Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Birding on Upper Moss Side: a photo guide

Upper Moss Side is an area comprising mostly farmland some of which is managed by the Forestry Commission and is dissected by footpaths (public access) and some of which is worked by two farms – Moss Side Farm and Upper Moss Side Farm (no footpaths and no public access). The whole area abuts onto Moore NR along its western fringes and is bounded to the north by Norton Marsh and the River Mersey and to the south partly by Moore NR itself and partly by the Manchester Ship Canal (see map below).

KEY (place names are what I call the various sections - some are in general use, others not)
LL = Lapwing Lake (Moore MNR)        
HQ = Hillcrest Quarry (Moore NR)       
CT = Capped Tip (off piste)
T = Triangle Field (Moss Side Farm)
S1-S4 = Snipe Fields (UMS Forestry Commission)
MS = Moss Side Field (Moss Side Farm)
FrmBit = Farm Bit (Moss Side Farm)
WH = White House (private)
WHsmall field (Moss Side Farm)
WHbig field (Moss Side Farm)
WH path field (UMS Forestry Commission)     
UMS1, UMS2 (Upper Moss Side Farm)
TS = Tree Sparrow Field (UMS Forestry Commission)
BH = Balloon Hut Field  (UMS Forestry Commission)
LE = Lane End Field  (UMS Forestry Commission)
D = Daisy Field (UMS Forestry Comission)
OW = Owen's Wood (Manchester Ship Canal)
TopSc = Top Scrub (Manchester Ship Canal)
W = Wet Field (Upper Moss Side Farm)               
ShM = Shipton's Meadow (Upper Moss Side Farm)
ShD, ShW = Shipton's Dry & Wet Scrub (Manchester Ship Canal)                 
TN = Tree Nursery
BB = Bob's Bridge
HWH = Halfway House

WHITE star = screen hide along the north path by Lapwing Lake on Moore NR
YELLOW stars = hide and screen overlooking Norton Marsh

ARROWS show loop of Lapwing Lane
DOTTED WHITE LINE = public access tracks and footpaths

There is no vehicular access to UMS and so visitors usually park in the Moore NR car park and then walk along Lapwing Lane...

Lapwing Lane - straight on to feeding station...

... towards the feeding station to gain access on foot, or turn left immediately after the swing-bridge on to the reserve and walk that way. If you follow the Lapwing Lane route you’ll come to a sharp bend left (by the feeding station) and continuing along Lapwing Lane past the small wooden bridge on the right...

...you’ll quickly hit fields on either side of the road. You’ll see a Forestry Commission sign on the left which marks the start of Upper Moss Side (yellow arrow on map).

What follows below, is a kind of walking tour of UMS from this point on the map.

Triangle Field - As you come out onto UMS you’ll see on the right a fenced-off, triangular shaped cropped field that belongs to Moss Side Farm.

Triangle Field

Depending on what’s grown there in a given year it can attract Stock Dove and Grey Partridge in the spring and winter finches and buntings if there’s stubble left over the winter – had Corn Bunting there in 2008. I’ve also had stunning views of a male Pheasant showing off in the sunshine to a female here – was actually really quite something, given how commonplace and oft ignored they are. It’s worth listening for Grasshopper Warbler reeling on the west end of the capped tip from here during spring, and scanning the same area for Stonechat in the winter. If shoots haven’t sprouted, Wheatear are possible too from late March onwards.

The Snipe Fields (S1-S4) - Opposite Triangle Field, on the left are the Snipe Fields (S1-S4) - wet, tussocky fields with small overgrown ponds, ditches and young stands of trees care of the Forestry Commission.

Snipe Fields

These fields are great for Snipe and Woodcock during Jan-Mar, especially the margins and ditches – but be warned, they’re pretty soggy yomping. During the spring these fields are often good places to look out for Cuckoo and Hobby, although the later doesn’t tend to hang around long. Other than that, it’s not a bad spot for Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler during the spring and Yellowhammer here.

Moss Side Farm - Continuing along the road takes you past picnic tables on the left...

...and a small field (FrmBit) on the right with a ditch running past it. This (and other ditches along the road) are worth checking for Little Egret in the summer.

The hedge bordering the track that branches right and leads to the farm is worth checking for Yellowhammer and Tree Sparrow and the hedge along the main road on the left, likewise for Goldcrest and Willow Tit during the winter.

Moss Side Farm

The barns are worth running your bins over for Collared Doves (very localised patch birds) and Little Owl. Oh and watch out for the friendly old collie ;)

White House small field - Passing the farm brings you to a small crop field on the right (WH small field) and the WC (woodcock field) – both before the white house.

WH Small Field

The small crop field adjacent to the white house can be good for Fieldfare during the winter and Grey Partridge during the spring and the small stand of trees in the WC Field can throw up the odd over-wintering continental Woodcock.

The Phrag Field - Passing the white house on your right brings you to the Phrag(mites) Field on your left.

Phrag Field

This is not labelled on the map but can be easily recognised as it's got loads of Bullrushes (Typha) in it. It’s also roughly triangular in shape and is where you should find over-wintering Stonechat. They like to feed on the Typha heads like the Reed Buntings there. The wires alongside the field can be good for Linnet and the occasional Yellowhammer, oh and of course Swallows in the summer, and, if you're feeling optimistic, Hobby.

White House Path field (and adjacent fields...) - The little wooden bridge opposite the Phrag Field leads, through a long field via a footpath to the Tree Sparrow Field and Balloon Hut Field as well as the UMS hides (yellow stars on map) overlooking Norton Marsh.

This field over the bridge (with the footpath) is the White House Path Field (in Forestry Commission speak it’s called something else, but I can’t remember what it is and to me it’s the WH Path Field). Good for Yellowhammer this, but not much else, apart from the resident Kestrel (perched) and resident Buzzards (over).

White House Path Field

I did have a Grey Heron soaring like a Common Crane here one year though, which was fun... briefly... whilst I thought it WAS a Crane (don’t let anybody tell you that herons never fly with their necks out-stretched lol). The big field behind the long hedgerow on the right (WH Big Field)...

White House Big Field (thru the hedge)

...often holds Curlew in the first winter period and the one or two big trees in it are worth checking for roosting Little Owls. The two long narrow fields behind the hedges (UMS1 and UMS2) that run down the left of WH Path field...

UMS1 and UMS2 (behind the fence)

... are farmed and worth checking for small stuff if they’re ploughed up in the spring or left stubbly during the winter. The hedgerows themselves are probably the first of the more reliable places to get Tree Sparrow (and House Sparrows). At the end of WH Path Field is a bench.

Check the corner here for more Tree Sparrow, but again, watch out, as there are plenty of House Sparrows too.

Tree Sparrow Field - Going through the gap by the bench in WH Path Field leads you into the almost square shaped Tree Sparrow Field.

Tree Sparrow Field

Something usually takes up residence in the nest box on the post here – Barn Owl most recently and the field itself holds Skylark and Meadow Pipit during the spring. Grey Partridge and Brown Hare are also regular here and in 2009 Quail was calling from the wildflower strips in June. It’s also a cracking spot to look out for hunting owls – SEO (winter), LEO and Barn Owl (summer), have all been watched hunting here. As you follow the path around the edge of the field you’ll come across a feeder on the left.

This is usually stocked with seed during the winter and is probably THE reason so many Tree Sparrow hang around the site to breed. It also pulls in Brambling from time to time (and I reckon Little Bunting pretty soon...one day...maybe). In late April the hedge here seems to be a bit of a magnet for Lesser Whitethroat – no idea why, but definitely worth a look. Following the path sharp right opposite the little copse on your left...

... will lead you down the left side of Tree Sparrow Field. The hedges here are often teaming with small stuff and always worth checking. At the end of this path on the left is another feeder tucked away in the adjacent field and the so-called pheasant pen.

The Shrike Field, Long Field and Norton Marsh - Carrying on through the gate...

... reveals on the right, Long Field and on the left, the Shrike Field. Both are good for owls and both at the moment are oft frequented by a small herd of Longhorn Cattle – there for conservation grazing.

Long Field has a small pond in it that always looks promising, but has yet to deliver and it’s a very long field, split across the middle by a barbed wire fence.

Long Field

It is another good owl field and another that holds Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Grey Partridge and Brown Hare. Opposite this field is the Shrike Field – so named because of the Great Grey Shrike that turned up there for a day in April 2008 – what a bird!

Shrike Field

The short path between these two field leads to the main hide overlooking Norton Marsh.

Norton Marsh hide

This used overlook a cracking wader scrape, but alas it’s now overgrown and dries out very quickly – great shame as it could be REALLY good!

Norton Marsh - Looking WEST from the hide

 Norton Marsh - Looking EAST from the hide

Even so, it’s worth a visit here, especially over a big winter tide (it’s like a mini Parkgate) as there’s always a chance of picking up Stonechat, Merlin, SEO, Peregrine, Marsh Harrier or Raven and it’s cool to see the resident Black-headed Gulls and Grey Herons picking off things... or maybe that’s just me... During the spring it’s a good place to get Whinchat and Wheatear and Yellow Wagtail probably move through more often than they are detected. You can also seen at leat part of the river from here, so there’s a chance of picking up a wader or two – certainly Lapwing, Golden Plover and Curlew during the winter.

If you make your way back from the Norton Marsh hide to the little copse in the corner of the Tree Sparrow Field (which oddly throws up GS Woodpecker regularly) and then hang a right, you’ll find yourself in...

Balloon Hut Field – so named because of the little red brick building there. This field also has a nest box, which again is usually used by something – Little Owl this year.

Balloon Hut Field

It’s another good field to stake out owls in and there’s usually a Grasshopper Warbler in there somewhere come spring time. I’ve had Whinchat on passage there too, so keep your eyes peeled. The red brick barn looks perfect for owls, although tbh, I’ve only had Kestrel and Buzzard there – oh, and Swallow.

Walking through BH Field brings you to a little corridor of hedges...

...behind which on the left is Wet Field with its new pond and to the right, Lane End Field. Neither field has turned up much so far, but the little tunnel of vegetation that separates them is worth checking during the winter for crests and tits, as is the track at the end that cuts right into another tunnel of bushes – Lane End Alley.

At the end of this little shady arcade is a screen hide overlooking another part of Norton Marsh. There’s also a tall Tower Hide (no public access) in the adjacent field (actually the far end of the Shrike Field)...

Screen Hide

... that give good views over the same bit of marsh, including a small scrape, which again, unfortunately doesn’t stay wet long but which does briefly pull in spring passage waders (LRPlover, Green Sandpiper, Greenshank) if there’s been enough rain.

Norton Marsh - View from the screen WEST

Norton Marsh -View from the screen EAST

It‘s also a good vantage point to scan the marsh for odd birds. Red-legged Partridge, Lapland Bunting and one or two other less regular patch species have been seen from here, so the marsh is worth checking from here. Back-tracking down Lane End Alley and hanging a right brings you into the last of the UMS fields...

Daisy Field, with its willow scrub and thick vegetation. I usually get my first Gropper of the year here in April and it’s always good for Reed Warbler in the ditches.

If you keep going along this path you’ll come to a gate – a dead-end blocking you from straying on to the marsh BUT about halfway along this same path on the left as the path nears the ditches, is a cut-through onto Top Scrub.

Going through the short gap in the shade of the big Hawthorn brings you to a grassy path. Turning right here, quickly brings you to the Ethylene Station (looks like an electricity sub-station) and the MSC path that, bearing right, leads eventually to Halfway House (left takes you back along the ship canal, past the wooden jetties to Bob’s Bridge). Going left on the grassy path through the Hawthorn gap however, takes you back along a scrubby (and oft overgrown path!) through Shipton’s Scrub to Bob’s Bridge.

Top Scrub - LEFT to Bob's Bridge

Top Scrub - RIGHT to Halfway House

Top Scrub and Shipton's Scrub is actually MSC land (and hence technically not part of UMS) and comprises both wet and dry scrubby areas. These lie on the right as you wind your way back through the brambly trail east towards Moore NR and are great for warblers in the spring. On the left you pass the Wet Field again and then a long cropped field between UPPER Moss Side Farm and the redbrick cottages by Bob’s Bridge – this is...

Shipton's Meadow

Shiptons’ Meadow and Scrub - It can be good for finch flocks if there’s winter stubble and is worth checking for Wheatear and Yellow Wagtail during the spring if it’s ploughed up - so too the long field between the cottages at Bob’s Bridge (beware of the dogs) and WH Path Field. Shipton’s path also affords good views over UMS to the left if you want to scan for raptors or owls and loads of scrub to the right, for small stuff come spring time.

Shipton's Scrub

The gardens of the houses...

...by Bob’s Bridge (actually there is no obvious bridge – just a pipe and a ‘cut-in’ where people sometimes park their cars)...

Bob's Bridge

... are worth a look if you need a patch Goldcrest, Coal Tit or Collared Dove. The wooded area opposite these gardens from Shipton’s Path is the Tree Nursery and usually the first place Garden Warbler is heard each spring.

SO, all in all, Upper Moss Side is not a bad little part of the patch!!!


  1. very thorough Mark - great blog by the way!
    Remember the LEO roost at 'Bobs none existent bridge'? - long gone I'm afraid...
    Worth mentioning the possibility of White Winged gulls from the hide - had a 2nd Winter glauc back end of the year,once sat through a lecture of yours as an undergrad-didnt know you where a metal fan though!!

  2. Oh no! SAT THRU a lecture sound bad lol :| U have me wondering now... AS for the LEOs... well, let's just say they're still in the area ;) Metal? Of course!!! Raaarrrrrr \m/