Friday, May 14, 2010

The Patch...

14th May 2010

Well, this is new for me BUT it makes a change from lists of birds and spreadsheets :) Consider it a kind of birding diary. SO, place to start I guess is with 'the patch' itself. It's in Cheshire, inland and comprises Moore Nature Reserve (MNR) near Warrington (link at the end) and Upper Moss Side (UMS) that joins onto it. It's bounded to the north by an arc of the River Mersey and to the south by the Manchester Ship Canal, so it forms a kind of 'island' of habitat between the two, but also includes birds using these two bits of waterway. The whole patch basically runs west to east, from Halfway House (where the Mersey almost meets the ship canal) to where the Mersey meets the railway bridge past the Eastern Reedbed on the main reserve.

Not all of it is accessible because a large chunk (the NE quarter, more or less), is a rubbish tip and out of bounds. The patch proper comprises, therefore, basically a western 'half' (farmland, marshland, the ship canal and the Mersey opposite Fiddler's Ferry power station -UMS) and an eastern 'half' (woodland and pools -MNR). I've been visiting the site for about 10 years on and off, but only really settled completely on it as my local patch about 3 years ago. Now I rarely go birding anywhere else. I am content with what I have here. OK, there's tons I'll not see by restricting myself to this one small patch of land but that is more than made up for by getting to know the local residents, watching the ebb and flow of migrants and finding the odd rarity. What follows then, is a patchers tale...


Seems little point in trying to recap the details of the year up until now but I have to start somewhere so let's go for (1) this year's current patch list and (2) yesterdays' brief flurry of activity to set the scene.

(1) The 2010 patch far.

After a very slow start to the year, the list currently stands at 120 species - here goes: BNGrebe, L Grebe, GC Grebe, Cormorant, G Heron, L Egret, M Swan, Greylag, Canada, Shelduck, Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler, Wigeon, Teal, Pochard, Tufty, Ruddy, M Harrier, Buzzard, R Kite, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine, G Partridge, Pheasant, W Rail, Moorhen, Coot, Oystercatcher, Avocet, LR Plover, R Plover, Lapwing, G Sandpiper, Co Sandpiper, Redshank, Greenshank, Blackwit, Curlew, Whimbrel, Snipe, J Snipe, Woodcock, BH Gull, C Gull, H Gull, LBB Gull, GBB Gull, Med Gull, Glaucous, YL Gull, C Tern, Feral Pigeon, S Dove, C Dove, Woodpigeon, Cuckoo, Barn Owl, Little Owl, SEO, Swift, Kingfisher, GS Woodpecker, LS Woodpecker, Skylark, S Martin, H Martin, Swallow, M Pipit, P Wagtail, G Wagtail, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Wheatear, Stonechat, Whinchat, S Thrush, M Thrush, Redwing, Fieldfare, Blackbird, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Whitethroat, L Whitethroat, Sedge, Reed, Gropper, Willow, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, G Tit, B Tit, C Tit, LT Tit, W Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Magpie, C Crow, Rook, Jackdaw, Raven, Jay, Starling, H Sparrow, T Sparrow, Chaffinch, Brambling, Linnet, L Redpoll, Goldfinch,Greenfinch, Siskin, Bullfinch,Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting... Knot (121), Dunlin (122), Sanderling (123), Spotted Flycatcher (124), Green Woodpecker (125), Turnstone (126), Garganey (127), Common Redstart (128), Tree Pipit (129), Golden Plover (130), Ruff (131), Pink-footed Goose (132), Cetti's Warbler (133), Goldeneye (134), Tawny Owl (135), Firecrest (136), Water Pipit (137), Goosander (138), Iceland Gull (139)... SO close, so VERY close!!!

If you know Moore, you'll know I missed both Bittern (!) and Iceland Gull in the first winter period and didn't pick up the Yellow Wagtail, *Tree Pipit, Goosander or Hobby - meh. Nor *Golden Plover of all things thanks to a late start...

*Managed to retrieve later in the year.

(2) Yesterday...

Did the usual walk between Bob's Bridge (BB) which is where MNR meets UMS on the southern edge of the patch and HWH at the western tip of the patch (this is THE place to look for waders on the river). Got there about 7.00am. Now there's a few things you should know about Halfway House.

No1 - nine times out of ten you'll see sod all except Shelduck, Black-headed Gulls, Cormorants, Mallards and Canada Geese.

No2 - sometimes you'll get a string of 2, 3 4 good birds... a 'purple patch' or a 'HWH comes up trumps' moment. These are what makes the trek worthwhile. We're not talking spectacular stuff here, but if you want a good year list for this patch you have to work the river in the hope of picking up passage waders.

No3 - just over the river is Fiddler's Ferry power station - meh - with it's hidden lagoons - double meh - at which all kinds of goodies have turned up over the years - treble meh.

No4 - Fiddler's birds rarely stick their heads over the bund and so become visible from HWH so at some point during a sesh here your mind wanders to "I wonder wonder if anything will put up the stuff on the lagoons...". Answer, probably not!!!

No5 - the river is tidal... but weirdly tidal. No gently ebb and flow here, oh no. The tide creeps out over a period of about 11 hours (exposing rapidly drying mudbanks), struggles to come back in again for about 45 minutes then tears in, audibly (!) and covers the whole muddy scene in about 15 minutes flat.

SO, yesterday when I arrived the tide was out (as it usually is). Shelduck. Mallard. Canada Goose. Cormorant. Black-headed Gull... Ooo a Gadwall... Ooo a Grey Heron... There's a Mute Swan... exciting stuff. Sand Martins buzzing over, Reed Warbler chunnering away and occasionally doing a passable impression of the Goldfinch it the willow to my left, Whitethroat, Great Tit, Song Thrush, Blackcap, Mistle Thrush, Blackbird, Wren, Greenfinch, Willow Warbler, Chaffinch, Bullfinch... funny how your ears take over when your eyes have little to look at.

Dot on the mud. Wasn't there a minute ago. Typical of HWH. Stuff just 'appears'. You rarely see it arrive. Scope on it. Ringed Plover! Now you're probably wondering why the '!', well it's a patch bird that. Hard to get and only the third I've had this year...and... funnily enough, all from this spot. To put it into perspective, my chum (who's patch this also is) has yet to get R.Plover (but then he did get Bittern and Iceland Gull - meh). Trouble is, things rarely stop long at HWH. Take for example the pair of Avocets the other week - here for a day... same thing last year. Year before that - no Avocets... esxcept that they may have been there, just that no birders were there on the one day they deemed to grace the patch with their presence. Who knows. Mind you, in HWH terms a days stay is LONG! Most things stay for minutes (Whimbrel, Dunlin, this R Plover... gone) or sometimes just seconds (Sanderling, Knot). The stuff that must go unseen!!! Terns for example, not even annual, but ARE elsewhere locally. There are just a handful of tern records from HWH, mostly Arctic and the occasional Common on passage. Talking of which... high right, jinky wingbeats... tern... Common Tern. Wow!!! Now THAT is a damn good bird for the patch - happy days. Buzzard soaring high right, Kestrel hovering low left, another Buzzard tracking low over the reeds on the far side of the river in front of the typically empty and shut-up Fiddler's Ferry hide. Hang on... cream crown... Marsh Harrier! Excellent. Scoped her as she flew past.

Now the other thing about the tidal-ness of HWH is the flotsam that gets washed up and deposited on the mud. I have had many a 'happy' hour trying to transform assorted packaging into various immobile passage waders. Today a grey and white can keeps catching me out... and I KNOW it's a can and i STILL keep checking it!!! Red brick building opposite... is that a bit of the roof or what... scope... bird! Greenland Wheatear!! You see it IS worth checking everything I tell myself as I scan the far shore and heat-hazed mud for movement for the umpteenth time. Nothing. Quiet. Normality. Done.

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