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!!!


  1. Ruddy marvellous find my dear chap...a Moss Side tick for me.
    Stuck on 139 for my Patch and still need a Bittern, fingers crossed what?
    keep up the good work.

  2. :) was well chuffed with her m8y! Certainly didn't expect a Firey - bloody marvellous!!! Just wish I cudda relocated it. Gonna give it another couple of hours 2moz methinks when the other half goes shoppin :D 139 eh... who knows, might even catch ya at this rate... ha, ha