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.

The Yardinere (Updated 2020)- CV-19

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I live in a 150 year old terrace house on the banks of the River Mersey in an industrial port area of town. I literally have a backyard which I call my ‘Yardinere’ or ‘Yarden’ with the sunny sides of the walls facing south-east and south. So, you can imagine there isn’t much room for a traditional garden but room for a lot expansion…upwards.

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Blue Tits are an annual yardinere nester.

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The ‘Yarden’ space I have available measures 12 by 13 feet and a surrounding 6 foot wall of which I have created an area for wildlife. There are pots, hanging basket and an L shaped raised bed which has little or no sunlight – this is planted with grasses, a small Bamboo and Dragon Lillie to make a Zen Garden complete with meditating Buddha and sea-shore pebbles but alas no room for the lotus position. I recycle whenever the opportunity arises so a fly tipped metal chimenea now occupies a shady corner partially hidden by a Forest Flame. The oven part of the chimena has piles of wood bricks inserted inside and liberally entwined small red solar lights give a glowing ember effect at dusk.

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Bamboo canes, dried Giant Hogweed and Hogweed stems make a great place for insects and solitary Bees to secrete themselves.

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Presently there are nesting pairs of Great and Blue Tit utilising the nest boxes and the Blue’s have fledged only yesterday. A Bat box positioned above the kitchen window accommodates those nocturnal creatures and in the Spring and Summer evenings they can be seen fluttering in circles over the ‘Yarden’ fixing their compass positions for a period of foraging the local night life.

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The south-facing aspect of the ‘yarden’

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I have recycled a discarded piece of office furniture in the form of a tree trough which I sowed with a selection of native wildflower seeds, Cow Parsley, Willowherb, Teasel, Sow Thistle and presently, the Allium that I buried last year are flowering attracting Bees and Hoverflies.

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Our native Bees are in sharp decline due to the over use of neonicotinoid insecticides so every bit of pesticide free space we can provide helps these much threatened species. The Cotoneaster that spreads across the top of the wall is handy for keeping out unwelcome cats but it does attract bees and the constant humming sound is a tonic.

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Flowers attract a variety of wildlife to visit the yardinere. One of my favourite plants for its attractive form and for encouraging other types of insects is the Lavender and they obviously add a fragrance to the space. A trailing Winter Jasmine adds a splash of colour in the duller days of late Autumn and Winter. A large potted Honeysuckle is brilliant for attracting Moth species in those sultry warm Summer evenings. The moths in turn provide food for the local bats and are loved much love by Cuckoo Spit aka Froghopper nymphs which have caused us some concern but a solution of water spraying helps to levitate the problem.

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As I already mentioned space is of the optimum and the washing line post has been used by nesting Wasps, Dunnock, Robin and Wren and secreted inside its dense cover many species of moths use it to roost up during the day.

An erratic granite boulder (it took two of us to lift it in place) was found in a field in Daresbury close to the birthplace of Lewis Carrol and was placed close to a looking glass which was added to the wall.

A slight bit of creative pruning has given me a space to insert a garden Green Man ornament which looks wistfully over the ‘yarden’ and may give any intruders a fright.

Many years ago I planted a Cotoneaster which is quite mature now and in the winter retains enough berries to entice the local Blackbirds, wintering Blackcaps and once a small flock of Waxwing to nip off its berries.

One of my few garden centre purchases was an Easter Island figure head and provides some light relief.

The winding twisted trunk and small branches hold a selection of brightly painted bean cans which have been filled with a variety of fibre material. There are a couple of catering cans which are fitted with a specially cut wooden plug drilled with numerous holes so that Solitary Bees can access the interior to live their lives away from predators. Another way of adding colour to a dull space is to paint food cans with bright colours and fill with hollow Bamboo canes and straw to create a hiding place for Woodlice.

One of their main predators is the Woodlouse Spider that resides close by hiding behind a piece of mounted slate artwork. I am respectful of these little critters which can give a nip. I have also collected and fitted dried out Hog Weed stalks which are cut into lengths placed in between the cans – be careful collecting these because when they are fresh they have a burning agent. It’s best to collect them from the countryside in the Winter when they have dried out thoroughly.

Both Blue and Great Tits nested at the same time just yards away from each other.

The Great Tit young (2) fledged on 05.06.18.

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All in all even limited space in any corner of any garden can be an inspiration…or yard can attract some brilliant birds, bugs and bats.

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I’ve installed a small bookshelf on one of the walls where I can place animal skulls, aka ‘backyard skulls’ inspired from the song by Frightened Rabbit.

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The Yardinere Birdlist.

A list of some of the birds I have seen or heard from my humble home over the years is impressive but remember it’s about location and keeping an eye and an ear open whenever you pop outside to tidy up your space: Whooper Swan, Bewick’s Swan, Pink Flamingo ;0), Canada, Greylag, Pink-footed Goose, Common Shelduck, Shoveler, Pintail, Wigeon, Goldeneye, Grey Partridge, Great Crested Grebe, Grey Heron, Little and Great White Egret, Kestrel, Peregrine, Merlin, Hobby, Hen Harrier, Common Buzzard (nesting within sight of yarden), Sparrowhawk, Oystercatcher, Ringed and Little Ringed Plover, Grey and Golden Plover, Lapwing, Dunlin, Green and Common Sandpiper, Redshank and Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Whimbrel, Woodcock, Common Snipe, Ruff, Pomarine Skua, Mediterranean Gull, Iceland and Glaucous Gull, Little Gull, Kittiwake, Common and Arctic Tern, Black Tern, Cuckoo, Little and Tawny Owl, Long-and Short-eared Owl, Barn Owl, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, the commoner hirundines, Yellow and Grey Wagtail, Waxwing, Dunnock (nested), Nightingale, Redstart, Wheatear, Stonechat, Whinchat, Redwing, Fieldfare, commer thrushes, Lesser Whitethroat, Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Blackcap (summer and winter), Sedge, Reed and Grasshopper Warbler, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff (summer and winter), Goldcrest, Wren (nested), Spotted Flycatcher, Coal, Blue (nested), Great (nested) and long-tailed tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Jay, Jackdaw, Raven, Starling (nested), House Sparrow (nested), Brambling, Lesser Redpoll, Linnet, Siskin, Bullfinch, Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer.

…and finally we have an evil Vietnamese gnome living at the bottom of our ‘yarden’.

WSM and images. 

01.06.17. Birdlog & NN #59

A few interesting nature notes from this evening included a Grey Seal spotted off Oglet shore on the incoming tide. A Hobby was seen edging along the steep banks of the Mersey Way and was a typically brief sighting.

A reestablishing colony of Honey Bees were clustered along a tree branch on the bank. The bank had been scorched by a recent fire and presumably the fire had destroyed their hive and the bees were protecting their queen by shielding her from any other threats. Honey Bee video here: https://vimeo.com/219917448

After a visit to the back-end of Kelsall later this evening for Luke Lozsanlov-Harris’s Iberian Chiffchaff it was down to the marsh for a reality check.

The first new day of the month wasn’t particularly inspiring but I can think of worse places to spend the last part of the evening. There were just a few Black-tailed Godwit on both No.3 and 6 tanks with 27 Avocet and 60 Dunlin, the non-breeding plumage bird was still present.

Common Shelduck are still increasing in numbers with presently c300 birds on the shallow waters of 6. There were 4 drake Common Pochard, c100 Mallard, 40 Tufted Duck and 34 Gadwall.

A Cetti’s Warbler continues to attract attention with its explosive song along the byways of the marsh.

The Peregrine was sat on the blue topped chimney and a smart male Marsh Harrier was seen. Common Swift were over Main Street in Frodsham.

Observers: Ian Iggulden, Gary Worthington, WSM (images).

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).

10.04.17 Birdlog & NN#57

A short walk from Ince to the Holpool Gutter early evening with Chiffchaff and a few Swallow which were near the Pig Farm. There were 13 Mute Swan were with the Canada Goose on the Manchester Ship Canal. A male Marsh Harrier was over No.4 tank and was mobbed by a Raven. Walking back to Ince and a group of Little Egret were feeding at one of the pools before going to Their roost.

Observer: Paul Ralston (image 1).

A day off today and I’m on gardening duty. One of our tasks was to shift and haul the erratic granite mini boulder. I found this last year in a field in Daresbury and intended to use it as a feature in the yardinere. Anyway after rearranging some logs and the bug condominium I found a couple of spiders species that are worth mentioning. The first were several Woodlouse Spider hidden behind a plaque on the garden wall. The spiders had constructed a funnel-web which had been decorated with wood chipping and a macabre collection of desiccated Wood lice attached. The second species was a Black Lace-weaver Spider – Amaurobius ferox which was also attached to the plaque and found in a wood pile. Both species are common but difficult to find. Video of Woodlouse Spider here: https://vimeo.com/212645883

After all that work we decided to head out to Delamere Forest for a walk but not before having a brew and a slice of cake from the highly rated Station Cafe off Station Road. We bumped into a birder (Graham Connolly and his family) and he mentioned he had just seen a flock of Waxwing situated in trees in the car park at Linmere Visitor Centre. After a light lunch we headed over to where Graham said the waxies were. When we finally arrived at the spot there was nothing to see, so cursing our luckl or the lack of it we continued to Eddisbury Fruit Farm. Walking past Linmere Farm the distinctive sound of a flock of 21 Waxwing could be heard and seen as they flew over head in the direction of the visitor centre. We decided to do a 180 and head back to the centre. On arrival the flock was perched up in the newly leafing trees in the car park and were there for 30 minutes before restlessly flying off.

We eventually headed out to Blakemere where the colony of Black-headed Gull were busily engaged in their courtship or nesting. A pair of 2nd summer Mediterranean Gull were on the periphery of the main gull group and spent some time posturing to each other.

Continuing we encountered Siskin and Lesser Redpoll, Willow Warbler and Blackcap which were fairly active alongside our walk. A Crossbill could be heard distantly over Station Road on our way back to the car.

Observers: Sparky and WSM (images 3-4 & 5-6).

Additional image (4) by Graham Connolly.

Nature Notes #56 (Odds & Sods)

31-10-16-3-year-old-male-black-headed-gull-colour-ringed-j2lc-spike-island-bill-morton-23A small collection of sightings from and about the River Mersey local to Frodsham Marsh.

31-10-16-3-year-old-male-black-headed-gull-colour-ringed-j2lc-spike-island-bill-morton-19Firstly, a colour ringed Black-headed Gull spotted at the canal zone at Spike Island, Westbank, Widnes. A group of birds brought to bread by passersby included a Black-headed Gull wearing a white ring on its right leg and the usual metal ring on its left leg. The letters and numbers displayed on the ring were J2LC on a white band. After sending off details to the BTO we received details of its history. First ringed on 14.05.12 Vaterland, Akershus, Oslo, Norway. After numerous summer revisits to Norway it was eventually spotted in the autumn in the UK at Spike Island in September 2015. So perhaps encouraging to see that it may have started a wintering regime here in the northwest?


The second sighting involved a dead Conger Eel found on the banks of the river adjacent to Ditton Brook at Pickerings Pasture. The creature was a real river monster measuring roughly 2 metres and an estimate weight of 9 kg.


04-11-16-conger-eel-dead-ditton-brook-pickerings-pasture-widnesThe video here: https://vimeo.com/190320080


Fungi are always a popular feature and can be ‘sods’ to identified. I managed a few recent finds starting with this Earthstar which came in this mini form at Blakemere, Delamere Forest.


A mould fungus measured 8 cm tall and 20 cm long and was at the base of a picnic bench in the forest.


19-1016-cedar-of-lebanon-bill-morton-2Emerging Fly Agaric’s are few on the ground this autumn but a cluster of 80 were beneath a Cedar of Lebanon in the cemetery off Greenway Road, Runcorn.


06-1016-coral-fungus-hale-park-bill-morton-9A bunch of Coral fungus were gathered on a wood chip pile at Hale.

common-stinkhorn-egg-daresbury-firs-david-stewartThe sleepy eye of an emerging Common Stinkhorn egg at Daresbury Firs was one of several found along the path leading up the hill path to the top of the firs.



The 31st October saw a huge irruption of Harlequin Ladybirds locally with thousands about. They included hundreds huddled together and secreting themselves into car door and house door sills, post boxes and gate posts etc etc.