Yellow-browed Warbler – New to Frodsham Marsh

I met Paul Kurs on the motorway bridge that crosses the M56 on Brook Furlong Land just off Marsh Lane accessed from Main Street in Frodsham at 7.30 am. It was a partially cloudy morning with the wind veering south with just a hint of south-east in it.

We both set off along the lane heading north towards the River Weaver. There were a few skeins of Canada’s and Pink-footed Goose doing their usual vacating the marsh and heading to an unknown location inland.

Shortly after we had started our attention was drawn to a large flock of mostly Long-tailed Tit by their distinctive ‘thrup’ calls. The flock contained a few Blue and Great Tit along with 2 Goldcrest, this type of passerine combo is usual around early autumn. A few Chiffchaff were periodically contact calling from our left and right side and showing themselves now and again. A smaller warbler flew across the path ahead of us and disappeared into a large Elder. We immediately suspected that it could be a Yellow-browed Warbler but needed a second view to confirm our initial suspicion. The bird fortunately emerged to give a full on view before vanishing into a bramble patch. I left Paul and walked ahead but he was lagging behind and managed a third view as it had a swipe at a Chiffchaff, showing its distinctive white wing bar during the skirmish. After that the warbler flew up the bank of No.5 tank and disappeared from view.

We continued our walk onwards to the River Weaver where Tufted Duck, Gadwall and Stonechat were the only other highlights.

A walk further along the lane to Marsh Farm resulted in seeing c150 Goldfinch along with a c30 Meadow Pipit and some more Stonechat.

On our return along Brook Furlong we saw the tit flock again but there was no sign of the YbW.

We managed 60 species for our visit which was a great count in just a few hours of birding and obviously the small piece of Siberia stole the show!

Written by Shaun Hickey.

Illustration: WSM.

28.08.83 Birdlog

On this Day: 28.08.83 Birdlog

John and Pete Shield’s car pulled up outside my house with an audible screech of its tyres. This was soon followed by a sharp ‘rat a tat tat’ on the front door with the customary shout of “wanna go to the marsh?” I definitely don’t need asking twice and in I jumped! We sped down to the marsh, parked up alongside a variety of early eighties Ford Fiestas and Vauxhall Astra’s at the junction of No.1 & 5 tanks. Whoever it was out of the three of us who decided to walk to the river and onto the Weaver Bend made a costly manoeuvre. After an hour or so’s birding on the ‘bend’ and without much to boast about we headed back to where we had parked the car. On the way we bumped into a Wirral birder who casually mentioned that someone had just found a Pectoral Sandpiper on No.5 tank. We were a bit pissed off that we hadn’t watched over that tank first and hurriedly increased our steps pronto. At the top of the bank on No.5 tank was amassed a huddle of middle-aged men with oily Barber jackets hunched over their tripod mounted telescopes, each one gawping into the distance at a collection of mist shrouded objects which was traipsing the far mud. The sludge tanks on Frodsham Marsh are the main reason why shore birds and occasionally birders choose to settle here during the height of the tide on the Mersey estuary. The incoming sea forces waders to seek shelter and the sludge tanks on the marshes act has a safe refuge. The settling tank are fed by a series of pipes that pump sediment silt from the nearby Manchester Ship Canal and this particular sludge tank was actively used to contain that silt. Over a period of time the sludge would settle long enough to support the hatching of mosquito larvae and other mud dwelling invertebrates and is therefore attractive for the waders to feed and rest up during the highest tides.

It would have been a fairly routine twitch to see a Pectoral Sandpiper on Frodsham Marsh in the summer of 1983. Nearctic shorebirds were very much on the radar for this Cheshire wader hotspot. When we arrived there was the usual smiles and banter from the various birders who had either seen the bird or were busily engaged in conversation, or both. This can be irritating to those that had arrived late particularly when we asked if the ‘Pec’ was still here and got a cursory nod or flick of the head in the general direction of where the bird was. I found a spot and lay on my back with the bank as my support.

The usual dilemma – bins first or scope? I thought and I extracted my trusty German-made Hertel & Reuss 25-60×60 Televari telescope from its leather case (it was voted the most popular telescope in 1982 in a survey conducted by BB). But it did have its disadvantages and one was when it was damp you would need the arm of Hercules to pull the draw tubes from the suction craving housing without popping your arm out of its shoulder socket! After some cursing and coaxing I lifted the pin prick sized eye piece to my pupil and placed the broad end of the object lens on my crossed leg and knee cap (I didn’t possess a tripod then). In this position it would take a while to locate one particular moving wader in amidst the scrum of other birds that were energetically and manically weaving amongst each other. I eventually locked onto the ‘Pec’, but I wasn’t presented with the usual demarcated patterned chest band with an accentuated bodied sandpiper that has become the staple diet I had come to expect here. It took a few views of this bird as it weaved itself through the mass of Dunlin before my eyebrows were force into alert mode! The morning mist was beginning to fade away but the sunlight was directly behind the birds which were ahead and most were silhouetted shapes. I remember thinking when I saw the wader for the first time it wasn’t a ‘normal’ bird? The subject was a small shorebird picking nervously from the surface of the ground. It’s finely balanced body was supported by two legs as if handcrafted by the gods themselves. It had an air of elegance as it tiptoed the mocha brown coloured slime that left beads of ooze dripping as it gently repositioned each foot from the ground before placing the next step ahead. The petite demeanour and messy chest and chevron streaked flanks just didn’t add up? I asked some birders who were standing nearby what their opinion was? They simply shrugged their shoulders and reiterated that they had been told it was a worn summer plumaged female Pectoral Sandpiper and were happy to believe that. I was getting more curious and asked friends what they thought, but no reply was forthcoming. I felt bold enough to say to them that “if I had found this bird I would have said it was a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper”! I wasn’t alone in my thoughts as Mark Gibson also had his suspicions. The rest of the afternoon many people came and went and they didn’t appear to be any words of descent against the “Pec”.

It’s funny how things pan out but it was obvious some people did have other thoughts and one in particular stuck his neck out further than I did. Later that evening Tim Cleeves who was the warden at Hilbre Island in the early 1980’s and had already amassed an enviable reputation for his identification skills made his thoughts public. Soon after his visit to see the “Pec” it all fell into place and its true identity became apparent. That evening word spread like wild-fire and the reidentifed Sharp-tailed Sandpiper was available for all to see the following day. The species are still rare to see in the UK. This particular bird was just one of a run of top-notch rarities that spanned the next two decades on that glorious glutinous gooey sludge tank.

If you were actively birding in the 1980’s then you wouldn’t expect to have the technologic advances of the present day at hand. Information was generally relayed via telephone landline or a very basic jungle grapevine. If you didn’t have a telephone at home (which I didn’t) then your chances of keeping abreast of rarity news was basically slim to zero. I was reasonably fortunate by having a network of friends who I either contacted via the local phone box on a Friday night to hear about birds I had dipped on or rarities that were still available.

Regarding the identity of the Sharp-tail there had been a British Birds journal article published (which is linked below) three years previously, but for many including myself who hadn’t subscribed to that publication we were none the wiser. I’m certain that the birds identity was suspected by many birders present but at a time when the nuances of identification were just emerging from the dark ages it’s easy in retrospect to be critical.  The majority of senior birders that were present were probably no wiser than the kids who were picking up the birding baton and stumbling along the path ahead. We as younger birders (at the time) perhaps had an obligation of respect to the old geners but it’s always worth having a touch of cynicism. Always keep an open mind and never be afraid to ask a few questions. There are no daft questions just daft people giving the wrong answers (sometimes).

It has been 34 years since this bird appeared on No.5 tank and I can remember that occasion like it was yesterday. Ironically 7 years ago on a trip to New Zealand I was watching a flock of Sharp-tail’s when I found two Pectoral Sandpipers in their midst but neither were adult females moulting out of breeding plumage!

The identity of the original finder isn’t know but I’m glad they put the news out initially and they deserve some credit for doing so.

Bill Morton.

Identification of Sharp-tailed Sandpipers

Frodsham Marsh Birding Review 2016

January 2016

23.01.16. Starling flocks, No.3 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton (11)

martin-garner by Yoav PerlmanThe birdblog year started with a guest post by Ray Scally who join me on a trek down to the salt marshes to see for himself the birds on the edge of the River Mersey. A Great White and several Little Egret, Whooper Swan, Pink-footed Geese, Peregrine and Merlin were all good indicators of the rich bird life we have out there. His day total of 61 species was a good start for the month. Paul Ralston is an unsung hero of the marshes and his weekly sojourn from the western edge of Ince always produces some highlights. His first visit of the year on 2nd broke the previous high count for Little Egret with 20 birds coming to roost to trees adjacent to the Ince Berth. A Barn Owl and a partially leucistic Blackbird were also noted by Paul. A 1st winter Marsh Harrier was active in the area and a short blast from the repertoire of a Cetti’s Warbler was heard deep in the reed beds. The first of many ‘sinensis’ Cormorants were noted coming into roost onto No.6 tank. A Woodcock was to be expected during a cold snap where it was skulking under brash wood while a wintering Green Sandpiper drew my attention calling over the ‘Splashing Pool’. A couple of Egyptian Geese were seen and the Whooper Swan herd had increased to 18 birds. Two-three Short-eared Owls were performing well on No.5 tank. A Barn Owl was found dead mid month and was probably a victim of the continuous periods of rain we had been experiencing. The Starling murmurations lasted as long as their reed bed roosts could support their combined weight and 10,000 spiraling in the air was quite impressive and produced some interesting patterns including this ‘Orca‘ shape. Winter counts on the river saw Grey Plover, Bar-tailed Godwits and Knot coming closer inland, three species which aren’t seen in any great counts. Pink-feet numbers increased to three figures and Great White Egrets doubled their’s to two. The 29th was a sad day with the passing of Martin Garner after a long illness. Martin was a leading light in the forefront of bird identification both nationally and internationally. He was one of the instigators of the Frodsham Marsh Birdlog in the 1980’s and in retrospect this blog. The month concluded with PR finding a Hen Harrier over the west end of the marsh.

February 2016

04.01.16. Little Egrets, Ince Berth. Paul Ralston (5)The month began with a ridiculous 25 Little Egrets roosting up in trees close to Ince Berth and the first lambs of the Spring were emerging on 4th. The ‘Carbo’ roost on the dead trees on No.6 were still bringing ‘sinensis’ forms with them. A Water Pipit was flushed from the wet patches on the eastern side of No.4 tank and typically flew high not to return. A Greylag with the Whooper Swan herd throughout the winter was presumed to have been of Icelandic origin? The Great White Egret was strutting its stuff out on the salt marsh of Frodsham Score and a wintering Chiffchaff was heard contact calling from the reed beds on No.4. A Marsh Harrier showed up on No.4 earlier in the month and must have been the bird that wanders up and down the Mersey valley all winter?. Common Pochard is a not so common duck these days so a flock of 40 was an impressive count. The 10th produced a Short-eared Owl, Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Peregrine and a Merlin which shows yet again there is a healthy supply of food available for them. The first flocks of shorebirds appeared mid month including 100 Ringed Plover and an Avocet was new in. The first of the years Mediterranean Gulls dropped into bath prior to heading out to the Mersey estuary at dusk. The monthly WeBS counters turned up a pale-bellied Brent Goose on the score marshes. The third week brought in a record roost count of 30 Little Egret and two Great White’s out on the marsh looked like they always belonged there. A massive post roost of 30,000 Starling blackened the skies at dusk and attracted the attention of both Merlin and two Short-eared Owls, but most headed to the unflattened reed beds near Northwich via Runcorn bridge. The month ended with a herd of Pink-footed Geese on the salt marshes.

March 2016

23.01.16. Great White Egret on Frodsham Score, Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton (3)Spring sees a time of change with wintering species moving out and new summer birds moving in. The 3rd saw three separate Iceland Gulls out on the Mersey estuary which were viewable from Marsh Farm. Time spent gull watching from the farm also turned up 7 Avocet feeding on the mudflats adjacent to the Weaver Sluices. The two Great White Egret were again present on the salt marshes while 30 Little’s were in one field at Ince. A skein of Pink-footed Geese were again seen and Med Gulls continued to make appearances. An impressive flock of 1,000 Golden Plovers over the marsh were calling constantly. The end of the first week saw a Barn Owl disturbed from its hedgerow roost site along the west end of the marsh. A report of a Glossy Ibis over the M56 wouldn’t make it pass the Cheshire records committee so we’ll have to wait another day for our first ‘proper’ one here. A dark bellied Brent Goose showed up on Frodsham Score during the tide. A Green Sandpiper could often be seen along the ship canal. A couple of Short-eared Owl were still about mid month and shorebirds featured strongly with 1,000 Black-tailed Godwits, 500 Golden Plover and 30 Ruff. By the month’s end there were quite a few summer migrants in full song or moving north but also winter migrants still present with Pink-feet, Goldeneye, Whooper Swans and an Iceland Gull present.

April 2016

moorditch-lane-frodsham-marsh-ray-scallyThere were numerous summer visitors present on the first day and like the end of last month we still had a few winter birds reluctant to move north. There were Whooper Swans and Pink-footed Geese still out on the marshes. An Osprey flew north while Marsh Harrier, Goosanders and Cetti’s Warbler were seen on the 3rd. The second week of the month saw an incredible 183 Raven flying south to roost over the marsh and constituted a county record! The remaining Golden Plovers were gearing up for their push north while a flock of 1,680 Black-tailed Godwit were building up to stay or move on. The last two weeks had good numbers of shorebirds moving through and with them was a partial summer plumaged Curlew Sandpiper, a Bar-tailed Godwit, 16 Avocet and 400 Redshank, the latter being a really good count. The Frodsham Festival of Walks I guided this month was eventful for both its birds and its weather. The highlights being a thunder-storm raining down Whimbrels, a cracking Short-eared Owl and the everlasting image of groups of birders/walkers huddled together in groups to shield off the horizontal rain. Ray Scally paid another visit and sketched a drainage ditch along Moorditch Lane that had been dug out by German and Italian prisoners of war in the 1940’s. Moorditch Lane joins up with Lordship Marsh and was once an extensive flood marsh but today is partially used by model aircraft and a hovercraft company so disruption for birds here is quite high.

May 2016

22.05.16. drake Garganey, No.6 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Tony BroomeThe first Garganey of the summer was a fine male on (mitigation area) No.3 tank. A count of 36 Whimbrel was a highly impressive flock on flooded fields off Godscroft Lane. Those very fields would later in the year be used by a recreational use (go figure as they say). A late Short-eared Owl was spotted hunting the sludge tanks on 17th. Another drake Garganey showed up on No.6 tank later in the month while Avocets were busy sitting on eggs. The Short-eared Owl was loathed to leave the area and lingered long into the latter days of the month. A couple of summer plumaged Curlew Sandpipers included a one footed bird that had been seen at Seaforth a week earlier. The third period saw a Cuckoo arrive to the marsh and two drakes Mandarin flew into a ditch never to be seen again? A lonely Red Kite headed north over Lordship Marsh. The month ended with c3 Med Gulls and the remaining Curlew Sandpipers were still present.

June 2016.

27.12.15. Green-winged Teal, Frodsham Marsh. Bill MortonIt was a quiet month until the 8th when the drake Green-winged Teal resurfaced on No.6 tank. The Avocet flock reached a total of 37 birds. The teal was present again a week later while three Garganey were notable. A 1st summer Little Gull put in a brief performance on the river. A new high of 42 Avocet were countered on the marsh and a Cuckoo was observed. Common Swift numbers were reaching several hundred and they would become one of the spectacles of the summer with birds flying so low you could hear their bills snapping overhead.

July 2016

05.07.16. Eygptian Goose and Common Swift photo bombing, No.5 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton (4)The beginning of the month was notable for even more Avocets with numbers reaching a record peak of 64 birds on 5th. The first returning Green Sandpiper was seen and a wandering Egyptian Goose from Hale Marsh popped over the water for a summer break to Frodder’s. A flock of 500 Sand Martin gathered for a few days on six. Cuckoo’s have been thin on the ground this summer, so it was good to watch a juvenile bird on No.5 tank. A loose flock of 71 Raven cruised south to their roost site over the sandstone hills. The water level on No. 6 was too high and so the expected arrival of summer migrating shorebirds did not materialise! The end of the month featured a Black-necked Grebe, 2 juvenile Marsh Harriers, a Hobby zipping through and a female Common Scoter was on Six.

August 2016

27.08.16. 1st summer Little Gull, Weaver Bend, Frodsham Marsh. Bill MortonThe Black-necked Grebe continued its stay into the month and the first 3 Little Stints of early autumn were seen. A Greenshank graced Six and a fly over Tree Pipit was heard by one of Cheshire’s acclaimed young birders (Findlay). There were two Hobby’s by Marsh Farm while a regular passage of Med Gull’s wandered through en route to the river. There were 25 Curlew Sandpiper and 2 juvenile Little Stint on 21st and the month ended with a splendid 1st summer Little Gull performing nicely on the Weaver estuary.

September 2016

09-09-16-adult-hobby-moorditch-lane-frodsham-marsh-paul-ralston-1

08-10-16-juvenile-female-garganey-no-6-tank-frodsham-marsh-bill-morton-24A Great White Egret reappeared out on the salt marshes. A couple of adult Hobby took up temporary residence with some excellent views by Marsh Lane and in fields by Marsh Farm. The first juvenile Garganey of the autumn appeared with 15 Ruff and the ever-present Marsh Harriers were patrolling the marsh. An early passage of Pink-footed Geese moved south over the marsh on 17th. Upwards of 5 Great White Egrets were a new high total for the Mersey marshes. The first Otter this century was spotted on the River Weaver close to the ‘bend’ on 20th. A few days later a dead Guillemot was found on the edge of the Weaver estuary and both Little Stint and 15 Curlew Sandpipers were still being seen. The juvenile Garganey was found on the secluded pool and put in a lengthy stay while one of the few Cetti’s Warblers that can occasionally be found on the marsh sang out loud from the same are of reed beds.

October 2016

11-10-16-sparrowhawk-juvenile-female-marsh-lane-frodsham-marsh-bill-mortonTwo Black-necked Grebes were found by the MNA group and 8 Bar-tailed Godwits were hiding out on the Weaver estuary. There were 7 Curlew Sandpipers still about on No.6 tank and a big movement of Pink-footed Geese continued moving about. An adult Med Gull was found bathing in the waters of No.6 and was seen following a plough for several days in fields off Moorditch Lane. The juvenile Garganey was refound and the first Merlin of the autumn was seen. A 1st winter drake Red Crested Pochard was present at dusk in poor light but could not be found the next day. It is presumed the same bird that reappeared in south Cheshire some days later? A young female Sparrowhawk got in trouble by jailing  itself behind a wire mesh fence until it was rescued on Marsh Lane. A new record high of 293 Shoveler  was on No.6 tank. The WeBS counters on the salt marshes had a great day with a couple of Black Swans, A Glaucous Gull and 4 Great White Egrets. The mass arrival of Yellow-browed Warblers did their best to avoid being found on Frodsham Marsh but it wasn’t for the want of trying. It was no great surprise when one appeared just outside the area on the banks of the Gowy Gutter and several were regularly seen at this time over on the Hale side of the river. The third week saw the arrival of the first Whooper Swans of the autumn/winter period. The month ended with a late Curlew Sandpiper and a couple of juvenile Common Scoter on the River Weaver.

November 2016

20-11-16-whooper-and-mute-swans-ince-marsh-paul-ralston-1There were 4 Curlew Sandpipers still lingering on No.6 tank in the first week and 100 Knot were out by the Weaver Sluice gates. Meanwhile the Whooper Swans could still be found on Ince and Frodsham Score salt marshes. Wintering birds were beginning to settle in to their routine while a wintering Chiffchaff and Cetti’s Warbler occasionally called/sang or popped their heads above the parapet. Raptors were again in both good numbers and variety with the wintering Marsh Harrier leading the favourites. Likewise, a wintering Common Sandpiper was on Weaver estuary. The Great White Egret popped out of the tidal gutters on the salt marshes long enough to be counted. Not to be out done there were 20 Little Egrets to keep it company. A Barn Owl was seen along Moorditch Lane at the end of the month and a cold snap forced hundreds of Scandinavian thrushes to the berry laden hedgerows.

December 2016

11-12-16-common-sandpiper-frodsham-marsh-tony-broomeThe last month of the year saw the Whooper Swan herd relocated to fields adjacent to the M56 motorway, but weekend disturbance forced them back to fields west of No.4 tank. They reappeared here again on 31st. Out on the salt marshes the Great White Egret tally reached 3 birds. Golden Plovers were peaking at an impressive 1,000 birds and they were mostly associating with c2,000 Lapwing. There were 3 Little Stint hanging out on No.6 tank mid month. An estimate of 5 Common Sandpipers were on the Mersey estuary but didn’t fool us for one moment (unlike some local and national birders who had a false start with a single photograph posted on the blog). The usual Green Sandpiper(s) ranged widely and popped up at several locations. A sub-adult Marsh Harrier could be found roosting at dusk and a Water Pipit broke cover to show its self on No.6 tank.

I would hazard a guess this year was not the most productive on record for rare birds. The water level was artificially high on No.6 tank during the main wader migration periods. The lack of any contingency plans for the mitigation promised by the working group involved on No.3 tank was woeful. The continued disturbance from the wind farm construction and contractors contributed to this poor birding year. However, ever the optimist there were some incredible counts including Little Egret, Great White Egret, Shoveler and Raven. A mixed bag of fortunes so, we’re hoping that 2017 at least produces some great birds and birding for all those that regularly put time and effort in recording the bird life of Frodsham Marshe :O).

Contributors:

Tony Broome: Images 6 &14

Alyn Chambers

Paul Crawley:

Frank Duff

Arthur Harrison

Bill Morton (WSM): Compiled and images 1 & 4 & 7-11-12

Paul Ralston: Images 3 & 10 & 13

Findlay & Heather Wilde

Illustration (5) by Ray Scally

Image of Martin by Yoav Perlman

…and all those who took the time to pass on their sightings.

Good Birding for 2017

R.H. Allen – The First Frodsham Birder

R.H. Allen (2)

Ron H Allen 1902-1978

Ron Allen was one of the first modern post war bird watchers locally and it was solely down to his diligent counting and observations from Weston and Frodsham Marshes that made others aware of the potential of the site. He also set the foundations for modern birding in North West Cheshire that 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 left and sat behind him his friend George Rutter who lived locally at Weston and watched over the marshes there. George was a lock keeper at Marsh Lock and it was him 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 that birding folk hero of Liverpool Mr Eric Hardy.

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-mogration 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, he 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 he never had a car and would 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

On This Day…11.08.94

White-rumped Sandpiper painting (3)

Dunlin, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Ringed Plover…What was that?

I was sat hunched up just below the rim of the north embankment of No.4 deposit sludge tank and partially obscured by a few scattered thistles, a small bush or two and, clumps of rank grass. I was here two hours before the expected high tide on the River Mersey which lay several hundred metres beyond the Manchester Ship Canal and behind my position. I untwisted the cap off my flask and poured out a cup of steaming hot tea rummaging at the bottom of my rucksack I pulled out my squashed cheese sandwich. This would be sustenance for the duration of my time here and of course fully charge my batteries.

07.07.12. Greenshank, No 6 tank, Frodsham Marsh by Paul Crawley

Shortly after finishing my brew and sarnie my attention was drawn to a “tew-tew-tew” call from a bird which had caught my peripheral vision as it slung itself over my shoulder in flight and settled on the muddy mire over to the right of my position – it was obviously a Greenshank and one of seven birds seen during the rising tide. This lone bird was swiftly followed by a small group of 20 Dunlin and they settled closely to the ‘shank’ in the same area of wet ground in front of me. Within seconds a second group of waders flew inches over my head and with a whoosh they pitched down with the birds already present and immediately commenced to feed, nervously pecking at the surface of the mud. On closer inspection a carpet of emerging midge larvae were laying like a black swarm on the isolated pools and these had spilled out onto the adjacent muddy areas.Dunlin flock with Weston point in background. Dermot Smith.

I was in a cramped position and I needed to stretch my legs so, I slowly lifted my body to an upright stance and carefully turned to look at the state of the tide beyond the rim of the embankment. Almost immediately a large group of Ringed Plover were approaching my position, roughly at eye level and coming directly toward me. The leading bird was pivoting from side to side in flight and the following birds did likewise taking the lead from the birds in front. Just as the Ringed Plovers were about to enter the confines of the sludge tank they caught sight of me and ever so quickly but gently shifted their flight line and careered to my right. Snake-like, the entire flock moved further out onto the tank before wheeling round to join the birds already feeding. Small flocks were soon followed by much bigger parties and then groups of hundreds of Dunlin and Ringed Plover were pouring over my view-point with an audible almost rythmatic pulse of wind through wings interspersed with piping and rasping “krree” calls.

10.08.15. Dunlin flock, No.6 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton (1)

As I mentioned earlier the midge larvae were emerging from their shallow water bodies and the bank where I sat had clouds of adult midges hanging like a veil about my head. However there was a freshening north-easterly breeze and the mini-muggers dropped below the bank giving me a respite from their bites and only occasionally causing me mild irritation.

The incoming tide oozed its watery self through the channels out on the river and then eventually spilling over onto the salt marsh at Frodsham Score where Oystercatcher, Curlew and Black-tailed Godwit could be seen and heard as they sought shelter wherever they could. The score salt marsh changed from a verdant green swathe into a mocca grey-brown watercolour and flocks of serpent-like lines of shimmering Dunlin laced together to waft in clouds as they too needed a resting place for the period of the river tide.

The shorebirds continued to enter the sludge tank in flock after flock and the sounds of their frenzied chattering whilst alighting soon meant that something special was about to unfold. Just as I expected the last group of birds from the river had entered the tank, a flock of about 400 Ringed Plover nearly parted my hair as they ‘Flosbury flopped’ over the bank and darted to join the others on the ground below. I barely had time to use my scope, trying to find a start point for my count or to even work my way through this shorebird hoard (which was really a pleasant problem to have). I found a cluster of waders gathered and thought they would be a good point to lead me onto other groups and a clear area where most birds could be seen reasonably well. The assemblage contained several hundred Dunlin, little parties of (mostly adult) Ringed Plover and the odd Ruff as a focus point.

It was inevitable that this amount of birds would attract unwelcome attention. I caught sight of a Sparrowhawk flying along and just below the rim of the tank as it flipped down using a series of phragmities clumps as cover to approach the birds at ground level. The taller Greenshanks were partially obscured by the vegetation and spotted the hawk first – a collective warning cacophony rung out alerting all of the smaller birds. Instantly the entire flock of hundreds of waders that had been either feeding or roosting rose as one and as they did so the Sparrowhawk shot straight from cover and flung out a leg ripping a young Dunlin from the air. It was a pitiful sight to see as the raptor carried the still struggling bird to a small elder tree on the far bank to dispatch its quarry. The whirling masses of both Ringed Plover and Dunlin took their time giving the site a good ‘reccy’ before resettling on the mud again.

26.04.15. Dunlin and Ringed Plover, No.3 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Heather and Findlay Wilde (2)

I must have been well concealed or the flocks didn’t see me as a threat and as they became bolder they fed even closer to me than they had earlier. At times I was struggling to focus my telescope and then, when my bins became redundant I just didn’t need the use of optics for these closer birds. Soon the anxiety from their earlier threat subsided and the groups spread out further onto the tank. I commenced my scrutiny of the species and numbers. I found a group of birds which I started to sift through and slowly worked my way along their line, Dunlin, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Ringed Plover…What was that? A smallish caldris wader with an obvious frosty coloured appearance and elongated body shape dropped below a sandy ridge into what I guessed was a dried up water channel. I could just see the top edge of its back as it sneaked along the trough, presumably feeding as it went along and I thought it may have been an early Little Stint. The birds dropped out of view so I carried on my sweep until I reached another party of Ringed Plovers and a smallish Dunlin, was this the bird I had just seen?

White-rumped Sandpiper from Bill Morton's note book.

I retraced my steps and swung back to the initial group of Dunlin that I had started to work through. Dunlin, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Ringed Plover…White-rumped Sandpiper! I really had to pinch myself that the bird that I had seen dropping into the sandy channel was an adult (moulting) summer plumage White-rumped Sand!! It sat side on, displaying the truncated body with exaggerated long wings. The immediate impression was of a pale ghostly looking head and underparts contrasting with the reddish colouring on the back with an obvious white V on the upperparts. I scribbled down notes and made a few sketches. The back and mantle were rusty coloured with black streaking while the lower mantle feathers were edge white. There was an obvious pale edging to lower scapulars. The clean white under parts and blackish chevron streaking and fine delicate streaking which ran along the flanks from the sides of the upper breast were noted. A medium length black bill with a fleshy base and flexed black legs were other give aways. I hadn’t seen the rump but on those views it was irrelevant, to me it was obvious what it was. I was more than confident with the birds identity but I had a pressing problem. This was 1994 and mobile phones hadn’t reached Cheshire to the extent that I owned one and I had hitched a lift to the marsh. I didn’t even have a car (not that I could drive anyway). I was obliged by birding protocol to spread my good fortune to the wider fraternity with the tide having now reached its fullest and the shorebirds in an agitated state, beginning to sense the turn of the tide, as they flew around in little parties. It would be a long walk from the north bank of No.4 tank round the Holpool Gutter and that’s before I could reach Rake Lane and then the two-mile trudge to Helsby and the nearest public phone box. I only had a contingency ten pence coin in my pocket to cover all eventualities (like this). The prospect of leaving my spot was a frustrating one but a White-rumped Sandpiper was still a good bird to put out and would generate some interest locally. When I eventually did the walk and found a phone box I called Ted Abraham at his home (I wasn’t going to waste ringing in the news and my 10 pence on his protracted introduction to Birdline Northwest). Fortunately, Ted’s wife answered the phone – he wasn’t available for comment so I left details and retraced my steps back to the north bank of No.4 tank. Most of the wader flocks had returned to the river but fortunately within a gathering of 200 or so Dunlin was the White-rumped Sand and like a lot of rare waders at Frodsham it was evident there wasn’t a hurry to return to the river. Ted et al eventually made it to the marsh and saw the bird but that was the last time it was seen. Oh, I did get to see the birds wrap around white rumped patch on my second helping.

21.02.16. Mersey Marshes waders. Shaun Hickey (4)

Wader watching is still my favourite type of birding and the sludge tanks of Frodsham Marsh are my favourite type of birding habitat.

Written by WSM.

Images: Image 1 by Paul Crawley; Image 2 by Dermot Smith; Image 3 by WSM; Image 4 by Findlay & Heather Wilde; Image 5 by Shaun Hickey; Note book entry and illustration by WSM.

Round the Back (Part 2)

10.04.16. Sheep skulls on Frodsham Score. Bill Morton (5)

10.04.16. Ferry terminal to Frodsham Score. Bill MortonSometime ago I wrote a blog post (Round the Back Part 1) about a visit I made in my youth to Frodsham Score and Mount Manisty with Halton RSPB members group. At the end of article I mentioned that I would love to make a return visit and last Sunday (10.04.16) my wish came true. 10.04.16. Redshank in the Gowy Gutter. Bill Morton (4)

10.04.16. Redshank in the Gowy Gutter. Bill Morton (2)We arrived (that is Sparky my partner and me) at Stanlow oil refinery in a cold easterly breeze to join a group of 7 other http://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/webs volunteers for the monthly wader and wildfowl count on and off the vast southern Mersey marshes. After the compulsory security check we were ferried by minibus to the terminal and then ferried (literally) across the Manchester Ship Canal to the ‘no man’s land’ that is the salt marsh border edge of the River Mersey. There were high metal security fences, locked gates and derelict buildings which once housed a police station and the works of a time gone by … and not a little unlike what I imagined a cold war Russian Gulag prison camp would look like.

02.05.15. Wheatear, Weaver Bend, Frodsham MarshWe were split into groups and Sparky and myself were joined by Brian Tollitt and our chaperone for the duration Dermot Smith. After negotiating the wader infested shiny River Gowy as it squeezed under the ship canal to broaden out into a proud beast of a gutter complete with dozens of noisy Redshank we edged our way single file along the bramble covered banks to reach a path sandwiched between the canal and the short-cropped damp salt marsh to our left. I know it may sound a bit childish but I had a fizz of excitement deep down in my heart for the realisation that I was walking out to the forbidden land of Frodsham Score. As we walked along I was conscious of keeping Sparky (a non birder) company but taking in the atmosphere all around me which was hugely distracting.

10.04.16. Badger prints on Frodsham Score. Bill Morton (2)

A male Wheatear popped up on the edge of the marsh, we startled a Fox as it  crossed the path ahead and Badger prints pressed into the soft ground were an indication of other wildlife here.

10.04.16. Oystercatchers, astham. Shaun Hickey (3)Shortly after, it or another Fox appeared out on the marsh nonchalantly passing a few Shelduck in a tidal pool and further out two Whooper Swans looked regal against a backdrop of Hale lighthouse and the pale green shimmering heat hazed bridge that crosses the river from Widnes to Runcorn.

10.04.16. Whooper Swans and views on Frodsham Score. Bill Morton (10)All around were signs of industry from the huge works of Ineos Chlor to the east, Stanlow disappearing slowly behind and the majestic Liverpool skyline to the north-west. We were walking along the edge of Ince Marsh, ignoring the ammonia wafting in from the pig farm and the smell of burning plastic that hung in the air and for just one moment I was lost in the green wilderness.

Despite these minor distractions we eventually stopped for lunch and Sparky brought out a small bottle of white wine to aid the creative juices which as it happened came in handy with the numerous bleached white sheep skulls illuminating the tide line kerb edge on the marsh hike and my creation (see top photograph).

10.04.16. Golden Plover on Frodsham Score. Bill Morton (2)

10.04.16. Tree on Frodsham Score. Bill MortonIt beggars belief how many sheep succumb to the highest tides at night but it’s a frightening place for the uninitiated, never mind sheep that only think the grass is greener on the edge bordering the river. A small covey of partial summer plumaged Golden Plover were hunkered down in a small channel to avoid the freshening cold wind while we scoffed our dinner. We had a little time to kill whilst the farmer tended to herding his flock to areas of safety close to the ship canal before we continued our walk out to the raised banks in the distance. 10.04.16. Cow bones on Frodsham Score. Bill Morton (1)

10.04.16. Building on Frodsham Score. Bill Morton (1)We left Brian behind to count and photograph the birds which were coming closer in with the tide. There was an amusing sight tinged with a little bizzareness when a scene from a spaghetti western reared its ugly head. A desiccated cow complete with its weathered hide and one horned skull looked up at us from the outside of the wildfowlers retreat bringing a smirk to my face.

 10.04.16. Sheep skulls on Frodsham Score. Bill Morton (2)

 

Perhaps the most testing time of the day was negotiating the gathered sheep on the banks of the revetment wall. We gingerly inched our way giving the sheep a wide berth but this meant having to venture out onto the gelatinous salt marsh mud with the partially submerged arched sheep vertebrae and hideous skulls poking out. It was reminiscent of a scene from the film the Lord of the Rings where Gollom leads Frodo and Sam through the dead marshes. 10.04.16. Small gutters on Frodsham Score. Bill Morton (1)

10.04.16. Barnacle Geese over Frodsham Score. Bill Morton (6)We did eventually find an area of terra firma from where we climbed up the embankment to watch the swelling river. Although it was an impressive mega tide it wasn’t particularly brilliant for bird numbers and most of the good stuff had decamped over on my usual WeBS count pitch looking over No.3 and 6 tanks further to the south-east on Frodsham Marsh proper. 10.04.16. Pink-footed Geese over Frodsham Score. Bill Morton (10)

10.04.16. Ravens over Frodsham Score. Bill Morton (1)The avian highlights of the day involved an impressive flock of 75 Raven disturbed from the edge of the score followed by a roving gaggle of 34 Pink-footed and 6 Barnacle circling the Mersey basin looking for a suitable dry area to settle during the tide. Dermot went off to count some Oystercatchers a little further away and I continued my count while Sparky watched the mini tsunami pour force across the marsh twisting, doubling back and seeping forth into all the channels before eventually the whole of the marsh was covered.

10.04.16. The Royal Iris sails to Eastham Locks past Frodsham Score. Bill Morton (5)

10.04.16. The Royal Iris sails to Eastham Locks past Frodsham Score. Bill Morton (1)The blue skies and brisk weather all highlighted what a wonderful area on the banks of the River Mersey we share with all those birds and wildlife. When Dermot got back to us to us he said he’d had a brief view of a Seal but it didn’t reappear. As the tide resided we gathered for the walk back and to join up with Brian at the shooters hut. Just then the ship canal cruise boat Royal Iris sailed by heading to Eastham Lock from Salford Quays.

10.04.16. Views from Frodsham Score. Bill Morton (2)

There were more Wheatears encountered with a White Wagtail a first for the summer. A couple of Little Ringed Plover and a Common Sandpiper were also new in.

10.04.16. High tide Oystercatchers at Eastham. Shaun Hickey (1)As we approached the River Gowy gutter small flocks of Redshank were waiting the tide out on the banks with a gathering of brick-red Black-tailed Godwit bunched closely. Another Fox was spotted before we met the other counters who had emerged from the west of the marshes. As we gathered at the wire fences and disused building to gain access to the ferry terminus, it was time for me to reflect on a brilliant day spent out on the banks of the south Mersey marshes and the 8 mile walk didn’t even register on the legs. A final crossing of the ship canal by the ferry man brought us back to the mainland and after a combined count up of the sightings we ended a really great day out on the edge of the river.

10.04.16. Black-tailed Godwits, Gowy Gutter. Bill Morton (2)

If you are interested in getting involved and feel you can contribute some of your time to a worthwhile project with future counts on the River Mersey check this facebook page out for more information: Mersey Estuary WeBS

Written by WSM (images 1-4 & 6-7 & 9-22 & 24).

Images 5 & 8 & 23 by Shaun Hickey.

Thanks to Dermot Smith and Brian Tollitt for their time and company on the day. A big thanks to Shaun Hickey a fellow Mersey marshophile for kick starting part 1.

“Hoopoe on the Bend!”

Hoopoe Weaver Bend note book. Bill Morton
Just why Mark and I were at Frodsham Marsh on 26th Sept 1987 is long forgotten, though I expect it was promising weather conditions or a run of Nearctic waders in the country, since then, as now, it takes a lot to get me away from north Wirral. We had parked up near the log and not seen a great deal, despite walking up to and around the I.C.I tank, checking the Weaver Bend and even getting as far as the Bailey Bridge.  Having struck out we started walking back round the IC..I tank, which held a largish gull roost, shimmering in the heat haze.  I thought I could see something with a slightly paler mantle in the middle of them and was thinking Mediterranean Gull, which would have been quite a good find then.

Hoopoe Weaver Bend note book. Bill MortonThe combination of heat haze and distance persuaded me that I’d be better off if I scrambled over the edge of the tank so that I could rest my elbows on my knees and get a steadier view, sat on the inner edge.  Just as stepped over the top, there was a completely  unexpected explosion of black white and pink from the bare ground in front of me and a Hoopoe took off and flapped low across the tank.

Normally when you find a good bird there is a short or sometimes long period of slow realisation as you piece together clues to its identity and you get  a chance to work out how to communicate what is going on. Not so on this occasion.  I knew it was a Hoopoe in the same instant as the photons hit my retina.  I also knew that there was a chance that it might just disappear if I didn’t persuade Mark to turn round and come up the bank.  He was watching the bend.  I am told not a single word that came out of mouth made any sense at all (except a few choice expletives).  Allegedly I was similarly incoherent when a Pallas’s Warbler interrupted my attempt to put yoghurts in the fridge, by flying across the bottom of the garden, when neither the words Pallas’s nor Warbler passed my lips.  I blame the adrenalin.  Fortunately on that warm day at Frodsham I managed to convince Mark of the urgency of the situation and he joined me on the edge of the tank while we watched the Hoopoe cross over the gulls and apparently land on the far edge near the bridge.
.

So what to do next?  There is a Hoopoe down somewhere on the edge of the I.C.I tank and no other birders nearby.  No mobile phones.  Then I saw in the very far distance a group of birders, heading off towards Frodsham Score.  I left Mark staking it out and set off to tell them. I was quite fit then, but even so by the time I jogged up to them I was hacking my lungs up and really rather sweaty.  As I got closer to the group I started to feel less and less that this was a good idea.  My worst fears came when I finally caught up to them and explained between gasps for breath, that there was a Hoopoe about.  I think their exact words were “That’s nice Deary” as they carried on unpacking their flasks and sandwiches.  On reflection I might have been quite an alarming sight/sound.  Next I headed off into Frodsham where I hoped that I could find a telephone box.  Fortunately I did and was able to make the appropriate phone calls.  When I got back to Mark, I was treated to the surreal view of the Hoopoe flying up the Weaver within a flock of Redshank, before it crossed the River and appeared to fly into Weston and was seen shortly after over the embankment at the Rocksavage works

Written by Jane Turner.

Note book illustration. WSM