24.04.86.

Copulating Hairy Pecker!

A celebration of times spent with friends 36 years ago!
Niagara Falls,Ontario, Canada, April 1986 by Martin Garner

Windsor Star 18th May 1986

Pelee Tales!

24th April 1986: We (Martin Garner and myself) could barely contain our excitement, we were eventually on our way after months of planning! Stopping briefly to collect Martin Gilbert (hence forth known as Gilly) and Ian Igglesden (Iggy) for our Wardair flight from Manchester to Toronto. We were in our twenties. Gilly and Iggy were both in their teens (New Generation Birders 1986 style).
We had been planning this trip for quite a while and with whatever information we managed to acquire – most notably Mike Passant from Stockport we planned our agendas.

April 1986. Black and White Warbler. Point Pelee, Ian Igglesden (3)

I remember the flight to North America for two reasons, a: the airline served our in-flight meal and beverages on bone china plates and in, cups and saucers, b: Martin and myself asked and were permitted to look in the cockpit of the plane with the pilot at the controls “can we have a go?” with tongues firmly pressed into cheeks (you wouldn’t even think to ask these days!). When we eventually arrived in Toronto airport and as the plane was taxiing to a stop we looked out of the window and in the daylight a couple of birds were viewable. Gilly said ” bloody hell my first birds in Canada and they’re a snipe and a crow”. I reminded him that they were ticks and the light bulb flickered into life. Anyway, after disembarking we only needed to clear immigration and bins would be unsheathed and primed for spotting…But, there was a problem!

April 1986. Red-tailed Hawk. Point Pelee, Ian Igglesden (3)

Martin Garner had dual citizenship and this appeared to cause some concern with his former homeland (so to speak) – he had planned to extend his vacation by working a few jobs. We waited in a side room growing more and more impatient as the minutes turned to an hour. Let’s leave him someone muted – the temptation was slowly growing. Soon he emerged with his relevant documentation and we went to hire a car which we would leave in Windsor, Ontario but not before ticking off Niagara Falls and having Red-tailed Hawk and Raccoon in the parking lot (it doesn’t take long before we were using the local lingo). The 200 pairs of Ring-billed Gull nesting on islets within feet of the thundering falls was most impressive.

April 1986. Nigagra. Point Pelee, Ian Igglesden (3)

We drove to Rondeau, an area of old growth Carolinian forest along with extensive coastal wetland and immediately fell into a jet lagged sleep in a compact and cramped hire car. The outside temperature was below freezing and inside the car was kept above that level by the increasing fumes of methane emitting from one or more of the party.

Swamp Sparrow, Point Pelee birds 1986 (5)

The next morning dawned icy but we were fired up and a Belted Kingfisher rattling away perched close to where we were parked was a good omen for the trip. Rondeau was a fine introduction and eased us all in nicely before stopping off at a bar en route to Pelee. Downstairs was a strip club but as keen as we were our tight budget didn’t stretch to any other extra curricula activities. We pulled in our belts and naively girdled our loins and reluctantly refrained from some of the local ‘wild life’.
Point-Pelee-Postcard-700x495April 1986. Killdeer. Point Pelee, Ian Igglesden (3)

Point Pelee map 1986 (4)The drive to our destination gave us the opportunity to catch up on loads of padders and a Killdeer feeding along a roadside verge deserved a closer look. Leamington near Kingsville is the nerve centre of spring migration on the Great Lakes and the sign which greeted us arriving in the town read ‘Leamington Welcomes Birders’ and as it turned out they did in their droves.

We found a strategically placed campsite at Sturgeon Creek close to the entrance and pitched our two plus two-man tents, wedged in among the plush trailers and even posher Winnebago’s. We had arrived and we wasted no time in hitting the trails and Hillman’s Marsh.Leamington Welcomes Birders. Ian Igglesden

Coloured pencil of Yellow-rumped Warbler

The wood warblers came thick and fast, and during one day we counted c900 Myrtle Warblers which was impressive by anyone’s standards. The dream wood warblers were more than we had expected with the outstanding Blackburnian being particularly impressive. North American vagrants to Britain were eagerly sought out and stunning Hooded and Wilsons Warbler were soon gathered, Blue-winged, Golden-winged, Tennessee, Northern Parula, Yellow, Magnolia, Cape May, Pine, Palm, Black & White and American Redstart fell quickly followed by an impressive day tally of 21 warbler species on 21st.

Golden Swamp Warbler

Prothonatry Warbler, Point Pelee birds 1986. Ian Igglesden

April 1986. Pronthonary Warbler. Point Pelee, Ian Igglesden (3)Early one morning and unexpectedly perched low on a branch in an oily black swamp wood… emerged a… Prothonatory Warbler ! Startled, I couldn’t take it all in, the enigma that lay before my retina was too much! My cornea was peeling layers of lens as they evaporated with the beauty that was beholden. Make it stop my eyes pleaded. I wasn’t use to seeing brightly coloured birds in what was reminiscent of an English woodland. We all had similar experiences with these American wood warblers and memories of that old television documentary about Long Point Bird Observatory and their spring migration came flooding back.

April 1986. Cirulean. Point Pelee, Ian Igglesden (3)April 1986. Baltimore Oriole. Point Pelee, Ian Igglesden (4)

We had only hired the car for a couple of days and a one way trip so after spending the morning birding the trails Martin and myself took the car back to the hire company. That afternoon was the first real warm day we had in Canada and there on in, it was wall to wall sunshine. We both stopped off at Wendy’s diner where we gorged ourselves on triple burger, fries, icy coke followed with a strawberry ice cream for $4.60 as if that wasn’t enough we called into a supermarket and bought a couple of cold chocolate milks and quenched our thirst. Martin got hooked on the stuff.

April 1986. male American Redstart. Point Pelee, Ian Igglesden (3)

April 1986. male Red-winged Blackbird. Point Pelee, Ian Igglesden (3)

.

.

Bill Morton's Pelee notebook Spring 1986Without a vehicle to get us around we started to hitch back to Leamington and didn’t need to wait long before a Chevy pulled up and a brusk voice said “jump aboard guys”. Martin had a habitat of jumping into the back seat when we were hitching together so he didn’t have to engage in conversion with the driver. “You guys from Australia” our lift said “erm, no mate, we’re from England” I replied. “Hi my names Dibble and I’m a Hells Angel” as he thrust out a hand bigger than a shovel for me to shake. My default sarcasm nearly kicked in and I was really tempted to say “are you giving the chopper a break today, Officer Dibble” but I could feel Martin screaming a silent “please, don’t say anything!!!” from the back seat and I had to rein it in.

Bill & Martin, At the point at Point Pelee birds 1986 (8)

Point Pelee birds booklet 1986 (14)Bill Morton's Pelee notebook Spring 1986The following day saw a glut of new migrants and no bird was left un-binned, Martin and I took the concession bus en route to the point. I decided to get off sooner we then agreed to meet at the point soon after. As the bus was pulling away 3 Evening Grosbeak were perched on a branch above my head. I turned around just in time to shout “Evening Grossers!” to see Martins doleful eyes widening as he was carried away into the distance. It would take him a good 30 minutes to get back to the stop and when he eventually did they had departed. He did get to see them eventually.

“copulating hairy peckers”

Bill Morton's Pelee notebook Spring 1986Looking back through my notes and an entry reads “copulating hairy peckers” – now that shouldn’t be an entry in anyone’s note book but it was written down in mine! That morning birds were coming thick and fast and I couldn’t write down my notes fast enough. Watching a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers in the act of amor was scribbled quickly and hence the page title. Shortly after I raised my bins on a passing bird but suddenly a red mist obscured my view and on slowly lifting my optics from my eyes to investigate a buzzing sound I was confronted by a tiny Ruby-throated Hummingbird hovering in front of my face… Frodsham Marsh birding wouldn’t be the same again!

Adult summer Laughing Gull, Point Pelee birds 1986 (10)

The trolley bus was a brilliant idea on behalf of the park authority and saved valuable time commuting up and down the peninsular. A hop on hop off system.

.
Point Pelee is renowned for its spring migration positioned on a peninsular just off the 42nd parallel jutting out south into Lake Erie and the first drop off point for the north bound birds.

Adult summer Laughing Gull, Point Pelee birds 1986 (6)

Bill Morton's Pelee notebook Spring 1986Although we did well for the regular migrants we didn’t set North America on fire but that wasn’t our intention. We did score a Long-tailed Duck, Ruff, a locally rare Willet at nearby Hillman Marsh was another good find and the only one of the trip, an adult summer Laughing Gull (description required), Iceland Gull, a leucistic Ring-billed Gull at the point wouldn’t normally get a mentioned but it had a superficial similarity to a species we hadn’t considered, a Thayer’s Gull, it was perhaps this odd encounter that set a low burn with Martin’s gull kindle and would surface many years later.

One tactic we used was to blag a few lifts to other areas and Martin’s favourite ploy was to tell a random birder we met that there was a report of an American Avocet (very rare) at Tilden’s Marsh and we were looking for a lift. It worked for a while but they soon clocked onto the scam and we had to find alternative ploys.

Comet tails

The evening of the Ruff sighting was historically notable. There was a bit of commotion in the Sturgeon Creek campground with people having BBQ’s and lashings of beer being passed around. We asked what was ‘going on’ and someone replied that they were having a Halley’s Comet party and a trained telescope pointing skyward revealed a pale glow high in the heavens (it wasn’t a patch on Hale-bopp a few years later).

Great Egret, Point Pelee birds 1986 (11)

Betty WigginThe birding was everything we had and hadn’t expected it was the generosity of local people who made our visit much the better for. Iggy met a local newspaper reporter Alan Cairns and he relayed our story. It just happened to be that Alan was a birder and he asked if we would be interested in being featured for an article to be published in the Windsor Star. It didn’t need a second before he agreed to the idea. The story told of four young British birders who on a shoe string scraped enough money together to travel three thousand miles across the Atlantic to spend three weeks camping/birding in their backyard.

Dougie Wiggin

The main advantage was the coverage the article got and the interest from the ex pat community. The morning following the articles publication the visitor centre was awash with requests from people offering their best wishes and evening meals. Alan and his wife Lahring were very generous (Alan originated from NE England) along with Dougie and Betty Wiggins Betty (was Irish) and Dougie (both pictured) hailed from Keighley, Staffs) and Jim Hulme and Julia Burgess (Jim being a scouser) – they all supplemented our meagre funds and were long-lasting friends beyond our holiday.

April 1986. Henslow's Sparrow. Point Pelee, Ian Igglesden (5)

April 1986. Henslow's Sparrow. Point Pelee, Ian Igglesden (3)Now that we were minor celebrities the local birders were happy to exchange news and we benefited in passing on our gen to them. As I have mentioned earlier the concession bus would stop at various points along the peninsular and one of our favourites stops was the much-needed coffee hut towards the point and we would hang out there and Martin got invited to an evening out and away from birding and his mates. That evening he turned up the collar on his washed out denim jacket and dusted off his ruby-red slippers for a night out on the tiles in downtown Leamington. He left the camp ground with high expectations sometime past midnight and my slumber was disturbed by the tent zipper being forcibly opened with a lot of cursing and then clothes being flung about the tent interior and then a torch beam blazing into my face. “You awake, Billy?” he asked ” I am now!” I replied. It was obvious the evening hadn’t gone to plan and after various items of the tents interior were thrown about with an element of annoyance and frustration he settled down for the night. Still in character he selfishly left the torch on and the beam was pointing straight in my eyes! I muttered two short but effective expletives before drifting off to sleep.

April 1986. Kentucky Warbler, Point Pelee. Ian Igglesden

April 1986. Garter Snake. Point Pelee, Ian Igglesden (2)

Up at first light and we all set off together before we would disperse later in the morning. We all walked through a boggy wooded area within sight of each other where we flushed out a stonking male Kentucky Warbler perched out briefly. A little further and a small brown stripy headed bird appeared in front of me…I turned slowly to the others and caught their attention and mimed a Marcel Marso impression of a Worm-eating Warbler!!! However, the element of surprise for the bird was short-lived with the sound of branches being crushed under three pairs of feet. The bird disappeared but after we were all assembled and a patient wait, it appeared in front of us and big Cheshire (birders) Cat smiles spread across our chops.

Yellow-headed Blackbird, Pelee birds 1986 (15)

Bill Morton's Pelee notebook Spring 1986No birding holiday is without its adventures but Martin (Gilly) Gilbert had a tendency to get in more scrapes than most. We all agreed to meet up in the evening at Doug’s Cafe – a local eatery where we’d hang out with local birders Alan Wormington or Tom Hince to exchange news of the day.

Winding Trails
Gilly had a habitat of birding off piste and it wasn’t a great surprise not to see him sat at the evening diner later that day but by the time we retired for the night there was still no sign of him. We were concerned but we were sure he was alright (that’s what we were telling our selves) before we went to sleep that night. In the early hours there was a little commotion outside our tent but we were too far gone to care or show any interest and went back to sleep. Dawn broke and after wiping the sleep from our eyes we sprang from our tents to wake Iggy up. Looking inside his tent there was Gilly fast asleep. It transpired that the previous day he had walked along the east shore line but was confronted by a breach in the beach and decided to wade through it to reach the marsh beyond. He recalled that he had wandered for several hours along winding trails and lost his bearing and ended up completely lost. He eventually heard voices and went to find some directions to get back for dinner. Unfortunately, he met a group of boozed redneck fisherman who thought by his accent he was an easy target and wanted to do him harm. He made a tactile retreat and got even more lost but continued his birding. In the dark he found a more welcoming group of campers and they gave him a lift back to civilisation and the campsite at 4 am.

As if that wasn’t enough Gilly and myself were offered a day with one of Canada’s top birders Alan Wormington and he would be driving us about in his prized two door MG midget. Gilly had also got the chocolate milk fetish but after the umpteenth car stop he forgot and left his carton of milk on the back seat of the car after carelessly climbing out of the MG he hadn’t notice the carton of milk falling on its side … glug, glug. By the time we got back from birding in the warm Canadian sunshine there was a distinct aroma of sour milk emitting from the car interior – the kind of smell that permeates upholstery and stays for a very, very long time. Alan looked at Gilly and said “You Klutz” we started calling him a klutz for a long time after that.

A couple of evenings later we were joined at Doug’s Cafe by top American birder Jon Dunn. Gilly never fazed by personalities he mithered Jon to buy him a bowl of ice cream. Jon didn’t know how to react to this sudden request so he had no option other than to order a ‘double scoop’, “cheers mate” was the Gilly’s reply.

On another day we found a grounded bat outside the cafe entrance. We told Gilly it might have rabies just as he was about to pick it up…it stopped him in his tracks! Gilly had an odd persona that was uniquely his own and I’ve yet to meet another birder like him. He could frustrate and entertain at the same time (more of his stories here: Martin Gilbert).

April 1986. Clapper Rail. Point Pelee, Ian Igglesden (3)Red-breasted Mergansers, Point Pelee birds 1986. Ian Igglesden

(dead) Common Yellowthroat, Point Pelee, AApril 1086. Martin Garner (2) The opportunity to witness  Spring migration in all its glory was clearly evident day by day. The birding was exceptional and to encounter a flock of 3000 Red-breasted Merganser on one day. On another day thousands of Bonaparte’s Gull moving ahead of an advancing thunderstorm and its electrical storm lasting for 13 hours. Finding recently grounded migrants being so tame you could pick them off the floor after their long journey. We saw 30 types of warbler and a trip list of 200 bird species speaks volumes for Point Pelee National Park.

It was our first foreign bird watching trip and on it we made friends, we fell out, we had loads of laughs but best of all we birded ’til the Cowbirds came home’.

adventure-on-one-cent-1-of-1Like all good times they have to come to an eventual end. Me, Gilly and Iggy caught a Greyhound bus to take us to Toronto airport. We were all very envious of Martin who would be working his way through the summer in Canada and then joining Jim and Julia on a road trip across country to Martin’s former childhood home in Vancouver. I remember when he eventually got home to Frodsham a couple of months later he had acquired a mid Atlantic accent and it “kinda” comes out every now and then.

.
Travelling back from Manchester airport I was wistfully glazing out of the car window and passing the huge industrial complex of I.C.I works at Weston Point a flock of screaming Common Swifts chased each other overhead. Spring had reached Cheshire. On arriving at my house there was no one at home and I had forgotten to take my door keys with me but the kitchen window was ajar so I climbed through it before climbing into bed and falling into a jet lagged sleep.

Bill Morton

Images: Alan Cairns (image 2), Ian Igglesden (images 3-6, 8 & 10-16,21-25 ), Martin Garner (images 1, 17-20, 26-27). Bill Morton (Painting, notebook sketches).

Jim & Julia’s tale

We were just at the start of the spring migration in 1986 in southwestern Ontario, Canada. The pussy willows were swelling with buds, cold rain brought forth greening, insects were emerging… and the birds were coming through on the way to their northern summer habitats. We live in Kingsville, the most southern town on mainland Canada, so we get an extraordinary amount of migratory animals as it’s a convergence of major migratory routes. Birds, of course, but Monarch butterflies and dragonflies too. Nearby Point Pelee National Park can be seen from our front yard – and it’s a place we’ve visited innumerable times over the decades.
So that day in Spring ’86 – we woke up and read the newspaper – and there it was. The article which would introduce us to a bunch of fellows that we’d still be connected with 30 years later. It was a big article: a collection of youthful avid twitchers – bird watchers we were informed – had travelled from the Northwest of England and were camping rough. They had enough for their fare and meagre accommodations, but were still exposed to the elements and by the look and sound of it, could benefit from some indoor warmth, a hot bath or shower, laundry facilities, a bed and some home cooked food.

Jim and I had been married 10 years previous – this marked a dozen years since his immigration to Canada from Liverpool. He felt empathy for these lads – he’d been their age and travelled on holidays to Canada himself, perhaps with a bit more luxury – and an older sister who had landed years before and offered family hospitality. These lads had no one. Just their leaky tent, the cold rain and the quest for bird sighting. ‘Let’s go down to the Point and rescue them’, Jim said. So we did.
We thought they’d be found if we went to the main visitor centre, show the naturalists the newspaper article and ask if they had seen them in the park, if there was a hot birding spot that day – we’d eventually find them. What we found on entry into the Visitor Centre were the lads – with a queue of well-meaning locals booking them for this BBQ, this dinner, this sightseeing. Eavesdropping we overheard ‘Tuesday for a BBQ? Yes, that sounds lovely’. We wondered if our hospitality was going to be either needed or preferred. When we got to the front of the queue, we invited them back to our place – we had lots of extra room we told ‘em. I think Jim’s Scouse accent was that extra bit of ‘back home’ that the lads took a chance on and agreed. So we had guests and we had fun.
When it came time for their Canadian adventure to end and to fly home, we helped get folks to where they needed to go. By then, though, one of them, Martin Garner, had decided to stay on and extend his holiday indefinitely. He was from Frodsham, where one of our best mates lived. Martin was in a unique position. He was Canadian. His parents had emigrated many years before and he had spent some early and formative years in Canada, where his family took their citizenship but eventually repatriated to the U.K. He didn’t need a visa – he could stay as long as he wanted. So he said ‘tara’ to his mates and decided he’d head back to the campground. We felt awkward dropping him off there – with no clear plans, no sure thing. We turned around, headed back to find him walking down the road – we thought forlornly. ‘Get in the car’ we said. When we got back home, we made some plans. Did he want to work? Did he want to just bird? Travel?
Work it was – eventually at the Tropicana Restaurant which had a very busy summer patio business and a steady clientele. Waiting tables came naturally, as did the charm. There were many times when grabbing laundry – work black pants and white shirt ‘uniform’ I’d find telephone numbers scribbled on bits of paper placemats, cheque stubs. He did well with his tips – saved up a bit of cash. And he had fun. I found out funny little secrets – how he loved pumpkin pie – something that in 1986 England was quite exotic. Canned pumpkin – the primary ingredient for said pies – would be a gift that we would bring to him when we visited ‘over the pond’. And a strange liking for rusks and custardy banana? jarred pureed baby food. True comfort food – he loved those little jars, and we indulged him. We had a blast with him at our place – and he whipped my garden into shape, having great skill from his working on nearby farms in Cheshire.
The summer flew by – he connected with local Christians in the de Colores movement – arriving at just past sunrise one morning of a local retreat to greet them with song and celebration. He made friends in many circles – local naturalists, co-workers and fit right in. We had an offer from our good friends in Victoria British Columbia to come west and visit them – and likewise with friends outside Edmonton. ‘Wanna join us?’ Martin gave his notice at Tropicana, we loaded the car with all his gear and ours and headed out. We chose a western route through the States first, with plans on sharing the driving. Crossing at Detroit, we agreed to share the driving – plodding on through the night during the ‘boring bits’, allowing others not on driving duty to sleep until their next shift. Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota… somewhere in Montana we heard ’stop the car!’ – there was nothing in sight – a barren piece of prairie we thought. “Pie billed grebe’ was the cry – I couldn’t even see the little wetland, let alone a bird. We got out, the sighting equipment came out – and there it was, a lone bird out on a distant little bit of water in a depression in the land. The ‘stop the car!’ cry came often, and not at the most convenient times. A good analogy for life in general. Stop. There’s something you need to notice, I know you had this plan, this deadline – but there’s something you need to see…
In Saskatchewan, with a dangerous level of sleep deprivation we handed over the steering wheel to Martin, who was similarly suffering. We barely avoided a collision as his head started nodding, causing the car to dangerously waver. I think he thought he was back in Britain, because he sure wasn’t on the ‘right’ side of the road. His stint of driving lasted 20 minutes.
Got to Edmonton Alberta – or more precisely, Spruce Grove, a town just west of it, and stopped with fellow Liverpudlians Grace & Colin. In those pre-internet days, I’m not sure how all birders connected, but there were definitely tribal drums involved. Instantly Martin discovered – somehow – that there was a nocturnal species walk that he decided to participate in at a local woods. We were downstairs, in a comfy rec room playing cards when Colin heard the back door inch open, obviously Martin trying not to disturb us so late, as it was past midnight. Colin shushed us and mockingly called up quietly imitating his version of an owl ‘ Hoo – Hoot…” “It’s me, Martin,” came the reply, thinking he was just answering the question.

Not sure the night time adventure had yielded any result, but the next day’s request for a good birding destination definitely paid off. ‘I’d like to be dropped off at the tip’, he asked. I had already been schooled in what an Englishman’s meaning of ‘tip’ was – what we’d call a landfill or garbage dump. When you said ‘go to the tip’ near our house, it usually meant the tip of the southernmost part of mainland Canada – the tip of Point Pelee. I’d never heard of anyone wanting to specifically spend the better part of a day at a garbage dump. Which you could smell half a mile away. When we came back to collect him at the appointed rendezvous spot, there he was in all his smelly glory. California gulls, glaucous gulls; he’d managed to tick quite a few off his list. I just remember I needed to launder his clothes. There was no way we were travelling with that in an enclosed vehicle.
We headed west again – to Vancouver and over to Victoria on Vancouver Island. Martin re-connected with a pal of his parent’s from his youth on the lower mainland in B.C., and we had a great visit with friends. Bob and Elaine shared Martin’s deep faith and Bob had recently earned his hovercraft license, commissioned as was to pilot the large craft to and from the World’s Fair site in Vancouver from the Island and the port in Washington State. What a great summer we had – filled with adventure, Martin re-discovering his Canadian roots and making new friends.
It was another scenic route back across the continent to Ontario, and soon enough time to head back to the U.K. It wasn’t until his wedding that we were able to re-connect face to face with him and his family – this time with our little son Elliott in tow. Martin’s path was becoming clear – the natural world would always have some dominion on him, and the cares of the world would also drive his passion. His caring heart has always been his finest quality – and his sense of humour, and his willingness to ‘have a go’.

What a delight that he would have a life and children with which to share these gifts – we aren’t all that lucky. I’m not sure that when you’re diagnosed with what unfailingly is deemed a terminal illness – isn’t all life a terminal thing? – that you arrive at a conclusion that you’re lucky.
And Martin: you’ve been incredibly lucky. A jammy git, as Jim would say. Lucky to have found someone beautiful and talented who like you, wanted a family. To have a healthy, lovely talented family. To have travelled and shared your hope and gifts and to see many parts of the natural world – to be published, to be adored and mentor others, to inspire, to have a laugh and seize the days. Every day.

Julia Burgess and Jim Hulme

Dedicated to both Martin Gilbert & Martin Garner.

Halloween Edition

Image may contain: sky, bird, plant, tree, outdoor and nature

A short ghastly walk from the graveyard that is Ince to the Holloweenpool Gutter on this spooky morning. As soon as I got out of my hearse I could hear skeins of ghostly geese passing overhead and leaving their last resting place on the dead marshes.

Image

A few bloodcurdling Redwing and dark as the night Blackbird were joined by several Fieldtreat thrushes feeding on the haunting hawthorn berries, a few extra Gravefare were lurking amongst the tombstones in the adjacent stubble fields.

A mysterious Merlin was seen haunting over Incey Marsh and soon settled on a piece of deadwood greedily eyeing the mass of sinister Starlings murmurating at the edge of the River Murdery. A large flock of Gruesome Black-cloaked and Lesser Black-cloaked Gulls were resting on the dead marshes, while a few others were feasting on the neither living nor dead zomie sheep laid out after being tossed asunder on the salty brine by the mischievous tide. A cauldron of Little Regrets were cackling in the watery channels with many Shellshockduck sitting like spectres amongst their throng.

Image

Flocks of derring-do Dunlin and Redshock were seen moving up and down the edge of the marshes of styx with Mallard Lady’s and Gentlemen, Terrible Teal and Gadwail on the main Horrible Gutter. A pumpmaster general was bleeding the water to keep the levels down from the flooded fields. 

I made my way back after getting caught in a frightful downpour and watched as 4 grimly Grey Wagtail and a dozen Spied-upon Wagtail fed on horrendous grubs washed out of the earth by the sudden downpour from the malevolent sky.

Vampire Watcher: Count Ralston, (scary pics 1-2 & 4). With a touch of creative editing by Nosferatu.

Image

An eerie owl perches out on the spooky sludge tanks in the witching hour…5 years ago!

If I don’t give it some welly I might try something birdy themed.

Image and video by Nosferatu.

The Starling murmuration over No.6 tank (Duncan Cowley) images 3 & 5 & 7).

…and finally part 1 & 2 of an article that is featured in The Frodsham Nub News about a Frodsham Marsh birder and the birds. Click link here: https://frodsham.nub.news/n/sketching-sculpture-and-sludge-tanks-frodsham-birder39s-bill-morton-on-his-artistic-fascination-with-our-local-wildlife & https://frodsham.nub.news/n/bill-morton-on-the-birds-of-frodsham-marsh

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

Image may contain: sky, beach, plant, outdoor, water and nature

South Mersey Mersey Marshes – Mount Manisty

Image may contain: sky, ocean, outdoor, water and nature

Image may contain: bird, sky, plant, tree, outdoor, nature and water

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.

Image may contain: sky, cloud, tree, outdoor, nature and water

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.

Image may contain: sky, plant, tree, outdoor, water and nature

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.

Image may contain: sky, cloud, ocean, tree, plant, outdoor, nature and water

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.

Image may contain: sky, bird, tree, outdoor, nature and water

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.

Image may contain: cloud, sky, tree, plant, outdoor, nature and water

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.

Image may contain: plant, outdoor and nature

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.

Image may contain: sky, ocean, cloud, plant, tree, outdoor, water and nature

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.

Image may contain: ocean, sky, cloud, outdoor, nature and water

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.

Image may contain: plant, tree, outdoor and nature

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

Image may contain: sky, cloud, mountain, tree, outdoor, nature and water

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.

Image may contain: sky, cloud, grass, bridge, outdoor and nature

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)

Image may contain: plant and outdoor

Image may contain: sky, outdoor, nature and water

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.

Image may contain: sky, plant, tree, cloud, grass, outdoor, nature and water

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.

Image may contain: plant, outdoor and nature

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

Image may contain: ocean, sky, cloud, beach, outdoor, water and nature

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.

Image may contain: outdoor

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.

Image may contain: sky and bird

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

https://frodshammarshbirdblog.wordpress.com/2019/11/28/the-south-mersey-marshes-by-shaun-hickey/

Additional articles covering this area are here:

Round the Back pt 1 by WSM

https://frodshammarshbirdblog.wordpress.com/2015/01/08/round-the-back/

Round the Back pt 2 by WSM

https://frodshammarshbirdblog.wordpress.com/2016/04/12/round-the-back-part-2/

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

Image may contain: outdoor and water

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.

Image may contain: ocean, water and outdoor

…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.

Image may contain: sky, ocean, cloud, beach, outdoor, nature and water

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.

Image may contain: sky, cloud, tree, outdoor, nature and water

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.

29.09.96 & 29.09.18 Birdlog.

On this day 29.09.96 I recorded the second highest ever count of Little Stint in Cheshire when a flock which was (under!) estimated to be 250-300 birds. The actual number was probably much higher than 311 with birds departing without alighting and not included in the totals. I only countered those that settled but as you can imagine it was always going to be difficult to extract the exact number. The previous high count was: 22.09.60, an additional count of c350 at Shotton, Clwyd. (Source: The Birds of Cheshire, T.H Bell, p131).

Other birds present included: Lesser Flamingo, Ruddy Shelduck with a Cape Shelduck (type), Merlin and the long staying Black Swan all seen on the River Mersey or Frodsham Score.

Apart from the high stint numbers there was a flock of 2500 Dunlin, 15 Curlew Sandpiper (including a leucistic bird), 5 Knot, 200 Grey Plover, a single Bar-tailed Godwit and 15 Ruff.

Observer: WSM. Image 1 by Brian Rimmer.

29.09.18. Birdlog.

It was with great anticipation that I made my way out from Brook Furlong Lane via Moorditch Lane to look over the now flooded No.6 tank. The usual group of 7 Ruff were still present with a smart flock of 104 mostly juvenile Black-tailed Godwit. A skulking Green Sandpiper was coaxed out of its hiding place when I peered over the edge to look at some Common Teal. 7 Common Snipe were bold enough to feed out in the open in the bright sunshine while 89 Lapwing were crouched together on the margins of the water. Gulls were coming and going with higher than normal numbers of Common loafing Black-headed Gulls for company. The ducks that were present included: 2 Shoveler, 45 Common Teal and a few Mallard.

Continuing my walk along the track between No.6 & No.3 soon featured a juvenile Marsh Harrier that flew overhead and disappeared over the bank.

A look across Frodsham Score was rewarding with the wintering flocks of Canada Goose encouraging the migrating Pink-footed Goose skeins to drop in and feed up. A couple of presumed feral Barnacle Goose were concealing themselves in the Canada flocks. Small flocks of Dunlin and Curlew could be seen in the distance but a little disappointing to see their numbers so low during the high tide. A Great White Egret was shimmering in the heat haze while 7 Little Egret were fairly noticeable. Sitting out on the edge of the salt marsh a Peregrine was bird watching.

No.4 tank had a singing Cetti’s Warbler while the last Chiffchaff and Whitethroat were still hanging around.

Walking back along the track and it was good to find a pair of Whooper Swan settled in a flooded part of No.3 tank.

Butterflies were enjoying the late warmth with Painted Lady, Red Admiral and some smaller White’s being seen.

Observer and images: WSM.

13.04.10: Martin Gilbert (as told by some of his friends – one last time)

“this world is too abrasive for sensitive people” 

Martin Gilbert copy

This post is to remember and celebrate the life and times of Martin Gilbert who died 10 years ago today (updated 2020) written by just a few of his many friends.

Martin Gilbert Remembered

I can’t really remember when I first came across Martin (‘Gilly’) Gilbert? I would guess it was at the local North Cheshire RSPB members group led by our field officers Doug Percival and Don Weedon. Then a group of young birding talents like Roy Taylor Jnr, Peter Brash, Paul Derbyshire and Martin Garner were chomping at the bit to taste the delights of a prosperous birding scene, a collective group of imaginations ignited by grips, ticks and birding flicks.

Martin Gilbert was brought up in the industrial area of Weston Point, Runcorn in north-west Cheshire during his late teens/early twenties. The ‘calling’ of the natural world and the birders playground at Frodsham Marsh beckoning him down the road from which there really was no turning back! It was here that he would spend most of his time birding the ‘bend’ and the various deposit tanks when most were toiling away at work. I should know we were birding there together.

Martin was obviously different from the normal ‘geeky’ anorak that the layman associate with youths who go birdwatching. He had an anarchic and impish approach to normal life not just being laid back but borderline comatose. Later he developed a unique approach to life going the whole hog and experimenting his look with black painted finger nails and a shabby decor which aped his Robert Smith and ‘The Cure’ fascination. Later developing his musical tastes to Captain Beefheart and sharing it with friends. The hippy values he treasured were a generation ago and a place and time which would have embraced him equally but the legacy of that culture lay ahead.

Leaving home at a relatively early age and being unemployed made him grow up faster than he would have liked. He tried different hobbies before he finally found an outlet suited to his real interests and passion. I remember only to well hanging out at his flat talking about birding with his unopened Giro cheques littering the floor If he needed money he would simply cash one in. Then groping around for an excuse to leave while attempting to understand his thoughts on Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialism . The pressure of life eventually forced him to seek work and then surprisingly managed to secure employment (albeit briefly) with the developing rangers services locally. The interview was quite an informal affair as Martin attended it with strands of dried grass braided into his hair, the after effects off spending that morning investigating a newly found Willow Warbler nest. Soon after It became apparent to both parties that the job was stifling his freedom and offered him few stimulants so he simply decided that he wouldn’t turn up for it any more and left.

When three Black-winged Stilts arrived one spring day at the marsh two of them settled to breed and Martin was approached by John Armitage (RSPB Northern England officer) to warden the breeding site. He jumped at the chance and with a tent/stove and telescope supplied, he quickly settled and established a focal point for the continuous flow of visiting birders. He adored the adulation and generosity given to him by the public and birders during the period that the Stilts stayed. This for him was character building and was tantamount to the work and hours he and friends put in looking after these birds that would shape the relationship and fondness people have for ‘Frodders’. Unfortunately the Stilts with a combination of heavy rain and inexperienced by the birds resulted in a nest failure. It was during this time that Martin excelled and made many long-lasting friendships with birders from near and far.

The 1980’s twitching scene was gathering pace and the call of far-flung places and bizarre sounding bird names was too much for this Runcorn lad. He embraced the twitching scene and the camaraderie and comradeship that it provided and he flourished with enthusiasm. Martin formed a close bond with a band of Runcorn birders notably Paul Derbyshire, John Gunnery, Peter Brash, Barry Starmer and Richard Stratford They went for everything they could afford to go for and quite a few they couldn’t. I remember one occasion when we met up with him in a Winter Suffolk landscape twitching a Nutcracker there. It was bitterly cold with a heavy ground frost and he stood in the waiting throng wearing a thin jacket, open fronted shirt, inadequate trousers and a pair of open toed sandles. It wasn’t because he couldn’t afford decent shoes it was likely he couldn’t be bothered changing them before they left to twitch the bird. Someone in the crown light up a fag and he managed to borrow their cigarette lighter so that he could ignite the soles of his desert wellie’s to warm his feet up!

23.06.14. Runcorn Hill 'cave'

This was something that he was to adhere to throughout his life, with casual work involving Mussel picking on Shetland and within sight of the dole office he was ‘signing on’ in. Martin literally took to the Hermit life utilising a variety of cave dwellings (one of which is pictured above) when I last spoke with him it was from a phone box at the Penzance Cricket Pavilion where he was doing some gardening work to pay his way and living in the pavilion scoreboard shed using a car battery for heating and eating. A spell waiting the tables close to Cape May in USA didn’t last long but made up for it by birding there.

We all have dreams of finding or being there at the discovery of a mega rarity. Martin took centre stage on 12th May 1987 when he discovered a pair of Slender-billed Gulls at the observer saturated Cley Marshes. A British tick for virtually every birder in the country. We all chuckled when luminaries of the day were name dropping his name but Martin took it all in his stride and milked every last ounce out of it. A great find and a cracking piece he wrote for ‘Twitching’ magazine (reproduced at the bottom of the post).

It’s always easy when looking back through rose-coloured spectacles on events and people we have had experiences with. But in Martins case the spectacles certainly didn’t blur the vision of his mates, he was an infuriating and frustratingly bloody minded non conformist and a wind up merchant par excellence! However, he was generous of mind and an inspiration often ploughing a lone furrow but enjoying the company of his friends.  I could write a whole lot of similar stories and each would eclipse the other but Martin lead a life on his terms and was an intelligent lad (attending Portree University again for a short period) the confines of a routine life were beyond his capabilities but he was an original free spirit.

Martin died in tragic circumstances at the foot of his beloved Aber Falls on Tuesday 13th April 2010 at the young age of 45 and was living at the time in the beautiful setting of Abergwyngregyn in North Wales. He had an inquisitive mind and local to his last address he found plenty to occupy his interest there. Discovering a Slow Worm in a local valley would have had him whooping loudly through the village and disturbing the ‘locals pensioners’. I hadn’t seen him for a few years and often wondered where he had got to. If I had known that he was an hour away then we could have met up and swapped birding tales, who knows?

Bill Morton

“Self Proclaimed Guru of Frodsham Marsh”

Martin Gilbert, Barry Starmer and Richard Stratford (1) img002

Although no words could really describe the enigma of the ‘Gilbert’, French pronunciation of course and insisted on by himself. I presume one of the ‘wind-ups’ you refer to (above) is regarding the Red-eyed Vireo we  “found” in your name in Abergwyngregyn. It never ceased to amaze us how fast your investigation trail led back to our smoking gun? I have many more stories I could add and some of yours I could embellish further. The truth is it saddens me too much. “The self-proclaimed guru of Frodsham Marsh”, I think that was one of the Git’s statement was it not? He was my far the best birdwatcher I have ever met without binoculars. I remember he had a pair of binoculars that hindered rather than helped. He eventually threw them into  Holyhead harbour, Anglesey in front of some scuba divers and asked them to retrieve them for him and when he eventually got them back he continued to use them. Some would see this as mad, Martin saw it as non attachment. I remember the last thing he said to me: “this world is too abrasive for sensitive people”.

Barry Starmer.

The Man’s an Exclamation Mark!

Martin Gilbert

I was first introduced to Martin ‘Gilly’ Gilbert at a local RSPB meeting in April’85. I found him a bit unruly, quite scruffy but rather good fun. After a few excursions into various local birding areas we hatched a plan to travel to Shetland to see the ‘Albert Ross’ the Albatross and a Snowy Owls, all sounded great but there was one major hurdle! I was a 16 years old boy, who had just left school and my parents didn’t think hitching the 700 miles to Aberdeen and back was the best career plan ever!  I managed to persuade them on the basis that I would be with this older, more mature chap who would no doubt go to any length to protect my well-being, they agreed and a date was set.  My father offered to take us both up to the motorway services near Preston to get an early start and we arranged to meet near Runcorn railway station at 0700 hrs. to start our journey north.

The 0700 hrs rendezvous quickly came and went and that’s when my alarm bells started to ring – No Gilly!  A quick phone call to his landlady’s landline (no mobiles then of course) and a sleepy Martin came to the phone.  “5 minutes and I’ll be ready” he said.  Five minutes I thought! It had taken me at least 3 hours of packing and unpacking my enormous rucksack before I was happy. A rather awkward 15 minutes past as my father ran a series of questions past me and insisted on pointing out that this was not the best start to our plans and my hitching career.  Eventually ‘Gilly’ appeared, carrying only a satchel containing a Book of Poetry, a Blanket, a Post Office Account Book and his Bins – and that was it!  Oh, and wearing wellies… in June!  And I could barely lift my bag up to get it on my back.  This was perhaps the first lesson I learnt from my mate Martin, – to travel light.

The hitch north went very well and we made it up to the ferry terminal in record time, the trip almost came to a grinding halt when the ticket officer refused our request for two half-fares for the ferry (I was 16 and Gilly 19!) Not only were we unaccompanied by an adult, we needed to be under 14 to qualify for the fare reduction, bugger!! We decided to spend an extra night in the Aberdeen and try our Plan B tomorrow. This would be going for an adult and child rate, a saving to our considerable funds (about £20 each and a week extra on Shetland).  We ended up spending the night in a beach shelter with a group of drunks, the cider flowed and all was well – until a fight nearly broke out over the alleged ownership of one of the benches. We scarpered and made it onto the ferry for the 14 hour crossing to Lerwick.

Shetland did not disappoint with the owl and albatross falling on our lists on the first full day, followed by several new birds including White-billed Diver, Red-necked Phalarope and Storm Petrels. Martin had a fit of ticking frenzy as it was his first trip north of the border The extended views of an Otter sunbathing on Fetlar are still as vivid today as they were in 1985.  We had 18 days on Shetland for about £90, including the ferry – Bargain!  This was largely made possible by the lovely people of Shetland frequently feeding and accommodating us after hearing our tales of woe and poverty-stricken adventure – one family in North Roe even wheeled a neighbour’s spare bed down the street for us and we spent a night in the front room, along with several abandoned lambs that needed regular feeding.  Another night was spent in a house of an aircraft mechanic, who fed us on locally caught trout, loads of beer and a lift down to Lerwick the next day, we missed out on the offer of a free flight around Unst later in the week as we had to leave.

We eventually headed south across Yell and down towards Sumburgh Head but never quite made it as a Ring-necked Duck was found up on Unst and Gilly wanted to twitch it.  I had seen one before so wasn’t that interested, I suggested we split up for a few days. There was one little problem and that was we had only one return ticket for the ferry with both our names on it. I had carried it throughout as Gilly didn’t want the responsibility, at least initially! When I refused to hand it over things got quite heated and all manner of threats were issued both ways, such is the way with adolescent, ego saturated youth! We parted company on the dockside in Aberdeen a few days later and I made the long hitch south alone! I had 50p in my pocket, no map and no pen or paper to write hitching signs on – the first rule of twitching are there are no rules to twitching – be prepared for the unexpected. This was the first of many, many disputes that we would have over the next 25 years and yet we remained good friends until Martin’s untimely departure in 2010.

Most birders who met him have their own ‘Gilly ‘stories and there a few that fail to bring a smile to people’s faces, like the time he spontaneously hitched to Scilly after a mate (Bill Morton) lent him a £10 (a lot of my dole money then and I’m still waiting for it back! Bill), he stayed on Scilly for two weeks on 50p after getting a half-fare on the boat (in 1987 a half fare was £9.50), he survived by sleeping rough, eating blackberries and supplementing his diet by mine-sweeping uneaten food on discarded plates in the Porthcressa with the odd bit of shoplifting (tut tut you might say – these were the Thatcher years you know!), he saw all the rarities that I saw and probably a few more – all for 50p.  Another lesson learnt – just get to where the birds are and worry about the finer detail later.  In more recent times I returned to my North Wales home in March’09 from a winter trip to Thailand to discover he had been living in my local bird hide for a week, he didn’t know I was away and had lost my phone number.   The temperature fell to below -9 that week!

Martin is still very much missed by his friends and will be an inspiration to many for some time to come, I still occasionally sacrifice a portion of a pint / shot of whisky in his honour – known as ‘Gilly’s bit’ . From an occasion when making some bold statement he poured his share of a beer on the floor, stating “it was mine to do with as I please, as it belonged to him”.  Another lesson, although I draw the line by setting fire to my last fiver to prove the unimportance of money!   I for one expect whatever it is he’s doing in his next life (he was a practising Buddhist), he will be winding someone up or making them laugh or probably both.

Paul Derbyshire.

“Martin you’re a Kultz!”

g5

Two fond memories spring to mind of birding with Martin Gilbert. On one occasion we were heading on a long twitch to the West Country Devon/Cornwall and I arranged to pick Martin up at around midnight. I arrived at Weston Road, Runcorn near his flat to find he’d been waiting on the roadside for the previous four hours he was so excited he didn’t want to miss his lift. Such child-like enthusiasm is in all of us it was just liberating to hear Martin express it more than most. In 1986 we spent a much longer time together over a three-week period at the migration hot spot of Point Pelee, Canada with Bill and Ian Igglesden. For all four of us it was our first foreign birding and a trip of our dreams. Camping outside of Leamington, Ontario and sleeping in tiny two-men pup tents amidst plush trailers and Winnebago’s in freezing conditions. Spending each morning walking and hitch-hiking into the provisional park for the Spring migration. We were temporally adopted by the ex-pat Brits in the town and they offered us an endless supply of lifts and evening dinners. One lift we were eager to take was those offered by Tom Hince and Alan Wormington at the prime of Pelee birding and a good source of local rarities. Martin nearly put an end to all that when he spilled a carton of chocolate milk on Alan’s prized MG midget car seat and left it in the warmth of a Canadian summer! It soon turned sour and the smell crept into every crevasse of the car upholstery. When Alan found out what Martin had done he just called him a ‘Klutz’ and after that incident we did borrow that name for him occasionally! That trip was one of the most memorable and significant travel journeys in my life and Martin’s company and endless enthusiasm was very much a part of it. I was shocked and saddened to hear of his death three years ago leaving fond memories.

Martin Garner.

Gilly in Cape May and Scilly:

g9

Jonathan wrote: “Wonderful stuff, I was almost in tears. I love the Cape May one where the proprietor of a restaurant found him living in staff quarters for free so he gave him a job washing up. Gilly asked if he could eat first from the buffet as,all staff were allowed. The boss agreed. Gilly piled his plate up to the maximum possible, took ages to eat everything, got up, washed his plate and then said “I quit” and walked out.”

Jonathan wrote: “I remember finding him on St Mary’s in 97 ‘looking’ for the Yellowthroat by lying in the middle of the road looking straight up at the sky. He was sleeping rough in Cearreg Du Gardens and his mission was to find the plug on St Mary’s and pull it out to ensure the island would sink. I rented a flat for a second week for myself, ‘Pod’, Lee Amery, Laurence and unofficially Gilly who we invited to stay and looked after him for the week, buying him food and Guinness in the evenings between us and going stargazing up by the hospital after pub hours when drunk as skunks. Looking back it’s still one of my favourite weeks on Scilly,

Jonathan Williams.

Anyone for Cricket?

Just read the lovely tributes to a lovely person-very well done.

Gill, Paul and I will never forget those few weeks Martin wardened the Stilts. The remarkable patience he showed trying to ‘waterproof’ his overcoat with candle fat and his indifference when it didn’t work. Also the impromptu game of cricket on the track along No 5. Happy days with a remarkable character.

Steve Barber.

g10

A Personal Poem

Maybe Martin became a marten, a vole or a three-toed sloth,
                   Maybe he’s in the ethea and gets out quite a lot
                   Could it be he’s really me and I ate him for my tea?
                   I’m so surprised he died you see and that Aber was his exit,
                   Forever that name will mean his name, but words can ne’er reveal,
                   How a likely lad like Martin Gilbert came with so much zeal.
                  I’d of willingly let him tend my light born whist I was away,
                  and by a stream or a babbling brook they’d play till dark of day,
                  What’s good comes from a good place. You came from a good place.
                  If your out there omnipotent and scrambling this you old sly dog,
                  Be warmed to hear we have no fear of joining you through the fog,
                  Though many of year will pass before one of us raises a glass.

Gareth Walker (college friend).

I’d say ‘Really?’ and he’d say ‘Nah’

I’ve just heard this sad news, I haven’t seen Martin for a good 13 years, I always thought that our paths would cross randomly again like they did when I was on holiday in Cornwall in 2002.

I met Martin in Chester around 1998, he was always a teller of tall tales and happily admitted so too. He used to spin a yarn and just when he had my full attention, I’d say ‘Really?’ and he’d say ‘Nah’

I had some wonderful days with Martin mooching around Chester, people watching, a spot of naked river swimming, we even broke into the zoo a couple of times too.

I also spent many an evening with Martin sitting around camp fires in Hawarden woods, he was the perfect companion for such adventures.

We lost touch for a few years and then in August 2002 i bumped into him in a park in Penzance, we spent the day together and he showed me around Penzance, introduced me to a traveler’s site and I met some amazing people.

I always thought our paths would cross again and we would simply pick up where we left off, it makes me very sad to know that will never happen, but I feel blessed to have known such an amazing character.

Mark Wilkinson.


The First Twitchable Slender-billed Gulls Since 1971 by Martin Gilbert

Page from Nancy Gulls cafe in Cley from the day

Wilsons Phalarope at Cley provided the inspiration to hitch from Cheshire to North Norfolk for a week of intensive birding. my lift into Cley was with Norwich birder Barrie Cooper, and it was with him that I entered Teal Hide on the Norfolk Naturalists’ Trust reserve of Cley marshes at about 4.30 pm. on 12th May 1987. a brief scan located this elegant wader which warranted a thorough grilling.

I then decided to systematically search Pat’s pool, casually focusing my ‘scope’ on the first two white blurs I came across. It took about 15 seconds before I realized that I was looking at two quite unfamiliar gulls. a process of elimination ensued but nothing plausible fitted the bill: the name Slender-billed Gull skulked patiently in my mind. Excitement began to grip me and it became an effort to concentrate. An adult Black-headed Gull joined the two preening birds and excellent comparisons were made. The birds were obviously adults due to the pure white tail and pearly grey wing coverts which were a shade lighter than the accompanying Black-headed Gull. They had long, sleek almost tern-like blood-red bills, unblemished white heads, with small beady, apparently dark eyes giving them bland expressions. Their white underparts were suffused with a most apparent light pink.

After about five minutes, I turned towards  Barrie and put him on the birds., tentatively suggesting Slender-billed Gull but still finding it very hard to believe, particularly as two individuals were involved. Barrie was very confident , but I still didn’t have the conviction to alert everyone. I informed the elderly couple seated to the right of me, and after a quick glance they continued to search for Curlew Sandpipers. At this point I began to ‘buzz’ with pleasure and made the decision to race around the two nearby hides with the news. Only two people were present , however, and they were not particularly interested so I returned to the Teal Hide to the comforting ‘click’ of Barrie’s camera. Suggesting to Barrie that Nancy’s must be informed but not wanting to leave., I tossed a £1 coin (the occasion warranted no less) and cruelly lost. Still wishing to remain. I looked pleadingly at the elderly couple on my right: they cracked and left immediately to take the news to Bernard Bishop, the warden.

Whilst waiting for the crowds to arrive and willing the birds to stay, Barrie and I settled down to enjoy these elegant, long-necked  southern wanderers they fed ankle-deep in water, pecking delicately from the surface. The difference in size between the two birds was astounding, the smaller one being about the size of a Black-headed Gull whilst the other was 15% larger.

Typically, before anyone came the birds took flight revealing their long pale wings and noticeable contrast between sharp red bill and clean white head. The first people now began to arrive and carefully quiz me. After a brief search from Avocet Hide, where a single person had a second’s view  of one bird in flight, we raced to the cars and just in time to the two birds fly towards us and land immediately in front of the hide. As the crowd swelled and admiring comments were flung around I was filled with relief. Fortunately this superb pair of adult summer-plumaged Slender-billed Gulls remained in the area for the next three days giving many people such pleasure.

Martin Gilbert

Reproduced here by kind permission of the Birding World team.

Niagara Falls,Ontario, Canada, April 1986 by Martin Garner

Martin (right) with Ian Igglesden and Bill Morton at Niagara Falls on the way to Point Pelee, 1986.

Thanks to Steve Barber, Paul Derbyshire, Martin Garner, WSM for use of their images.

If you’ve got a story and photographs of Martin and you would like to share it with Martin’s birding buddies please forward and I’ll try to fit them in this post.

Bill Morton

R.H. Allen – Celebrating a Pioneer

R.H. Allen (2)

Ron H Allen 1902-1978

It is forty years since the death of R.H. Allen on 28th January 1978, it was RHA that pioneered ‘birding’ in North Cheshire at a time when the only people enjoying countryside pursuits were carrying guns. In Ron’s day that phrase ‘birding’ never existed outside of a line mentioned by William Shakespeare. Ron was one of the first of the modern post war bird watchers and it was solely down to his diligent counting and observations from Weston and Frodsham Marshes that made others aware of the potential of these sites. He also set the foundations for modern birding in North West Cheshire that still exists to the present day. I wanted to mark Ron’s involvement at Frodsham and perhaps enlighten people to the man and his legacy. The above photograph shows Ron seated at the front of the table on the left hand side and behind him his George Rutter. George lived locally at Weston and watched over the marshes there. George was a lock keeper at Marsh Lock and it was George that alerted Ron to a pair of nesting Common Scoter on Weston Marsh.

The following is an extract from the 1977 Cheshire Bird Report written by local birding folk hero Eric Hardy of Liverpool.

Although one held pre-war field-meetings and published surveys and several records of interesting species by the Mersey at Stanlow and Frodsham Marshes’ original sludge beds, it was Ron Allen’s 30 years of systematic post-war duck counts and his annual surveys of estuarine waders which gave these habitats international as well as national significance. His death at the age of 76 in January 1978, will be regretted by all who were greeted by his smiling face, tanned by Mersey sunshine and Stanlow petroleum fumes, as he appeared on the marsh by his clothes-prop of a telescope stand.

Born at Waterloo, he came to live overlooking the marshes at Runcorn’s Weston Point just after the last war and found a new outlet for his ornithological interest. As a regional organiser for the original duck counts and Shelduck moult-migration survey in 1974, I organised counts at all the possible waters to select priorities. Ron’s beat along the Weaver produced the most exciting results, meriting the concentration he subsequently devoted to the area. (“Bird Ecology at Frodsham Marshes”, R.H.A Allen in Merseyside Naturalists Association Bird report 1952 – 3, pp 34-37).

He took up the Shelduck moult-migration survey collecting a team of equally enthusiastic co-operators for 22 annual summer eventing watching noting departures from Mersey and Dee, until he mapped the annual emigration across the Peak. In 1954, when M.N.A. formed the first bird reserve in the Mersey estuary, by the Weaver at Weston Marsh, in response to the policy of wildfowl conservationists to form at least one refuge from shooting in every British estuary, Ron became its honorary warden. Later when N.M.A. formed the tidal Stanlow bird reserve, Cheshire’s largest nature sanctuary, as its contribution to Conservation Year, he became its honorary warden. Ever ready to share his observations, he was pleased to conduct visiting societies to view the wild, unpinioned winter, waterfowl, and waders.

From 1957-71, Ron conducted an annual Northwest Shelduck Census of adults and young from North Wales to the Solway. The labours of his hard-working duck-counting team covered every high tide as well as the national monthly count-counting team covered every high tide as well as the national monthly count, produced the largest estuarine counts of Teal and Pintail in Britain and Ireland, and nationally high counts of Shelduck, Wigeon and Dunlin. I have masses of his field-notes and tabulated counts since he started the surveys, adding to those from Jack Hughes, who farmed lonely Stanlow Point before the war and to Squire Bankes of Weston Hill’s punt-shooting records before the Ship Canal was cut. His Shelduck notes appeared in M.N.A’s Reports 1950-1971 and a joint paper with G. Rutter (joint warden at Weston Marsh) in British Birds, 49 pp 221, & 50 pp 262-274.

Retirement from his management duties in the Cheshire cinema industry gave him more time for a field-work, as well as his other interest being vicar’s warden at Weston Church. He lately belonged to several more bird and conservation societies. I had many private outings as well as society meetings with Ron all his ornithological years he was a kindly, modest man who never spoke a word in malice, never faked a record and bore no jealousy. His mind was as friendly as the Cheshire countryside he loved to visit. Ornithology needs men of his inspiring character. He was president of M.N.A. 1955-80.

Graham Thomason is kindly continuing the organisation of the Mersey Duck and Wader counts.

Eric Hardy.

23.04.16. Common Shelducks (displaying) and Black-tailed Godwits, No.6 tank, Frodsham Marsh. .Bill Morton.

Ron’s close friend Don Weedon remembers the man

“What about Ron Allen”.

19.09.15. Don Weedon, No.4 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton.

Whenever I was down on the marshes it usually involved me messing about really and I wasn’t into birding then. I remember seeing a Buzzard down there (it would have been a rare bird at the time) but thinking back it must have been a Short-eared Owl. Me and my mate would go fishing we’d even go off fishing to the River Gowy near Chester on our single geared bikes catching gudgeon fish which we’d take home and put in a fish tank. It was after many visits to the marsh that I first met Ron Allen who was the voluntary warden on Weston Marsh which was managed in those days by the Merseyside Naturalists Association. He was a well spoken man and his day job was an accountant for Cheshire cinema’s. I always referred to him in a formal way ‘Mr Allen’ more for my respect for the man himself.

R.H. Allen (4)Mr Allen lived in Weston Village and his wife was prominent in the local community, she was the lady chair for Runcorn Golf Club. Although Ron never owed a car he would often catch the bus to Frodsham Bridge where he would walk out to the marsh from there. He was credited in finding a pair of Common Scoter breeding on Weston Marsh which would raise an eyebrow these days and once put me onto a Baird’s Sandpiper on the Weaver Bend or Weston Marsh, I can’t remember where because there was so many ‘yanks’ in those days. He then asked me to do counts for what then was called ‘The Mersey Estuary Enquiry” or duck counts as we called them in those days. I did that for many years. The best bird I remember seeing on those counts was a Glaucous Gull. I never had a car myself and it wasn’t until I was 33 that I managed to own one. It would have been Graham Thomason who gave me a lift to Stanlow to get the ferry across the Manchester Ship Canal to the south Mersey salt marshes.

Eric Hardy had a typical scouse sense of humour despite him being a military man and a Captain in WW2 in charge of messenger pigeons. Like Mr Allen, Eric never had a car and he would rely on public transport to ferry him about. I used to go with my brother-in law Peter Mayers who could drive and we both used to be members of MNA and both worked at the Old Quay yard and did maintenance at Frodsham Pumps on the Manchester Ship Canal. Peter knew Bill Owen the stoker on the pumps who worked 24 hours on 24 hours off. Bill in turn knew Mr Hardy then and he introduced us both to him.

I had a dark complexion with black hair and whenever the summer sun shined I tanned very quickly. On one occasion on the Mersey Marshes we could see Eric ahead of us and as we approached him he said in a loud military voice “I knew it was you Don but this lot thought you were an illegal immigrant”, this confused his group (and obviously comments like that were of a time and a place).

Ron Allen used to bird watch on the marshes with Boyd and Coward (both heavy weights of the national bird watching scene). He was a regular contributor to various journals and his Shelduck moult migration from the River Mersey to Heligoland was featured in British Birds magazine and the MNA reports. When the North Cheshire RSPB group was formed in the 1970’s Ron was picked to be their first field officer and I became deputy field replacing him when he fell into ill-health with Altziemers Disease. Despite his illness I would take him out every other Tuesday mornings we’d go to Marbury Country Park or Frodsham Marshes for a walk and a chat. I remember in the latter stages of his life on one of our walks he spotted a female Mallard which was quacking and said “look Don one of my favourites”. He eventually ended up in hospital and after a visit by Stan Edwards of the North Cheshire RSPB group he didn’t recognise him and sadly Ron passed away soon after.

Don Weedon.

Images of Ron (1 & 4) courtesy of Andy Ankers.

Image of Don (3) and Shelducks by WSM.

Below a link to accounts of the Shelduck moult migration.

British Birds R.H. Allen and G. Rutter

WSM.

28.08.83 Birdlog. A Sharp-tailed Sandpiper

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