OTD – 09.10.01, There’s a Killer Whale in the Mersey!

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On this day-09.10.01.

I was munching my tea (dinner if you’re posh) while watching the hum-drum news from BBC NW tonight’s regional TV news programme. At the end of the broadcast there was the usual ……. and finally snippet… “A Killer Whale washed up on the River Mersey below Liverpool Airport at Oglet shore on the morning tide”. This was an opportunity not to be missed. I jumped onto my bike and peddled the 5 miles across Runcorn Bridge, along Ditton Road via Halebank and Hale Village through to the outskirts of Speke, Liverpool and then down Dungeon Lane to the shore at Oglet Bay.

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…The area where the whale became stranded was a hot bed for abandoned stolen vehicles which would invariably end up on the muddy edges of the river or in it! It was also a regular black spot for fly tipping (not the most salubrious locations to whip out your expensive optical gear). I can confidently say these words knowing the area well enough and knowing a few rangers who plied their trade here in previous years. Those rangers deserved a medal balancing the needs and different attitudes from the many Mersey Way participants. A fine balancing act between the affluent area of Hale Village and the less affluent district of south Liverpool.

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A small gang of kids were gathered loitering without any intent at the bottom of the lane by the shore and because there wasn’t anybody else there I asked them if they had seen any people looking for a whale? ….not really expecting them to give me the answer I wanted. One of them a proper Speke ‘lid’ (scouse for lad) said “No mate, but there’s a f#ck!^g helicopter crashed on the mud over there”. Erm, quite, and following their eagerly pointing fingers I could see a large shape stretched out on the distant mudflats. The helicopter propeller was one of the pectoral fins of a 5.9 m long Killer Whale! I thanked the kids for their help and started to tell them what the whale was and how rare it is to see in the river, never mind the North West of England and the Irish Sea (I could almost hear my own voice slowed to a steady drone from the look on their faces). Their interest lasted a little shorter than my words and they were off on their bikes looking for something else, less boring instead. I set my telescope up and got reasonable views of the carcass and its lone sad figure stretched there on the murky grey brown mud of the River Mersey a few hundred feet away. I wish I had owned a decent camera in those days to capture the moment of this once majestic creature isolated against the backdrop of Stanlow Oil Refinery and Ince marshes across the river. I stayed for a couple of hours taking in the spectacle but during that period I don’t recall seeing anyone else on the shoreline. I saw the Orca carcass again from Runcorn Hill and later from No.4 tank, Frodsham Marsh the following day. I guess it would have been a hazard to smaller boats if it became re-floated on a higher tide and carried out to the Mersey mouth. I did hear it was blown to smithereens by dynamite soon after the autopsy and that it attracted thousands of gulls to feed on the bits that were left.

There isn’t much more I can add to this whale’s tale but the ZSL London Zoo did an autopsy and established it was an old male who probably died soon after the stranding but was already very poorly due to starvation. It had worn canines and one tooth abscess which would have been a very painful ailment, reducing its feeding considerably prior to entering Liverpool Bay.

I remember a story going around at the time this animal had been seen swimming off Wallasey the previous day?

It took me a couple more years before I finally caught up seeing a live specimen which was across one ocean and in another but the memory of that Mersey Orca was a haunting one and perhaps not the best last resting place for such a magnificent beast.

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The species is facing an uncertain future particularly in British waters and being at the top of the food chain this naturally brings its own issues, not least as they absorb (through the food chain) PCB’s which accumulate in their body tissue and are considered (particularly in British Columbia) toxic waste whenever they are found dead on the tide line.

An article regarding PCB’s can be found on this link: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-45652149

The link to ZSL’s full story here: https://www.zsl.org/blogs/wild-science/what-killed-the-killer-whale and credit for Orca the images.

Written by WSM.

06.09.18. Birdlog.

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I took a walk along the River Weaver this afternoon. There was a flock of c30 Little Grebe dotted about the river with decent numbers of Mallard, Common Teal, Common Shelduck and a few Tufted Duck being noted.

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A flock of c200 Black-tailed Godwit were on the sand bank with c300 Lapwing, c30 Redshank, 3 Greenshank, 2 Dunlin and 2 Ruff. 4 Mute Swan and a Little Egret made their way down river.

House Martin and Swallow were feeding along the river bank and being busy feeding up for the big haul south ignored a Kestrel hunting alongside them.

Observer and images: Paul Ralston.

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Additionally over at Widnes Warth Marsh a feeding flock of 45 Ringed Plover, 20 Dunlin, 17 Redshank, 3 Little Egret and a singing Cetti’s Warbler per WSM.

25.05.17. Birdlog

A walk around No.6 tank after the heat of the day had and air-cooled on the marshes. I started with watching a chirping family of House Sparrow feeding by the ditch on Moorditch Lane. A Reed Warbler was busily carrying food in to the vegetation and a Reed Bunting was equally busy alarm calling from the same area.

Onto No.6 and the Common Shelduck were again notable with Tufted Duck, Mallard and Gadwall were also present. A smaller flock of 50 Black-tailed Godwit were feeding along the edge of the north end of the tank. Another 300 birds were gathered close to the tanks northern section. Two pair of Little Grebe were out on the water as were the non-breeding Mute Swan herd. A Lapwing was keeping a parental eye on two well-grown chicks and was kept busy by the corvids that constantly strayed too close. A pair of Avocet joined with the godwit flock and another 10 were with 150 Blackwits on the mitigation pools.

A pair of Canada Goose had a single chick on the secluded pool and another pair of Little Grebe and a pair of Gadwall may have bred locally as well? The male Marsh Harrier drifted over the reed bed and several Common Buzzard lazily drifted over in the sultry evening sky.

I watched as the sun dropped below the horizon over the salt marshes and the Liverpool skyline across the Mersey estuary from Manley Road near Frodsham was a beautiful sight.

Observer: Paul Ralston (images 1-2 & 4-5).

My first Painted Lady Butterfly of the Spring was in a garden at Weston village near Runcorn this evening (WSM images 3 & 6-10).

Images from Hale Shore.

01.05.17. Birdlog (Part 2) & NN #58

I thought this mornings watch by Joe from Chester couldn’t get any better considering the volume of marsh terns sweeping across Cheshire  (how wrong could I be).

Myself and Sparky decided to spend some of Bank Holiday Monday walking the trails of Delamere Forest. When we arrived it seemed that all the world, its wife and kids had come up with the same idea (that Gruffalo in the forest has got a lot to answer for ;O). Renegotiating our route we walked out to the former Eddisbury Fruit Farm on Yeld Lane in the hope of seeing some of the lingering Waxwing that were reported yesterday. Drawing a blank we were just about to turn tail and wander back into the forest when the trilling calls lured us up the lane to a tree where the flock were sat out in the open.

The birds were still gorging themselves on the fermenting apples still bubbling away on the floor of the  orchard. Going by the methane haze hanging above the tree you can only imagine the wind swaying the branches (and I’m not talking about the breeze). The highlight was the bizarrely unique experience of trilling Waxwings and a singing male Cuckoo in the distance…surreal!

While we were in the forest I received a text from PR who was out on the marsh and kept me abreast of the Black Tern situation on the Weaver Bend…they were still there!

When you have a partner who isn’t remotely interested in birding it can take a lot of diplomatic negotiations to persuaded them that a Black Tern is of paramount importance. If that doesn’t work, falling to your knees and sobbing uncontrollably usually does the trick!

We had a lovely walk in the forest with a Redpool flock and a Crossbill heard. When Paul sent me another text saying that there was now 14 terns we delayed a visit to the local supermarket and was on the Weaver Bend in the blink of an eye.

On arrival Sparky was the first to spot the Black Tern flock hawking over the ‘bend’ while a Lesser Whitethroat was singing from the eastern banks of the I.C.I tank. Although the lads on scrambler bikes could have been a bit more thoughtful (as if).

Other birds noted this afternoon included: Swift, Cetti’s Warbler and 2 Marsh Harrier per Shaun Hickey, Gary Worthington.  Also spotted from the Hale side of the estuary was an Arctic Tern flying alongside Frodsham Score plus 4 Black Tern leaving the Weaver estuary and a Little Gull by the sluice gate close to Marsh Farm Farm. Observers: Dave Craven & Ian Igglesden.

Paul was situated on the bank watching the terns and we both took loads of photographs while they were unconcerned by our presence. During the course of our watch more birds joined those already present and another 16 were added. At the last count 32 birds were on the river.

Nature Notes #58

Paul had witnessed earlier in the day the spectacle of a Stoat killing a young Rabbit and managed to capture the moment on his camera.

Observers: Frank Duff, Mike Turton (image 1), Paul Ralston (images 5 & 7-13), Sparky, WSM (images 2-4 & 6).

19.03.17. Birdlog

A walk around No.6 tank this morning starting off from Godscroft Lane where a Chiffchaff was calling by the M56 bridge and a flock of Curlew passed overhead. A mixed flock of waders were on  the mud on No.6 and featured Black-tailed Godwit, Golden Plover, Redshank, Curlew and a small amount of Dunlin with 3 Avocet. The ducks were in good numbers with Common Teal, Mallard, Shoveler, Common Shelduck, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and a few Pintail were all noted .

The mitigation area pools held more Black-tailed Godwit and a single Ruff with more Shoveler and Common Teal on the water there. A flock of Raven were tucking in to the Sunday Spring lamb dinner and holding their own against the Great Black-backed Gulls. A walk along the footpath to view the Whooper Swan herd of which there were 20 grazing with a flock of Black-tailed Godwit feeding alongside them.

On the flooded field were c300 Golden Plover sat with the Lapwing flock and were then joined by more godwits and Curlew.

Observer: Paul Ralston (images 1-4).

We spent the morning walking the trails around and through Delamere Forest with the prospect of dropping in at Yeld Lane by the former Eddisbury Fruit Farm. The Waxwing flock that have been present for some time were close to the road flying in from the poplars trees to the west of the farm. I estimated that there were 45 birds although there have been nearer to 170 birds in the week. Watching the flock through the hedgerow for 30 minutes was good value until a big female Sparrowhawk dropped by and scattered the punkettes.

Understandably most of the birds left the area with a few left to guzzle up the fermenting fruit laying on the orchard floor. Just before we left the “kyow” calls of a Mediterranean Gull drew my attention to a pair overhead and giving me the unique view of flying Waxwing and Med Gull in the same binocular view.

We continued our walk via Linmere Farm where there were 3 Crossbill flying overhead and these or another group could be heard flying over Black Lake an hour later.

Observers: Sparky & WSM (images 5-7).

A Nordic Jackdaw (revisited)

08-12-16-nordic-jackdaw-runcorn-heath-park-fields-bill-morton-1608-12-16-nordic-jackdaw-runcorn-heath-park-fields-bill-morton-13A couple of years ago 19th December 2014 to be exact I came across a Jackdaw with pale whitish patches to the sides of its neck and concluded it was a Nordic Jackdaw belong to the form Corvus monedula monedula. I regularly saw the bird in an area parkland off Park Road, Runcorn throughout the winter and into the following Spring. During that summer it was paired up with a Western Jackdaw C. m. spermologus and was even seen attending to a nest site in the chimney of a nearby house. I saw the bird again in late July and then again in the autumn and into the new year of 2015. There were sporadic sightings of the bird again throughout 2015.

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I didn’t have an opportunity of keeping a regular watch on the Nordic Jackdaw from April 2016 but did notice it was still present at the end of November. The bird was again seen into December.

A great opportunity for those observers/photographers interested in seeing this race in Cheshire and getting some excellent photographs. The bird is attracted to food and can be seen down to a few feet.

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The Nordic Jackdaw site is at Park Road, Runcorn and can be seen at the boating lake attracted to bread thrown by families feeding the Mallards or on the nearby playing fields within c130 Western Jackdaws. Grid reference: SJ510815. Nearest post code: WA7 4PU

Video of Nordic Jackdaw here: https://vimeo.com/194849552

Observer and video/images: WSM.