by Peter Alker and Ian McKerchar
Pennington Flash, an aerial view to the west (Photo courtesy of WL@CT)
Pennington Flash is a large subsidence flash a mile long and is situated just outside Leigh, it is undoubtedly the jewel in the county's birding crown and remains one of the top birding locations in the north-west of England. It's large variety of habitats can produce an excellent number of species to see at any time of year and provides genuine day-long birding. It affords supreme viewing thanks to it's good network of paths and comfortable hides around the nature reserve area and the site is ideal for disabled persons as all hides have access for wheelchair users. Toilets are available (including disabled toilets) and there is an information point with a recent bird sightings board located by a large pay and display car park (£1 per day as of March 2009, annual passes are also available). A mobile cafe is usually located by the car park and Rangers are based on site and can be contacted on 01942 605253 or at email@example.com. Pennington Flash can offer birders anything from a brief 'whistle-stop' flying visit to an all day major 'mooching' affair and everything in between. The location of the flash is well signposted off the A580 East Lancashire Road.
Pennington's crowning glory. The 1994 first British record of Black-faced Bunting (Photo by the late Roger Wood)
By March 2009 243 species had been recorded, including no less than 7 county first in the last decade but the site is undoubtedly most famous for the discovery of the first Black-faced Bunting in Britain in 1994, which obligingly stayed for 7 weeks. A feeding station at Bunting Hide provides excellent views of Willow Tit, up to 30 Bullfinch, occasionally Water Rail and many common woodland species. Breeding birds often include Common Tern, Shelduck, Oystercatcher, Ringed and Little Ringed Plover and Grasshopper Warbler whilst recent rarities have included Glossy Ibis, Cattle Egret, Great White Egret, Whiskered Tern, White-winged Black Tern, Great Northern Diver, Temminck's Stint, Spotted Crake, Canvasback, Lesser Scaup and Brent Goose. The evening gull roost in winter is vastly under-watched and is crying out for attention as are other evening gatherings such as wader and wildfowl roosts on and around the spit from Horrock‘s Hide and dedicated observation would definitely produce excellent results. Similarly the wooded areas are generally very under-watched, especially on the south side of the flash and these hold breeding Garden Warblers in summer and have held Wood Warbler, Redstart, Spotted and Pied Flycatchers on passage and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. A walk encompassing a complete circuit of the flash can produce an impressive day list of species and is very highly recommended, it is approximately 3 to 4 miles long and can take anything from 2- 4 hours depending on how much stopping is involved. Lastly, don’t be put off by the often large number of human visitors as the trees by the play area have held up to 5 Spotted Flycatchers and a Hobby has hunted dragonflies between people on the picnic field in autumn! It s also worth bearing in mind that the flash is susceptible to sporadic high water levels which may occasionally impact on your birding here.
THE OFFICIAL PENNINGTON FLASH SITE MAP IS CURRENTLY BEING REVISED AND UPDATED. ON IT'S COMPLETION IT WILL BE ADDED TO THIS GUIDE.
Above: Pennington Flash is THE site in the north-west of England to encounter such regular close range views of Bullfinch and Willow Tit, both of which can be viewed down to only a few feet in the feeding station, a location which also provides superb photographic opportunities and especially in winter demands the attention of birders such is the wonderful array and amount of birds utilising it. (Photos: Bullfinch by Mike Baron, Willow Tit by Paul Hammond)
Above: Ignore any areas of Pennington at your peril! Both the above birds occurred in less than expected areas with the Cattle Egret (left, photo by Andy Makin) occurring on the flooded golf course and the Ring-billed Gull (right, photo by John Tymon) spending all it's time in or around the car park!
Above: Hobby (left, photo by John Tymon) has become a more recent feature at Pennington with an increase in sightings which has been much appreciated but surprises are never far away, like this Red-necked Grebe (right with Tufted Duck, photo by Judith Smith) which appeared on the lagoon.
Above: This flock of 28 Brent Geese (photo by Ian McKerchar) which spent the majority of a day at the flash goes to prove just what outstanding sightings it can produce but rarities aside, it is it's general variety and quantity of species combined with the ease of viewing them which continues to set Pennington Flash apart and ensure a great visit.
Above: An aerial view of the spit, once part of a railway line and now the focus for much of the site's birding attention. (Photo courtesy of WT@CT)
Above: Spending time in Horrocks Hide is essential. An absolute 'spit-full' of birds such as here is a real highlight of any visit. (Photo Peter Alker)