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 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.