Wednesday, June 30, 2010

GRAND DAYS OUT #1 - Tall Timbers, Florida

I don’t know about you BUT... some birding days are just etched in the memory. So begins the first of what will, I have decided, become a regular feature of this blog – GRAND DAYS OUT. Everything is from diaries, photos and notes written or taken at the time [except stuff in square brackets or italics]. So here's the first installment...

Tall Timbers Research Station
Flew out from Manchester yesterday and 8 hours 38 minutes later was in Tallahassee, Florida collecting the hire car and heading to the Tall Timbers Research Station. Now it's just gone midnight and I'm lying in my bunk in the Den... and the first bird of the day,  *Chuck-Wills-Widow is calling from the forest outside. Perfect! Time to sleep... zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Our accomodation

Woke briefly to be greeted by the sound of Tree Frogs...

Green Tree Frog on our porch

... and Cicadas . Fell asleep again, and woke about 07:30 and grabbed a shower. Got a few birds from the porch (full day list follows).

Northern Mockingbird

Eastern Kingbird

Loggerhead Shrikes

Male Bobwhite

Went to Subway for breakfast – HUGE rolls! Took it easy to recover from jet lag... got a few more common species along the way...

Common Ground Dove

Took walk through pine woods to the swamp... LOADS of STUFF here!!!

Longleaf Pine Woods

Red-headed Woodpecker

Great Crested Flycatcher

Drove to Publix Supermarket this afternoon where we bought provisions for the week ~ $120. Should last OK. Saw a few dead Armadillos on the roads.

Purple Martins

Cottonmouth on the path during walk – nearly trod on it! [kinda venomous those...thankfully it was quite a small one, although we did get a huge one in one of the snake traps -future blog for sure].

Young Cottonmouth

 Broad-headed Skink on the porch when we returned.

Broad-headed Skink

Got 51 bird species today!



  1. Anhinga (5)
  2. Green Heron (5+)
  3. Little Blue Heron (3+)
  4. Great White Egret (2)
  5. Great Blue Heron (3)
  6. White Ibis (5)
  7. Turkey Vulture (10+)
  8. Osprey (3)
  9. Cooper’s Hawk (1)
  10. Red-tailed Hawk (5+)
  11. Bobwhite (10+)
  12. Purple Gallinule (3)
  13. Mourning Dove (3+)
  14. Common Ground Dove (1)
  15. Great Horned Owl (1)
  16. *Chuck-Wills-Widow (1)
  17. Chimney Swift (1)
  18. Red-bellied Woodpecker (2)
  19. Northern Flicker (1)
  20. Red-headed Woodpecker (10+)
  21. Downy Woodpecker (1)
  22. Pileated Woodpecker (3)
  23. Eastern Wood Pewee (4+)
  24. Acadian Flycatcher (2)
  25. Great-crested Flycatcher (5+)
  26. Eastern Kingbird (3)
  27. Blue Jay (10+)
  28. American Crow (10+)
  29. Purple Martin (10+)
  30. Northern Roughwing (2)
  31. Tufted Titmouse (4)
  32. Carolina Chickadee (5+)
  33. Brown-headed Nuthatch (3)
  34. White-bellied Nuthatch (1)
  35. Carolina Wren (5+)
  36. Eastern Bluebird (3)
  37. Northern Mockingbird (15+)
  38. Brown Thrasher (5)
  39. Pine Warbler (5+)
  40. Northern Parula (1)
  41. Prairie Warbler (1)
  42. Eastern Towhee (5+)
  43. Bachman’s Sparrow (4)
  44. Northern Cardinal (5)
  45. Blue Grosbeak (2)
  46. Indigo Bunting (10)
  47. Red-winged Blackbird (10+)
  48. Common Grackle (2)
  49. Brown-headed Cowbird (2)
  50. Orchard Oriole (5)
  51. Loggerhead Shrike (3)
* Misidentified it as Whip-poor-will initially on account of it 'dropping' the 'chuck' bit, which they sometimes do... apparently...

Now that lot was all nabbed by 4pm just by wandering around the woods and swamps by the field station. After that, things went up another gear. It was time to go Armadillo catching - see GRAND DAYS OUT #2 - Armadillos smell bad!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

This week, I have been mostly eating... roasted chicken...

...AND thinking about autumn passage. Not AN autumn passage you understand... None of Keats' Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun' malarkey - fuck no! I mean SERIOUS autumn passage... WADER passage! You may, dear reader, have come across by Charadriiforme fixation in previous blogs BUT come on... when it comes to patching, waders are summit raaaather special innit! This is especially so when that patch is 'inland' and so frequented by these delightful critturs generally only during a brief Spring period and a brief Autumn period. Well, I say brief, but in truth these periods of to and fro, of ebb and flo, of wax and wane can be pleasantly protracted - at least for some potential patch ticks.

Notwithstanding vagrants (more of which maybe later), my own patch can count as alphabetic 'potential'; Avocet, Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Sandpiper, Common Snipe, Curlew, Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin, Golden Plover, Green Sandpiper, Greenshank, Grey Plover, Jack Snipe, Knot, Lapwing, Little Ringed Plover, Little Stint, Redshank, Ringed Plover, Ruff, Sanderling, Spotted Redshank, Temmimck's Stint, Turnstone, Whimbrel, Wood Sandpiper and Woodcock - 27 species. Now, I'm missing TEN of those little beauties and so it's only understandable that with July fast approaching that I should start wondering about how I might get these chaps and chapesses on the year list. Here's how I see it...

Temminck's Stint 

The reet bastard of the bunch. Thin on the ground at the best of times and to make things worse, I've never got one in  the autumn (mine have all been spring birds) and never on the patch , so I don't hold up much hope on that front alone. Add to that the simple fact that I don't recall one even turning up along the Mersey highway between Frodsham and Woolston  in the last decade (Moore is pretty much in the middle as the stint flies) and things are not looking too good. Verdict: I reckon I can pretty much kiss Coenraad the pigeon fancier's namesake goodbye for this year - ah, well...

Bar-tailed Godwit

At Moore, this fella's Black-tailed compadre is tricky enough to get - lucky break at Halfway House this April nailed 11 flying over, but Barty? Well again, bit of a problem. They too are thin on the ground, but have at least been recorded within patching distance in more recent years than Temminck's - often from Fiddler's Ferry and mostly in the latter part of the year. August and September are probably most likely then, from Halfway House, but I reckon it's dependent on a westerly air flow pushing birds up the Mersey in the first place. If they can get around that dogleg by the Weaver Bend  I might just be in with a shout. Localish birds are sometimes recorded into November too, which doesn't hurt my chances either. Verdict: long shot, but you never know....


Now weird as this may seem, I cannot see getting Turnstone on the patch. And it's not because they don't turn up - they sometimes do... AND from places on the patch where I spend proportionately large amounts of time (!)... BUT I can't seem to MENTALLY get past the 'coast thing'. To me, Turnstone are birds of rocky coasts and not legitimate passage waders at inland sites at all - I mean, I just can't PICTURE one... here at Moore. Closest I come to accepting the possibility is when I'm scoping the wire-meshed boulder reinforcements that line the Manchester Ship Canal, then maybe... just maybe. Good news is, recent form says they're most likely in August, so at least I've not missed the biggest window of opportunity having missed any that snuck by in the Spring! Having said that, if they do come this far inland in the next few months, chances are my mental filter will block them out. Verdict: almost certain miss.

Grey Plover

Aha! Now I feel FAR more confident about these... at least I can picture one plodding along the strandline at HWH or standing out on the mud during those long hours when the crazy tide refuses to come in.  Add to that the fact that they're not exactly easy to overlook, even at distance on a murky winter's morning and GreyPs (grapes?) look the most likely additional wader tick so far. September / October time seems to be most likely, once numbers have picked up further out on the estuary, and it'll need a high tide I reckon to move them off the river and maybe a bit of a blow to get them this far up. Still, it's a fair bet that just those kind of conditions are likely once or twice when I can get out between now and years end. Verdict: promising.

Spotted Redshank

I want this bird! AND I know exactly how I'm going to get it. I'll hear it from Halfway House. Of course I won't SEE the bloody thing, oh no, because it'll be over on the no-mans land that is the Fiddler's Ferry lagoons, but I'll know it's there! September... early morning... bit of a grey, murky one no doubt and... 'chewit'... nailed. Verdict: optimistict

Wood Sandpiper

Now these really SHOULD be annuals. The fringes of the pools at the east end of the reserve are ideal for them... well, good-ISH anyway. Good enough for Green Sands... good enough for Woods in my book! AND they are THE most gorgeous little waders and second only to Phalaropes in their deliciousness, which fact alone means that I deserve one - love em! In my favour is their leaning towards Autumn appearances over Spring ones and the fact that the east end of the patch turned one up back end of last year. If I had to put my money on where and when I'd say Millbrook Pool, wet flush, August... or maybe Pumphouse, same month. Verdict: voodoo

Curlew Sandpiper

Ah, well now... this is one of those you'd reckon would be worth a flutter - all things being equal. Trouble is in these ere patch parts, things just don't seem to BE equal as far as spreading the Curlew Sand love is concerned. They just don't seem to drop in... Why they apparently take the scenic route to OTHER nearby sites, avoiding Moore in the process is one of those patch mysteries - I just don't know why they do it... Best chance, my gut whispers, is a lone Juv at Pumphouse. BUT in the absence of a balloon, I don't intend holding my breath. Verdict: very unlikely unfortunately

 Golden Plover

OK, no jibber-jabber on this one. Only 'missed' it coz didn't get out early part of the year. Looking forward to watching the numbers build, sorting out the 'apricaria' from the 'altifrons' or whatever and squinting at the dark, cappy one tucked away at the back asleep. Wake up you bastard! Verdict: 100% Cert


Was a time when this must surely have been a patch annual judging by the numbers that used to be around locally... Can't quite figure this one out either. As far as I can tell, birds ARE still about locally, pretty much in every month dotted about, but I don't know anybody who's got a patch one! Pumphouse or Halfway House come August maybe? Verdict: unsure

Little Stint

Target species over the winter this one. I'm thinking 'skittering amid a small Dunlin flock' as the most likely type encounter on an ebbing tide, early doors. Only snag is, small flocks of Dunlin haven't exactly been playing their little dark scaley hands of late. I've had just 3 birds this year... and neither the HWH duo nor the PHP single can justifiably claim to be a small flock. Looking through past records there used to be hundreds turn up along the stretch between HWH and Gatewarth in the days when Moore was Moss Side. Ideal Stint camouflage you'd have thought maybe. Then of course in THOSE days, there were shit loads of Little Stints knocking about the Weaver Bend every winter, from which the occassional bird may have wandered. How things change. I'll just have to stake out the river over the coming months and see what happens I guess... Verdict: firm possibility of a definite maybe.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Dirty Dunnocks!

Well I've seen Dunnocks get up to quite a bit of jiggery-pokery over the years, not surprising perhaps given their penchant for rampant sexual meanderings, BUT I have never had one eject semen onto my patio until this afternoon!

Just got home and was pouring myself a refreshing glass of Lime-onade after a waaay too humid sesh in the office when what should I spot but a male Dunnock pecking at a female's cloaca - right under my garden chair - dirty little bastard! She responded with a quick squirt, after which the male obligingly refueled the little hussy with an equally quick, well-aimed, hop 'n' pop. Deed done, they went their separate ways... her smoking a cigarette, him a cigar.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Moore broods and other Junery...

Looked like it was going to be cooler today and maybe even damp, so, I reasoned, if I made an early start, I’d be able to hit the patch for a while before work and before the pollen took hold - happy days. SO, where to go given my limited time? Might just be able to squeeze in an hour at Pumphouse Pool AND a yomp to Halfway House, just in case anything is passing through. Sorted! Stuff in the car, hardly any traffic and within 15 minutes, give or take, I’m hearing my first patch birds of the day at the east hide; 4 Willow Warbler, 1 Blackcap and 1 Woodpigeon singing, 1 Magpie and 1 Robin calling. Oh... and Peacock of course – often hear the Walton Gardens birds at this end of the reserve on quiet mornings. And, no... I don’t tick them! Stuff out of the car, into the hide, coffee poured and what do we have today?

Most obvious is the naked eye stuff: 26 Canada Geese right in front of the hide (very quiet Canada Geese actually too... not a peep out of them) and the 4 Grey Herons – 1 adult, 1 sub-adult (on the rock) and 2 juvs. 3 more Canada Geese on the water by the sub-adult Grey Heron. Then there’s the 5 Magpies that are flinging themselves around the spit making a racket and disturbing the 3 Lapwing there. There's another bunch of Magpies doing the same thing on the island - what is it, mad magpie madness morning mayhem madness... or something. What else? Pair of Great Crested Grebe in close, heads under the water – fishing. Coot with two juvs left of me seems annoyed by the lone Moorhen near it that’s pottering harmlessly along the waters edge. Mind you... it IS a Moorhen... nuff sed. Further off (bins now) there are more Coots... I count another 9, all adults. The first of the morning’s Swifts silently cuts low in front of the hide and skims left out of sight. Gull numbers are low. Little bit early for them yet; 8 Lesser Black-backed, 2 Herring and 1 Black-headed is it! A Song Thrush and Wren have started up. Scoping yields 4 Mallard, a lone male Tufty, the male Pochard from the other day and a Little Grebe tucked in. Hang on... are those baby Tufties? They LOOK like they’re ‘with’ another Little Grebe but don’t look stripey... do they? Refocus, touch of zoom and... Aha – they DO actually... look stripey. Old eyes. 5 Little Grebe about a quarter grown with mum and dad... or maybe... mum and mum... or dad and dad... who knows in this modern age eh...tried sexing Little Grebe once... gave up. Anyhow... Scanning left from the grebes along the south shore and... small wader having a stretch... wings raised skyward briefly above it’s back, clear dark bordered wingbar... and relax. Bobbing resumed, it's a Common Sandpiper. Didn’t expect that. Kinda mentally given up on waders until Jul/Aug tbh, but nice surprise.

The Coot with the delinquent offspring... hang on... OK... NO spots (just needed to check that Common Sand again.. ya never know!). Where was I?  Ah yes. The Coot with the two offspring (I'd guess maybe 13 or 14 years old, in coot years, judging from the incessant din) has finally lost patience with the loitering Moorhen and chased it off. 2 Swifts looping by now with 2 Sand Martins. Bit short on Swallows of late. Familiar ‘peep’ to my left tells me the Kingfisher is here again today. Perched on its favourite twig sticking out of the water- all black bill, it’s the male. The Canada Geese have now wandered off and are settled by the tern fence, preening, behind which, on the bank are 2 young Blackbirds feeding. A male Chaffinch has just whipped past the Kingfisher which, undisturbed by it, has just plopped into the water. Result! Stickleback I’m guessing... and he’s off east with it, towards Millbrook Pool. Feeding fledged young or just wanting some privacy I wonder? Pair of Pied Wagtails on the tern fence and a Chiffchaff, Greenfinch and another Blackcap have joined the small chorus of songsters.

More birds are arriving from the north... 85 Lesser Black-backs and 8 Herring Gulls washing in the pool now, and from the east...3 more Grey Herons (1ad, 2juv) have dropped in, sending the brood of 4 well grown Moorhen chicks scurrying back towards their parent. There HAD been 5 in this brood – wonder if a heron took one, hence the panic? More Lapwings arriving from the east - 4 birds. The residents on the spit take exception and start displaying towards them – dipping their heads down and raising their rear ends and wings back, calling. Long-tailed Tit calling behind me and there’s a single Little Grebe close-by – a different bird from the pair at the far end with the brood. One of the resident Common Buzzards flying low over the pool doesn’t so much as get a second look from any of the birds below – guess they’re used to it. Either that, or they've noticed too that it has a full crop.

Pasty! Well, it LOOKS like a pasty but it’s hard to tell for sure given that it’s halfway down the throat of a Lesser Black-backed that’s just landed. Whatever it is, it’s enough to have gained the Kleptoparasitic attentions of a nearby Black-headed Gull and Carrion Crow. No chance mateys – down in one! Gull numbers are still building as the Kingfisher zips past again... 370 LBBG, 10 HG, 4 BHG. A House Martin has joined the 2 Sand Martins which are now busily engaged in nuptial chases over the far end of the pool and there are now 3 Swifts feeding overhead. 2 Common Buzzards in different stages of moult are soaring over the viaduct, but as on other days of late, there’s no Peregrine to be seen. 2 Stock Dove have just landed in front of the hide and there are 3 Pied Wagtail juveniles pecking amongst the Crassula – maybe the fledged brood of the pair seen earlier. Male Kingfisher is back briefly before heading back again towards Millbrook Pool... but hold on, there’s another one flying low across the west end of the pool. Pair from the ship canal? Curious... Ho Hum, time marches on. If I’m to get to HWH I’ll have to leave now. Stuff back in car. Off.

Quick detour to Eastern Reedbed and Millbrook Pool.

MBP- 3 Grey Herons, A Coot and A Lapwing... The Lapwing standing ON the Coots nest. OK... each to his or her own... and that’s it. Oh, and shit loads of weed and some flies. THAT’S it!

ERB – 5 Grey Herons (there are LOTS of herons about today!), stalking the waterage in front of the hide and everything else is on the open water at about 2 o’clock, if you're looking straight out from the hide: 10 Gadwall (some look like juvs), 17 Canada Geese (some ARE juvs), 4 Coots (of which 2 are juvs - don't know where the other 5 have gone...) and a pair of Great Crested Grebes with, surprisingly, 2 new stripey young being carried piggy-back. Why surprisingly? Because not so long ago there was an adult here with a single very large youngster – what’s going on??? The parent carrying the young has just raised itself up on the water and wing-flapped and they’ve fallen off :-) For completeness, there’s also a lone male Tufty, at least one male Wigeon, yet another Common Buzzard perched in a tree at the back of the reedbed and a couple of Reed Buntings and Reed Warblers singing; one of the latter from a Silver Birch by the path – just looks wrong!

Manchester Ship Canal – Territorial dispute between 2 Great Crested Grebes is the first thing to attract my attention as I round the initial bend from the black and yellow metal gate; lots of cackling and braying before one of the birds is chased off in the direction of the swing bridge. Cue the arrival from downstream of another GCG which proceeds to engage in courtship display with the ‘winner’ and the arrival of another GCG from the opposite direction with 3 half grown stripey young – presumably the partner of the ‘loser’. So that’s 2 pairs. Looking downstream towards the warehouse is another pair... one of which has just caught a small fish. There are a couple of BHGs fluttering along one of the small (and infrequent) muddy bits on the far side of the canal... scope up... aha! There’s a female Tufty by them with a brood of 9 third-grown young. She ain’t happy 'bout the BHGs and soon sees them off... whilst the 2 Tufty males nearby continue to doze. There are a few Lapwing and Shelduck on this tiny beach too and something else... small, wader...ANOTHER Common Sandpiper. Well wadda ya know? Nice. Other stuff... warbler wise, just 3 Whitethroat, 2 Blackcap, 2 Chiffchaff and 1 Reed Warbler along the usual BB-HWH strip today. There’s yet another pair of Great Crested Grebes (that's 4 pairs I think...) and group of Canada Geese by the warehouses (looks like 5 adults and 5 big young) and 5 Greylags too (plus the 2 white ‘domestics’). Thought it was the Greylags that had the brood of 5??? Hmmmm.

Halfway House80 Lapwing, 3 Oystercatcher, 5 Shelduck, 4 Mallard, 2 Cormorant, c230 LBBG, 10 HG, 10 BHG, 1 Kestrel (male), 4 Carrion Crow, 7 Magpie, 1 Sand Martin. Dead as the proverbial today... and on the way back... THERE is the Greylag brood. 5 Goslings, tucked in amongst the veggies. Good. Was beginning to doubt my sanity there for a mo... And finally, a Carrion Crow with 2 fledged young on the roof of one of the warehouses completes the 'broods' feel to this mornings' all too short jaunt.

Right, work!!!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Kagu at 2 o'clock...

Am I alone or do you too associate certain birds with people on TV? Puffins always remind me of Johnny Morris (remember him?), Harpy Eagles always remind me of the cross-dressing Corporal Klinger from M.A.S.H. (must be something about noses and beaks) and Mallards, always remind me of David Attenborough. Now I’m not for a moment suggesting the great man has an Anseriforme ‘schnoz’, not at all! The reason for this particular association is quite different. It’s all because of one very special film sequence that appears in the ‘The Life of Birds’. Perhaps you’ll remember it. It begins with a close up of a Mallard in flight. As we follow the bird Sir David begins to narrate in his own inimitable way and then, as the camera pans out we watch as the Mallard splashes down in the middle of a lake, where, sitting in a small boat a few metres away, is the man himself. The editing is flawless, the impact instantaneous. Once again, his seemingly effortless ability to blend science with theatre is brought home and the result is, in my view, the best wildlife series that is ever likely to appear on our TV screens. Forget ‘Walking with Dinosaurs ’and ‘The Blue Planet’ – ‘The Life of Birds’ is quite simply as good as it’s possible to get!

Now, I have not always had such a high opinion of the wildlife documentary makers art. The ‘precision’ of it all really used to get my goat. For example, in another series, Sir David is walking through a desert and talking about some furry creature that lives underground (have a feeling it was a Golden Mole now I come to think about it...). He stoops and begins to dig into the sand with his hands. Cut to shot from inside a burrow as his hands break through and what should he find there but the aforementioned crittur. P-lease! And what about all those generalisations? Picture this typically ‘Attenborough-esque’ scene. The master is sitting on a rock on a beach. It’s night. The camera pans to his feet and we see hundreds of crabs. The narration goes something like this. ‘Here on this one beach on 20th May every year 10,000 female crabs come ashore to lay their eggs in the moist sand, as they have done for centuries. Each female excavates a 30cm pit into which she lays 500 eggs etc…’. Great. Well, NO – actually! The truth is that in some years the females go to a different beach. They may turn up as early as the 10th or as late as the 30th May. Some years 8,000 turn up and other years 12,000. The pits can vary from 20 to 40 cm deep and as many crabs probably 300 eggs as they do 500. OK, maybe I’m being overly pedantic – but talk about generalising! Surely somebody must research this stuff?! They do, of course, and thankfully (!) such unbecoming cynicism is now long behind me. At least it WAS…until I turned on The One Show the other night and it all came flooding back. You see, sitting on the sofa with the other presenters was somebody I'd encountered before... OMG... the world is both small AND mad.

A few years ago I’d taken a friend of mine to a one of my then regular haunts, Woolston Eyes to have a look at the resident birds when whom should we meet in the hide but the producer of a new wildlife series for Channel 5 (now sitting alongside Adrian Chiles and Chrsitine Bleakely). He was there to film the Black-necked Grebes. Have you ever noticed the little signs on some reserves (I think there’s one in the Swanlink hide at Martin Mere) that warn the public to ‘Be quiet because birds have ears too’? Well, this bloke hadn’t! He was excruciatingly LOUD!!! I’m sure he was from the same school of etiquette as a bank teller I once encountered in Stirling who’d tried to make herself understood to a foreign gentleman by simply repeating what she’d already said, but twice as loudly; ‘DO YOU HAVE YOUR ACCOUNT NUMBER?!’ As the Channel 5 bloke cranked up the volume another notch (presumably interpreting our bemused looks as simple misunderstanding), I rather foolishly assumed that perhaps the birds wouldn’t notice…

And perhaps they wouldn’t have, had it not been for the fact that his cameraman was crammed into the tiniest hide you can imagine, right on the edge of the pool 20 feet from us but literally two feet away from the nearest birds. As a Black-necked Grebe popped up right by him our One Show chum practically stuck his head out of the shutters and yelled to the cameraman ‘THERE’S ONE JUST POPPED UP TO YOUR LEFT!’. Suffice to say the bird didn’t hang around long - so much for field craft FFS! Come to think of it, perhaps THAT’S how David Attenborough gets such memorable shots? Remember that amazing sequence of a Kagu on New Caledonia comically zig-zagging off through the forest with its crest raised? I can almost picture the cameraman trying to follow his instructions, ‘KAGU AT TWO O’CLOCK!…TEN O’CLOCK!!…TWO O’CLOCK!!!…TEN O’CLOCK!!!!’ Well, it makes you wonder…

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Moore lists...

Friday 18th June

Well, today was to be the big test of the previously proposed, freaky, but rather intriguing, ‘Universal Law of Listing’ (ULL). I’d planned the route through the patch (see previous blog) to cover as many different habitats as possible and as much of the patch as possible, given the limited time available. What follows then is really just a diary of the day... what I saw where and when... BUT also, an occasional commentary on how, if at all, this all fits with the ULL.

Halfway House (07:45-09:00)

Weather was overcast, though not overpoweringly dull... cool, but on the milder side thereof... and there was just enough breeze to set my pollen detectors twitching. First of my five stops today was Halfway House (HWH). Parked the car near the black and yellow barrier, grabbed my rucky (containing scope, tripod, flask, munchies), my usual Garam Masala coloured, collapsible, ‘Royal’ fezzie chair, bins and I was off. Pleasant lil yomp-let later and I was there - time, just after 07:35. Tide was on the rise with only about a quarter of the mud exposed and the ‘path’ to my elevated lookout on the bank was waist height in grass, nettles and hogweed. Settled in, poured a coffee, took out my notebook and I was off – first of five consecutive 15 minute observations, starting at... 07:45.

What do we have? 1...2...3... 14 Lapwing on the mud in front of me. Numbers are up. There were only 6 the last time I was here a few weeks back. Now there are these lot and a further 53 down by Wigg Island. Reed Bunting calling, Black-headed Gulls dotted about, eclipse Mallard... no Canada Geese and no Cormorant though. Big bunch of gulls way off on the mud... scope... Herring, Lesser Black-backed, Great Black-backed. Small stuff flitting by... Sand Martins... 4 of them. Whitethroat, Song Thrush and now Reed Warbler singing. Magpie over, Grey Heron calling and what’s that? Wader. Redshank. Oh, didn’t expect that – nice summer bird. Looks too neat to have already hit the breeding grounds. Guess he’s gonna be a late arrival OR not bother at all... High left more Lapwing... flock of about a hundred. Lone Swallow among the Sand Martins now and... Ooo, there’s a Shelduck... finally. Couple of Wood Pigeons over low behind... Carrion Crow, Kestrel hovering over the Fiddler’s Ferry hide, Pheasant, Oystercatcher and Goldfinch calling and... Chiffchaff and Blackbird singing somewhere brought a productive 15 mins to an end. Tally – 26 species. Now according to the ULL this should account for about 55-60% of what I was gonna see at Halfway House, which meant that with my usual 7% miss rate (see previous blogs) I should have managed to find about 40-44 species here all told... OR, to put it another way, with an hour still to go I could expect to see another 14-16 species.

Here’s how things panned out.

08:00 – 08:15 Blue Tit calling, Wren and Willow Warbler singing, Gadwall and Cormorant over (5 more species...)

08:15 – 08:30 Linnet calling, Chaffinch and Dunnock singing (another 3...)

08:30 – 08:45 Grasshopper Warbler reeling over the river (I’d had this bird before – it was to be the first of 3 Groppers today), Skylark singing high over Norton Marsh and... biggish, brown, flying low, long bill... Bar-tailed Godwit??? Nope! Curlew. Another very clean, neat summer bird... hmmmmm. So, what’s that? 3 more...

08:45 – 09:00 Great Tit alarm call in the hedgy stuff behind me, House Martin over my head, 2 Stock Dove have landed on the strand line to my right... now they’re off... well THEY didn’t stay long... and finally Greenfinch song flight. I make that a grand total for HWH of 41 species. Score 1 to the ULL, I’d say! Woot!

MSC and UMS (09:00-10:15)

Right. Phase two (or rather, next bit of the patch). Plan here was to walk back to Bob’s Bridge (BB) along the Manchester Ship Canal (MSC), past the red brick houses and over the lil wooden bridge onto Upper Moss Side, follow the path through the Tree Sparrow Field to the Norton Marsh hide and then backtrack through Balloon Hut Field and follow the path through Daisy Field, cut up onto the top scrub and head back to Bob’s Bridge via path past Shipton’s Meadow. SO, this, in contrast to the sit and wait sesh at HWH, was to be a yomp, although again it was to be split into five 15 minute chunks. This would mean that I could see whether the ULL fitted this part of the patch too (results later) and also whether it fitted what I ought to see over the day as a whole. This phase of the day was a bit of an unknown for me though as if any of the 5 sites was to throw a spanner in the ULL works, this was likely to be it. Why? Because the section I was walking changes from scrubby, watery-ness, to farmland and my gut was telling me that this could cause a bit of a blip as I was bound to bump into a mess of new farmland stuff halfway through the sesh. Ah well, we would see. I’d managed 41 species at HWH, which, according to the ULL should account for 55-60% of the entire day’s list, if I was to visit another four bits of the patch for the same amount of time and work them similarly hard. Although I had no idea at the time the ULL prediction for the day based on the HWH list was 68-75 species. Nice!

09:15 – 09:30 Along the MSC... first up... Canada Geese! Hadn’t gotten a single one on the river, which is really weird tbh. Hang on... Greylag... AMONG the Canadas... and a little further along... a pair of Greylags on the far bank with a brood of 5 goslings. Some croaking from a Great Crested Grebe added another species to the day tally (there were in total 3 pairs on the canal between HWH and BB today). Buzzard over calling and a Sedge Warbler has just started up and has just stopped, just like that. I make that 5 new species in the first 15 minutes.

09:30 – 09:45 Lots going on and a good few new species for this part of the patch (see later), but just as the theory predicts, relatively few new species on the day... another 5 in fact; Tufty on the canal, and the rest in the scrub along the canal path – Bullfinch calling, Robin, Coal Tit and Mistle Thrush singing.

09:45 – 10:30 Drop everything off at the car except for bins and water and carry on past the houses adding Collared Dove on the wires as a Jay flew over the track and a Yellowhammer piped up. By the end on the White House Path Field I’d added Tree Sparrow. A quick short-cut through the Red and White Campion in Tree Sparrow Field flushed first, a female Pheasant with 6 quarter grown young, all of which could fly and then a single Grey Partridge, which brought the new species tally for phase two, to 15 by the time I got to the Norton Marsh hide. A Swallow flew out. There had been a nest with unfeathered young in last time I was here, but today it was empty. Long enough ago for them to have fledged, but not much evidence that a full brood had been raised in it (too clean!) so I suspect they were predated. Let’s hope they have better luck with this lot! Can just about make out male Shoveler on the rapidly drying pool in front of the hide and get Meadow Pipit as I leave. The only other new addition to the day’s tally is Garden Warbler near Bob’s Bridge. Total addition of new species from phase two is...18, which makes the day total so far... 59! Excellent. This should be equivalent to about 80% of the predicted day total according to the ULL, which would but the day total to between 71 and 74, if you do the sums. SO, if I had but known it, another 12-15 species was all I could expect to add during the rest of the day...

Pumphouse Pool (10:45-12:00)

Time for a well earned break, some munchies and a much needed coffee at... Pumphouse Pool, the third stop on my field adventure. Now I was pretty good. I resisted the urge to stick Swift on the list straight away and instead waited for the allotted start time for this ‘sit and wait’ session – 10:45. Not that the short interlude was without its excitement as I was to witness the Pumphouse Triangle in action for the first of what to turned out to be several times during the next hour and a quarter... Suddenly, there materialised right in front of the hide, a baby Rabbit zig-zagging... then behind that a Stoat in close pursuit! Despite the lil bunny’s best efforts, it didn’t take long for the Stoat to catch up. Cue – pouncing from the Stoat, neck bite and loud squeals and jinking from the Rabbit. Poor little thing did its best to shake the Stoat off its back, but it was too late. A parent bun materialised at the same spot and leapt towards them resulting in the Stoat’s temporary release of its elevenses, but I’m afraid the the baby lagomorph just twitched and so its mother dematerialised back into the Pumphouse ether. Out popped the Stoat again and dragged the little bugger off into the bushes to dismember and crunch through at its leisure. All over, yum yum and time to watch some birds...

10:45 – 11:00 Swift! Thankfully (?) they’d not gone during my ritual caffeine imbibe – 7 were scything through the air above the pool with about 14 Sand Martins skimming the weedy water below them. Two odd species to add so late in the morning next – Coot and Moorhen! Nothing else new through the bins, except for a Grey Heron lying down... you know, I don’t remember the last time I saw one do that... saw one SWIM across Birchwood Pool the other year... that was weird too... but lying down on the spit – crazy legs... all the others were standing up. Time for a quick scope, free-stylee... some movement on the near shore... Pied Wagtail – that’s a new one! More distant scoping now... Coot, Coot... male Tufty, female Tufty, male, male... male Pochard. Oh. They’re back... interesting. A little bit eclipse-y maybe? I make that 5 more species on the day...

11:00 – 12:00 I add another 5 new species to the day.... Long-tailed Titzi-zi-zi’-ing behind me, Rook and Jackdaw over calling. ‘Peep!’ left... Kingfisher? Can’t see anything... ‘pee-peeep... pee...peeep’... shot of electric blue streaking along the east shore... KINGFISHER... along the island...’peeep’... and into the willow. Flying turns to perched and so blue turns to orange - gorgeous. Forgot to sex it though... doh! Plop... distant ripples amid the slumbering Tufties... female just dived? No. Coot. Coot? No, bird is still under and creating a small sub-surface wake... bob... it’s up. Little Grebe. That puts me on 69... woot, woot!

Woodlands (12:30-13:15)

More coffee and I’m yom-noming thru my jar of fruit and nut... Brazil (yom)... Golden Sultana (nom)... Pecan (nom)... Raisin (yom)... Almond (nom)... Dried Cranberry (nom)... Pistachio (nom)... Sober-achio (oh dear)... Next stop, phase four. Plan is to yomp (a la previous MSC/UMS bit) for one and one quarter hours through the woodlands of Moore – specifically Birch Wood, Birchwood Strip, skirt the west end of Birchwood Pool, go past the Tawny roost and Lapwing Wood, on to Lapwing Lane... along past Lapwing Lake screen hide, thru the car park and back thru Birch Wood to my parked car alongside Pumphouse Pool (west end).

12:30 – 13:15 First rain of the day... middling shower halfway through this damp stroll. First addition, Great Spotted Woodpecker in Birch Wood... then a late-in-the-day Mute Swan (well three actually) as I skirt BWP, followed by... nothing much. Spend half an hour dodging the rain as I strain to hear anything (!) Exceptionally quiet, then... Treecreeper siiinging in the rain. Remembered that the Lapwing Lane screen has a roof on it and so stroll there. Rain soon stops and I head off again discovering to my horror as I do so, dozens of tiny Toadlets clambering along the gravel path between the hide and Lapwing Lane. Horror? Yes!I Because God knows how many I must have squished on my way down to the hide just now oblivious as I was to their presence. Doh!!! Day tally – 72 (that’s bird species, not ghosts of boot-mulched toad btw!).

Eastern Reedbed & Millbrook Pool (14:15-15:30)

That just left the final, fifth patch-let – Millbrook Pool and the Eastern Reedbed combined! I note that the new Moore brochure labels the hide here as ‘The Phoenix Hide’... Oh, dear... We also have ‘Sedge Hide’... ‘Canal Bank Hide’... ‘Colin’s Hide’ etc... So much for common sense! That's the last time THOSE names will appear in these blogs that's for sure! Anyway... Things to note here today include: Mute Swans. Why? Because they still have 9 cygnets – happy days. Also there’s a pair of coots with a fully grown brood of 7 youngsters... yes, SEVEN! Now I think that’s bloody odd. What’s going on with Moore Coots? They seem to have gone all PC... not seen a single case of child abuse this year and the family of nine seemed positively...’adjusted’ – the parents were almost doting!!! No sign of the large GC.Grebe chick today on the ERB... but the parent was still about. Surprise here too! There are two male Wigeon back already!!! Tick! MBP was, perhaps not surprisingly this late in the day, quiet with regard to new species, except for a rather long tailed Pied Wagtail out of the corner of my eye that turned out to be a juvenile GREY Wagtail once I focussed on it properly. It was also the last species of the day - Grand Total = 74 species.

So how did the ULL hold up? Well I reckon pretty well in general. Similar patterns as previously, with some variation due to scale (see below).

% species seen (y-axis)  v % time spent looking (x-axis)

I reckon enough Moore data's been crunched now to come up with the following Rules of Thumb based on the ULL.

For year lists (including patches) divide your total species seen at the end of Mar by 0.7 and then take off 7% which you'll miss over the year to end up with your likely year list length.

For days lists (including patches) divide your total species seen after 20% of the time you plan to stay out by 0.55 to get a likely day list. If you're blitzing a site, you're not likely to miss much I reckon, so no need to adjust.

For an hour or so in one spot, I reckon you can divide your initial 15-20 minute species tally by 0.6 and then take off 5% for stuff that's not come out of hiding yet.

Of course this is a bit rough and ready, but hey... give or take a bird or two, shouldn't be far off most of the time I reckon - here endeth the graphage... back to patching proper ;)