No birding for me today, but I thought it would be useful to write a post regarding Gulling on patch; especially in light of the recent White-Winger invasion and increase in birders turning up hoping to connect with them.
There are three distinct areas on the patch that I have concentrated my efforts on; Pickerings Pasture, Withins Way and Hale Lighthouse. Each site has it's own positives and negatives, and chances of finding or seeing decent Gulls are affected by a number of factors. I will attempt to discuss some of my findings below:
Probably the biggest factor that affects Gulling in the areas is Arpley Tip, which is open from Monday to Friday, and half day on Saturday (closing at 1.30pm). There is a direct correlation between Gull numbers on patch and the Tip being open and active. Arpley Tip is closed on a Sunday, and this clearly has an effect on Gull numbers and their associated behaviour. Any gatherings are normally smaller, and contain a lot less of the expected "big" Gulls, and the typical movement, and build-up of Gulls moving west along the Mersey pre-dusk does not occur until much later, quite often not until after sunset. It will be interesting to see what effect the closure of Arpley Tip in 2017 will make to the Gull numbers in this section of the Mersey.
Richmond Bank/Moore and the Lower Mersey
Interestingly it has become apparent (unsurprisingly) that many of the Gulls using the Mersey to roost have originated from Richmond Bank and Moore with the same 3rd winter Iceland Gull, leucistic Black Headed Gull and a partial leucistic Lesser Black Backed Gull being seen at both sites. It is likely that some of the other Gulls that have appeared on patch have also originated from these sites. It is a fair assumption that if birds are reported from further up the Mersey, then they will likely roost in the Upper Mersey off Hale at some point.
Other than Pickerings Pasture, where Gulls will often congregate throughout the day, tide height is a major factor in determining whether you will get good views of Gulls.
The wind strength and direction can play a major effect on the evening Gull movement. Light winds result in Gulls moving through at various heights and from all directions, which makes sifting through them very difficult. Strong winds push the Gulls lower and they will often stream through the narrows (the closest points between Hale and Frodsham) at a consistent eye-level; this provides the best chance of picking something out. Wind direction is generally best for viewing from Hale when it has some Southerly in it, as it pushes the Gulls closer to the Hale side. In general winds from the North push the Gulls to the Frodsham side of the Mersey.
Given that the best time for Gull movements is from about 2 hours before dusk (but with generally the biggest movements occurring between an hour before dusk), it is essential that you have bright conditions, but preferably not too sunny. Viewing east from Hale Lighthouse is generally best as you have a good field of view to scan from and have a good opportunity to identify Gulls before they head into the setting sun/poor light to the west. The lights from the industrial estate at Pickerings Pasture allows you a bit of "extra" time for Gulling, but will be very dependant on where the Gulls are roosting.
In conclusion if you intend to visit the Hale area for Gulls the ideal conditions are 2 hours pre-dusk, with mid-strength winds and high tide 3 hours prior to dusk.......oh, and avoid a Sunday!!