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.
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.
I love being on the cliffs at Thursaston on the Wirral side of the Dee Estuary. When the tide is down you are basically looking out over huge mudflats with the occasional resting anchored boat, and when it is up the expanse of water becomes huge. Amid this twice daily rhythm there are often spectacular sunsets, at this time of the year round the corner up the coast towards Liverpool and beyond. Although there are few birds just here at this time of year, you are almost spoilt for choice photographically. Here are just a few.
The little bird insistently called out from somewhere within the nearby hedging trees in Wirral Country Park. Eventually I managed to locate it singing away, showing just enough to take a photo. Of course, it was a chiffchaff, named onomatopoeically.
A second chiffchaff gave a better opportunity, caught in action singing away..
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.
I think awe is probably the right word to describe my reaction to these spectacles of nature.
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.
We often see a song thrush in the back garden, but never with camera handy. Of course, they don’t stay long enough for me to go and get it, wisely with cats around.
This one appeared high on a hedge on a sunny afternoon walk in the Wirral, just asking to be photographed.
I only managed 3 shots at maximum zoom before he flew off. Only this one was in reasonable focus. The lesson is maybe to leave burst mode set, but then of course you finish up with so many frames to sort out!
A white dog runs out into the Dee estuary from the beach at Thursaston in the Wirral. The owner calls it back, and there emerges a white dog with brown legs. The estuary is actually very muddy, beyond the thin strip of sandy beach at the edge. Viewed from the low cliffs, mud, sand, river and tides combine together in wondrous picturesque swirls and patterns. Add to that the Sun descending slowly in the western sky. This combination never fails to lift the spirit.
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.
At first sight this image looks rather dark and unpromising, and yet on the other hand I find it a very pleasing composition. It was taken in the deep gloom of gathering dusk; the ability of a handheld modern camera to give a image of this level of brightness and detail in such circumstances is quite amazing.
The featured image shows a cut of the original image, centred on the two human figures and their dogs. The lack of detail due to the low light gives a rather impressionistic picture, which is also quite pleasing.
Picture taken end June 2018 in auto mode by Panasonic ZX100
on the Wirral Way near Thursaston, Wirral, UK.
At first sight you might think this is an old and rather scraggy butterfly, but it’s actually a comma in rude health. With wings outstretched this butterfly is quite spectacular. This one wouldn’t co-operate, but the underside of the wing visible here is also rather beautiful, and the white comma is clearly displayed.
This recent view of the Dee Estuary from the cliffs near Thursaston in the Wirral doesn’t really satisfy the rule of the golden mean or two-thirds in photographic composition, with the horizon in the middle. But I rather like it, particularly with the muted colours of this sunset. What do you think?
On the left horizon you can see the coast of North Wales.