10.10.18. Birdlog.

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A visit to the Weaver Bend after work and in glorious sunshine (perhaps the last of the warm year?). Not a great deal on the River Weaver apart from a few Common Teal, Tufted Duck, Mallard and Common Shelduck. A single Great Crested and 4 Little Grebe were noted as were 16 Mute Swan which were spread out along the river course.

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Nearby and on terra firma were 2 (Male and female) Stonechat on the river path and a Green Sandpiper was hiding in the Shooters’ Pool area.

Observer and images: Paul Ralston.

09.10.18. Birdlog.

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My time on the marsh was again brief but the warm sunny weather was a bit like the real summer just gone. We are having wall to wall sunshine with a caressing warm wind coming in from the south.

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The birds of No.6 tank were probably leftovers from the ‘big’ high tide earlier this afternoon with 38 Black-tailed Godwit comprising 90% juvenile birds. 34 Common Snipe cast away their normally shy nature and with gay abandon the majority sat out in full sunshine. The 5 Ruff were typically keeping to the waters edge but never really came close enough for me to take advantage of the superb light for my camera. A few Common teal and a couple of Shoveler were the only of their types here.

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A large flock of Black-headed Gull were following a plough on fields alongside Moorditch Lane. Without advertising products or companies there are other haulage firms out there (unless you want to sponsor this blog you can have the free plug Eddie).

Observer and images: WSM.

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

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On this day-09.10.01.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by WSM.

07.10.18. Birdlog.

An early start around the Weaver Bend on my autumnal morning trek with the first frost of the season clinging to the morning fields. A Kingfisher made its way down the River Weaver where a Whooper Swan was sat the resident Mute Swan herd on the water. Also seen were CommonTeal, Mallard, Common Shelduck, Gadwall and a couple of Wigeon being noted. A dozen or so Little Grebe panicked when they saw me standing on the river bank and c100 Redshank fed at the far edge of the muddy banks. There were small groups of Black-tailed Godwit passed overhead heading to an unknown inland site. There were 8 Reed Bunting which dropped in to the reed bed along the river path and a male Stonechat sat on top of a bush alongside the I C I tank.

I then made my way to Ince where I was making my WeBS count for the month here and 30 Gadwall, 22 Common Teal, 6 Shoveler, 8 Mallard, 1 Mute Swan and a single Little Grebe were on the pools. There were 2 flyover Common Snipe and 18 Curlew being noted. On to the Manchester Ship Canal path and a look over the Frodsham Score salt marsh. A distant Great White Egret was out near to the edge of the River Mersey with 5 Little Egret being more scattered. A female Greenfinch was along the canal path as were many Goldfinch and Linnet.

The fields alongside the Holpool Gutter held c1000 Lapwing, c50 Golden Plover and a mass of Starling with c50 Pied Wagtail feeding within the plover flock. All of this was watched over by 4 Common Buzzard.

Observer and images: Paul Ralston.

A short walk along Moorditch Lane (after we had a walk through Delamere Forest) to look over No.6 tank where c100 Lapwing and 104 Common Teal were the only birds available in our brief visit. Although  50 Black-tailed Godwit flew west along the Weaver estuary towards the Mersey estuary.

Observers: Sparky & WSM.

06.10.18. Birdlog.

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I was out this morning starting at No.6 and around No.4 tanks. Walking along the track between the tanks and a familiar call was heard overhead and looking back I just caught sight of c10 Whooper Swan high up heading south and this was bizarrely followed a short time later by two Swallow heading in the same direction (such is migration).

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The ‘Splashing Pool’ held c25 Shoveler with several Mallard and Gadwall. A Common Sandpiper was again seen flying along the Manchester Ship Canal where a group of 6 Little Grebe and 15 Tufted Duck were present.

Frodsham Score salt marsh had 8 Little Egret dotted about and what geese flocks there was were at the river’s edge.

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The fields around the Holpool Gutter held c200 Lapwing and a large flocks of black-back gulls which were resting near Ince Berth.

Generally raptors were in short supply with only Kestrel and Common Buzzard noted.

Observer: Paul Ralston (images 1-4).

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My visited was to coincide with the mornings high tide out on the River Mersey and the subsequent fallout onto No.6 tank and its surrounding area. A flock of c1000 Lapwing were gathered on the edge of the shallow waters with 70 Golden Plover (a late return to the marshes despite them being available on the Mersey estuary for a few weeks now (It’s the autumn that keeps on not giving). The Ruff that have been lingering about since last September continue to frequent these pools on No.6 tank along with the steady rise in numbers of Common Teal. The first drakes are beginning to sport their winter finery.

After the tide I walked out to have a look over Frodsham Score and I couldn’t beat Paul’s count of Little Egret but 3 Great White Egret were lingering on the edge of the salt marsh no doubt waiting for the waters to recede far enough for them to fish in the tidal gutters. Several thousand Canada Goose were the only goose species out there today. Several hundred Dunlin were wheeling around in the far distance and small numbers of Curlew were really about it for waders. Ducks are slowly filtering back with tens of Wigeon noted. A female Marsh Harrier did help in dislodging some difficult to see species as it quartered the marsh.

A couple of Cetti’s Warbler were song dueling from the reed beds and a large female Sparrowhawk kept the roving tit and Goldcrest flock on the move.

An adult Peregrine sat with its back to the wind on what must have been a very draughty blue top chimney at Weston Point.

Finally a skein of Pink-footed Goose headed over from the north-east and didn’t falter and continued west.

Observer: WSM (images 5-6).

 

01.10.18.Birdlog.

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An after work visit to the marshes in a brisk cold north-westerly. The light in these cloudy evenings isn’t the best but a few birds were present on No.6 tank and thus kept the chill at bay. The first returning (3) Pintail of the autumn were late to the party, rather late than never. A small flock of Mallard always act as a decoy species and the Common Teal (104) duly obliged.

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140 Lapwing faced into the wind and 6 Ruff were pretty much roaming at will around the water’s edge and 3 Common Snipe flew around dislodging a Green Sandpiper on their way. The only Black-tailed Godwit available for comment was a worn adult which spent most of its time asleep. The usual pre-roost gathering of Common and Black-headed Gull were joined by a juvenile/1st winter Lesser Black-backed Gull. Passerines were represented by Pied Wagatil and tens of Meadow Pipit which were moving through.

The ever-present Peregrine was sat on top of the blue chimney above Ineos Chlor (disused) power plant at Weston Point and c30 Raven were enjoying the benefits that only an up draught from the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal can provide.

Observer and images: WSM.