Parkgate and Mostyn House School

The village of Parkgate on the north bank of the Dee Estuary presents a beautiful aspect on a sunny day. The continuous quay of what was once a port, before it silted up, gives a fine aspect on the white buildings set against the nature reserve of the estuary itself. On this occasion we saw lapwings, marsh harriers, great egrets, kestrels, and varous ducks and geese.

The most striking building is Mostyn House School, which I’ve photographed before (for example in this post). This time I looked for more detailed shots against a stunning blue sky.

History of Mostyn House School

The building was not always thus, and has an interesting history. The original building was a hotel for 100 years, linked to the success of Parkgate as a holiday resort, when there was had an outdoor lido. The Mostyn Arms Hotel even had a ballroom. In 1855 the hotel was sold to one Edward Price of Tarvin, who moved his school to Parkgate, but the structure was deteriorating.

“I have never seen such a horrible hole in all my life…” was the comment in 1863 when a new owner’s wife, a Mrs Grenfell, first saw it.

By 1899 the building, again according to her husband, was a ‘decrepit, insanitary wreck’. It was pretty well rebuilt over the next ten years to become the building we see today. A fine job they did, but clearly the building is not as old as you might think!

The school closed in 2010 and the building was subsequently converted to apartments. See timeline.

A sunny morning in Parkgate

Parkgate looked wonderful on sunny Wednesday morning, the old quays looking out over the Dee Estuary Nature Reserve towards North Wales and the sea.

Wildlife there was aplenty, but you needed binoculars for most of it – the marsh harrier patrolling, the kestrel hovering, the mass of lapwings landing, the great egret hunting, pools ringed by basking ducks… Just the grey heron was close and still enough for a reasonable photograph (featured image).

And the old Mostyn House School is always so photogenic.

Parkgate sunset

It was over 50 years ago that I first experienced a wonderful sunset at Parkgate on the Dee Estuary. So incredible it was, that I had some sort of peak experience. Unfortunately  (from this perspective) I was with very materialistic university friends who were not impressed and could not understand my elated state. The effect soon passed, as the beer took over.

Last weekend the sunset and the effect were much less spectacular, but still provides a decent photograph. A good birding pool in the marshes gives the foreground, with the dark hills of Flintshire behind. The channel of the River Dee now flows along that side of the estuary, leaving Parkgate, which was once a port, with just marshland at the quayside.

parkgate sunset

I think awe is probably the right word to describe my reaction to these spectacles of nature.

Redwing

Taking a short break while looking for raptors out over the Dee estuary at Parkgate, we took the dog for a short walk and happened across a largish group of (maybe 20) birds running about and feeding in a grassy field. They turned out to be redwing, easily identified by the reddish underwing.

Click twice to see an image full screen.

As is suggested by their shape and patterning, redwings are distant relatives of thrushes. These would be winter migrants to UK. According to Wikipedia, they often form loose flocks of tens or even hundreds of  birds in winter, often feeding together with other types of bird. We did notice a few starlings mixed in with them.

Barn Owl

I’ve always had a bit of a thing about owls. I was once quite stunned when an owl flew towards me down a dusky country bridleway, and then passed by within a few feet.

So yesterday it was something special when a barn owl (or Tyto alba) appeared at an RSPB ‘Raptor Watch’ event at Parkgate on the Wirral. Parkgate quay looks out towards North Wales over the marshes that comprise the estuary of the River Dee. The sun had disappeared behind the Welsh mountains, the light was fading fast and it was getting cold. The owl had come to feed.

Backwards and forwards he patrolled over the marshes, perfectly framed in my binoculars. Frequently he dropped down into the marsh grasses, disappearing from view, often just for a few seconds, only to reappear and resume the search. Then it was a longer period – he must have caught something. Suddenly a dark shape flashed by to where he had disappeared, reappearing seconds later, followed by the owl resuming his search. It seems a kestrel had stolen his dinner. This happened once again.

Mesmerised by the graceful spectacle of this huge bird hunting like a ghost in the fading light, it was only the cold that eventually forced us back to our van to warm up. The barn owl was still hunting, almost a spectre in the gathering dark.

I was too entranced to take the time to get the camera out – I knew that it was not up to getting decent pictures at that level of light. So I’ve searched Wikimedia Commons for pictures of barn owls in flight – here are some of the best. Click and click again to see a bigger image.

According to the RSPB, although populations declined in the 20th century, these birds are not currently under threat. Given that they feed on small animals they are clearly vulnerable to chemical farming.

Thanks to Steven Ward, Edd deane from Swaffham, I Luc Viatour, for making these images available on Wikimedia Commons.

Spider silk mystery

While watching the roosting birds come in as the sun gradually descended down to the level of the hills at Parkgate, I became aware of all these lines that had appeared in the grass of the marsh – apparently long strands of spider silk lit up by the very low sunlight behind them. The more I looked, the more the grass seemed to be covered in lots of long strands of spider silk. So I took a photograph.

parkgate spider web

You can see the left-right yellowish line clearly in the photograph. Now, what puzzles me is, how can a single strand of spider silk appear so thick on a photograph?Read More »

Lighting effect

An interesting example of the effect of low winter sunlight on a building – Mostyn House School at Parkgate, Cheshire.

Most of the black/white contrast has gone from the image on the left, shot towards the sun, which was to the right. The image on the right, taken at the same time of day with the sun behind the camera, shows perfect contrast. These images reflect what the eye was seeing.

Mostyn House School was a school from 1854-2010, now converted to private apartments.

Parkgate

One of the delights of living is Cheshire is the occasional visit to Parkgate, a pretty village facing onto the marshes of the estuary of the River Dee. I remember visiting in the 1960s and seeing the most spectacular of sunsets.

parkgate

Parkgate has an interesting history, and provides a pleasant walking promenade along by the marshes, which are an RSPB reserve. There are plenty of birds to be seen, albeit usually at some distance. The biggest high tides are always popular, as the birds are driven closer to the land, and the occasional rodent emerges from the marshes to escape the rising water.Read More »