Wednesday, 14 March 2018

2017 - A Year of Patchbirding

So on to my third year in the Patchwork Challenge, and after a couple of very good years the bar was set pretty high for 2017. 

A house move towards the end of the year scuppered the last few months of the year and a slight increase in off-patch birding reduced the number of visits to 111, but I still managed to see 186 species (beating my previous year by 1, although the assigned scoring system actually meant I finished on a lower "score" than 2016). In all I managed to add 6 new patch lifers, largely helped by the big north-westerly winds that battered the UK in September (one of the few times it is actually a benefit to live in the North West!!).


Patch visits - 12
Patch lifers - 1 (Waxwing)
Patch Yearlist - 120 (139 points)

 Water Pipit - Carr Lane (Pic (c) Mike Roberts)

 Meadow Pipit - Carr Lane

Kestrel - Carr Lane

A virus that had ended 2016 prematurely kept me from getting an early start to the new year, but thankfully by the 3rd I was up and ready to go again. Brambling, Chiffchaff, Cetti's Warbler, Water Pipit, Merlin were quickly added to the new list. Having spent hours driving around Hale at the end of 2016, it was rather typical that 7 Waxwing flew over my car as I was driving along, a long overdue Patch tick. The rest of the day was spent catching up with the more expected species including Jack Snipe and Little Owl, ending the day on an impressive 85 species. The 4th provided only my 2nd record of Bean Goose as three flew north over Carr Lane. A couple of Goosander at Pickerings Pasture on the 5th, were joined by a nice dusk selection of Barn Owl, Woodcock and Tawny Owl along Carr Lane. A Short-eared Owl at Hale Shore on the 13th was nice to see, whilst a Common Scoter on the 14th was a good early winter record. A herd of 35 Whooper Swan and 1 Bewick's flying over the Mersey on the 20th was a nice surprise, and a 1st winter Glaucous Gull was a good record given the poor numbers of big Gulls up to that point. A Blackcap on the 21st at Pickerings was a relatively good winter record for the area. The 28th produced 3 Red-breasted Merganser on the Mersey from Hale Lighthouse, whilst the same location the following day was on fire with an adult Iceland Gull and Goldeneye. Overall this was my most successful January to date, with a really good mix of species.....the only down side is that it can make the remaining winter months painfully slow!    


Patch visits - 7
Patch lifers - 0
Patch Yearlist - 125 (144 points)

 Great White Egret - Hale Marsh

 Great Crested Grebe - Hale Lighthouse

Eurasian Curlew - Lighthouse Lane

After a successful January I was able to spend more time focusing on grilling flocks and targeting specific species. The 4th produced Tree Sparrow (an increasingly rare bird on patch other than on autumn migration), and waiting and scanning the Weaver Bend resulted in Pochard, Tufted Duck and some more Goldeneye. A twitching roadtrip (to take in Pine Bunting, Pacific Diver, Eastern Black Redstart etc) with best mate Nick Crouch meant that I was away from the patch for a little while, but I was back out again on the 18th where I caught up with Red-legged Partridge near to Burnt Mill Farm. The rest of the month was fairly slow going only adding Ruff on the 24th, and failing to connect with the Brent Goose that was present on Hale Marsh on the 25th. However even "slow" times on the patch produced a number of Great White Egret, Merlin, Water not all bad.


Patch visits - 10
Patch lifers - 1 (Cattle Egret)
Patch Yealist - 139 (171 points)

White Wagtail - Carr Lane Pools (Pic (c) Mike Roberts)

 Cattle Egret - Hale Marsh & Decoy (Pic (c) Mike Roberts)

 Lapland Bunting - Burnt Mill Farm

Garganey - Ibis Pool, Carr Lane

The month started well with a Red Kite high north west over Carr Lane on the 1st. The 4th produced 2 Pale Bellied Brent Goose which landed with the Goose and Swan herds on Frodsham Score and a flythrough ringtail Hen Harrier. But after a number of lacklustre visits, I decided to try a bit of off-patch birding (seeing some nice local specialities along the way). I finally found my way back to the patch on the 23rd, a male Garganey on the Ibis Pool, a Ring Ouzel over Town Lane and the first couple of returning migrants including Wheatear and Avocet helped to give me the push to concentrate on the patch again. A message from Luke Ozsanlav-Harris had me making an early dart from work on the 24th to catch up with only my 2nd patch Lapland Bunting, which stayed until at least the 26th. To top off the evening I found a Cattle Egret roosting on Hale Decoy (a first for the patch recording area). The remainder of the month saw a slow trickle of summer migrants including Little Ringed Plover, Swallow, Sand Martin and White Wagtails


Patch visits - 15
Patch lifers - 0
Patch Yearlist - 160 (204 points)

 Redstart - Carr Lane Pools

 Sedge Warbler - Ibis Pools, Carr Lane

"Channel" Wagtail - Burnt Mill Farm

April was a mixture of Spring like warmth and bitterly cold north-westerlies and the flow of migrants reflected the blocking conditions. The 9th produced a Tree Pipit (which turned out to be my only record of the year) in the paddocks by Burnt Mill Farm. The 10th saw my first returning Yellow Wagtail, but with the cold conditions it wasn't too surprising to still see a number of winter species including Whooper Swan, Lesser Redpoll and Siskin still moving around. The 13th saw a slight upturn in migrants and a smart male Common Redstart appeared on Town Lane. The 15th saw another push of migrants with upwards of 29 Wheatear by Burnt Mill Farm, along with a couple of the more expected mid-April returners; Garden Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler. More surprising was a group of 4 Cattle Egret roosting on Hale Decoy (presumably a wandering family party), along with an Arctic Tern that flew along the Mersey. The 17th saw more migrant arrivals including another Common Redstart, Grasshopper Warbler and Greenshank. The 18th saw the first returning "Channel" Wagtails on Carr Lane Pools, but best of all an Osprey which flew west along the Mersey. The 27th produced the first returning Whinchat and Swift around Carr Lane Pools. Some big spring tides failed to produce much of note, but the 28th saw my first "proper" Blue-headed Wagtail on patch in 2 years. A couple of Crossbills moving west on the 29th was an unusual date, before some rather cold conditions returned on the 30th resulting in a good number of summer plumaged arctic waders on the move (Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderling, Knot) and my first Little Gull of the year. However finding some sheltered spots still produced the odd migrant with a female Pied Flycatcher staying for a few days in the control meadows at Pickerings Pasture. Although a good month for a mixture of migrants, it just lacked a few more scarce species to make it feel like a good start to the Spring. 


Patch visits - 14
Patch lifers - 0
Patch Yearlist - 166 (212 points)

 Marsh Harrier - Within Way (Pic (c) Mike Roberts)

 Grasshopper Warbler - Hale Park

Avocet - Hale Shore

Compared to last year, May 2017 was a struggle, with a lack of scarce species in stark contrast to 2016; although (hopefully) it wasn't down to a lack of effort. A poorly timed family trip to Tatton Park (during a big movement of Black Terns) meant that I wasn't able to get out until late afternoon. Fortunately 4 Black Tern performed, along with another Little Gull and Arctic Tern....phew! Sadly that was about as good as May got! A colour ringed Avocet at Hale Shore on the 6th was interesting, whilst my only Cuckoo of the year was seen over Carr Lane. I spent a lot of the month grilling the roosting waders at Hale Lighthouse and searching all of the quiet areas of the patch for migrants with no joy. However it was still nice to see plenty of more expected species such as Garganey, Channel Wagtails and Grasshopper Warblers. The 13th saw a big arrival of Spotted Flycatcher, with at least 6 seen around the patch - a very good number for a normally scarce patch species. The 17th was probably my most depressing day of the year, with the local landowners deciding to drain the "Ibis" Pool on Carr Lane to return the area to crop producing land. Clearly no thought had been put into the timing of this with many breeders having to dessert young and nests and the worst part is that up until me writing the area has been left as rough ground. The 26th produced a nice Wood Sandpiper along Town Lane, which showed really well. The 28th saw a good movement of raptors through the patch, including a Red Kite, while a Spoonbill flew over Frodsham Score. The last couple of days of the month were fairly miserable weather wise, and unsurprisingly failed to produce much of note. 


Patch visits - 7
Patch lifers - 
Patch Yearlist - 169 (217 points)

 Ruff - Town Lane, Hale

 Black-tailed Godwit - Town Lane, Hale

Common Tern - Hale Marsh

A bit of off-patch twitching, a break away to Porto and lots of travel for work meant that I wasn't out on patch as much as normal this month. Although it probably wouldn't have made much difference given the lack of birds about still. The 3rd produced a singing Quail along Carr Lane, but sadly no birds turned up along Within Way this year. The majority of visits were spent between checking Carr Lane Pools (checking for colour rings on the Black-tailed Godwit flock) and Pickerings Pasture for the high tide roost on Hale Marsh. The 29th finally produced a few decent birds with a pair of Common Scoter on the Mersey, whilst the high tide roost finally produced some terns with both a Sandwich Tern and Common Tern. Rob Cockbain turned up a Willow Tit at the end of the month, but despite searching I failed to connect.


Patch visits - 14
Patch lifers - 1 (Stone Curlew)
Patch Yearlist - 170 (219 points)

 Stone Curlew - Hale Marsh (Pic (c) Mike Roberts)

 Wood Sandpiper - Town Lane, Hale

Common Whitethroat - Town Lane, Hale

The month started well with a (the?) singing Quail along Carr Lane again. The 7th saw the first wave of returning waders with a couple of Common Sandpiper and Little-ringed Plover, Black-tailed Godwit numbers picking up. I finally managed to connect with the Willow Tit on the 14th along the United Utilities pathway to Pickerings Pasture. This is the third year running that Willow Tit has turned up in June/July and raises the question of whether they are dispersing post-breeders from Moore or maybe a relic population closer by? The 15th produced a patch high count of 4 Common Tern, whilst the 21st onwards saw an increase in returning waders (Common and Green Sandpiper) and the first couple of post breeding dispersal of summer migrants (Common Redstart and Wheatear). The 25th produced the highlight of the patchbirding year, although I probably wasn't expecting it after a very poor visit earlier in the day. A check of my phone after putting the kids to bed, cooking tea and washing up found multiple missed calls and messages from a rather excited Iggy telling me to get down to Town Lane. A VERY quick (but safe) drive down to Hale in the slowly gathering darkness found me watching a Stone Curlew walking around on Hale Marsh which had been found by Mike Roberts! Amazingly it was a ringed bird, which had only been rung this year as a nestling in Wiltshire - clearly it hadn't worked out how to navigate just yet. Only about 15 locals managed to connect with the bird, and I'm just glad that I had checked my phone before pouring myself a bottle of whiskey, especially as it had done a bunk by the following morning. The rest of the month sort of tailed off, with Common Scoter on the Mersey on the 30th being the only bird of real note.   


Patch visits - 15
Patch lifers - 0
Patch Yearlist - 173 (225 points)

 Dunlin - Hale Lighthouse

 Ringed Plover - Hale Lighthouse

Common Sandpiper - Hale Lighthouse

August was again a rather slow month on patch, with plenty of time spent searching through the wader and gull roosts on patch with little success. Yet another Cattle Egret roosting with 37 Little Egret on Hale Shore on the 10th provided some entertainment. The Egyptian Goose finally returned to the patch from the 11th and stayed for the majority of the remaining summer and autumn months. From the 15th saw an increase in the number of migrant passerines, with a couple of Spotted Flycatcher, Pied Flycatcher and a good selection of sylvias. After a run of fairly poor wader roosts, the 18th saw numbers finally start to pick up off Pickerings - which included 17 Sanderling and 2 Curlew Sandpiper. Great White Egret numbers started to pick up as well, with up to 4 birds regularly seen along the Mersey around Hale Lighthouse. With some big spring tides up to 8500 waders started to roost on the fields along Lighthouse Lane which made for an impressive sight, but sadly despite some thorough searching it didn't yield anything better than an odd Sanderling or Little Stint. The 27th produced a surprise juvenile Caspian Gull off Pickerings Pasture, only my second patch record. The rest of the month meandered on with the same fare, but the local Hobby put on good displays throughout. The 30th ended with a distant Osprey circling over Frodsham, before I jumped on a plane to Majorca for a family holiday.


Patch visits - 9
Patch lifers - 2 (Leaches Petrel, Razorbill)
Patch Yearlist - 181 (244 points)

 Pale-Bellied Brent Goose - Hale Shore

 Mediterranean Gull - Pickerings Pasture

Egyptian Goose - Carr Lane Pools

Where autumn 2016 was all about the east coast, this year it was about the westerly airflow and north-westerly gales. Returning from Majorca I found that little had changed, although it was nice to find that many of the waders were still continuing to roost on the fields along Lighthouse Lane. From the 10th the winds swung round to increasingly gusty westerlies. However the only highlight of my first "seawatch" of the autumn was a bizarre male Mandarin flying east along the Mersey. With storm warnings and winds swinging round to NNW I had limited time in the evenings, resorting to popping to Otterspool (which produced a number of good seabirds including Grey Phalarope, Sabine's Gull and Leach's Petrel). It wasn't until the 13th that I was able to get out onto patch (and even that was delayed after my car was broken into). However an adult Gannet was a nice surprise as was an immature Kittiwake....but still not quite the return I had hoped for. The 14th however finally delivered with 3 Leach's Petrel, Razorbill, Guillemot, 3 Eider and 2 Pale-Bellied Brent Geese (all either "new" for the patch or megas in their own right). The 16th produced yet more Cattle Egret, with 2 joining the Egret roost at Hale Decoy. A Firecrest at Pickerings Pasture on the 23rd was a nice discovery, but probably not quite to the level I had hoped for despite the hours of searching. I finally connected with a very vocal Yellow-browed Warbler in Hale park on 28th, although it was a far cry from last years deluge. A mixture of regular returning waders (Wood and Green Sandpiper) and passerines kept the interest just about going, although with a westerly airflow it never really felt as though a mega was waiting to be discovered.


Patch visits - 4
Patch lifers - 1 (Arctic Skua)
Patch Yearlist - 184 (249 points)

 Green Sandpiper - Carr Lane Pools

 Spotted Flycatcher - Pickerings Pasture

Stonechat - Hale Shore

The return of some gale force north-westerlies at the start of the month produced both Great and Arctic Skua on the 2nd off Hale Lighthouse. Work and a bit more off-patch birding meant that I wasn't back on patch until the 20th, by which time there were plenty of signs of winter with Jack Snipe, Merlin, Redwing and Fieldfare. The 28th produced yet more returning winter visitors including Whooper Swans and Pink-footed Geese but sadly not a sniff of the Hawfinch invasion that was going on everywhere around me. Thankfully that all changed on the 29th with winds easing off to a light south-easterly. 5 Hawfinch were the undoubted highlight of the mornings vizmig, but the 5878 Woodpigeon moving south was an impressive sight too. In other news I finally managed to exchange contracts to buy a new house, which would sadly mean that the rest of the year on patch would pretty much be a write-off. For what is ordinarily one of the most exciting months of the year, it felt like somewhat of a damp squib (even with a few off-patch sorties). Fingers crossed for a mix of north-west gales and monster easterlies for 2018!


Patch visits - 1
Patch lifers - 0
Patch Yearlist - 184 (249 points)

 Peregrine Falcon - Hale Decoy

 Black-headed Gull - Pickerings Pasture

Little Egret - Pickerings Pasture

Between the impending house move, associated packing and work I was limited to just the one patch visit all month on the 24th. Even that was a last ditch two hour pre-dusk visit. However it still produced the regular wintering species including Water Pipit, Merlin, Peregrine, Kingfisher, Barn Owl and Water Rails. It turned out to be my only blank month for new additions on patch all year.


Patch visits - 3
Patch lifers - 0
Patch Yearlist - 185 (251 points)

Brambling - United Utilities, Halebank

 Raven - Hale Lighthouse

Little Owl - Within Way

December proved nearly as bad for visits to patch; the house sale and purchase went through fairly smoothly at the start of the month, but sadly the resultant work required on the new house meant that I would end up staying in Maghull for just over 2 months, and any chance of making "quick" patch visits was near impossible. The month started well on the 3rd with a 1st winter Shag at Pickerings Pasture, which would ultimately be my final new species on patch for the year. As always birding around the patch was fun with plenty of good winter species around including Brambling, Water Pipit, Merlin, Peregrine. The only slightly unexpected species was a Green Sandpiper on the 14th. The biggest disappointment was the downturn of Carr Lane as a dusk venue, following the draining of the Ibis Pool.....fingers crossed for some torrential rain to bring it back to its former glory.    

2017 Summary

Ooooooo flashy charts this year!!

 Number of Species (cumulative) Comparison Chart for 2015-2017

 Overall Points Comparison Chart for 2015-2017

Points Per Bird Comparison Chart for 2015-2017

So what did I miss? Fortunately I didn't miss out on any megas, but I still failed to connect with some quality birds - Bittern, Green-winged Teal, Little Tern, Twite, Mealy Redpoll, Siberian Chiffchaff and Rough-legged Buzzard. There seems to be trend of species that I just never seem to catch up with on patch.....hopefully 2018 will finally put some of them to rest!

Losses on 2016 - White-fronted Goose, Green-winged Teal, Bittern, Glossy Ibis, Honey-buzzard, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Temminck's Stint, Pectoral Sandpiper, Little Tern, Turtle Dove. A pretty impressive list and unsurprisingly impacting on my "score".

Despite seeing the highest number of species on patch in the three years that I have been in the Patchwork Challenge, it was fairly evident that the "quality" in other years was slightly higher. Then again, species such as Stone Curlew are only "worth" 2 points despite being only the 10th Cheshire record.

Although 2017 was a successful year in the number of species seen on patch, it was relatively poor in both numbers and scarcity. Both Spring and Autumn were disappointing, although it was not too surprising given the generally poor year Nationally (albeit with some absolutely mind-blowing one offs - the Siberian Blue Robin springs to mind). However the biggest plus for me, both on and off patch was finally seeing some decent north-westerly winds at the right time of year. September and October will be remembered for some excellent seabirds on patch.....even if it was slightly frustrating that I saw an additional 5 species just a few miles further upriver at Otterspool which would have been patch lifers. 

So on to 2018, and despite a house to renovate I am looking forward to getting back out onto patch, and keeping every possible limb crossed for some decent Spring and Autumn migration.

As always a massive thanks to the Hale regulars - Rob and Carol Cockbain, Ian Igglesden, Mike Roberts, Sean O'Hara - for all of the information/texts/messages through the year......and sometimes the odd kick up the behind to get me back out on patch! 

Monday, 12 March 2018

Hale & Pickerings Pasture - Site Guide

When I returned to Liverpool in 2012 I had little to no knowledge of where to go birding, other than the well-known sites which were all a reasonable drive away. I couldn't bear the thought of having nowhere to go birding locally that I could really call my “own”. Resorting to Google maps I found an area that looked relatively interesting (which turned out to be Carr Lane Pools) - in hindsight maybe I should have just searched the internet! Then again, it is quite satisfying to have “found” my patch from merely looking at maps and the local topography.

My first visit to Carr Lane Pools resulted in Garganey, Little Ringed Plover, Merlin and some late Whooper Swans - not a bad start. Over the course of the next few years I explored the area a little more, finding the odd good bird, but not really dedicating the time necessary to really "get to know" the patch. The later stages of 2014, and my involvement in the Patchwork Challenge in 2015 gave me a new lease of life, and I am now totally hooked. 

Carr Lane Pools

Carr Lane Pools is the name given to a set of shallow flooded fresh water scrapes enclosed by Carr Lane, Town Lane and a narrow tributary of the Mersey, Ramsbrook. Although the scrape is largely fresh water, it occasionally suffers from saltwater breaches from high Spring tides. The scrape is surrounded by grazing fields, with a reedy edge and scrubby areas. In the last couple of years flooding has also created a new set of pools (known by the local birders as the “Ibis Pools” following a couple of records in 2016) on the west side of Carr Lane, with a mixture of reedbed and scrub, which stretches as far as Clamley Park Plantation. Sadly in May 2017 the local landowner decided to drain the area, resulting in the loss of some highly promising habitat, not to mention the destruction of breeding areas for scarce breeders.  

Please note that the Pools are on private land and can only be viewed from the road. There are two main areas to view the pools. The first on Carr Lane itself, which provides good views of the pools especially in the afternoon and evening when the sun is behind you. The second viewing area is from a small gated area on Town Lane (park in Curlender Way and cross the road). This provides good views of the main scrape, and is usually the most productive for viewing passage waders.

Rare and scarce birds recorded over the last few years have included Glossy Ibis, Bittern, Green-winged Teal, Temminck’s Stint, Pectoral Sandpiper and Turtle Dove.

Winter (December-February) in the main is quiet on the pools with small numbers of wintering ducks which normally include good numbers of Eurasian Teal and Wigeon, with smaller numbers of Shoveler and Gadwall. Swans and Geese are rare visitors, but are always worth keeping an eye out for. Wader numbers are normally poor, but can include both Common and Jack Snipe on occasion. Raptors regularly seen around the pools are Merlin, Peregrine, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel. Passerines are normally few and far between but Meadow Pipit and various finches are regular, with the occasional Stonechat putting in an appearance.

Spring (March-May) is when the pools are at their best. Garganey are regular and can turn up from mid-March in varying numbers. Passage waders can at times be phenomenal, with numbers peaking from late-April to mid-May. Among the regular waders such as Little Ringed Plover, Black Tailed Godwit, Ruff and Dunlin, you have a good chance of picking out Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Bar Tailed Godwit, Knot, Wood Sandpiper or something scarcer. Timing visits around high tide on the Mersey can result in larger numbers of roosting waders. Passerines normally include good numbers of alba and flava Wagtails (with both Blue Headed and Channel appearing regularly), whilst the reeds can hold Grasshopper, Sedge and Reed Warblers. The surrounding scrub and fencing can be productive for Chats and Flycatchers with regular sightings of Wheatear, Whinchat and Redstart. From the start of May there is always a chance of Cuckoo, Hobby or something more exciting passing through.

Summer (June-August) is hit and miss, with the breeders keeping rather quiet, and the water levels on the pools fluctuating with the weather. Late passage waders, and early returners from August such as Wood Sandpiper can keep the enthusiasm going, but quite often it can be a frustrating site to watch during the period. From July numbers of eclipse ducks start to build and can often contain Garganey. Passerines start moving from mid-August with Whinchat and Wheatear starting to appear.

Autumn (September-November) can be exciting and frustrating in equal measures. Wader numbers can be variable throughout, and passage wader numbers will tail off by early October. However persistence in checking the Pools can produce results with Pectoral Sandpiper recorded in recent years. Passerines are strangely a little more hit and miss during autumn, although will often include Wheatear and Whinchat. The area can also produce large numbers of Pipits moving through, although most are Meadow Pipit, close scrutiny can reveal something rarer.

Burnt Mill Farm (Carr Lane)

The area around Burnt Mill Farm and Carr Lane is mostly arable, with a mix of crops and set-aside depending on the time of year. The local farmers have preserved a lot of the natural hedgerows and regularly put seed down during the winter periods. An open horse paddock to the north of Burnt Mill Farm is grazed throughout the year and provides a unique habitat. Further south along Carr Lane (towards Hale village) there are a two woods (Big Boar’s Wood and Little Boar’s Woods) which are made up of a mix of deciduous trees and hold most of the expected woodland species.

Rare and scarce birds recorded over the last few years have included Glaucous Gull, Corncrake and Lapland Bunting.

Winter (December-February) around Burnt Mill Farm can be productive for winter Bunting flocks which will often contain Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting. The local farmers regularly leave stubble and have increasingly put down seed, and it would not be too surprising if a rare or scarce Bunting is found in the next couple of years. The flocks of passerines often attract Merlin and Peregrine, whilst the more expected raptors are well represented. Big Boar’s and Little Boar’s Woods will often hold good sized finch flocks with Brambling, Siskin and Lesser Redpoll regularly recorded, alongside the more expected woodland species.

Spring (March-May) is by far the most productive season around Burnt Mill Farm. The paddocks often hold sizable numbers of Wheatear from late March, with groups of up to 30 birds regularly seen. The surrounding area holds breeding Corn Bunting and Grey Partridge, whilst in 2015 a Corncrake was a surprising visitor. Pre-breeding flocks of Buntings are often to be found around the stubble fields, and can occasionally turn up something more unusual like a Lapland Bunting. The woodland along Carr Lane can be productive with both Spotted and Pied Flycatcher, Redstart possible alongside the more expected migrants.

Summer (June-August) is often quiet with many of the breeding birds becoming elusive. However depending on the crops in the field it can occasionally produce Quail. Additionally the area also attracts wandering Marsh Harrier from Frodsham.

Autumn (September-November) often fails to produce the expected migrants around Burnt Mill Farm, with numbers of passage migrants relatively low compared to spring migration. However the paddocks can still often produce small numbers of Wheatear and Whinchat.

Hale Marsh & Decoy

Hale Marsh is a large saltmarsh with a mix of small tidal pools, short grassy areas, and sections of reed and scrub. During spring tides it is often flooded, but provides a good roosting area for waders throughout the year. Hale Decoy is situated in the middle of Hale Marsh, and is a small brackish lagoon surrounded by a mix of mature deciduous trees and a moat. Hale Marsh is largely inaccessible, but can be viewed from a number of areas. Given the size of the area views are often quite distant of birds, however it can be quite rewarding. Hale Decoy is inaccessible to the public, but guided walks are occasionally available through the Friends of Pickerings Pasture. Hale Marsh and Decoy can be viewed from Town Lane, along Within Way and from Pickerings Pasture.

Rare and scarce birds recorded over the last few years have included Bean Goose, Brent Goose, Quail, Cattle Egret, Great White Egret, Common Crane, White-rumped Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper and Richard’s Pipit.

Winter (December-February) is generally a good time on Hale Marsh, with sizable numbers of Canada Geese pulling in the occasional scarcer Goose. Egrets are common throughout the year, but the winter months provide the best chance of catching up with Great White Egret, which regularly roost on the decoy. Raptors include regular Merlin, Peregrine and Common Buzzard, whilst there is a good chance of a Short-eared Owl or Hen Harrier. The whole area is good for Pipits, which will sometimes include Water Pipit.

Spring (March-May) provides a good time to catch up with White Wagtail, with flocks of up to 50-60 birds often present. If water levels on the Marsh are good then the pools will often attract Little-ringed Plover, Greenshank and the occasional Spotted Redshank. The hedges around the Marsh provide good cover for passerines such as Whinchat, Redstart, Wheatear and the first returning Acrophalus warblers. The fields along Within Way provide potential breeding opportunities for scarcer species such as Quail and “Channel” Wagtail.

Summer (June-August) can be quiet from the Town Lane end of the Marsh. However the section closest to the Mersey, viewable from Pickerings Pasture or the end of Within Way, can be very productive for returning passage waders. It also provides the best opportunity to catch up with terns and Little Gull, with the roosting Black-headed Gulls often providing cover. Marsh Harrier regularly hunt the Marsh, having made the short journey across the Mersey from Frodsham. The Decoy has a large tree-nesting Cormorant population, with smaller numbers of Grey Heron. The decoy roost often attracts Little Egret, whilst Spoonbill has been seen on a number of occasions.

Autumn (September-November) sees large numbers of Pipits and Finches moving through, which have previously produced Richard’s Pipit. Great White Egret start to appear again, and will often start roosting on the Decoy. Within Way can be productive, and provides a good view of both the Marsh and surrounding area. Passage waders continue to move and this period provides the best time to catch up with a “Yank”, which have in recent times included White-rumped and Pectoral Sandpiper. 

Pickerings Pasture

Pickerings Pasture is a parkland area along the banks of the River Mersey. There is a mix of larger mature trees and smaller fruiting bushes, open grassland, meadows and scrubby areas. There is a hide at the far western end of Pickerings Pasture which overlooks a scrape and Hale Marsh. It is situated next to the Widnes Sewage Works, which have 16 active filter beds (although viewing of the area is difficult). To the east of Pickerings Pasture there is a large industrial area which has sections of disused warehouses and rough ground.

Rare and scarce birds recorded over the last few years have included Great White Egret, Osprey, White-rumped Sandpiper, Little Tern, Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull, Firecrest, Willow Tit, Yellow-browed Warbler, Waxwing and Black Redstart.

Winter (December-February) is relatively quiet around the main section of Pickerings Pasture, with the majority of activity on the Mersey. Although waders are present during low tide, about two hours prior to high tide produces the best opportunity to see waders at closer quarters. Golden Plover regularly roost on the flats, whilst Little Stint are occasionally found wintering. The hedges along the river footpath are productive and will often contain a wintering Chiffchaff or Firecrest, whilst Bullfinch are often seen in good numbers. Gull roosts are variable, but can on occasion be quite impressive during the day. The roosts will often hold Yellow-legged Gull, whilst Iceland and Glaucous Gull are possible. Peregine can be seen easily, with up to three birds regularly roosting on the Runcorn Bridge. Many of the same birds can be seen from the hide (as noted on Hale Marsh), but it provides the best views of the wader roosts.

Spring (March-May) doesn’t normally get going until early April, but the scrub around the meadows will often hold a good selection of Sylvia and Phylloscopus warblers. An early visit is essential if you want to catch anything scarcer, with Redstart and Ring Ouzel seen before the crowds arrive. The scrape pool often holds Little Ringed Plover and a mix of flava wagtails. The river is worth checking for waders during the period, however it never seems as productive as Hale Lighthouse.

Summer (June-August) provides good wader roosts, especially as returning birds start to move. It also provides a good post-breeding roost of Black-headed Gull, which often attract a Little Gull or tern or two. The elderberry around the hide attract good numbers of Sylvia warblers, which can sometimes include Garden Warbler or Lesser Whitethroat.

Autumn (September-November) is probably the best month for this section of the patch. Good numbers of warblers and ‘crests feed in the area, and can draw in Yellow-browed Warbler and Firecrest. The industrial section has large areas of rough ground and brambles, and although the best bird to date is a Black Redstart it is likely that the area could produce something better. Waders on the Mersey are often good during this period, with a mix of returning wintering birds and passage birds still moving through.

Hale Park & Hale Icehouse Woods

Hale Park is open parkland which is bordered by a mix of mature trees, with plenty of fruiting bushes. Hale Icehouse Woods has a mixture of mature trees and has three small drinking pools which can be productive. In addition to the parkland and woods, there is a disused football pitch and sections of scrub and longer grassy areas. The whole area is surrounded by arable land which contains a mixture of crops throughout the year, but there is also often set-aside on a rotational basis.

Rare and scarce birds recorded over the last few years have included Honey-buzzard, Firecrest and Yellow-browed Warbler.

Winter (December-February) is relatively quiet with only the resident woodland species such as Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Great-spotted Woodpecker left. A small section of Alder can occasionally attract Siskin and Lesser Redpoll, although not in any great numbers.

Spring (March-May) is normally the most productive time of year in Hale Park and the Icehouse Woods. From the start of April early morning and late afternoon visits can produce Ring Ouzel, Redstart, Grasshopper Warbler among more expected migrants. The woodland comes alive during this period, with good numbers of breeding warblers and May is generally the best time to catch up with migrant Wood Warbler.

Summer (June-August) is generally quiet, with most breeding species keeping a low profile. From July post-breeding dispersal of finches can often be found around the old football pitch and occasionally include Common Crossbill. Early returning migrants and dispersing breeding birds can occur from late July and have included Redstart and Wheatear.

Autumn (September-November) can be very productive with often good numbers of phylloscopus warblers and ‘crests associating with various tit flocks. The flocks can often hold Firecrest or occasionally a Yellow-browed Warbler. Finch movement can often be quite impressive from late September with good numbers of Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, Crossbill and occasionally Hawfinch.

Hale Lighthouse & Hale Shore

Hale Lighthouse is situated at the end of Lighthouse Lane, and has a small enclosed garden area. The area is made up of mainly arable land, but the river path has a good mix of small fruiting bushes. The shoreline has some retained saltmarsh and also some decent sized areas of reedbed. At low tide large expanses of mud and sandbars are revealed, along with small areas of rocky shore. Hale Lighthouse also provides a good vantage point of Frodsham Score and Ince Marshes, although a telescope is a must!

Rare and scarce birds recorded over the last few years have included Broad-billed Sandpiper, Great Skua, Black Tern, Caspian Gull, Iceland Gull, Glaucous Gull, Woodlark, Firecrest and Yellow-browed Warbler, Twite and Lapland Bunting.

Winter (December-February) is a productive time for searching the saltmarsh and surrounding fields. The shore regularly holds Jack Snipe, Rock Pipit and mixed finch flocks. The Mersey holds good wintering wader flocks, whilst at high tide there is always a chance of a wayward seaduck. Prior to the closure of Arpley Tip the area around Hale Lighthouse also produced an excellent opportunity to see “white-winged” Gulls during the winter months often producing multiple Iceland and Glaucous Gull with the outside possibility of picking up Caspian Gull. Scanning the far shore can often find Great White Egret, Whooper & Bewick’s Swan, “Grey” Geese and raptors.

Spring (March-May) can produce typical migrants including Redstart, Wheatear, Whinchat, Ring Ouzel with the outside chance of scarcer patch species including Cuckoo. From late April the rocky shore under Hale Lighthouse can provide refuge to large numbers of passage waders which often include Whimbrel, Sanderling, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and impressive numbers of Dunlin and Ringed Plover. Terns are unusually scarce on the Mersey, but Little, Sandwich, Common, Arctic and Black have all been recorded during the period.

Summer (June-August) can be quiet, but from early August return wader passage starts to pick up with often even larger numbers of arctic waders passing through. Post-breeding species often congregate around the Lighthouse and surrounding shore, and will often include large gatherings of flava wagtails. Depending on the crops the area around Hale Head can produce passage migrants from mid-August.

Autumn (September-November) can be an exciting time for visible migration, although weather conditions and an early start are a necessity. Peak conditions occur from mid-September through to early November when there is a light south to south-easterly and bright conditions, when up to 20,000 birds can be seen moving south. Scarcer species can often include Hawfinch and Lapland Bunting, whilst seeing thousands of thrushes or Woodpigeon moving through is a sight to behold. The Mersey can be productive during the period especially in or just after north-westerly gales (although south-westerly has also been found to be surprisingly productive) when the occasional seabird is pushed down the river. The shore and surrounding hedges can be productive for passerines including Redstart, Whinchat and Wheatear, although if visiting at the weekend an early start is necessary to avoid the crowds.