Nature Notes #56 (Odds & Sods)

31-10-16-3-year-old-male-black-headed-gull-colour-ringed-j2lc-spike-island-bill-morton-23A small collection of sightings from and about the River Mersey local to Frodsham Marsh.

31-10-16-3-year-old-male-black-headed-gull-colour-ringed-j2lc-spike-island-bill-morton-19Firstly, a colour ringed Black-headed Gull spotted at the canal zone at Spike Island, Westbank, Widnes. A group of birds brought to bread by passersby included a Black-headed Gull wearing a white ring on its right leg and the usual metal ring on its left leg. The letters and numbers displayed on the ring were J2LC on a white band. After sending off details to the BTO we received details of its history. First ringed on 14.05.12 Vaterland, Akershus, Oslo, Norway. After numerous summer revisits to Norway it was eventually spotted in the autumn in the UK at Spike Island in September 2015. So perhaps encouraging to see that it may have started a wintering regime here in the northwest?


The second sighting involved a dead Conger Eel found on the banks of the river adjacent to Ditton Brook at Pickerings Pasture. The creature was a real river monster measuring roughly 2 metres and an estimate weight of 9 kg.


04-11-16-conger-eel-dead-ditton-brook-pickerings-pasture-widnesThe video here:


Fungi are always a popular feature and can be ‘sods’ to identified. I managed a few recent finds starting with this Earthstar which came in this mini form at Blakemere, Delamere Forest.


A mould fungus measured 8 cm tall and 20 cm long and was at the base of a picnic bench in the forest.


19-1016-cedar-of-lebanon-bill-morton-2Emerging Fly Agaric’s are few on the ground this autumn but a cluster of 80 were beneath a Cedar of Lebanon in the cemetery off Greenway Road, Runcorn.


06-1016-coral-fungus-hale-park-bill-morton-9A bunch of Coral fungus were gathered on a wood chip pile at Hale.

common-stinkhorn-egg-daresbury-firs-david-stewartThe sleepy eye of an emerging Common Stinkhorn egg at Daresbury Firs was one of several found along the path leading up the hill path to the top of the firs.



The 31st October saw a huge irruption of Harlequin Ladybirds locally with thousands about. They included hundreds huddled together and secreting themselves into car door and house door sills, post boxes and gate posts etc etc.


Nature Notes #55 ‘Fungal Jungle (Part 2)’


20-12-15-earthstar-delamere-forest-bill-morton-6I have a bit of a soft spot when it comes to fungi. I always have since I discovered an antique green coloured spotted Verdigris toadstool when I was a kid and ever since whenever the opportunity comes along I’ll take a peep or photograph them. I consider myself an enthusiastic spotter of fungi rather than a mycologist ( I’ll leave all the expert stuff to Fungal Dave).

September – October starts the puffball rolling and with the arrival of autumn comes a time of plenty, beneath the berry laden hedgerows, hidden in fields and scattered in the leaf litter of a woodland floor are the fungi families and a life form which is more tuned to us humans than they are to plant life. I try my best to identify what I can and as a rule I generally don’t rely on posting any photographs to forums or online experts of the fungal species which I find. If I make a mistake with identifying them it’s my mistake and an added opportunity to learn from it.


What fascinates me about fungi is the variety of species from slime moulds through to the intricately structured ornate species and the variety of habitats they occupy plus they come in some weird shapes, colours and wonderful forms.



Where are the best places to get to see them and when. The best place I know to see fungi is without doubt Delamere Forest although examples can be found anywhere. The growth in the use of wood chippings from garden centres has increased the dispersal of some species. I’ve found earthstars, stinkhorns and milkcaps in weird places and well away from their usual habitat. Local Nature Reserves are a good source of spotting toadstools/mushrooms. One particular site close to me is Runcorn Hill and its declining heathland and its mixed deciduous woodland. Keep a lookout for fruiting Fly Agaric and with the mild weather conditions I would expect to be seeing them well into December.

Images 1 & 5 Dave Stewart and images 2-4 WSM.

18.09.16. Birdlog & Nature Notes #54


After spotting a tweet about 4 Great White Egret from Dave Craven over at Hale lighthouse and due to my limited availability today, I decided I shouldn’t miss out on relocating his discovery out on Frodsham Score. However, the score isn’t that easy to access especially since the turbines have been erected on the marsh. So, the easier option was to watch from Runcorn Hill which would give me a wide panorama vista across the Mersey Estuary and the Frodsham Score salt marsh.


Where I was set up the morning sun soon warmed the back of my neck and cast some excellent light across the river. It didn’t take long before I singled out a Great White Egret which flew across the salt marsh to join a second bird. Further along the tidal gutters emerged a third bird and close to a group of gorging Raven, Great Black-backed Gull and Carrion Crow feasting on another dead sheep was a fourth bird. A potential fifth bird gave a tantalizingly brief view in a gutter close to a group of 19 scattered Little Egret.


Observer and images: WSM (with a grateful nod to DC).

18-09-16-frodsham-score-from-frodsham-marsh-paul-ralston-1A walk from Ince along the Manchester Ship Canal as far as No.4 tank during high tide.  A Little Grebe has joined the Mallard and Common Teal on one of the new pools at Ince and a Chiffchaff was feeding in the trackside vegetation. Along the canal path 2 more Chiffchaff were noted and the ‘Heinz 57 goose’ was on the canal with the Canada  . Two of the WeBs counters were making their way along the salt marsh ready for their high tide count in the warm sunshine.


18-09-16-pleasure-boat-on-the-msc-from-frodsham-marsh-paul-ralston-2A small pleasure boat made its way west along the canal and flushed a Green Sandpiper as it went by while a female Stonechat was flycatching from a hawthorn bush. A flight of several Common Snipe flew overhead on to 4. A couple of hundred Dunlin were resting by the Holpool Gutter as the tide filled the channels and were joined by Oystercatcher, Redshank and Curlew. There were at least 10 Little Egret and a single Great White Egret were feeding as the water covered the marsh (where the other four went I have no idea?). A Peregrine chased down a wader and landed with it in the shallow water while the local gulls and crows tried to intimidate it while the raptor impressively mantled its prey. There were at least 2 Pink-footed Goose on the marsh.

A further 25 Pink-footed Goose were spotted by the WeBS counters along with confirmation that there were 5 GWE at Ince Marsh). Eds.

Observer: Paul Ralston (images 4-6).



The middle of September 2016 and the height of the Autumn migration, or at least it is if you are on the east coast. I thought that I’d give Frodsham Marsh one more chance to prove itself as I headed down the M56 at the rather casual time of 9.30 am. It wasn’t to be a journey without incident. As I passed junction 11 I was thinking of where I’d start my bird watch off and was idling along in the middle lane (like you do) when I noticed what I took to be a big white paper bag in the outside lane close to the central reservation. As I passed it, it put its head up, looked around, and went back to sleep. An adult Mute Swan asleep with cars narrowly avoiding a collision with it! I called the emergency services but they’d had several calls already and were on their way. It had been a full harvest moon last night and I wondered whether the swan had mistaken the motorway for a river?


Calling at the local coffee house briefly for two take-out lattes, extra hot, one shots, I headed for the junction of tanks 3, 5 and 6, parked up and set up for a raptor vigil, the clear blue sky and sunshine looking promising for big birds of prey. Common Buzzard were everywhere with at least 14 throughout the day. Add to that a Marsh Harrier quartering No.3 and 5, with 3 Kestrel and 4 Sparrowhawk and a Hobby soaring in the distance over No.3 and it wasn’t a bad tally. But no Osprey or Honey Buzzard as hoped for. The second sighting of Marsh Harrier was over No.5 where it soared through the array of wind turbines level with the middle of the blades. If they’d been going around, it might not have been so good for the harrier.


Out on the mitigation (see image 7) 9 Wigeon dropped into the pools but disappeared into the waist-high vegetation, the pools remaining invisible due to the lack of credible management. 2 Ruff flew over onto No.6 tank.  The recent passage of hirundines were few and I only saw Swallow, perhaps 20-25 through the day. The local Meadow Pipits and a few Skylark flew about the beds but there was not obvious movement.The vast thistle beds held big flocks of swirling Goldfinch, and I guessed at over c500, but it could easily have been double that.

18-09-16-secluded-poolfrodsham-marsh-tony-broome-2Alyn Chambers appeared and joined us for an hour or so. He had walked all the way down the south side of No.4 and had many warblers during the walk. All I had Chiffchaff calling! A Kingfisher flew past over No.3 before turning around and heading for the ‘Splashing Pool’ where Alyn had seen it earlier. The dried up pools on No.3 had four alba Wagtail and a Yellow, but no waders. A Dunlin did fly over and looked as if it was interested, but thought better of it and flew back to the Frodsham Score where the high tide at around 1400hrs covered some of the Score marsh but not enough to push any waders onto the tanks. No.6 has at last got a muddy margin, but apart for a couple of waders Alyn saw, there was nothing of note.

18-09-16-migrant-hawker-frodsham-marsh-tony-broome-2I had a look at the secluded pool but apart from a single Tufted Duck and 3 Coot, it was birdless at first. A Water Rail did scream a little after I arrived and there were 2 or 3 Reed Warbler in the margins, but nothing major. Insects took over my attention as a fine Small Copper landed in front of me. They aren’t very common and a September one was nice. Large White’s and Red Admiral were moving south throughout the day and I saw c10 of the former and c25 of the latter, all singles and all straight through. There was a handful of local Small Tortoishell as well. The pool had a single Common Darter, 2 Brown Hawker and around 10 Migrant Hawker.


A quick look at No.6 on the way past revealed a couple of hundred ducks, mainly Common Teal, but the sunlight was against me and I carried on to Marsh Farm where I found the fore-mentioned Hobby still quartering the thistle beds, but still too far away for a photo. The farmer had dumped a dead calf next to the track and the putrid smell attracted hundreds of flies (and surely competed with the stinkhorn mentioned in NN#53). Surely to leave a dead animal where members of the public can walk by is against Defra policy?

A weather front approached from the west and the last rays of silver light caught the turbines on No.4. Not a bad day if only for the sunshine and 22c. It was just nice to have been out with a chance of something unusual. Maybe next time…?

Observers: Tony Broome (images 7-13) and Alyn Chambers.

Nature Notes #54


18-09-16-black-darter-black-lake-delamere-forest-bill-morton-35A late summer walk along the sun dappled glades of Delamere Forest hoping to find a few ordanata and early autumnal fungi. At Black Lake there were still a few darters and dragonflies including a very confiding Black Darter with Common Darter and two Brown Hawker actively hunting around the water margins.

Earlier as we headed out to Black Lake from the main path we took a diversion through a less worn route which we hadn’t covered before. All along the walk in a series of spots you couldn’t avoid smelling the rancid odour of Stinkhorns. 18-09-16-stinkhorn-delamere-forest-bill-morton-1The smell hangs in the air in patches but because of the heavy growth of bracken it was almost impossible to find the fungi. One particular spot produced a rampant stipe complete with oozing head covered in flies and didn’t half pong! There were several emerging eggs ready to thrust out of the ground and it looked and reads…”Carry On-esk”.

A short distance away were a few Tawny Grisette and a rarely encountered Clitocybe Odora. Further discoveries revealed numerous Earthballs, Burgundy coloured Russula’s and Saffron Milkcaps.


Observers: Sparky, WSM (images 1-3, 14-18).

12.09.16. Birdlog & add-on Nature Notes #53


12-09-16-juvenile-common-shelduck-stuck-in-mud-no-6-tank-frodsham-marsh-bill-morton-2A big increase with ducks onto the open water and in the flooded daisy beds of No.6 tank. My count included seeing 12 Little Grebe, 34 Wigeon, 230 Common Teal, 103 Tufted Duck, 3 Common Pochard, 143 Shoveler, 2 Pintail, 32 Common Shelduck, 14 Gadwall and 18 Mute Swan. A sad sight was of a juvenile Shelduck sucked up to its flanks by the sticky mud. It lay in an area which could not be reached and would have posed too dangerous for rescue. The first Avocet of the month dropped in for a feed, bathe and preen while a couple of Black-tailed Godwit joined up with 8 Ruff on the exposed muddy areas.

During the course of my observation a juvenile Marsh Harrier put most of the ducks to the wing when it got too close for their comfort. Other raptors present were 6 Kestrel, 7 Common Buzzard and a Hobby chasing down a flock of 340 House Martin that had dropped in.


There were many butterflies and dragonflies still on the wing and wind along the sheltered warm track on No.5 tank.


12-09-16-wasps-nest-blakemere-delamere-forest-bill-morton-1012-09-16-wasps-nest-blakemere-delamere-forest-bill-morton-6A walk around Blakemere at Delamere Forest and a recce for mushrooms and toadstools was a little uneventful. That is apart from finding an active Wasp nest at the base of a cut down birch tree.

Observer and images: WSM.

Nature Notes #53

I’ve been seeing a few more insects whilst I’ve been out and about. Some are just large enough to get a decent photo or two, but the majority are beyond the capability of the equipment I presently own and will remain so until I invest in a good macro lens.

Black Slip Wasp Pimpla sp Frodsham Marsh Jul3rd16 0767

However, the results from my happy-snapper are good enough to identify the easy species, or at least put them in the right family. One of the most spectacular I noticed was an ichneumon-type wasp sat on the end of the calyx of a White Campion. Unusually it didn’t move as they usually do. They have very good eyesight and sensory organs and take off well before you get anywhere near them. When I looked at the photo, all became clear. It appeared to be laying an egg inside the calyx, probably in some hapless moth or butterfly larvae. The common name is ‘Black Slip Wasp’, pimpla sp, one of several look-alike species which are shiny black with bright orange legs. In addition, they have long, ridged gazelle-looking antennae. Brilliant things….unless you’re a larvae.

Broad Centurian Chloromyia formosa Frodsham Marsh Jul3rd16 0687

The Hogweeds were covered in one of the soldier fly species, a shiny, metallic, brightly coloured family of insects. The common one at Frodsham Marsh is the Broad Centurian, Chloromiya formosa, the one in the picture being a male with a golden thorax, the females being sky-blue.

Volucella bombylans Frodsham Marsh Jun22nd16 0769

Volucella bombylans is a big, hairy, attractive bee look-a-like hoverfly, very fast flying and fond of nectar, regularly feeding on umbellifers and brambles. This one is trying to pass itself off as a Red-tailed Bumblebee….a very convincingly mimic.


Grypocoris stysi Frodsham Marsh Jun22nd16 0458

One of the common flower bugs at the moment, particularly on the hogweeds below the old birdlog (situated at the south-east corner of No.1 tank), is the colourful Grypocoris stysi. It feeds on flower heads as well as aphids.

There’s always something on the marsh that’s worth taking a closer look at which includes the odd surprise.

Written and illustrated by Tony Broome.

Nature Notes # 52 (Part 3)

White Mullein Verbascum lychnitis Frodsham Marsh Jul3rd16  0741

White Mullein Verbascum lychnitis Frodsham Marsh Jul3rd16  0738 (960x1280)I was wandering about last Sunday (3rd July) when I noticed a tall plant in the near distance that I immediately took to be a Mullein. However when I got up close, it was covered in white, not yellow flowers? The leaves weren’t hairy like the Great Mullein in my garden. There was a small group of them numbering around fifteen or so in a small area. I took a few photos and later identified it as White Mullein, Verbascum lychnitis, a nationally scarce species and one I can’t remember seeing before. It’s always nice finding such an attractive and rare flower.

In the same area there were many campions, mostly White Campion, Silene latifolia and a what appeared to be a single Pink Campion, a hybrid between White and Pink Campion, Silene latifolia x dioica, which can be quite common in certain areas but one which I hadn’t noticed on the marsh before.

White Campion Silene latifolia Frodsham Marsh Jul3rd16  0747 (1280x960)

White Campion Silene latifolia Frodsham Marsh Jul3rd16  0745 (960x1280)White Campion

Pink Campion Silene latifolia x dioica Frodsham Marsh  Jul3rd16 0749 (960x1280)

Pink Campion

Written and illustrated by Tony Broome.

25.06.16. Birdlog & Nature Notes #52 (Part 2)

25.06.16. Ringlet I.C.I tank, Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton (11)25.06.16. Common Shelducks, No.6 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Bill MortonWith the access ramp and track to No.5 tank closed by the dithering wind farm contractors, I decided to watch from the southern banks. As expected most of the birds were pushed against the north banks sheltering from the brisk north-west wind. The air was nonetheless warm so it didn’t detract from the situation but it did afford some crippling low flight views of hundreds of Common Swift zipping past and at times so close you could hear the snapping of their bills.25.06.16. Common Swifts and wind turbines, No.6 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton (38)

25.06.16. Little Egrets, No.6 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton (3)Out on the water there was a good selection ducks and other waterfowl which included: 126 Tufted Duck, 9 Common Pochard, 4 Shoveler, both Common Shelduck and Gadwall with ducklings, 16 Common Teal, 21 Mute Swan, a family party of Canada Goose and 3 Little Egret.

25.06.16. Common Swifts and wind turbines, No.6 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton (26)

The Black-tailed Godwit flock were hard to count as the kept mostly to the emerging vegetation on the margins of the tank but they all rose as one when a predator shot through revealing 350 birds. 14 Avocet were back on the same water with the odd Redshank for company.

25.06.16. Wind Turbines as viewed from the I.C.I tank, Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton (4)

A Common Buzzard flew through with a heavy crop whilst to the right of my position another bird was hovering unconcerned by presence. The female Marsh Harrier was seen briefly quartering the reed beds on six but didn’t linger for long.

25.06.16. Sand Martin, No.6 tank, Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton (8)

It was good to see the Raven families back with c20 birds rolling and tumberling in flight over Frodsham Score.

There’s been a build up of Sand Martin onto No.6 tank this month so 340 birds perched up on the dead stems of last years daisy stalks was a little odd? A short video of Common Swifts zipping past the camera here Also the image 5 shows a Swift about to swallow a gnat.

25.06.16. Ringlet I.C.I tank, Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton (14)

After a few hours birding on No.6 tank I headed off to bird watch the Weaver Bend and the adjacent I.C.I tank, both of which I have neglected lately. As it turned out I wasn’t to be disappointed. A Grasshopper Warbler ‘reeling’ away in a willow thicket was almost drowned out by the fiddling grasshoppers in the grass on the bank of the tank. Also noted was a ‘rattling’ Lesser Whitethroat with Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Blackcap joining the cacophony.25.06.16. Blue Butterfly, I.C.I tank, Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton (1)

25.06.16. Large Skipper, I.C.I tank, Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton (5)

Nature Notes #52 (Part 2)

Butterflies are always a distraction during the high summer months so it was a big thrill to find a few Ringlets on the eastern banks of the I.C.I tank. I texted Frank Duff and he joined me and we found even more, with an estimate of c80 individuals. Also present were Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, a tatty Painted Lady, a female Common Blue, 3 Meadow Brown and 4 Large Skipper. All in all not a bad tally for the day.

29.06.16. Bee Orchid, Wigg Island. Cheshire. Bill Morton (69)

Bee Orchid29.06.16. Marsh Helleborine, Wigg Island. Cheshire. Bill Morton (6)

29.06.16. Marsh Helleborine, Wigg Island. Cheshire. Bill Morton (7)

Marsh Helleborine.

Local to the area and a selection of orchids could be found with Southern Marsh , Bee Orchid and Marsh Helleborine producing fine displays.

Observer and images: WSM.