Managed to snatch a couple of early patch breaths this morning in the hope of getting to the river before work. The previous xmas card covering of snow that had dusted the patch just days ago had now thawed leaving everywhere looking gloomy and damp. Worse still the thaw had not been deep enough to rid the ponds and tracks of ice so there were few birds about and the driving was even more hazardous than previously. Couple that with a stiff northerly edged breeze and conditions were nicely challenging. I would have to work hard for my birds today. And so it was...
First stop, the Angler's Pool. Today I had brought my tripod - I needed a count. Specifically I needed to know how just many Coots were there AND reassure myself that none were American. Now I know this is daft but I somehow got it into my head yesterday that I really should check. It's that bloody Irish bird that did it I'm sure. Have you ever trawled through 153 Coots with a wobbly scope (the head on my Manfrotto has, it seems, lost a screw)? It's a marvellous activity. Gorgeous bird, the Coot *coughs*.
Moving on. Moorhen numbers were down, I could find only two. There was a single male Gadwall, 13 Tufties, a juvenile Mute Swan and 53 Mallards. So much for my gut... which driving through Moore village had told me to expect 'something good', a current euphemism for male Goosander. Nada! Gull wise there were about 700 Black-headed, 6 Herring and no Common today. One cool thing (no pum intended) was the noise the ice made every so often - it was just like a Spotted Crake call! Crake Ice - very funky.
Next up, Pumphouse Pool. Successfully negotiated the long polished ice rink that was now the track along the south side, hand-braked the 90 degree left turn (for a bit of fun) and decided as time was short to risk driving right up to the hide. No problem. Some open water here today...not much, but enough to have pulled in a lone Redshank. The only other birds were on the ice; 2 Carrion Crows, 5 Common Gulls, 2 Herring Gulls and 10 Black-headed Gulls. All very quiet. Not a passerine to be heard.
Millbrook Pool and the Eastern Reedbed were even quieter. Arrived to find Roy stocking up the local Robin's larder (see previous post); biscuits, mealworms, raisins (?), but didn't see the bird. The reedbed looked dishevelled and fed up. At least the other day with all the snow it looked practically festive... and of course there was the fox. Today though just soggyness. The wet flush in the NE corner of Millbrook Pool had thawed a little and 6 Teal were pottering about. Gave it a quick scan with the bins for Snipe, but there was nothing doing. A couple of Gadwall dropped in as I left for the railway bridge over the eastern river for another stab at Goosander. None. But there was a Kingfisher... which was both unexpected and nice.
It was getting colder. Decisions, decisions. Where next? Had to be Halfway House. The Manchester Ship Canal is always worth a look when the ponds are under ice as it's pretty deep and the boat traffic tends to keep it clear. If I was to find anything today, that seemed like my best shot. The track to the black & yellow gate was thankfully ice free and so it wasn't long before I was heading west along the canal path. Good numbers of thrushes about; 35 Redwing, 5+ Song Thrush, 15+ Blackbirds and a solitary Fieldfare. Very short on the small stuff though; just 1 Bullfinch, 1 Chaffinch, 1 Wren, 1 Robin and 2 Dunnock between Bob's Bridge and the river. The ship canal wasn't exactly hooching with stuff either 8 Tufty, 5 Teal, 1 Mallard, juvenile Mute Swan and 2 Gadwall... oh, and the best bird if the day - male Goldeneye.
Halfway House was dead except for gulls (hundreds), 10 canada Geese, 9 Lapwing, 8 Wigeon and 20+ Mallards. There was no shelter from the wind and some miserable low-life had nicked my fezzie chair, so nowhere to sit either. Thanks for that - moron!!! Decided instead to head back via Upper Moss Side. Again quiet, but flocks of 25 Fieldfare and 30-40 Yellowhammers made the detour worth while. So, all in all, a predictably grey sesh, but hey, you gotta take days like this from time to time, they're what make the purple patches an especially bright and vibrant purple :)