same wet fields the birds were enjoyed by over 1000 birders, some travelling from as far afield as Scotland and the Home Counties and there was excellent footage of the birds on Welsh television.

 At 09.40 hrs on 22nd April, the same party of three birds was seen to fly in from the West to Inner Marsh Farm RSPB Reserve. Here they remained, chiefly favouring No 2 Lagoon on until 18.40 hrs, 24th when they circled high and departed purposefully West. Remarkably they returned at 1920 hrs and remained to dusk but there was no sign of them early next morning.

 At 0900 hrs 25th, the birds were relocated at Elton Hall Flash, Sandbach where they remained to 10.00 hrs. They were refound at Frodsham Marsh New Workings at 1545 but seemed unsettled and flew off high to the North towards the nearby Mersey Estuary at 16.45. The birds must have executed a sharp left turn for at 17.00 hrs – only 15 minutes after departing Frodsham – they flew back in again at Inner Marsh Farm!

Pencil field sketch of nesting Black-winged Stilts, No6 tank, frodsham Marsh. 1993. Bill Morton

 Many observers were able to obtain remarkable up close views of the stilts from the hide at Inner Marsh Farm over the next ten days. Again display and attempted copulation and, sometimes, the immature joined in as well! They remained on the reserve until dusk on 4th May but could jot be found anywhere on 5th May. On 6th May the three birds were outside our region to Weldrake Ings (North Yorkshire) where they stayed until departing NW at 20.00 hrs.

The birds flew in yet again to Inner Marsh Farm RSPB Reserve at 10.30 hrs on 8th May – a nice bonus for teams engaged in the annual ‘Cheshire Bird Race’. This time it really seemed as if the pair of adult birds were serious about nesting and they established a territory, which they defended vigorously against the local Coots, Tufted Duck, etc, on a small islet in No 2 Lagoon immediately in front of the hide. For wardening purposes they could not have chosen a better site anywhere in the North West. Nest scrapping began on 10th. The RSPB North West Regional Office finalised their plans for a round-the-clock wardening scheme and the birds were still present and looking almost certain to nest late evening 13th with wardening to start next morning. The morning of the 14th however presented a problem – the pair had departed overnight and only the white-headed bird remained.

Black-winged Stilt nest site, No 6 tank, Frodsham Marsh. May-June 1993. Tom Edmondson.

 The pairs were presumed to have arrived at Frodsham Marsh early on 14th and here they quickly established territory around a minute and unstable mud islet in the near left hand corner of the third pool of the ‘New Workings’. These pools had been formed during the construction work being undertaken by the Manchester Ship Canal Company to build a sixth vast lagoon to accommodate sludge from the canal and in mid May work was at a critical stage with near continuous procession of massive diggers and dumper trucks passing close to the birds chosen nest site. The water level in the pools, although not too deep for the birds at this stage, was subject to sudden rapid fluctuations and could not be controlled. The birds had finally settled for a site that presented many potential problems – ease of access for egg thieves, disturbance by construction traffic  and risk of flooding should the weather deteriorate!

 The white-headed bird moved to Frodsham 15th but did not associate freely with the pair and preferred to feed alone on the fourth pool of the New Workings or at the flooded East end of the No5 Sludge Pool even making a return visit to Inner Marsh Farm evening of 19th.

Black-winged Stilt, No6 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Bill MortonThe first egg was probably laid on the mud islet on 16th since incubation began on 19th. “OPERATION STILT” swung in to action and the RSPB NW Office appointed local birder Martin Gilbert as warden. Martin began his vigil on 20th with a tent but a caravan arrived on site on 22nd. Everything went smoothly in the early stages and Martin’s daily log reflects this: “Monday 24th May 04.55 hrs – M left nest mobbing crow s. 05.22 hrs – Changeover. 06.14 hrs – F left nest mobbing crow. 06.25 hrs F turned eggs. 06.48 Changeover.” and so on. The incubation continued without any real problem until 26th May when heavy rain began to fall and went on falling for the next four days.

west side of the Black-winged Stilt nest site, No 6 tank, Frodsham Marsh. May-June 1993. Bill Morton.   30053 010693.

 The water level in the pool could not be prevented from rising, despite the best efforts of helpful MSC staff to open drains, and crisis point was reached around 14.45 hrs on 30th May when it was lapping within a centimetre of the nest. Very courageous action was undertaken by RSPB Warden Colin Wells and Martin Gilbert who waded out into the deep pool, with unstable soft mud base, and managed to raise the water level by about 20 centimetres. Incubation resumed immediately.

Black-winged Stilt, No6 tank, frodsham Marsh. April 1993. Bill Morton

 Although the male and female shared incubation more or less evenly in the early stages, the male was now spending increasingly long periods away from the nest site – either at the East end of No5 Sludge Pool or on the Mersey Estuary. The female had to leave the nest to feed herself of course and with the male now reluctant to take share of his responsibilities it was inevitable that the eggs were sometimes left unincubated – once for a period as long as 73 minutes. It was predated by Magpies at 13.48 hrs on 31st May.

Black-winged Stilt nest site, No 6 tank, Frodsham Marsh. May-June 1993. Bill Morton.....007..

 The female mainly, and the male occasionally, continued incubation until 05.48 hrs 4th – 17th June day of incubation – when the female left the nest for the last time. At 09.50 hrs, one egg was taken by a Coot and not long after the fourth and final egg was taken by a Magpie. The brave breeding attempt by ya pair of Black-winged Stilts in Cheshire had failed. Predation was the secondary cause of failure. The primary cause was the British weather climate. Heavy rain had caused elevated water levels in the pool which could not be controlled and which disrupted the behaviour of the birds to such an extent as to cause periods when the nest was left unguarded.

Black-winged Stilt nest site, No 6 tank, Frodsham Marsh. May-June 1993. Bill Morton. 006...

 The conservation department of the RSPB North West Regional Office are to be congratulated for the tremendous team effort that they organised so efficiently throughout “Operation Stilt”. In particular, Dr Andre Farrar (Conservation Officer), Colin Wells (Dee Estuary Warden) and Martin Gilbert put in many long and tiring hours well beyond the normal call of duty. We must not forget either the team of voluntary wardens who assisted during the cold dark hours of night with their torches and mobile phones including Geoff Clarke, John Dolby, Paul Hill, Bill Morton, Ken Stoba, Rob Stratford and many others including Mike Wellman of the Cheshire Constabulary. Their efforts were not in vain since it proved that when the need arises then North West birders will rise to the occasion and many valuable lessons will have been learned to put into practice should a similar operation be needed to be mounted in the future. It was particularly pleasing that it was possible to publicise the presence of the birds in Frodsham throughout their stay on Birdline North West thus enabling a great many birders to observe the daily routine of the nesting stilts. Viewing from the raised dirt road which runs alongside the New Workings from which the birds could easily be seen without the least fear if disturbance. The near continuous procession oc birders along this road seems likely to have been a major disincentive to any potential egg collector.

 On 4th – 7th June, the party of the three stilts were back together again as they had been in the beginning and they could be seen feeding, apparently contentedly as if nothing untoward had happened, in then lushly vegetated and flooded SE corner of No 5 Sludge Pool, about half a mile from the nest site. But somehow their actions and demeanour lacked the sense of urgency and hyperactivity they had exhibited on that day two months previously when they had first arrived at Cemlyn. Your report writer had been used to seeing the stilts almost daily for nearly two months. It came as a real shock to make an early morning visit to Frodsham on 8th June and find that they had at last departed. We soon learned that they had flown South and all three birds had arrived at Radley Gravel Pits in Oxfordshire later that day where they remained to at least 19th June.

Ted Abraham

Abraham E J. 1994. North West Region Bird Report 1993 (Birdline North West), pp 20-24.

Illustrations/field sketches by WSM. All photographs WSM except for # 2 which was taken by Tom Edmondson.

To be continued…