I was cooling off today (damn hot out) having just done the lawn and having just watched the Flyers go 3-1 up against the Habs in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup, when a thought popped into my head - I wonder what I saw, I thought, on my very first visit to Moore? No idea what set that train of thought in motion, but it was now... in motion... and so I had to act. Now in the olden days, before I got hooked on e-records, I used to stick everything down from my birding trips in notebooks. Brightly coloured A3 notebooks to be precise and they now sit in the bedroom in an old leather case. So, I rummaged around and began thumbing through them...
It looks like my first recorded visit was on a bright spring afternoon on 27th April 2000. I have a note that says ‘One visit previously – but no record kept’, so strictly speaking, it was my second visit, but this was my first recorded birding trip to Moore. Can’t say I kept very good records in those days, but I did keep lists. LOTS of lists :-) On that first visit 10 years ago, which later entries remind me was confined to Lapwing Lake and Lapwing Lane (I’d yet to discover Birchwood Pool and the exotic eastern side of the reserve, let alone Upper Moss Side) I saw 47 species including my first Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Cuckoo and House Martin of the year! I also met a bloke with a Harris Hawk and noted a ‘mystery bunting song’ from the gorse at the top of the hill by the reserve sign, which I described at the time as ‘chi chi chi churrrrr’ (the song, not the gorse) and ‘...a bit Ortolan like or Yellowhammer subsong-y?’ Detailed stuff, eh? Well, I never did find the bird, according to my ‘notes’, and I sure as hell can’t remember that far back, so I guess we’ll never know what the mystery bunting was, but it’ll be Yellowhammer for sure, or maybe Cheshire’s first Ortolan Bunting.
Well, this little piece of nostalgia kept me thumbing through the tattered old books until I reached January 8th 2002... and there I stopped - Page 16 of Green Book 2002 (1). Why? Because what followed was a description of my first ever full day on the reserve – dawn ‘til dusk. Captured that evening in pen and ink and reproduced below verbatim. The only thing I’ve changed is people’s names (everybody is called Dave) and I've ocassionally added info for clarity in square brackets. Apart from that, it’s word for word as written eight years ago. I suppose I should point out that at this time Moore was not my patch. In fact I didn’t have a patch! I tended instead to wander the Wirral, N.Wales and the more northerly parts of Cheshire and the more southerly parts of Lancs and occasionally Greater Manchester. How things change.
8/1/02 – So, plan set. Pensarn for first light and Snow Buntings then Little Orme for Black Redstart, Greenfield for Red-crested Pochard etc... Well, not quite. Decided to start instead at MNR [aka Moore] for Bittern THEN Greenfield, down the A55 to Pensarn and on to Little Orme, calling at Fflint, Shotwick and Neston Old Quay on the way back. Woke at 5:50, gobbled toast and tea, made a flask and was away by 7:00 – still nicely dark. Took the back road to MNR (just in case of Little Owl at the oak – no luck) and parked up at Lapwing Lane for possible Tawny Owl (no luck). Quickly decided to head straight to the reed bed [aka Eastern Reedbed] and was there for 7:25. Got various calling species – masses of Rooks at Lapwing Lane, Teal, Wigeon etc. As light began to pick up, more duck came in. I could make out Shoveler on the pond [aka Millbrook Pool]. A Grey Heron ‘schraaked’ and dropped in there. A Snipe ‘katch-ed’ as it flew over followed by 2 Woodcock still silhouetted against the early sky. A fox trotted into some gorse in front of the hide as the colours came up. Plenty of Blue Tits, Long-tailed Tits, Reed Bunting, Moorhen.
Just after 8:00 an old chap with the smallest bins I’ve ever seen turned up. Told him about the fox then rambled on about the Bitterns making nest platforms – trouble was I never mentioned the word 'Bittern' so he thought I was talking about foxes! Soon cleared up the misunderstanding. Turns out he’d never seen one [Bittern!]. “Could be lucky”, I said. “Seem to come out before 8:30”. With that one flew from the reeds to the right and landed behind a few reed stalks on some ice to our left. Put the scope on it – fantastic. Hunched posture, bill pointing slightly upwards, dark beady eye. It just stood there partly masked by the reeds. Let the old guy have a look (he’d never have seen owt with those bins) and I swear there were tears in his eyes (shock of my optics I expect). He was a very happy chappy. Nice when you can share something like that. He left as the Bittern slowly stalked left out of view. My first non-flying Bittern and barely 25ft away!
For the next 15 minutes the Water Rails piped up and what with that and the Bittern I decided to stay until 9:00 before heading off. Well, 9:00 became 9:30 (just in case the Bittern re-emerged and especially as I’d had a couple of nice views of Water Rail to go with their regular squealing). Just before 9:30 scanned soggy sedge area by pool for more Water Rail [this was the NE wet flush of Millbrook Pool] – (you can never have too many Water Rails in my book!) when I noticed a wader. First thought was Redshank but when I got scope on it I was very pleasantly surprised – Green Sandpiper! Must be overwintering and to think it’s usually a quick trip to Marbury No.1 Tank [now called Haydn’s Pool] in August for these and here’s me ticking one in January! Decided to stay a little longer – half ten would still give me time to have lunch on Little Orme... Watched Green Sandpiper on an off for 30 mins whilst regularly checking the reed bed for Bittern. A Great Spotted Woodpecker ‘checkked’ somewhere and Jays were to-ing and fro-ing and before I knew it, it was 10:25 and Dave and Dave arrived. Exchanged pleasantries and chatted for a few minutes when who should come creeping back from whence it came but Botaurus. Cracking scoped views again and buggered if 10 minutes later it did the same thing back the way it came. Stonking! Grins all round. By this time I’d given up on going anywhere else and decided to stay at Moore all day.
At 11:00 left for the roosting Long-eared Owls on the disused section of the Latchford Canal. Found a single ear-tufty same place as last year [sadly the LEOs have long abandoned this once regular roost]. Elsewhere picked up Skylark. Trekked the birch wood for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker – no luck. Scanned the gulls for Iceland Gull – no luck, but continued to add species to the day list. Checked the Tawny Owl box, but it wouldn’t stick its head out so headed back to the reed bed at 14:20. Walking up to the hide when what should pop up over the rise but a Short-eared Owl (for all of 5 seconds before dropping down again). A minute later and I would have missed it. Setting up scope when I heard Jays going barmy behind me. Scanned bush to see two mobbing a male Sparrowhawk, who was in no hurry to leave. Eventually a Carrion Crow joined in and it had enough and flew off.
For the next two hours sod all happened save the comings and goings of various Bods and Bodesses including a guy called Dave who lived just down the road from me, and of course, Dave and Dave again. All eventually left with no sign of the Bittern and, for Dave, Dave and doggy Dave, apparently no sign of the LEO – despite my detailed description of where it was i.e. "...past the 2nd bench, a few yards on there’s a stand of willow on path side of the canal. Last tree’s an oak with a few leaves on. Go six feet past the oak then look across at the willow opposite it on the far bank. Single bird is 1/3rd of the way up the tree close to the thick side branch facing away!" Being charitable – it must have moved (more likely they’re blind as bats!).
Anyway, 16:20 just me and Dave left when he shouts “That’s never the Bittern is it? In that tree?" (We’d been watching the reed bed) BUT sure enough, directly along the bank from us, 20ft up a bare willow [actually it was probably a birch] was the Bittern! And what’s more it was ‘Bitterning’!!! Neck stretched, head pointing skyward... in a tree... high in a tree. How weird is that? Seen herons do it for past time [hamd about in trees] but Bittern? Had no idea they did that and to think that my very first “out in the open”, scoped up Bittern would be in a tree!!! Dave and I just laughed – it was so comical, but absolutely amazing – what’s the chances of seeing that? Anyhow, watched it ‘settle’ presumably to roost as it resumed its hunched posture (bit like a Night Heron), looked intently at the ground below as if contemplating getting perhaps just a little lower down the tree... then yawned... YES! YAWNED and then... light failed and we left. Happy as sandboys and still chuckling to ourselves.
It's supposed to be the Bittern in the tree...
Well, I thought, if things are going this well, what the hell, let’s use what remaining light is clinging to the landscape to walk the Tawny path. Drove down Lapwing Lane and waht should fly across my full beam but Tawny Owl! Fantastic day – added nine new species for the year and had amazing views of Bittern. Brings year total to 95! That’s last January’s entire count and with only 5 more to get and plenty of easy ones left, looks like I might make the 100 before the end of the month!
So, full list for the day...
L.Grebe, Cormorant, Bittern, G.Heron, M.Swan, Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler, Wigeon, Teal, Tufty, Goldeneye, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Pheasant, W.Rail, Moorhen, Coot, G.Sandpiper, Curlew, Woodcock, Snipe, BHGull, LBBGull, HGull, CGull, Wpigeon, T.Owl, LEO, SEO, GSWoodpecker, Skylark, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, S.Thrush, M.Thrush, Redwing, Goldcrest, G.Tit, B.Tit, LT.Tit, Magpie, Jay, C.Crow, Rook, Jackdaw, Starling, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Siskin, R.Bunting. 52 spp.
Halcyon days :-)
As a follow up, came across this in the 2nd notebook for the same year, 2002. Hadn't realised how much of an avid lister I was in those days. SO, much calmer now (the quest for the peaceful and unhurried mind...) I feel a book coming on 'Zen and the Art of Birding' :-) Anyway... as previously, all names have been changed to Dave.
30/10/02 Moore Nature Reserve 08:00 - 12:25 Cold, overcast and occ. light showers. In search of Bittern...
After nothing off the back of westerlies on 28th & 29th at Seaforth, in need of some decent birding to round off the month. Bumped into Dave who mentioned that the Bittern was back on 25th and showing at the usual times of 10:00 and 15:00. So, too much temptation. Got Dave to to drop me in the village and marched to the Eastern Reedbed in double-quick time. Dropped off at 7:30 and was in the hide by 8:00 [yes, in those days there was a pagoda-shaped hide with a roof, until yobs burnt it down]. Bittern flew from the reeds just in front left of hide, acroos the water to tall reeds in front of willows [NW corner, now cleared] where it perched (on top of reeds) for about a minute before skulking down the reed stalks back into the reeds. Got scope on bird when it was 'perched' on the reeds - v. upright posture, facing away. That was at 8:52 (but of course the clocks went back at the weekend so it was really 9:52). Later (10:25 - 10:45) may have heard it on far side of reedbed - Heron like 'schraak' only less raucous and shorter - checke BWP, but not much use, neither are my CDs as only have 'booming' birds on them. Still, had the place pretty much to myself... [morning's tally en route to and actuall at ERB below]
2 L.Grebe, 3 Cormorant, 1 Bittern, 1 Grey Heron, 4 M.Swan, 81 Pinkfeet, 2 Mallard,
10+ Gadwall, 11 Shoveler, 25 Wigeon, 7 Teal, f Pochard, 3 Tufty, 4 R.Duck, 2 Kestrel
3 Sparrowhawk, 1 Buzzard, 3 Pheasant, 8 W.Rail, 3 Moorhen, 9 Coot, 200 Lapwing,
85 Curlew, 500+ BHGull, C.Gull, 2 Woodpigeon, 32 S.Dove, 1.C.Dove, 3 Green Woodpecker
2 GSW, 5 Skylark, 1 G.Wag, 9 Wren, 8 Dunnock, 6 Robin, 106 Redwing, 3 M.Thrush
6 Blackbird, 1 Goldcrest , 7 G.Tit, 2 B.Tit, 10 LT.Tit, 25 Magpie, 13 C.Crow, 8 Jay
3 Jackdaw, 2 Starling, 3 Chaffinch, 7 L.Redpoll, 14 Goldfinch, 2 Siskin, 4 Greenfinch,
It really was all about the lists in those days - lol. There's a note below the above 'table' too that reads...
"Four year ticks incl. one lifer was better than I'd thought I'd get in for Oct BUT not had a tick for two and a half weeks now and am getting restless! I know I've got my 200 BUT I need more dammit... like Purple Sandpiper and Smew for starters. What will the last two months of the year bring, I wonder..."
OMG... I was SUCH an addict!