Tuesday, 12 May 2020

The flash in lockdown

Restrictions put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in Pennington Flash being effectively closed to visitors from 24th March 2020 to 12th May 2020. The main entrance was fenced off and the Slag Lane car park closed and visitors discouraged from travelling to the flash. However I live just a 5 minute walk from the place and it is the nearest open space for my daily exercise walk. So most days I had an early morning walk to the flash and stopped briefly at several viewing points along the way in order to record whatever birds and other wildlife might be using the flash during this unique and unprecedented time with very little human disturbance.

Along with the Manchester Bird Forum I took took the decision not to make public any sightings from the flash during this period of lockdown. I hope that readers of the blog will understand and accept this decision. I didn't want to be seen to be encouraging people to drive to the flash at a time when the police were regularly at the entrance turning away people who had traveled by car.

However new advice given by the government on 10th May 2020 means that people can now drive to wherever they like in England in order to take exercise and do other pursuits so presumably that will include the flash. This advice may change in the future and obviously it's up to individuals to make sure that they socially distance and behave responsibly, but in the light of the new advice I can see no reason to not post my sightings from the flash. I make no guarantees that any car parks will be open and I'll be amazed if the hides open any time soon, that's up to Wigan Council!

This blog post is a summary of birds which I saw at the flash during this period. Other birders were also visiting the flash at the time but their records are not included here. 

Black-necked Grebe
Three cracking adult summer plumage birds were seen in East Bay on 27th March 2020. Two of them were clearly paired up and seen displaying.

Photo: Black-necked grebe.

Little Egret
At least one bird was hanging around the vicinity of Ramsdales until the end of March. A further three birds were on the edge of the reeds at the west end on 29th March 2020. There were no subsequent records during the period.

Ten birds were present on 1st April with three to six birds on several dates throughout April and into May.

One or two pairs were present from at least 24th March to 10th May. A pair was in the vicinity of Ramsdales whilst a second pair was present on and off at the west end. Five birds were present on 24th April.

The first sighting of wigeon during the period was on the 24th when there were three males and a female in the middle of the flash. On the 30th and again on the 1st April there were 11 birds present also in the middle of the flash. Flocks of four or five birds were then seen on several dates to 8th April all with different compositions of sexes, for example on the 8th April there was a flock of four birds consisting of a male and three females. There were no subsequent records during the period after 8th April.

Thirty teal were present on 24th March 2020, with most in front of Ramsdales, Teal hide or Tom Edmondson. By the 8th April numbers had dropped and only eight birds were seen and numbers remained around this figure until at least 23rd April. A single bird was seen on 29th & 30th April and another on 10th May.

A pair was seen from Ramsdales hide on 25th March and then most days to the 3rd April, either in the same place or from the viewing screen opposite Tom Edmondson hide. After an absence of seven days possibly a second pair was seen on 10th April in Ramsdales from the leaning posts.


Up to 20 birds were seen in March with numbers slowly dwindling in the early part of April to just a single pair on 1st May.

Tufted Duck
At least 50 birds were present from late March to the end of April and they were often seen chasing each other around on the water or in flight.

Twenty birds were present on 24th March and numbers remained at about this level for the rest of the month. However once into April numbers dropped substantially with just four or five birds present to mid April with the last record in the month on the 14th. Following an absence of 17 days, a single drake was unexpectedly found in west bay on 1st May and remained until 5th May.

On 24th March a male and three females were seen from Teal hide but after that only single birds were present with the last seen on 3rd April.

Three were at the west end on 2nd April. Single birds were seen occasionally at the western end.

A pair were displaying at Sorrowcow farm 22nd April.

On 8th April the irate cries of lesser black-backed gulls alerted me to an osprey approaching as I arrived at Sorrowcow pond. I could see the bird distantly to the south heading towards me. Eventually it flew right over my head and then turned west and seemed to follow the canal towards Lightshaw Flash. This was one of at least three ospreys reported over the flash in a four day period at this time. It's my opinion that this represents three different birds rather than the same osprey being seen three times. The bird I saw just powered through and was clearly on passage, but also it has a missing secondary feather on it's left wing. Having spoken with the observer of the first osprey sighting four days earlier, it appears that his bird had a full set of secondaries on both wings.


One was over Mossley Hall Farm on 10th May.

Water Rail
One heard in Ramsdales reedbed 13th April.

Very low numbers throughout the period with a maximum of five birds on 1st April.

Little Ringed Plover
My first little ringed plover was from Ramsdales hide on 7th April and then one or two birds were seen to mid month. Possibly a third bird was at the yacht club on 14th April and numbers eventually peaked at six birds by month end.

Little ringed plover.

Ringed Plover
One on 24th April,

Two were on the spit on 23rd April and one flew over calling on 6th May.


Black-tailed Godwit
Up to three birds were seen between 27th March to 2nd April, mainly from Ramsdales hide but once on the end of the spit. One was on the spit scrape on 7th May.

Black-tailed godwit.

One or two birds were seen from Ramsdales hide or on the spit from 26th March through April and into May.

One was heard on 26th March and a single bird commuted between the yacht club and the spit on 29th and 30th April. On 1st May there were two birds on the spit but on 2nd May just one bird was present.


An adult in full summer plumage was at the yacht club on 26th April, with two on the spit from 29th April to at least 5th May. A single bird was on the spit on 10th & 11th May.

Common Sandpiper
The first of the year was on 7th April, followed by two on 9th and one on 10th. On the 14th April there were three birds at the yacht club and one or two remained here until at least the end of the month. Five birds were present on 27th April, with one at the yacht club and four from Horrock's hide. Two or three were present most days into May.

Little Gull
Two adults were hawking for insects over the flash on 21st April.

Little gull, adult.

Mediterranean Gull
Two adults flew over the spit calling on 5th May.

Black-headed Gull
There were 200 black-headed gulls on 1st April but other than that numbers seemed very low with probably less than 30 seen across the whole of the flash to the end of April.

Lesser Black-backed Gull
Around 50 were seen on the 1st April and small numbers were present to 13th April.

Herring Gull
Around 20 present on and off from 24th March to 13th April, after which numbers fell away with just the occasional bird into May.

A non-breeding adult was at the west end on 24th April.


Common Tern
The first record was of two birds on 18th April. Two were then seen on and off until 23rd when four were present. Numbers then increased to the end of April, with seven on 24th - 27th, 12 on 28th and 14 on 29th. Nine were present on 5th May.

Arctic Tern
The flash shared in a large passage of this species throughout the north west on 20th April, when 10 birds were present all day. A single bird was present on 22nd April and two on 29th.

Little Tern
One was present on 28th April.

A cuckoo was calling near Teal hide on 26th April and another in the same area on 10th May.

One seen at the west end on 1st April was the only record between 24th March and 26th April when a second bird was seen at the yacht club. Another flew across the spit scrape on 10th May.

Great Spotted Woodpecker
One was drumming near Mossley Hall Farm on 24th March and two were in east bay on 6th May.

A single bird on 18th April was my joint earliest ever in the UK and another bird was also present on 19th. 20 were present on 22nd April, rising to 150 birds on 27th. 200 swifts were over the flash on 5th and 6th May, with 500 on the 10th May.

Sand Martin
An estimated 200 sand martins were at the flash on 24th March rising to around 400 on 3rd April. There then followed a relative lull in numbers with just 10 or so birds seen to 13th April when 500 were over the flash and the following day numbers had grown to 800 birds, with many seen departing west towards Lightshaw. This was by far the commonest hirundine at the flash throughout late March and April with 500 present for much of the latter half of April and still 200 on 2nd May and 100 on 10th May.

Sand martins

House Martin
A very late year for the species with the first record being of five on 13th April followed by 10 on 18th, but there were no further records until 29th April when 20 were present. Numbers seemed slow to build into May, with 100 present on 10th May rising to 300 on 11th May.

House martins

The first was on 30th March but I then had to wait two weeks for the next, with 10 on 13th April. As with house martin, numbers remained low even into the third week of April, with no more than 10 birds seen on any one day. 50 were present on 29th and 30th April and 100 on 10th May.

Grey Wagtail
Three where by the yacht club on 13th April and two at the same place on 22nd April. Probably the same birds were seen on the exposed sand bar at the western end on 30th April and a breeding plumage male was at the yacht club on the 3rd May.

White wagtail
A male was on the shore by the yacht club on 14th April, and another male was in front of Horrock's hide on 2nd May.

White wagtail.

Yellow wagtail
Two flew north over the ruck calling on  27th April.

Cetti's Warbler
At least six singing males with possibly as many as nine. Singing birds were heard daily at Sorrowcow pond, Ramsdales, Tom Edmondson hide and east bay. At least one or possibly two birds were heard daily in the area of Teal hide / Westleigh brook. One or possibly two birds were also heard daily over a wide area at the west end with birds regularly singing in Slag lane alongside the bridge over Hey brook but also around the west end reedbed. Possibly a ninth bird was heard twice on the south side near the site of the old Cormorant hide on 6th April and again on 6th May.

Cetti's warbler.

Grasshopper Warbler
First heard reeling at the west end on 13th April and was still present on 15th April but not heard subsequently. A second bird was reeling behind Lapwing hide from at least 27th April to 4th May and a third bird was reeling from the scrub at the back of Ramsdales on 1st May.

Photo: Grasshopper warbler

Reed Warbler
The first was singing in Ramsdales reedbed on 8th April with a second bird in the reeds next to the screen opposite Tom Edmondson hide on 9th April. Both birds were heard daily thereafter. By the 29th April there were at least six singing males.

Sedge Warbler
Two were singing at the west end on 18th April and remained into May. There was a apparently a small influx on 2nd May with a total of five birds singing, which comprised four at the western end and one behind Lapwing hide, and a 6th bird was at Sorrowcow pond on 3rd & 5th May.

Two were singing on 24th March and numbers grew in the following days to a peak of about 10 on 13th April.

Garden Warbler
On 30th April a male was singing in the young plantation on the Ruck adjacent to the Lagoon where it remained until at least 2nd May. Other sightings included one singing in east bay from 4th - 6th May, two singing behind Lapwing hide on 7th May and one singing near Tom Edmondson hide on 9th & 10th May.

Garden warbler

A very late year for the species, the first was a bird in subsong at Sorrowcow pond on 18th April and the second in the scrub behind Lapwing hide on 21st April. By 29th April there were four singing males and on 6th May there were eight.

Lesser Whitethroat
A male was singing at the western end on 2nd and 3rd May.

Six were singing on 24th March and in total I counted about 10 on most visits thereafter.

Willow Warbler
The first record was of 10 singing males on 6th April.

Pied Flycatcher
A female was present in trees near the benches in east bay on 20th April.

Photo: Pied flycatcher.

At least two singing males, one at Mossley Hall farm, another at the eastern end.

A cronking bird was over Sorrowcow farm on 24th April.

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