South Mersey Mersey Marshes – Mount Manisty
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A Fox is keeping its eyes on me occasionally standing on its hind legs to gain a bit of height over the long grass.
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.
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)
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.
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.
The hollowed out timbers are a raptor catchment base with pellets, lots of seeds and shells from the crops of the dead birds.
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.
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.
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