Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ahem! Worm?

The early bird catches the worm. We all know this. This morning then, with the clocks going back an hour I should have gathered a bellyful by the Eastern Reedbed at first light and one of them should have had Bittern written on it. Not so. By 9:30 old time (my phone had disappointingly NOT reset its clock) there was no sign. Nice to see the Mute Swan family wake up though. One of the adults was fast asleep in front of the hide when I arrived and all was quiet save a few bleeps from the still monochrome Teal at the edge of the reed shadows, an occasional whistle from one of the Wigeon in the dark of the open water to the SE and one or two squeals from the Water Rails. Now there's some debate about these and whether they're residents or incomers for the winter months. Certainly I have never seen hide nor hair of them during the summer months, although a fellow patcher had a juv one year on Pumphouse Pool, so they have bred  here in the past. Don't know. Anyway, they're here now... 2 or 3 I'm guessing from where the calling is coming from.

By 7:45 the swan had woken up. I could see Shoveler now and Gadwall in the NW corner and could make out a dozen or so Coot with a few Mallard and the Wigeon out on the open water. The swan gave a couple of high-pitched snorts and was answered from somewhere behing the main reed stand by a chorus of coarser, almost excited snorts from what I presume were the juveniles. 85 Jackdaw over and a Moorhen 'kurrrucks' as the juvenile Mute Swans, led by the other adult, appear from behind the reeds in a line. They swim behind the flattened bridge of reeds between the main stand and the island and then around the latter to join the other adult in the NW corner. Cue salutes from the youngsters toward their parent; necks stretched and heads flicked skyward. Bit like what *Whooper Swans do but without all the noise and much more sedate. Elegant. Lots of small stuff about today; 3 Pied Wagtail, 2 Grey Wagtail, 15+ Reed Bunting, 5+ Blue Tit using the reed fringes with a few Robins and Wrens. Kingfisher calling. 8 Canada Geese over E.

About an hour later (I'm guessing) I'm joined by fellow patchers Den and Mal. They're out for a morning mooch and have just had Green Woodpecker on Pumphouse Meadow. Green Sandpiper drops in for a bit and we all get a look at it. Lots of Meadow Pipits about today feeding on the grass bank including some very well marked birds. Tricky to count as they keep flitting about but good to see them at this end of the reserve. Later a Sparrowhawk puts them up and I count 10 as they disperse. No sign of the Water Pipit today but it may have been here the same day Mike and I grilled it on the Black Fields. It certainly flew in this direction but I'm in two minds - see photo (below) and comments on Moore facebook page and let me know your thoughts coz I've looked at it that much that I can't even decide how long the tail and bill are anymore.

*45 minutes after I get home, I get a text from Den... "6 Whooper over Birch Wood". Doh! Cudda done with them. Ah well, maybe next month.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A spinoletta...

Treated myself to a couple of patch hours yesterday with two things in mind. First was to try to relocate the Firecrest from the day before and the second was to troll along the river at the east end to look for Goosander - a patch year tick. As I drove to my usual parking spot near the balck and yellow metal gate it became quickly apparent that the windy conditions were going to create a few problems. Out of the car and... ummmm... correction; a LOT of problems. Branches were in  motion (so trying to spot small birds moving among them was pretty hopeless) and the sounds of the leaves rustling drowned out all but the loudest calls, so trying to pick up the 'si-si-si-si' of crests and distinguish the slightly fatter Firecrest call from the thinner Goldies, impossible. Did get on a few Goldcrests and Long-tailed Tits in the relative calm of the dingly dells where people ride their bikes in The Plantation, but no Firecrest. At the actual site of the previous days encounter with my firey little chum there was nothing except an insistent Willow Tit 'durr-durr-durr'-ing in the thick Hawthorn stand opposite the big oak. Ah well, maybe if I hit the north side I'll find shelter...

Answer? Not really. had a quick look at The Garden near the feeding station (usually a good spot for winter crests) but the wind was in there too. So, I bit the bullet and opted for an earlier than planned river yompet for Goosander. Quick detour to Pumphouse Pool en route yielded only a mess of gulls and a quick scope trawl through them threw up nothing much of note except for the half dozen or so Common Gulls among the usual Black-headed and LBBG suspects. SO, parked at the far end by the electricity substation and nipped across the road to the railway bridge from where you can get a view up and down river. A bit slippy today... and dead. Now't to see. Emerged from the bankside vegetation to see Mully unpacking his kit from the boot of his Renault. Well bugger me! Great minds or what. Quick chat and Mike heads for Firecrest Alley for a mooch and I head off along the Trans-Pennine Way to the big road bridge over the river. Nothing from there either. No Goosander today... meh :s

What to do? Well, for some reason I decided to take a shortcut along the east edge of the Black Fields. Thoughts were of Great Grey Shrike. I often picture them here, perched atop one of the scrubby bushes. One day... Plan was to skirt along the north bank of of Firecrest Alley and have a look at the new scraping on Black Fields (the north bank runs along its southerly edge). The scrape is a fairly flat cleared area of mud with small pools formed mostly from the tire tracks of the big trucks that worked the site. There's not much vegetation there at all yet, but there is a greenish sheen in the middle where something is behginning to colonise the bare mud. Pied Wagtail and then something running along the margin of one of the pools out of the corner of my eye. First thought was of small brown wader but bins up and it's a large pipit. Thing that strikes me immediately are the two whitish wing bars and very pronounced whitish supercilium... almost Redwing-ingly striking. Cold mud brown uppers, longish tail, pure white beneath, clear black streaking on breast, dark legs, longish bill with pale base all shout WATER PIPIT. Now if you've read my previous posts you'll be aware that I had one of these turned down the other year as my description didn't rule out littoralis Rock Pipit. No such problem today as its pure white outer tail feathers were clearly visible when it flew and the colour of its back and head and clarity of the underparts left me in no doubt at all. Quick phone call to Mully and 5 minutes (whilst I kept my bins firmly on it) later we were both on it. Little beauty. Flew off towards Millbrook Pool calling and showing us again its white outer tail feathers and double wingbars as it went. Bloody marvellous and year tick 137 for the patch! Happy Days :)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The morning after the night before...

As luck would have it, I managed to free up some time in between work duties this week to hit opposite ends of the patch in a kind of evening and morning back-to-back sesh. This was, I must confess, an uncharacteristically strategic approach, but necessary I felt, as my time is seriously limited these days. As it turned out, it was the near perfect thing to do...

The night before...

First off the east end for Bittern. An evening stint. When I was here on Monday I had to leave early and so had missed the closing of the day, the draining of colours from the landscape and my traditional time to ‘get’ Bittern. Now I know peeps say that you can get them any time of day at the Eastern Reedbed once they’ve settled in for the winter, but my birds have almost always been at dawn or dusk. In the mornings they seems to emerge from the SW corner and maybe fly across the reeds, or stalk along in front of the hide. Sometimes they even climb the reed stalks or sunbathe on the little island – a rare event and one that tends to be associated with bright sunny days after a hard freeze. Evening sightings are typically less varied, less exciting and more challenging. Birds usually fly in low over the NW flush of Millbrook Pool, over the bund and then swing south, usually just silhouetted over the reeds as my Leicas cling by their finger tips to the very last shreds of light. Last night I arrived with about an hour to go until sunset. I poured a coffee, hunkered down and scoured the two pools. Here's how it panned out...

Eastern Reedbed

24 Coot, 2 Teal, 8 Shoveler (they never seem to ‘spin’ here... guess the water is too shallow so there’s no need), 7 Gadwall (up from Monday), 1 Grey Heron (ad) and 8 Moorhen (max count I’ve had here – they seem to like the ‘new’ muddy margins). The 9 juvenile Mute Swans have been joined again by their parents this evening and the Mallard and Wigeon seem to have relocated to Millbrook Pool. And... we have a Green Sandpiper. It too seems to be enjoying the mud and the shallows. Come to think of it, this could be the first time I’ve had one on the ERB – they usually favour the NW flush on Millbrook Pool during the winter. Not tonight though. Nice.

Millbrook Pool

Numbers of pretty much everything are slightly down on the other night; 4 Coot, 9 Gadwall, 11 Mallard, 2 Tufty and no Moorhen. The ‘ERB’ Wigeon are up though, 7 today, the Kingfisher that was loitering on the tree in the NW corner of the reedbed is calling from somewhere on Millbrook island tonight and the number of Teal have doubled again to 86. 2 Common Snipe are feeding among them.

Well, no Bittern so far... and it’s getting dark enough for a bat to flit over the reedbed. Hmmm... kind of figured they’d be getting ready for hibernation about now. Daubenton’s? Ooo. Fox! Always nice to see one of these out and about. They seem to like this end of the reserve. get them quite often. This one is having a mooch along the shore. Rabbit in front of the hide scarpers... not that the Fox is in the least bit interested tbh, it’s after the ducks. I spend the next few minutes watching it splashing about half-heartedly chasing the Teal in the near dark. It doesn’t seem too bothered about catching one and saunters off across the grass, stopping to scent mark once in the gloom before I lose it among the shadows. SO, that’s it for this evening. No Bitterns again. Ah well, gives me time to drive around the Upper Moss Side loop in the hope of catching an owl in the headlights. I’ve done this SO many times I’ve lost count and have only ever gotten an owl on 3 occasions... mind you, one of those was a Long-eared Owl so it’s always worth a crack in my book. Tonight? Success! Tawny Owl flits across the track by Hillcrest Quarry. Patch year tick 135! Happy Days :)

The morning after...

A couple of hours at Halfway House was the order of the day today. Forgive me father for I have sinned. It has been 3 weeks since my last visit. On the river though, nothing much has changed, apart that is from the influx of 195 Teal. Otherwise it’s business as usual by the cooling towers this morning; 1853 Lapwing, 14 Golden Plover, 1 Redshank, 84 Mallard, 23 Canada Goose, 9 Shelduck, 2 Cormorants, 1 Grey Heron and I Great-crested Grebe. OK, there are shed loads of gulls too, but no way do I have time to sift through them all as I want to spend what little time I have left (work beckons) checking The Prom and bushes along the track back to Bob’s Bridge for small stuff. Today there’s only Coal Tit, Treecreeper, Long-tailed Tit, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Robin and Wren on The Prom and nothing on the ship canal, so I quickly decide to head back along the track. First pleasant surprise of the day is a flock of 25 Fieldfare that flit from a berry-rich Rowan to a nearby, equally rich Hawthorn, chuckling. Gorgeous scoped views in the sunlight.

These are the first of the 2nd winter period for me. There are a good few Redwing about in threes and fours too and a noteable influx of Song Thrush. I count 7+ in the Hawthorns along the track. Continental birds I guess. Just on a bit from the Ethylene Station I put up a flock of about 30 Goldfinch that wheel around and settled in the top of a nearby Alder. 50 more Fieldfare over south now with a sprinkling of Redwing among them and there’s a skein of c100 Pinkfeet higher up heading the same way, pinking. The morning has a real winter feel about it. 100 Redwing over E and more thrushes in the hawthorns to my right. Small stuff too. Bullfinches, Goldfinches, Blue Tits, Long-tailed Tits... Goldcrest. Goldcrest? Flits across the path to another Hawthorn. “Check all crests”, I remind myself. O...M...F...G!!! It’s a FIRECREST! Absolutely, pristine, spanking, gorgeous little thing on the edge of the Hawthorn in full sunlight working along a branch. Pure yellow crown sexes it as a female and I just grin and take in the colours. The head markings are so clean, so bright! Bloody marvellous!! This peeps is the first one I've found on the patch. Actually it's the first one I personally have found anywhere! Best bird of the year for me and even tops the other year's self-found Great Grey Shrike. I just have a real soft spot for Firecrests.

SO, long story short. Text Mully. Lose bird. Mully arrives about an hour later. Still not relocated bird. Both yomp to HWH and work back along track checking bushes. All has gone quiet. Don't find it again. Leave Mully to it. Lack of text since then tells me he's not relocated it. My gut feeling? It's still about. Reckon there's plenty of good habitat for it to get lost in. Deffo worth another mooch soon methinks! If you wanna have a crack at it yourself, directions at the end. In the meantime, that lil gem puts me on 136 for the year. Get in!!! :)


Park at Bob's Bridge. Head through the yellow and black metal gate to the ship canal path. Follow it along. You'll have the canal jetties on your left and will notice some big white boaty bollard things that they must have tied barges to or something in the past. These run in a line between the canal and the path. Opposite the last one on the other side of the path is a BIG oak, still in leaf on it's own by a short path that runs to Shipton's Meadow. The two Hawthorns to the right of the big oak are where the Firecrest was. I reckon it's worth checking the longer stand of Hawthorns that run along the canal bank opposite too. They're nice and thick and look promising. Let me know if you come across it! Happy Hunting!!!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

One For Tea?

A fair bit has happened since last I was here, not least of which is the fact that the Model Aircarft Club have withdrawn their application to develop the Triangle Field on Upper Moss Side on advice from the Warrington Borough Council’s planning department. Basically, they hadn’t bothered to do any ecological surveys and hence had no defence against the objections raised. Now, with any luck, that’ll be the end of it... BUT, they could, in theory pay for some avian ecologist to do a survey or two and reapply next year. Can’t see it happening tbh, but just in case they STILL haven’t got the message, I’ll be carrying out my own surveys next year so as to be ready to launch a challenge if needs be. Bloody marvellous job done by all and much thanks to all who objected!!!

SO, it’s been nearly THREE WEEKS (!) since I’ve managed to get out to the patch and do a count at the east end. I had planned to hit Halfway House to check for waders and grill The Prom, but my knee started playing up as I set off (did get a Stoat though) so I quickly had to change my plans – today I’d check the eastern pools instead. Glad I did!

Birchwood Pool

For a change, I started here and worked east (I usually start at Pumphouse and work west, before ending with the Eastern Reedbed & Millbrook Pool). Parked my car on Lapwing Lane by the cross-paths and headed along the eastern one to the old Tawny Owl roost. I’ve still not got Tawny Owl this year on the patch so had hoped that she’d be back on her ivy covered tree by the little bridge – no luck. Lots of Long-tailed Tit flocks about today, but nothing much knocking about with them. A few Buzzards over in the clear blue sky all turned out (unsurprisingly) NOT to be Roughed-legged. Ah well, live in hope. At the west hide first look yielded... shed loads of gulls. Half-hearted trawl through them didn’t throw up anything unusual so I set about the wildfowl. Wildfowl... where are they??? NO geese at all today (there had been 286 Canada Geese alone here last time) and precious few ducks it seems. Gadwall numbers are down still more (just 5 today), there are only 2 Mallard (10 last time) and no sign of any Shoveler today. Tufties though are up slightly (19), so too Teal (10) whilst Pochard are about the same (6). The female Ruddy Duck that was here in early October has gone (shot?) BUT she’s been replaced by a couple of beauties – 2 female GOLDENEYE; resplendently spanking in the autumn sunlight and patch year tick number 134! Bloody marvellous :) Coot numbers are double my last visit (46), Moorhen stable at about 5-6, Little Grebe and Grey Heron numbers down (5 & 6, respectively).

Pumphouse Pool

Where HAVE all the wildfowl gone??? Everything is down today with the solitary exception of Shoveler that are stubbornly sticking on 19. Tallies today as follows; Cormorant 4, Grey Heron 1, Moorhen 3, Mallard 2, Teal 6, Tufty 1. No Canada Geese here either. No Gadwall AND (very oddly) NO COOT! Hmmmm...

Eastern Reedbed

Rumour had it that our Dutch (?) Botaurus had recently arrived and so it seemed only fitting that the end of today’s sesh would be at the ERB in case one or two flew in at dusk. Trouble was, I’d rather miscalculated when dusk was and had committed myself to ‘other stuff’ at 6pm. Idiot! Sun hadn’t even gone down by then so I shouldn’t really have been surprised at my lack of Bitterns. Never mind – clocks go back next week so I’ll try again then.

Water levels still low and quite a bit of mud showing so not much about; 27 Coot (down on last time), 2 Gadwall, 1 Grey Heron (ad), 5 Moorhen, the 9 juvenileMute Swans, 3 Mallard, 6 Shoveler nibbling leaves on a small Oak (yes, odd... I know), 8 Teal, 4 Wigeon. Odds n sods over included; 3 Lesser Redpoll, 8 Goldfinch, 2 Jay, 1 Pied Wagtail, 2 Grey Wagtail, 3 Reed Bunting, 2 Song Thrush, 3 Redwing. 1 Common Buzzard in a tree and 1 Kingfisher calling. Latter was interesting... heard it calling from NW corner but couldn’t see it. Reasoned that it must be low down on a branch of the tree there behind the reeds. Saw the branch spring a little and bounce as if something had launched from it. Moments later caught a flash of orange and blue through the Phrag as it alighted back on the branch, out of sight. Couldn’t get on the bill, so no idea if he was a she or if she was a he. My gut says HE... so let’s go with that. Actually, there were probably two calling at one point so may be the pair is back. Which brings us to...

Millbrook Pool

Sun drenched and (disappointingly) Green Sandpiper-less. However, the following WERE present; 9 Coot, 5 Cormorant, 12 Gadwall, 14 Mallard, 2 Moorhen, 3 Tufty - all very similar to my last visit. Only change appears to be an influx of 40 Teal. You know, sooner or later, the patch just HAS to throw up Green-winged amongst our winter Teal...

And finally...

Yes, and finally... a thought. Now, myself and one or two other patchers consider, from time to time, what the maximum year list might be here. A year or so ago, Mully did a quick back-of-fag-packet-calculation and came up with 140, complete with a list of species that would need to be got to make this feasible. At the time I thought ‘No fucking way’. One Forty was damn nigh impossible. Now I’m not quite so sure... Today’s Goldeneye put me on 134, my highest year tally on the patch to date, and it’s got me thinking. Could the One For Tea really be do-able??? I have still to get Bittern, *Tawny Owl and Iceland Gull (all feasible still) which would take me 137. That would only require THREE further species during November and December. Surely there must be a good chance of some wildfowl... Whitefront, Goosander, Scaup, Whooper... or Waxwing... or maybe even Grey Plover or Little Stint on the river? Maybe even a *Firecrest?? I’ll tell you something... if I’m ever gonna do the 140, this year is probably THE year! Watch this space :)

* Well how prophetic did THAT turn out to be!!! See 'The morning after the night before...'

Friday, October 08, 2010

Promontory (noun) prä-mən-ˌtȯr-ē...

 AND it almost sounds the same...

Promontory (noun) prä-mən-ˌtȯr-ē...
1 a : a high point of land or rock projecting into a body of water b : a prominent mass of land overlooking or projecting into a lowland c: a pointy bit of land that funnels in small stuff.

Well, all things are I guess relative. It's not THAT high, nor THAT prominent, but the little pointy wedge of land sandwiched between Manchester Ship Canal and the River Mersey at Halfway House IS beginning to look a bit special. This 100 yards or so of bank decked with scattered trees and bushes ends by the willow tree alongside which I sit and really does seem to be a bit of a magnet for small stuff. So much so, that I have decided to give it its own name - The Prom. It's the narrowest point on the patch, about a dozen yards, give or take, between river water and canal water and behaves just like a miniature headland, funneling stuff in as it works westward, or sucking stuff towards it as it works eastward. It's where the Cetti's Warbler was found, where last months Common Redstart was found and a host of other flitty bits from Treecreeper to Lesser Whitethroat. From Yellow-browed Warbler to Blackpoll Warbler. No. Hang on. That bit was just a premonition. BUT, stuff loves this bit of the patch and so as of now, I fully intend to grill it whenever I can.
A toast! To THE PROM! God bless her and all who hail in her!!

"A small, rather nondescript bird...(pronounced chetty)..."

Well, no beating about the bush today (must be a pun in there somewhere...) Halfway House continues to surprise and add, everso slowly, more species to the year list. Mallard numbers have doubled in the space of two days (114), a male Shoveler and a single Redshank have appeared... and just disappeared and there are still dribbles of Skylarks over south with a sprinkling of Pied Wags and Meadow Pipit. Things picked a little later when a skein of about 250 Pinkfeet went over (only had a 'plastic' one in the first winter period) adding one to the year tally (132)... and then it happened. Who should appear but Mully, with news that Den was on the way too. Good stuff, a trebling of eyes and ears imminent. No sooner had we exchanged the customary pleasantries though when 'chit, chit chut, chett...' and silence from the bushes behind. "What was that? Sounded a bit Cetti-ish". Quick tiptoe to the canal path to view the bushes and 'chit, chit chut, chetty, chetty, chetty, chit' Bugger me! It WAS a Cetti's Warbler. Only the third patch record! Well, I hadn't expected that. Den arrived as it piped up again. Excellent. For the next half an hour or so it obligingly sang on and off and gave fleeting views. Song was less explosive than in birds on territory and in quite long, repetetive streams. None of the usual long gaps. I'm thinking young bird maybe. Either way, bloody marvellous and patch year tick 133. Happy Days :)


Off the back of yesterday’s session at Halfway House I decided to do an early there again by way of comparison before heading to the main reserve for the first of my October counts. My gut told me that I’d probably caught the tail end of the purple patch on the river as good birds had been dropping in since last Friday and today was Wednesday. I mean, it’s not as if we’re at the height of passage and so the chances of a prolonged bout of patch goodies was beyond slim and closer to anorexic. Ah well, as they say, all good things come to an end. They also say though, he who dares wins and, nothing ventured nothing gained, aha! SO, optimism won the day and I headed straight to the little bend in the river first thing.

More Robins about this morning, or at least more of them making their presence know. Dunnocks too and Wrens. Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Mistle Thrush... but otherwise, quiet. At the river it became quickly apparent that things were indeed PPP (post-purple-patch). Just the usual suspects on the mud today; 1150 Lapwing (a little down on yesterday), 16 Golden Plover (about half yesterday’s tally), a single Curlew, a single Little Egret, 2 Cormorants and some wildfowl. Now these, at least were a little more diverse than yesterday. Mallard numbers were up threefold (66 today), Teal had dropped in overnight (30 tucked in the SE corner) and there was a solitary female Wigeon pulling grass from a tussock on the far shore. 2 Shelduck and 6 Canada Geese completed the picture. Today too there were raptors; Kestrel, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, but alas, no Peregrine. Normality, as usual, had returned to the river.

Not all bad though, the lack of action on the mudflats did mean that I spent more time with an ear and eye on the sky and picked up a smattering of vis mig in the form of a steady small trickle of Skylark over south in ones and twos. I’d not really noticed either, until now, the way the Black-headed Gulls go bananas as the tide rushes in. Lots of frantic flying about and calling and dipping to the water surface before alighting on the still exposed mud further upriver. Even that though was soon covered and off the gulls went again (noisily), this time to the high mudbank to the east, out of the tides reach. This sudden rush of gulls ashore spooked the Teal. They shot off as one to the relative peace and quiet of the Fiddlers Ferry lagoons, quickly followed by the bigger group of Mallard that were feeding near them. That just left the Lapwing and Golden Plover on the last ‘dry land’ midstream, before they too finally gave up the ghost and drifted away calling, the Golden Plover separating out into their own little flock amid the larger Lapwing flock as they usually do. Ah well, time to hit the ponds.

Eastern Reedbed & Millbrook Pond.

Now it has been about a month since I was last at the Eastern Reedbed and my mind turned to Bitterns True, it was a bit early yet, but the place had that 'winter' feel about it and the ERB can be a very nice place to be when it's wintery. It was with some annoyance therefore that I arrived to find a white van and a BTCV minibus parked in my usual spot. That could mean only one thing – no birds. I could hear voices and and the thrashing of vegetation towards the south side of the reedbed. Work was being done. Meh! Even worse, the water levels are the lowest I have ever seen them. So much so that the reed stands in front of the hide are now joined to the shore by mud and the only open water is in the SE corner. Mind you, looks ideal for Spotted Crake, shame it's a month or two too late! Anyway, birdwise there’s just 47 Coot (not a bad count actually, for here), 1 Little Grebe, 2 Gadwall and 7 Wigeon. Millbrook Pond fared hardly any better; 14 Mallard, 3 Gadwall, 5 Tufty, 12 Coot and 1 Moorhen. There was, however, a cherry on this otherwise unappetising cake – the pair of Mute Swans that had summered here, still had all nine of their brood. Good stuff.

Pumphouse Pool

The story here today was of thunder and Teal. No sooner had I got in the east hide than it chucked it down and the thunder began. Didn’t last long but it was fun while it did and made counting the Teal a little different. Today there were 167 compared to 73 back at the start of September! There were 11 Cormorants on the rocks too, my biggest count here and more Moorhen were out and about compared to my last visit. Trouble is, the 7 that were pottering about today, were probably the same 2 that were pottering about 4 weeks ago, it’s just that then 5 of them were probably tucked away... if you see what I mean. Hard things to get good counts of I find, Moorhen. What else? Well, Shoveler numbers seem to have settled for the winter at 19-20 birds, so too theTufties at 2-3. Gadwall though have plummeted to 4 (there were 10 times that number here in early September). No idea where they have gone... Mallard are up (14) and Coot... Coot? What?? I forgot to count the Coots! Doh. Just a handful or two though I seem to remember. That just leaves the gulls; 234 BHG, 8 LBBG, 4 HG, 1 CG. Done.

Birchwood Pool

Well, if the eastern end of the reserve was sparse, the western end wasn’t. Lots of stuff on BWP today but a couple of surprises. First off, Coot numbers have continued to fall – just 24 birds today, from 83 in early September and 112 in mid August. The post-breeding moulting flock have clearly dispersed elsewhere. *But where? Canada Geese numbers, conversely, have shot up; 46 mid-Aug to 101 early Sep to 286 today (!) with a few Greylags (10) and white ‘domestics’ (2) with them. Grey Herons numbers too were high; 14 on the **big island. Other counts were as follows; 9 Little Grebe, 16 Tufty, 6 Pochard, 2 Shoveler, 6 Teal, 18 Gadwall, 10 Mallard, 6 Moorhen, 2 Mute Swan and a female Ruddy Duck. Tenacious little buggers those... all but vanished from the site and then a male appears at the east end of the reserve in the first winter period and now a female appears in the second. Watch yer back girl ;)

And as I left, there were 2 Little Owls in the gap in the barn roof at Big Hand Ranch, being persistently goaded by 6 Jackdaws. Guess they were just haveing a bit o' fun. They really didn't seem that bothered by the owls and the owls seemed barely to notice the Jackdaws - not even a sneer in their general direction.

* Well, well... 101 Coot now on Lapwing Lake. Could the Birchwood birds have shifted west? Hmmmmmmm.

**turns out, my notebook tells me, there was a high count of 14 Grey Heron on the big island of BWP on Aug 29th too... maybe they’re always there atm...

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Ruff Patch Terns Good...

Early morning and I finally manage to hit the patch and head straight for the river at Halfway House. Why? Because things have been hotting up there of late (see previous entries) and I've missed some very good birds. Somewhat of a rough patch you might say. News that the Great Skua was seen again on wet Sunday meant I was fairly optimistic about today's prospects. Not that I thought for one minute that it would still be around (lull in the weather + a day to reorientate = likely to have headed back to the coast), but it, together with the other recent patch goodies meant things were moving through. Couple that with a rising tide and a bit of a southerly to hold things up maybe and things seemed promising.

First week of October is also traditionally pretty bang on for Yellow-browed Warbler and so my speedy yomp to the river was frequently punctuated by the straining of ears for that tell-tale 'tsweest'. Alas, just the 'tipping' of Robins, the coversational 'sri-sri-sri' of Long-tailed Tits and the soft 'tu' of Bullfinches were the only sounds en route to my throne astride the bank by the willow. Even before I'd unfurled my green fezzie chair it was obvious there'd be no skua action today - too many relaxed gulls and Lapwing out on the mud. No surprise there then.

First job was to set about counting the small groups of things before the rather longer task of totting up the Lapwings and gulls. " Little Egret, 3 Grey Heron, 6 Cormorant, 25 Canada Geese, 21 Mallard, 2 Gadwall and 9 Curlew. Overhead 2 Lesser Redpoll, 1 Meadow Pipit, 2 Greenfinch and 3 Pied Wagtails. SO, to the Lapwing. I keep a tally using my fingers these days since I discovered my 'clicker' was sticking and spooling over to 1000 when I got to 100 - doh! Takes longer, but at least it's pretty accurate. Today on the mud there were 863 Lapwing and with them 2 Golden Plover. Woot! Another year tick (missed them in the first winter period). Next up the gulls on the mudflats. Black-headed Gulls first... 100... 200... 300... Huh? THAT is not a gull. Tern! Fleeting thoughts (hopes?) of Black Tern are quickly put into perspective with a quick twist of the x60 - Common Tern. Excellent. Had my first tern species on the patch from this same spot in the spring and that too had been a Common Tern. Picking up one today though was totally unexpected. Happy days! Continue the BHG count (c1100) as the tern gets  up and drifts away towards the Manchester Ship Canal calling.

A couple of quick texts to local patchers and attention turns to the remaining gulls. Hang on, there are more Lapwing... numbers up to 1300 AND there are more Golden Plover among  them - 34 in total, one or two still with the last vestiges of black summer bellies. Quick double check of the goldies reassures me that I've not missed a yank tucked away... well, you never know! Back to the gulls. Looks like Herring Gull and Common Gull numbers are up and LBBGs down, but I have no time to count them as my eye is drawn to three birds jinking away from me in front of the Fiddler's Ferry cooling towers. They don't look like gulls either. Flight too bouyant. Turn dammit! Tern dammit!! Three of them. They wheel around obligingly and settle on the mud where the first bird had landed some 15 minutes ago. Scope up and... yip... 3 more Common Terns! OR, could be the first bird I guess, plus two chums... so maybe just 2 'more'... technically. Either way this is splendid patchery and an excellent record.

Hold on, gulls and plovers up. Raptor? Nope. Skua?? Nope!! Tide. I had lost track of time and the tide had swept in suddenly (as it's proned to do) pushing things off. Wader up from the far shore. Redshank? Low over the water. Purposeful flight. No white trailing edge. What is... Can't get scope on it. Closer. Bins. Bugger me - Ruff!!! Now THAT is a great bird.

There was one about the other day that I missed, but I'd assumed it was just moving through. No idea if this is the same one hanging about or if it is another bird. Truth be told, I care not. Ruff. RUFF! Big grins. Patch year list now up to 131. I've said it before... and I'll say it again... I LOVE this little bend in the river :)

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Moore dips...

Well, as if the other day's Bonxie hadn't been enough, I returned from a phoneless, extended shopping spree with the better half to see  FOUR missed calls and a text from fellow patcher Mike Mullholland. My heart sank. That kind of persistent ringing could mean only one thing - patch goodies. And so it turned out to be. The Great Skua (I presume, txt just said 'skua HWH') was still about and Mike had gotten on to it. Further enquiries thickened the plot as it turned out another two patch ticks for me and a year tick were part of the same purple patch. So, add to my list of misses... Ruff (I've found more evidence of hen's teeth than these a la patch), drake Pintail (ditto the Ruff) and the Golden Plover are back... and I missed their arrival. Damn. Fuck. Bugger. Bum. Tit. And to top it all, today it's pissing down and I can't get out (again!) anyway... Meh!

Ah well, at least there's Ice Hockey tonight ._/

Friday, October 01, 2010

Very Big Jeff and the Bonxie...

Funny how things turn out. Well, I say 'funny'...

For a while now I've just not been able to get out to the patch, but I've taken a little comfort from the fact that nothing much has been reported. That was until yesterday. Now, I'd actually managed to free up some time to get out into the field and survey the patch avifauna AND the weather was looking good, so yesterday, was to be filled with much needed patchness. After a restless night of half-sleep, I woke up and it was gone. My mojo, that had for a while threatened to go AWOL, had done the dirty on me. During the dead of night Very Big Jeff had packed his rucky and left for God knows where. Upshot? Inertia set in, and the day was quickly lost. Then at 16:32 my LG buzzed and up popped a text from Duncan "Bonxie on norton mud". Now my mojo, Jeff, would have instantly set about finding a car and shooting down to the river, but mojo-less moi decided instead to err on the side of caution and assume it was one of the rather brown resident  juvenile LBBGs. Pity the fool! Text and e-mail this morning confirmed clear views of white wing flashes and reports of a Bonxie down the river at Speke earlier. Doh!

The moral of the tale? Keep your mojo sweet, you never know when you'll need it to snuff out that cynical little imp on your shoulder that's whispering "Go back to bed". Meh! Best patch bird of the year. Worst patch dip of the year. Lesson learned!!!