When most birders think of important UK sites for Whimbrel, they probably don't think of Lancashire. In fact there are three long-established staging posts in the county which attract three-figure flocks, and in recent years a fourth roost has developed. This short note sets out where to look for them during the peak passage of the next three weeks, with indications of likely numbers. The last couple of days of April and the first days of May tend to see the largest flocks recorded.
Probably the most consistent site for larger flocks has been Longton Marsh, on the south bank of the Ribble estuary SD445267. Counts here in recent years have included 669 on May 2nd 1997. There is no public access to the southern marshes at this point, and counts have been made from the north bank at Clifton sewage works. Unfortunately the construction of a shredding plant has prevented access to the northern marsh to view the roost. Birds can however still be viewed flying in to roost over Newton Marsh SD456293, where there are also breeding Black-tailed Godwits covered by a volunteer 24-hour nest watch. Passage Ruff in breeding finery may also be seen on Newton Marsh at the time of the peak Whimbrel passage.
Many of the birds which roost on Longton Marsh come in from well upriver, to the east of Preston. The birds can be watched heading downriver at Preston Dock. In recent years, newly excavated gravel workings at Brockholes Quarry SD585303 have been a better bet, as three-figure flocks may rest here or even remain to roost on occasion. Please note that the site is a working quarry, and vehicle access (parking in the lay-bys) is ONLY GIVEN after 6pm on weekdays, though this is in good time to see the Whimbrel coming in (please respect the present arrangement to maintain goodwill between the landowners and birders). At weekends cars are allowed on site after midday on Saturday and all day Sunday. Brockholes is also a good passage site for many other wader species, with nesting Little Ringed Plover, and is accessed from just off the M6 at junction 31 (follow signs marked quarry access).
The other river estuary of the Fylde is the Wyre, and birds also roost here at Windy Harbour SD375398. This site has been less well watched than the others in recent years, but 200+ birds are regular. Footpaths along the northern side of the estuary provide good views of the birds en route to the roost, and from the south side they can also be seen from Windy Harbour caravan park and (more distantly) Pool Foot Lane, Singleton.
Further inland Barnacre Reservoir SD525476 is also a favoured site. Counts have occasionally been spectacular here, with a recent peak of 847 on 2nd May 1998. This site is private, but it is possible to park near the entrance and view birds coming in. In some springs Wyre Countryside Service are given permission to stage guided walks to view this roost - these are publicised in the annual events diary.
In recent years Whimbrel counting in Lancashire has been less comprehensive than formerly. So if you do go to the trouble of visiting one of these sites please forward your records to the county recorder Steve White (email firstname.lastname@example.org) or myself (email@example.com), as they will be greatly appreciated.
The following local bird sites will provide daily updates of any Whimbrel counts:
East Lancs Birding (Brockholes Quarry)
Fylde Bird Club (Ribble and Wyre roosts)