Saturday, 31 March 2012

The Mersey Dippers


Dipper on the River Mersey downstream from Cheadle Bridge, Manchester

As recently as 30 years ago the Mersey was considered to be the most polluted river in Europe. In 1983 the then Secretary of State for the Environment Michael Heseltine stated  “…the river is an affront to the standards a civilised society should demand of its environment. Untreated sewage, pollutants, noxious discharges all contribute to water conditions and environmental standards that are perhaps the single most deplorable feature of this critical part of England.”

The efforts that have been made to clean the river up have been remarkable (more info). The Spring 2011 return of Dippers for the first time since the Industrial Revolution is a clear sign of the improving water quality. Sadly although there’s been a huge biological improvement in the water quality there’s still far too many people dumping rubbish along the river bank only for it be carried away and washed up further downstream.
Good to see how adaptable nature can be. Makes a change from balancing on the edge of a rock surrounded by a babbling brook.

One for the traditionalist (even though its been copied and recreated by many aspiring photographers Ben Hall’s photo is still superb)

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Warts and All


Common Toads – Chorlton Water Park
So far it appears to have been a very good  mating season for the thousands of Toads that live around Chorlton Water Park and the adjacent Mersey valley. The sheer spectacle of so many toads is one of the best wildlife experiences to be seen within the area and yet remarkably few people are even aware of it.

DSCF2066-4Male toads on the lookout for a mate DSCF2056-3
The larger female carrying around the smaller male
Remarkably the toads can stay in this embrace for several days
When attacked (on this occasion by a camera), the common toad adopts a characteristic stance with its hindquarters raised and its head lowered. As a defence against predators, the paratoid glands and the warts secrete a toxic, foul tasting substance, a bufotoxin called called bufagin.
Toads can live for up to 40 years and despite rumours you can’t catch warts off them.
Likewise the myth they possess magic powers such as the ability to change its shape is untrue.

Adults use the same pond year after year. The males arrive first and remain in the location for several weeks while the females only stay long enough to mate and spawn. The males mount on the females' backs, grasping them with their fore limbs in a grip that is known as amplexus. The males are very enthusiastic and will often mount on the backs of other males. Sometimes several toads form a heap, each male trying to grasp the female at the base. A successful male stays in amplexus for several days and, as the female lays a long, double string of small black eggs, he fertilises them with his sperm. As the pair wander piggyback around the shallow edges of the pond, the gelatinous egg strings, which may be 3 to 4.5 metres in length, get tangled in plant stalks. They absorb water and swell in size, and small tadpoles hatch out of the eggs after a fortnight to three weeks

Monday, 19 March 2012


I was fortunate to get out for a couple of hours on Sunday. After the long cold, dark days of winter the local wildlife is quickly responding to the arrival of Spring. First stop an early morning visit to the Heronry at Chorlton Ees followed by a walk through Kenworthy Woods and finally an evening  stroll around Chorlton Water Park.

DSC_9823-2Grey Heron Chorlton Ees
On the lookout awaiting the arrival of her mate.
Touching up the nest.

A few repairs required from last year

Branching Oyster – Kenworthy Woods

Branching Oyster
P1040864Common Toad - Chorlton Water Park
Another male Toad on the search for a mate. Hopefully he’ll be lucky later on this week - the females aren’t too keen on cold, frosty evenings.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Sawbills and Butterbur



Courtship begins. A pair of Goosanders on the River Mersey opposite Chorlton Water Park.

Until 4 years ago Goosanders were winter visitors departing north in late February/early March. More recently they’ve started to breed further upstream and can now be seen all year round. A definite sign of improving water quality.
DSC_9720 rev

Note the female’s backcombed hair. Good to see her fitting in with the locals.

Meanwhile the drake has gone for a smart black and white number with a deep glossy green head that appears to be almost black

The first flowers of the Lesser Celandine on the banks of the Mersey.

The first rose narrowly beaten into flower this year by the Butterbur

Nothing delicate about this one. If any plant is as tough as old boots surely the Butterbur is the one. Reputed to be named after the large Rhubarb like leaves that historically were used to wrap butter. Also responsible for the clouds of Butterbur moths that erupt in late summer along the banks of the Mersey (much appreciated by the young Swallows, Pipistrelles and Noctules). Medicinally Butterbur has been used as an anti-histamine however whilst effective unfortunately it’s also carcinogenic. Not one to try at home.