Avian Antics On The River Mersey

It’s that time of year, when resident birds and migrants all set about perpetuating their species. Our little stretch of the Mersey Valley is a pretty good place to do a spot of casual birdwatching, with a great variety of feathered friends going about their business here. Use this as an excuse to take a stroll along the recently revamped and upgraded Trans Pennine Trail (TPT), which now offers an easy, level passage for walkers, cyclists, pram-pushers, wheelchair users and horseriders beside the rushing waters.

A regular perambulation of mine is to pick up the TPT just as it emerges from beneath the M60 bridge over the Mersey and head downstream. An easy way to find this is to take the path off Craig Road, right opposite Ravenswood Avenue and walk straight ahead, past the vast old millstones marking the old railway track and onwards to the path junction. Turn right to find the nearby river and path.

Over the last few weeks a constant companion has been the simple, rather monotonous call of the chiffchaff. They tend to flit about at the tops of trees, incessantly chirping their two-tone call. They’re a tiny, yellowy-olive coloured bird and often difficult to spot, but you can’t miss that call. A word of caution, though. The great tit is a good mimic and their call is somewhat similar. Either way, they’re currently busy noisily securing feeding territories and nesting sites.

It’s somewhat further along where things can get more interesting. Several times over the past few weeks I’ve spotted a kingfisher on the stretch of river above the island opposite Burnage Rugby Club’s ground.

It’s the luck of the draw whether you’ll see one of course. My attention is first taken by their very high-pitched call which can be heard even above the drone of the traffic on the motorway. It’s a pipping, rippling short-lived call. Hard to describe, so do a websearch on www.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/discoverandlearn/birdguide/name/k/kingfisher/ and click the audio button to hear the call. They’re fast flyers, so all you’ll usually get is a flash of electric blue as they fly low above the water. Or you may drop lucky and see one perched on a branch over the water.

Far easier to spot and enjoy are sand martins. These ceaselessly active birds have returned in numbers from Africa and found a home in the banks of the Mersey. Walk downstream until you’re opposite the par 3 golf course at Burnage Rugby Club. Just before the barrier across the TPT at the far end, look across the river where there’s been a supermarket trolley caught-up below the bank for some months now. Above this, the sandy bank is riddled with nest-holes. Spend a little time adjusting your eyes and you’ll soon spot the birds swooping above the river and meadows, catching insects on the wing before dropping down to enter their burrows. I find it a restful, fascinating way to spend a few minutes – and the near river bank here will soon be smothered with cow parsley, red campion, ragwort and other colourful blooms

So go-on; indulge in an hour’s stroll alongside the linear nature reserve that is our very own River Mersey!

.Look out in the future for more of Footpad’s perambulations and observations in the great Heaton Mersey Outdoors.

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