Wilson's Phalarope

Recording and Publishing Data on our Wildlife

  

 

Birding Sites in Lancashire
  Birding Sites  
 

 

Site
Map location
Grid ref.
Ainsdale Dunes NNR
13
SD290100
Aldcliffe Marsh
67
SD460600
Allen & Eric Morecambe Pools (RSPB)
72
SD475730
Altcar Withins
12
SD325050
Arkholme
75
SD590720
Banks Marsh/Old Hollows Farm
25
SD390230
Barnacre Res.
50
SD525478
Belmont Res.
20
SD670170
Birkacre
18
SD572150
Blea Tarn Res.
58
SD495585
Brock Bottoms
51
SD550430
Brockholes Quarry
38
SD585305
Cabin Hill NNR
10
SD280050
Carr Mill Dam
8
SJ525980
Champion Moor
65
SD745525
Claughton Hall Heronry
49
SD525425
Cleveley Mere
59
SD500500
Clowbridge Res.
34
SD830280
Cockersands/Bank End
57
SD430530
Cowm Res.
22
SD880190
Dunsop Valley
63
SD655500
Eccleston Mere
6
SJ482950
Fairhaven Lake
23
SD340273
Fazackerley
4
SJ390965
Fishmoor Res.
32
SD700260
Fleetwood ICI Pools
45
SD335455
Formby Point
9
SD270065
Foulridge Res.
54
SD890415
Freckleton Naze
27
SD435275
Hambleton Marsh
46
SD365415
Hest Bank
68
SD470670
Heysham NR & Harbour
55
SD405595
Higher Hodder Bridge
52
SD695412
Hightown
11
SD295030
Jenny Brown's Point
70
SD460735
Langden Valley
62
SD630510
Lea Green Flash and Tip
7
SJ503920
Lee Green Res.
43
SD880335
Leighton Moss (RSPB)
73
SD480750
Longridge Res.
39
SD605360
Longton Marsh
28
SD450265
Lytham St Annes NR
36
SD310305
Marshside (RSPB)
24
SD355205
Martholme/Altham
41
SD760330
Martin Mere (WWT)
16
SD425145
Marton Mere
37
SD345353
Mere Sands Wood (LTNC)
17
SD448160
Morecambe Stone Jetty
66
SD425635
Newton/Clifton Marsh
29
SD455290
Ogden/Calf Hey/Holden Wood Res.
33
SD765225
Otterspool
1
SJ370860
Pendle Hill
53
SD805415
Pilling Lane Ends
47
SD415495
Pilling Moss/Eagland Hill
48
SD425450
Pine Lake/Dockacres
74
SD515725
Plex Moss
15
SD340105
Prescot Res.
5
SJ470940
Rimrose Valley
3
SJ335995
Rishton Res.
40
SD715300
Rivington/Anglezarke Res.
19
SD620155
Roddlesworth Res.
30
SD650220
Rossall Point
44
SD310475
Rowley Lake
42
SD860330
Seaforth NR/Crosby Marine Lake
2
SJ315975
Skerton Weir
69
SD480630
Southport Marine Lake
14
SD335180
Squires Gate
35
SD303320
Stocks Res.
64
SD730560
Sunderland Point
56
SD420550
Sunnyhurst Woods/Darwen Moor
31
SD680230
Ward's Stone
61
SD590590
Warton Bank & Marshes
26
SD400270
Wayoh/Jumbles Res.
21
SD735160
Woodwell
71
SD463743
Wyreside Fisheries/Street Bridge GP
60
SD515520

 

Sea-watching on the Lancashire Coast

The Lancashire coast, shielded from the open Atlantic by the landmass of Ireland, and from the south-west approaches by the broad peninsular of Wales, can never hope to offer regular sea-watching opportunities on a par with West Cornwall, Cape Clear, the Bridges of Ross or even the Yorkshire headlands. Species that may be predicted with a fair degree of confidence at most of these sites, such as Great, Cory’s, Sooty and Balearic Shearwaters, Sabine’s Gulls and Long-tailed Skuas are scarce, downright rare or as yet unrecorded from the Lancashire coastline. In its quieter way, however, Lancashire sea-watching can be very rewarding. Onshore winds may produce species lists of impressive diversity, with large numbers of some favoured species passing, and always the chance of a scarce or rare seabird.

For those birders (not a numerous band) who are hardy enough to endure the conditions, winter gales may bring in large numbers of Kittiwakes, Little Gulls and occasional surprises in the form of a Great Skua or Leach’s Storm Petrel. On calm winter days high tides can be good for divers and grebes and for a range of sea-ducks, particularly at the more northerly watch-points, Blackpool, Rossall and Heysham.

In spring, a proportion of northbound seabirds, especially skuas, terns and Kittiwakes, enter St. George’s Channel and proceed up the Irish Sea to exit via the North Channel or overland across the Solway-Forth Isthmus. Onshore winds frequently push birds to within sight of Lancashire’s headlands; once again the more northerly stations, especially Heysham, feature most prominently.

In summer a variety of seabird species which nest abundantly at the extreme north or south ends of the Irish Sea, such as European Storm Petrel, Gannet, Manx Shearwater and Fulmar, feed in varying numbers throughout the Irish Sea and are frequently brought to the coast of Lancashire, sometimes in their hundreds, by midsummer gales. Among these commoner species there have been in recent years a few scarce wanderers, Long-tailed and Pomarine Skuas, Sabine’s Gulls, Roseate Terns and Puffins, apparently summering in our waters.

It is in autumn, however, that Lancashire sea-watching comes into its own. Leach’s Storm Petrel is very much our county seabird speciality, and westerly or north-westerly gales between late August and mid-October may produce a spectacular passage, with southbound petrels fluttering and banking over the surf within a few metres of the watchers. At any time between early August and early November, strong westerlies or north-westerlies to the north of Ireland may push a mass of migrant seabirds into the narrow strait between Antrim and Down to the west and Kintyre and Galloway to the east. As the birds move down the Irish Sea continuing gales will drive some to the east of the Isle of Man and into the deep pocket formed by the coasts of Lancashire and North Wales. This provides Lancashire sea-watchers with their long-awaited opportunity, as birds stream southwards to circle in Liverpool Bay before eventually exiting to the west around the tip of Anglesey. Right of the base of this enormous maritime Heligoland trap is the Mersey Mouth, where north-westerly gales can occasionally produce sea-watching as exciting in the country, with petrels, skuas, gulls and terns driven far up the river overnight, moving back out to sea in the dawn, past the watchers at Seaforth and Crosby Marina.

A few pioneers were sea-watching regularly from the Lancashire coast as early as the 1960s, equipped (if they were fortunate) with telescopes only a little more sophisticated than Lord Nelson’s brass-and-glass model. In the late 1970s and 1980s the advent of greatly-improved scopes and tripods finally brought distant seabirds within identification range. Since then a dedicated band of enthusiasts has maintained a regular vigil at their favourite watch-points, joined at peak times by a larger cohort of 'part-time’ sea-watchers. As a consequence, species that were considered rare vagrants thirty or only twenty years ago have been shown to be much more numerous and regular than had been thought: European Storm Petrel, Long-tailed Skua, Sabine’s Gull and Black Guillemot stand out in this regard. Genuinely rare species, such as Cory’s and Sooty Shearwaters, Roseate Tern and Little Auk have been recorded often enough to make them at least hoped-for targets for sea-watchers in the right weather conditions. Finally, three seabird species have been added to the county list: Fea’s (Soft-plumaged) Petrel and Little and Balearic Shearwaters.

In the rest of this article I shall briefly survey the five main sea-watching sites in Lancashire, noting the particular attractions and drawbacks of each, the best locations for watching and tide conditions in which the site is most productive. No part of the county is more than an hour or so’s drive from one or more of these watch-points, and no aspect of birding in Lancashire offers as much potential for seeing rare and unexpected species. With practice, a shrewd eye on the weather, and on the forecast, and reference to a tide-table can place a birder in the path of a spectacular seabird passage. It may not happen very often, but when it does it can be unforgettable.

THE MERSEY MOUTH

Up until very recently there was public access to the sea-wall at Seaforth NR, and in earlier times even a sea-watching hide to provide minimal shelter. Public access is no longer allowed, and the alternative watch-point on Crosby sea-wall, in the shadow of the radar tower, is described as 'very exposed’. The Mersey Mouth is the most limited of the five sites in terms of wind direction: it can be excellent in north-westerly winds following strong westerlies, but winds from other quarters tend to be unproductive. The site is of little use in winter, or at low tide in any season, except during or after a NW gale, when (as described above) birds may be moving back out of the river. Sea-watching is generally better on an incoming tide than on the ebb. Time of day is of little relevance at this site; the combination of wind and tide is what matters. The range of potential species at the Mersey Mouth is impressive: although scarce divers and grebes are very unlikely, both Storm Petrel species, Manx Shearwater, all four skuas, Sabine’s Gull and Long-tailed Duck have featured strongly in the ten years 1989-1998. Rarities include Little Shearwater.

FORMBY POINT

I do my own sea-watching from the dunes about 400 metres south of the National Trust car-park at the end of Victoria Road; some others favour the end of Lifeboat Road, about 2 km further south again. The site is utterly exposed, and an onshore gale in dry conditions can produce a sand-blow that has to be experienced to be believed; birders pray for heavy rain, however drenching, just to keep the sand down. The site is virtually useless at low tide; sea-watching is generally better on an incoming tide, as movements generally drop off very quickly on the ebb. Morning tides are usually more productive than afternoons. Any wind direction with west in it is fine, from SSW to NNW; any wind force above 4 is potentially productive. Winter sea-watching can be good here over a calm sea, with a fair chance of divers, grebes and sea-ducks, but a strong onshore wind in mid-winter can only be borne for a very short time. Formby Point has perhaps the widest range of potential species of any of the five sites: it is nearly as good as the more northerly stations for scarce divers and grebes, and is as productive for all four skuas, Sabine’s Gull, Leach’s Storm Petrel and Long-tailed Duck. European Storm Petrel is probably better looked for at any of the other sites, however. County and national rarities in the ten years 1989-1998 include Fea’s (Soft-plumaged) Petrel, Cory’s, Sooty and Balearic Shearwaters, Forster’s and Roseate Terns, Black Guillemot and Little Auk.

BLACKPOOL

Sea-watching is done from the South Promenade, anywhere between Starr Gate and the South Pier; currently favoured is the area opposite the Solarium. The shelters recently erected here are reported to be unsuitable for sea-watching besides offering little in the way of actual protection from wind and rain. North of the North Pier is under-watched and does provide some shelter from the worst of the elements.

Blackpool is a versatile site; sea-watching can be good at both high and low tides, although the range is rather long in the latter case. Best winds are from the south-west and west, although calm conditions may also be productive. Morning is generally better than afternoon, but whether the tide is incoming or ebbing is of little significance. Winter sea-watching can be good, with divers, grebes and sea-ducks on view and the scarcer species well represented during the ten years 1989-1998.

Movements of Red-throated Divers, Razorbills and Common Scoters are reliably heavier than at Formby Point, only 20 km or so to the south. Blackpool scores well for both Storm Petrel species, Manx Shearwater and Velvet Scoter, though it is inferior both to the Mersey Mouth and Formby Point for the rarer skuas and Sabine’s Gull. Regular observers comment on a severe decline in tern numbers over the last few years (a similar decrease has been noted at Formby Point). County rarities include Cory’s and Sooty Shearwaters, Roseate Tern, Black Guillemot and Little Auk.

ROSSALL

The sea-watching location here is behind the wall marking the boundary of the golf course and the Promenade, some 200 metres west of the Coastguard Station. The Coastguard Station itself had been used as a watch-point (sponsored by Wyre Borough Council) until it was vandalised’ it has, however, been renovated, and birders eagerly await its re-opening at the time of writing. In the meantime, the watchers are exposed to the elements.

Like Blackpool, Rossall is a very versatile site; sea-watching is feasible at low tide as well as high,  and on both incoming and ebbing tides. Early morning, especially on an incoming tide, are optimal. The best wind directions, as at Blackpool, are south-west and west, but calm conditions can be productive here also.

Rossall is good in winter, with Eider a site speciality; other sea-ducks, scarce divers and grebes are also fairly regular. Over the ten years 1989-1998 fewer rare or scarce seabirds were recorded at Rossall than any of the other four sites; whether this is a function of its location or a lack of observer coverage is unclear.

HEYSHAM

Heysham-Morecambe is the most complex sea-watching site in Lancashire, incorporating as it does a number of watch-points over a front of over 15 km from Heysham Head in the south to Jenny Brown’s Point in inner Morecambe Bay. Main sea-watch locations are at Heysham North Harbour Wall, the Heysham Power Station Outfall hide, Morecambe Stone Jetty and Jenny Brown’s Point. The Heysham sites, being the most seaward, are generally the most productive although Jenny Brown’s Point can be good when strong south-west winds push birds up the middle of Morecambe Bay. The Power Station outfalls are attractive to many seabirds; no other site in the county possesses a comparable feature, although the Outfalls hide itself is a little too far from the main channel to be an ideal overall watch-point.

Sea-watching at Heysham is feasible at low tide as well as high; incoming tides are generally the more productive, although both Storm Petrel species in particularly favour the ebb. Early morning is the best time to visit, though once again both European and Leach’s Storm Petrels tend to appear late in the day. A wide range of westerly wind directions are productive, from WSW to WNW.

The site can be rewarding in winter, especially when onshore gales bring in large numbers of Little Gulls and Kittiwakes. In calm weather it is probably the best county site for scarce grebes; divers and sea-ducks are also well represented.

A unique feature of Heysham is a small but fairly regular spring passage of Pomarine Skuas, which contributes to its being by far the best site in Lancashire for this species in 1989-1998. Other noteworthy spring migrants are Arctic Terns And Kittiwakes. During strong onshore winds in mid-summer Heysham is the best county watch-point for European Storm Petrel and Leach’s Petrel is reliable in autumn gales. Although the scarcer shearwaters do not feature at all on the Heysham list, county rarities in the last ten years include Long-tailed Skua, Sabine’s Gull, Roseate Term, Black Guillemot and Little Auk.

 

 

Bittern by Tony Disley
  Lancashire and Cheshire Fauna Society
Registered Charity No 500685