Eccleston Mere is a privately owned mere. A permit and key are required to
An inland local patch, in the middle of industrialized Merseyside, with heavy
disturbance from yachts, anglers and dog walkers, may not seem the ideal place for seeing
birds, but nothing could be further from the truth. At Eccleston mere, on the edge of St.
Helens, I have learnt that if you are prepared to make the effort, just about any species can
be found on your own doorstep.
Local patch birding can be very rewarding. I have recorded over 135 species
within a five-minute drive from where i used to live, and most of these I have found for
myself. In total over 170 species of bird have been recorded at the mere. The secret of
success when working a local patch is to visit as often as possible at all times of day and
in all weathers. Expect the unexpected.
Maybe the best season at the mere is winter. Disturbance is at a minimum
and there is always something of interest to be seen, with the stars being two quite
different families. The alders around the mere can be alive with finches, with flocks of
around 100 Siskins not unusual. The males glow yellow as Canaries in the winter sunlight.
Redpolls, Linnets, Chaffinches and Goldfinches are also around in good numbers, with the
occasional flock of over 100 of the latter. Bullfinches can be seen in small
Gulls never number more than a couple of hundred, but just about any species can
be seen, and because of this they add real excitement to every winter visit. In a
twelve-month period from 1996 to 1997 I recorded three Kittiwakes, adult Iceland Gull, Little
Gull, adult Yellow legged Gull and six Mediterranean Gulls, including three summer plumaged
adults together in March 1997, as well as all the commoner species.
Yellowhammers, Tree Sparrows and Reed Buntings can be seen in small flocks, and
in the winter of 1993/4 they were joined by a Little Bunting, the first Lancashire record
Other winter visitors have been Black and Red throated Divers, Red necked Grebe,
Smew, Peregrine, Buzzard, Raven and Ring billed Gull. More regular are Goosander and
The first sign of spring is usually the arrival of parties of Oystercatchers in
February or March. Their piping displays compete with the Lapwings for the most evocative
sound of the season, but unlike the latter, Oystercatchers do not breed at the mere.
Shovelers begin to be seen, and pairs of Shelduck visit in the early mornings, searching for
inland breeding sites. Migrants then begin to flood in and there is a remarkable consistency
about their arrival dates.
Sand Martins on the 24th March, Swallow on the 2nd April, Willow Warbler on
the 9th of April, House Martin and Common Sandpiper on the 11th… the list
goes on, and all these species and others, arrive within a day or two of the expected
Of the scarcer migrants, in May 1990 there was an incredible flock of around 50
Black Terns, but more often just one or two are seen. Osprey, Marsh Harrier, Reed Warblers,
Yellow Wagtails, Whinchats, Pied Flycatchers and Redstarts are also seen in very small
Spring blends into summer, and the resident species get down to the business of
raising young, including up to 15 pairs of Lapwings and four pairs of Great crested grebes.
This is the time of highest disturbance at the mere, but even so in 1997 breeding Teal,
Gadwall and Tufted Duck joined the grebes and there can still be a few surprises. A party of
four drake Common Scoters in June 1996 was one of the more unexpected.
Autumn begins in July, with a small passage of Common and Green sandpipers and a
few Common terns, but generally Autumn passage is not as pronounced as that in spring, and
often involves different species. Lesser Whitethroat, Wood Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher,
Hobby, Greenshank and Arctic tern are all examples of species that I have recorded in autumn
but not spring.
At the end of August and staying till the beginging of September,
Colin Davies while watching a Black Tern found an American Black Tern photo at the mere which was present for 4-5 days, the
American Black Tern is only the 6th record for the UK.
October is one of the best months of the year, when a few Pintail and Wigeon visit, the Pochard
flock begins to build up and winter thrushes can be seen in good numbers. Eccleston mere is also on
the southern edge of the Lancashire mosses, the winter haunt of thousands of Pink footed Geese and
skeins of variable numbers often fly over. Less certain is the presence of Whooper Swans on the
mere, but they have been recorded.
Feral Geese a detailed account of the Geese that visit
Of all the species of bird that occur at Eccleston mere, the feral geese are
perhaps the most obvious, with sometimes over 400 birds present, but at other times only a
handful of birds are to be seen. There are two main species involved, Canada Goose and
Greylag, both of which breed at the mere. A third species, Barnacle Goose can regularly be
seen in small numbers, and singles of other species are occasionally seen.
By far the most numerous of the feral geese at the mere and also the largest, up
to 420 Canada Geese have been recorded in late summer and over 100 are regularly present.
Several pairs breed and in 1997 at least 35 young birds were counted. It is not unusual to
see as many as 20 young with a single pair of Canada Geese, but these are thought to be the
product of two or more pairs, which have been ‘taken over’ by a more dominant
Greylags have increased from just a handful in 1992, to a record of 94 in August
1997. In 1995 they bred for the first time, and in 1996 there were three pairs which raised
15 young. There are usually about 20 or 30 present in most months. In 1999, a pair raised two
Canada Geese young.
Up to 47 Barnacle geese have been recorded at the mere, but unlike the other two
main species, they can peak in January or February, as well as late summer. Occasionally they
reach double figures in other months, but in two thirds of the year they are not recorded at
all. Barnacle geese do not breed at the mere.
There are usually two or three hybrid geese at the mere and these are the result
of pairings between Canadas and Greylags. This is the commonest form of goose hybridisation,
despite the fact that Canadas are black geese and Greylags grey geese.
A single of this species was present with the Canada geese for just one day in
Red Breasted goose
A single was present with the Greylags for two weeks in August 1997.
Bar headed goose
Occasional Bar headed geese are recorded, including one with Canada geese in May
1996, and one with Greylags in 1999.
Pink footed goose
Wild Pink feet can often be seen flying over the mere in winter, in flocks of up
to 200, but I have never seen them land. Occasionally feral or injured Pink feet join the
Greylags and Canada geese, including one in April 1995.
A Blue Phase Snow Goose was with the Canadas in the second half of
Movements of feral geese to and from Eccleston mere
Feral geese are often considered to be resident, but this is not at all the case
at Eccleston mere. Canada and Greylag numbers are usually average and fairly stable during
the first few months of the year, before falling away in the spring to leave small breeding
populations plus a few non breeders. However, numbers rocket up to the years maximum in July,
August and September, before falling away to the years low in autumn. This pattern is
repeated every year, with as much predictability as the arrival of the wild geese at Martin
mere in the autumn.
Fortunately, because the large late summer flocks are often accompanied by
‘rarities’, it is possible to hazard a guess as to where they go when they leave the mere. On
July 31st 1996 a Ross’s goose was with the Canada geese. The following day, it and
a large proportion of the Canadas had gone. A few days later the Ross’s goose was at Frodsham
with presumably the same Canadas that had been at Eccleston mere, and by September it had
moved to Budworth mere in Cheshire. Coincidentally, an escaped female Redhead that had been
at Eccleston mere in May 1996, was also later seen at Budworth mere.
In August 1997 a Red breasted goose spent two weeks at the mere with a large
flock of Greylags, before it and the Greylags moved to Martin mere. The Red breasted goose
later joined feral Barnacles and then wild Pink feet at Martin mere.