Sunday, January 30, 2011

The fox, the geese and me...

I asked myself a question. What do you seek? I’ve asked it of myself many times before and until recently would have answered something like ‘Inner Peace’ or ‘peace of mind’ or ‘to be happy’ or ‘to feel alive!’ and it struck me yesterday that what this translates into is Freedom. Freedom from all those irritating self-imposed habits, foibles, prejudices etc. Or at least the freedom to choose to be free from them or not. It’s like we’re in a kind of sleep, behind glass. I’m not the first to notice this! Persig talks about the difference between riding a motorbike and driving a car in terms of your experience of the world. Riding is like being PART of the landscape. You’re there, in the moment, experiencing it, not merely observing it as you do behind the window of a car. It’s the same with gigs... and once in a while the patch.

Many years ago I vowed, never willingly to go to a gig and SIT ever again. It always felt afterwards like I’d just watched it on the big screen... probably because, at least in part these days, you can end up literally watching it on the big screen if you’re not in the thick of it. OK, so you might catch a whiff of the atmosphere, but you’re not IN the picture... not unless you’re wedged like sardines with thousands of other bodies. Not unless you feel the push and shove, duck the crowd surfers, get swept into the circle pit, smell and taste the sweat of countless strangers, see into the eyes of the band, feel the bass pounding in your chest, the cool breeze from the on stage fans, reach for half a cup of water among the swirling sea of arms and horns and pumping fists, scream at the top of your lungs every word you can manage, even though you never hear the sound that comes out above the throng of everything else. It’s like you’re IN the sound, part of it. You’re not you anymore. You’re part of some big ‘thing’. You are, if I can get a lil Zen for a moment, at one with the band, the crowd, the whole thing. You are alive! In the moment. There.

And afterwards, it stays with you... for a while... this affirmation of being... and yet when somebody asks you about it, you’re lost for words. You can’t explain WHY it felt as it did, just that it was... ‘something special’. After one recent gig, a friend of mine who was with me up at the front said “It’s weird, I can’t remember a single song from beginning to end. I can remember bits of various ones, but not one from start to finish”. It’s true. It’s like you get swept up in the moment. You live it there and then. I had other friends at the gig who were seated. Their perspective was different; they KNEW what songs were played and in what order. They knew what the band did for the encore. They could rewind and replay it in their minds. We couldn’t, because we WERE it and I came to the conclusion that THAT is how life SHOULD be! Being IN the moment. Today I was reminded of this again... for just a little while.

I am watching a Fox sneaking up on a small flock of Canada Geese on the other side of the lake from where I’m sitting. I can see his fur blowing gently in the wind... the same wind I’m feeling on my face, warm from the west carrying with it the smell of woodsmoke... The same smell the Fox detects as it lifts its head and sniffs the air. The geese spot him and start to cackle, moving towards the water and safety. We all hear them together, me, the Fox, the gull overhead and the Jackdaws in the nearby tree. A Heron rises on lazy wingbeats as the geese approach. The gull jinks and we all take note. A cloud covers the sun momentarily and suddenly it cools. I feel it on my neck, the Fox’s fur pricks up and the geese ruffle their feathers as they enter the water. We’re all part of the same picture, all reacting to the same sensations. For a moment... a fleeting moment, there’s just ‘it’... that ‘something’ that isn’t the lake, the wind, the Fox, the cool, the noise, the geese or me.

Ah well...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Soggy Trousers...

I can highly recommend singing along :)

Naughty gulls on nasty pools
And Herons breaking all the rules
Having fun and playing fools
Smashing up the woodcock's tools
All the Grebes is in the pub
Passing 'round the Roach and Chub
Trying not to think of when
The Canadas will come again.

Oh what fun I had
Yomping through the Snipe Fields lad
How I learnt to pull
The thorns and shit from in my leg
Oh what fun we had
But at the time it seemed so bad
Just a flock of geese
To make a difference to... the...

Birding's kinda tough today
All the birds have gone away
Gone to fight on next-door's pool
Every winter, that's the rule
Sits alone and waits for Roy
Robin needs his daily joy
Biscuits, mealworms, bread and stuff
Blackbird's gone off in a huff

Oh what fun I had
Counting Teal and Shoveler lad
How I learnt to check
Each silhouette and tiny speck
Oh what fun we had
But at the time it seemed so bad
Jack Snipe's gone away
That makes a difference to the day.

Ain't no girls, but lots of boys
Lots of smells and lots of noise
Listening for an early Lark
Checking owl fields after dark
Soggy trousers, dirty shirt
There's a Snipe it's eating dirt
Owl is in its ivy tree
add to the year list, 1 2 3

Oh what fun we had
But, did it really turn out bad
Sparrowhawk makes four
It's time to hit the road some more
Oh what fun we had
But at the time it seemed so bad
Trying different ways
To make a difference to the days.

Soggy trousers, Soggy trousers, Soggy trousers
Soggy trousers, Soggy trousers, Soggy trousers

Patch Year List 78...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Unabashed Crp(t)sis and other Shameless P(n)unnery...

Hot nuns are unlikely to be overlooked on most patches; they're not exactly cryptic after all, but delightful as these creatures undoubtedly are you can't exactly add them to your year list. Well, you could, but I think most people would consider that cheating. No, our sisters from the crypt are untickable. So too it would seem are Woodcock at the moment. The reason? Their crypsis (without the 'T'). Take for example this morning. I'd hit the patch whilst it was still dark with the aim of yomping some of the damp areas of Upper Moss Side, come first light, to look for Snipe, Jack Snipe and Woodcock. Now the latter two species are definitely about, as other patchers have had them, but I've yet to hear of anybody coming across a Common Snipe since last December's cold snap. Nevertheless, my hopes were high. Thing was, I had some time to kill before it would be light enough for my scans for Scolipacidae and so I opted for a circuit from Bob's Bridge, via Shipton's Scrub through Daisy, Balloon Hut and Tree Sparrow Field and back through WH Path Field. The thinking was, owls, in the first instance, and anything  else that was up and about in the second.

It wasn't long after I set off though that I began to get the feeling my plan might have to change. There'd clearly been a bit of a frost over night and things were, well, rather crunchy underfoot. This did not bode at all well for finding snipe as patch snipe really do not seem to like the icy conditions. Coupled with that, there was a bit of a low-lying mist, which whilst rather nice to look at, was not so nice to look through. Ah well, ears it is then: Dog... (it/they always start up when I get out of the car at Bob's Bridge)... Jackdaw, Robin, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Wren, Dunnock, Wood Pigeon, Rook, Pheasant, Carrion Crow, Jay. This is just what I needed - cobweb clearance to start the day. Lovely stuff... but not a sniff of an owl. I scan the little redbrick building and owl box in Ballon Hut Field. Nothing. The big redbrick barn behind me too. Nothing. On into Tree Sparrow Field. First Brown Hare of the year lopes off down the path towards Norton Marsh hide and now there's a Kestrel hovering overhead and Yellowhammers 'chitting'. House Sparrow. Chaffinch. Goldfinch and I'm in WH Path Field...

... more Yellowhammer. Reed Bunting. 'Cheerp'... Tree Sparrow (new for the year). I had been wondering when they'd put in an appearance. Time to check WH Big Field. I spot a gap in the hedge and scan the expansive tillage...

...a pair of Buzzards. That's the lot. No Grey Partridge today. Sun's coming up nicely now so I head back to the car. It's light enough to go LOOK for things.

I've decided to forgo my snipe hunt and try the east end of the reserve for Woodcock and Goosander. Not really sure why, given that neither have been seen at the east end for a while, but hey, ever the optimist me.
I'm driving along the track past Pumphouse Pool when I remember something... Somebody had posted up that they'd seen the male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in the trees along the embankment a few days ago. Deffo worth a look!

SO, windows down and I'm crawling along in the little Skoda on choke only, barely making a sound. It's almost like I'm driving an electric car. I scan every silver birch. No sign (or sound). There are Bullfinches though... a little chain of 'tu's flitting acros the road. I reach the Eastern Reedbed and park up. I'm sure there'll be Woodcock again today... Hmmm. Damn their cryptic hides. Seven of them and not a single one in view. Or maybe it's three. You see the thing is, I KNOW they're out there, but I'm buggered if I can see a single one of them! Ah well, nothing to be done but count the wildfowl on Millbrook Pool; 8 Shoveler, 55 Teal, 11 Mallard, 18 Gadwall, 2 Tufted Duck,15 Canada Goose, 2 Coot and a little surprise... the Little Grebes are back; a pair! The Eastern Reedbed though has refrozen... and there is no open water... BUT there are Water Rail; 2 calling and the first of the year for me. Good stuff!

Next up it's time to check the east river again for Goosander (just Moorhen and Cormorant again today) and Firecrest Alley for Long-eared Owl. This was a bit of a departure from the usual as they've not been seen roosting down this end of the reserve for yearas but today I juust had a feeling. Must have been wind though coz there were certainly now owls hidden among the willows today. That just left Pumphouse Pool. A few changes since my last visit; 7 Wigeon, 52 Teal, 15 Mallard, 14 Gadwall, 10 Tufted Duck, 2 Moorhen, 2 Coot, 1 Grey Heron. Checked the inlet and shoreline for Snipe. Still none. SO, time to go... almost :) Need to check those trees along the railway line for that Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Well, I'll be honest. I didn't really hold up much hope. Not because I doubted its presence (they seem to like the track between the warehouses and the viaduct early in the year, before moving to Lapwing Lane for 'the drumming'), but because I tend not to get Lesser Pecks when I go hunting for them. They're usually a chance bird for me. One that turns up when I don't really expect it. What a shocker then when I get one calling at the top of one of the birches along the track back to the car by the Eastern Reedbed. Excellent as I've not done very well, so far, picking up those winter beauties that you really need to nab if you want a decent year list (LSW, Brambling, Goosander, Goldeneye, Iceland, Glaucous & Med. Gull, Jack Snipe, Woodcock, Bittern)

And that, as they say, was pretty much that. Jackdaws amid the ivy by the little wooden bridge immediately signalled lack of Tawny Owl; a crispy march through 'the garden' yielded no Woodcock for the umpteenth time today and my gut feeling that "If the Little Grebes were back then there ought to be a Great Crested Grebe somewhere" was rewarded when one popped up on the Angler's Pool among a year high count of eight Coots. Patch Year Tally 74.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

WARBLERS at Moore NR: what, when and where...

During the spring at Moore NR it’s quite possible to get NINE species of warblers in a day and you’d be unlucky NOT to get SEVEN! Of these species, SIX appear annually in double figures (20-30+ pairs) and are spread across the reserve (Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler); ONE occurs annually in low numbers along the northern edge of the reserve (Grasshopper Warbler); TWO occur almost annually as single birds/pairs but tend to be very localised, most often west of Lapwing Lane (Garden Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat) and the one to watch out for of late is Cetti’s Warber as it seems to be turning up somewhere on or near the patch at some point during the past 3 years and has bred recently at the nearby Oxmoor LNR.

SO, here we go... dates above photos are the Cheshire 10 year averages for first arrival and last departure dates for our summer visitors from the 2009 Cheshire Bird Report (link HERE). So keep your eyes and ears peeled and let me know when things arrive!!!

Chiffchaff Phylloscpus collybita

County Status: Common summer visitor, widely distributed. Very scarce winter visitor. All non-collybita races (e.g. ‘Scandinavian’ abietinus, ‘ Siberian’ trisitis) are County Rarities.

Overwintering Chiffchaffs are occasionally seen in Jan and Feb on the reserve but the most I’ve had in a single year has been two and I’m not convinced they’re annual. Of course, they can be a bit on the quiet side outside of the breeding season, so you never know and it’s always worth checking everything flitting about during the winter months. Migrants arrive mid-March and start setting up territories across the reserve. These are the first warblers to arrive and once they’re here, you can hear them singing pretty much anywhere, but they’re especially easy to get along the paths that run along the south bit of Lapwing Lake towards Hillcrest Quarry and Bob’s Bridge. They like the tall trees along the paths for singing and areas of rank vegetation (grasses and bramble bushes) for nesting.

Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla

County Status: Common summer visitor, widely distributed. Scarce winter visitor.

Funny that, from a patch perspective they’re much scarcer than Chiffchaff during the winter and are certainly not annual. I guess their somewhat better county status at this time of year is the result of their penchant for gardens... don’t get many Chiffchaff on the old nut bags! My hunch would be that if they’re about, they’ll be hanging around near the Feeding Station. Migrants start to arrive about the end of March but aren’t really in full numbers until April. Sit in any hide or walk any path at this time of year where there’s a well developed understorey (they like thick bushes and brambles for nesting) and you’ll get Blackcap singing from the treetops.

Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus
Mar 25th - October 5th

County Status: Very common summer visitor, widely distributed. BoCC Amber-listed species.

These certainly don’t overwinter and are the first of our proper Trans-Saharan migrants to arrive as far as warblers are concerned (Blackcaps and Chiffchaff tend to winter in Europe). They hit Cheshire usually in the last week of March but seem to me to generally take longer to get to Moore. I’ve not really tested the idea rigorously, but my gut feeling is that this holds true for most of our summer migrants – first dates are 1-2 weeks later than say, on the Wirral. I usually pick up my first birds in the first week of April at Moore NR and they quickly spread out and can be heard everywhere, particularly along paths that coincide with woodland edge. They tend to go quiet in June and have started on their return trip to Africa by the end of September.

Grasshopper Warbler Locustella naevia
April 9th - September 3rd

County Status: Scarce summer visitor, thinly distributed. BoCC Red-listed species.

These arrive about the 2nd week of April and are instantly recognisable from their reeling song. Scarce, from a county perspective, means between 11-100 pairs annually, so we’re quite lucky because we typically have between 7-11 reeling males on site during their peak. Their distribution though is rather skewed towards the scrubby areas of Upper Moss Side and the Capped Tip (see also Whitethroat) and so it is along the tracks that run close to these areas that you stand the best chance to hear one or two reeling. The best spot on the Moore NR reserve itself is probably along the short grassy path behind the Feeding Station that runs from Tinker’s Bridge (by the two metal gates along the south edge of the Capped Tip to the little wooden bridge that joins Lapwing Lane again near where the road heads out on to Upper Moss Side. Up to 5 males have been reeling from the Capped Tip in past years, so there’s a pretty good chance of hearing one on warm still days from tis path, especially the west end. If you have no luck there, walk along the track onto Upper Moss Side (click HERE for photo guide). Stop at the picnic tables, face the Snipe Fields and listen. If you’ve still not had any luck, keep walking past the White House and stop opposite the little wooden bridge that takes you to Norton Marsh and look out over the Phrag Field. They like that area too and it’s often the first place they turn up. Failing that, you need to follow the paths out towards the Tree Sparrow Field, enter the Balloon Hut Field (there’s often one reeling from the back of the field in there) or Daisy Field (there’s usually one in there too). I’d be amazed if you don’t get Gropper on the patch in April! Tip: go early in the season if possible as they don’t seem to sing for that long and avoid windy days – they don’t seem to like them one bit!

Whitethroat Sylvia communis
April 10th - September 30th

 County Status: Common summer visitor, widely distributed. BoCC Amber-listed species.

Whitethroat (along with the other species listed below) start to arrive in mid-April and sing into July. They prefer the scrubbier parts of the reserve and although they’re very widespread are most easily heard along the northern paths bordering the Capped Tip and Upper Moss Side (where numbers are particularly high) as well as the areas around Hillcrest Quarry and between there and the Manchester Ship Canal. They too leave by the end of September and you can often track them heading west (presumably to then follow the coast south) along the scrubby tracks to Halfway House from their churring alarm calls.

Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus
April 13th - October 11th

County Status: Uncommon summer visitor, thinly distributed.

Always feels to me like spring has really sprung once the Reed Warblers start up. They arrive from mid-April and tend to be centred on the reedy margins of Lapwing Lake and at the Eastern Reedbed where I’ve had up to 7 chunnering away deep within the reeds. They also seem quite happy though with any smallish stands of reeds along drainage ditches or fringing some of the smaller ponds, so keep your ears peeled for their slow, rhythmic, crunching song. They are a guaranteed bird at Moore during the spring.

Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus
April 10th - September 30th

County Status: Fairly common summer visitor, thinly distributed.

As a rule we get more Reed Warblers at Moore than Sedge Warblers. That’s not to say that Sedgies are uncommon, but I always find them marginally ‘harder’ work than Reed. They arrive about the same time as the Reedies, but favour the scrubby areas away from the reed beds and tend to be commonest in the damper areas of the habitat used by Whitethroat (see that species) i.e. paths that traverse the, northern and southern rims, of the reserve. If you walk the entire loop of Lapwing Lane from the Car Park, north, then out onto Upper Moss Side to Bob’s Bridge and back down to the Car Park past Hillcrest Quarry , you should get Sedge Warbler. If that fails, there’s always the ship canal path to Halfway House from the black and yellow metal gate at the west end of the reserve, or the path along the south side of Shipton’s Meadow. Satisfaction guaranteed.

Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca
April 15th - September 30th

County Status: Uncommon summer visitor, thinly distributed

One of two species at Moore (the other being Garden Warbler – see below) that require luck and/or effort and/or striking whilst the iron is hot if one is posted on the Moore sightings page, their Facebook page or this blog. Just 1-2 records annually is typical and it’s quite common for birds not to settle. Last year we were treated to a ‘stayer’. One set up shop in the gorse near the Raptor Viewpoint and could be heard singing into June from the bench overlooking the west end of Lapwing Lake. Usually though they seem to pass through mid-April (often appearing first on Upper Moss Side) and are ‘around’ for 2-3 days before moving on. Either way, you have to know the song as you always hear them long before you can track them down as they flit along the hedgerows.

Garden Warbler Sylvia borin
April 17th - September 24th

 County Status: Fairly common summer visitor, thinly distributed.

This is typically the last of our warblers to arrive (late Apri) and is another that needs to be nabbed as quicky as possible as it is certainly not a common summer visitor on the patch. We get 1 or 2 records a year at Moore, but at least these seem to stay more often than the previous species. Of late, they’ve been annual west of Lapwing Lake and a good starting point to have a listen is probably by the south hide there and then walk the high path along the northern edge of Hillcrest Quarry to Bob’s Bridge and then back along the track to the Car Park. If you have no luck, then you’re on your own... but beware Blackcap!

Cetti’s Warbler Cettia cetti

County Status. Vagrant. County Rarity.

Now this could change. Looks like these little beauties are gaining a toe-hold in the north-west. This year one was singing near Halfway House in October. Last year one was heard from the same spot singing on the other side of the Manchester Ship Canal in mid-March and later that year they bred at Oxmoor LNR and raised three young. This was the first record of breeding for Cheshire & Wirral. The year before that (2008) we had a male singing at the Eastern Reedbed from 21st April – 12th May, so they’re definitely spreading out. Only a question of time I think before we can add them to our own breeding warbler list. Fingers crossed and watch this space!!!

PS I haven't had time to go through old Cheshire Bird Reports for definitive sightngs of rare warblers on the patch so if anybody knows of any off hand, please let me know!

MAPS - Part 1: introduction to the pools

I have had a plan for a while to do a photo guide to the Moore NR part of the patch and sat down again recently to have another crack at. The Car Park seemed the obvious place to start and so I began to write.

Entrance to the reserve
(Car Park is behind fence on the right)

Trouble was it became quickly apparent that there are SO many paths and pools and woods and hides at Moore that the whole thing would be come a tangle and so I had to go back to the drawing board. Chunks. What's needed I decided are chunks. An overview of where the main bits of the reserve are first, so that people new to the site can find them, followed by individual photoguides complete with what birds are about when. SO, here then is the first bit (overview of the pools) and it seemed to me MAPS were the way to go.

The Main Layout of the Reserve

OK. The above is a good place to start and you can pick one of these up from the little box by the Moore NR sign as you enter the reserve. As you will see from the leaflet, the reserve basically runs east to west and has 5 main pools;

a) Lapwing Lake (to the west of Lapwing Lane) which has 3 hides (Lapwing Lane Hide, Sedge Hide and Canal Bed Hide, which is just a screen) or as I prefer to call them (east, south and north hides)

Lapwing Lane Hide (aka east hide)
(nicked from Tony Carroll)

Sedge Hide (aka south hide)

Canal Bed Hide (aka north hide)

The remaing 4 pools are all to the east of Lapwing Lane and could be called collectively 'the eastern pools'. They are, in order from the Car Park, as follows;

b) Birchwood Pool (through the Dog Field) which has 3 hides (I tend to call the middle one the south hide).

Birchwood Pool West Hide

Birch Strip Hide (aka south hide)

Birchwood Pool East Hide

c) Pumphouse Pool (through Birch Wood) which has 2 hides (Pumphouse Hide on the western shore and Colin's Hide on the eastern shore) or as I call them west hide and east hide.

Pumphouse Hide (aka Pumphouse west hide)

Colin's Hide (aka Pumphouse east hide)

d) Millbrook Pool (further down the main track) has a single hide (Phoenix Hide, so called as it emerged from the ashes of the old roofed one that local yobs burned down) which it shares with...

Phoenix Hide (entrance)

e) Eastern Reedbed (famous in recent years for its overwintering Bittern(s).

Right, that together with the leaflet map should give you a rough indication of where things are. here are a few aerial shots with some of the paths to the various hides superimposed for further information...

This shows the whole patch except for the Eastern Reedbed and east river which are tucked away in  the bottom right hand corner, just off thr map. It also shows the other parts of the patch (black labels) for orientation purposes.

CP = Car Park    Yellow Hides are additional ones, not associated with the pools. The two top ones overlook Norton Marsh (see Upper Moss Side photo guide), the middle one (a screen) is along the path from Lapwing Lane to Bob's Bridge and overlooks the Snipe Fields on Upper Moss Side and the last is the little screen hide at the Feeding Station which is through the metal gate at the far end of Lapwing Lane and past the small murky pond on your left.

NOTE too the Angler's Pool before the swing bridge. There are no hides here and it's really just for fishermen, but you can get a good view of the water by parking on the gravely bit opposite the horse paddocks of Big Hand Ranch and nipping through the gap by the Warrington Angler's sign

    Yellow screen = Feeding Station

    Aerial view of the whole patch showing where Moore NR lies in relation to the whole...

MAPS - Part 2: introduction to the woods to follow soon...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Flotsam & Jetsam..

"I've got some flotsam."

"That's no good! Get some Jetsam! get my drift...wood?"

So sayeth the sage... and as if by magic, the patch today delivered...

Why is it that time is always so short? Today I had 90 minutes. That was it. A day of stuff, preceded by a typical lack of sleep and necessary early start to cram in the day. No problemo :) We're talking the patch here after all! Besides, the cats woke me early. Wilson decided to have a bit of a purr in my face at about 4am (bless him) and Rosie followed up with a quick pounce on my toes when I failed to drag myself out of bed and feed them both. Delightful creatures. No seriously... they truly are... but I cudda done with a few more zeez pre-river jaunt! Ho hum...

SO, 07:15am... dark... and I'm off to the river. Figure I can get there for first light and take advantage of the fact that high tide was just an hour or two ago and so (a) it would now be receding and (b) things would have been pushed off in the dark and hence eager to feed come daybreak. Happy days. PLUS, there was always the chance of an early morning owl... never a bad thing :) Only today, there were no owls. In fact, as I parked and togged up by the usual black and yellow metal gate, there was only Robin, Blackbird and Carrion Crow. And that's pretty much how it stayed (apart from the ocassional laughing Mallard) until I reached Halfway House about half an hour later.

It was still dark as I set up my replacement fezzie chair on the bank by the river, but at least there was stuff out there - I could hear it. Wigeon mostly, but the ocassional bleat of Teal and 'curlwee' of Curlew too. Yep, things were out and about! Didn't take long for enough light to creep in for me to attempt the first count of the day - 89 Wigeon and  12 Mallard. Smaller stuff out there too... it's the Teal I heard on arrival, just 4 of them though. Further down river 4 Grey Herons are stood on the mud. No gulls anywhere. Odd. On the mud to my right I can now see that there are 135 Curlew hunched in a loose flock. Apart from the continued whistles of the Wigeon, all is quiet. A little sleepy still perhaps.

10 minutes later and there's a little flurry of activity 6 Cormorants fly over from the direction of the Fiddler's Ferry lagoons and 170 Lapwing drift in from upstream and settle by the Wigeon along the far bank. Sharp 'krreeee' to my left as a solitary Dunlin decideds it's time to leave the muddy margin behind the reeds and head off back towards the estuary. Moments later, the first of the morning's gulls arrive low over the water, as they usually seem to do and settle among the Curlew; 7 Black-headed Gull, 2 Common Gull. Other things are stirring too... Great Tit, Dunnock, Pheasant, Chaffinch, Wren, Song Thrush, Common Buzzard.

I do another count. Things are always in flux here and numbers change, but I can see that more Wigeon have emerged and that the Lapwing numbers have swelled. There's also a big flock of Carrion Crows on the mud too, and more gulls. Full tally; 161 Wigeon, 21 Mallard, 4 teal, 1 Gadwall, 34 Shelduck, 10 Grey Heron, 27 BH Gull, 1 Common Gull, 2 Herring Gull, 6 LBB Gull, 250 Lapwing, 129 Curlew, 62 Carrion Crow. Gulls are up! Lapwing and Curlew are off!! Something's spooked them. Quick scan of the skys reveals a Peregrine, powering its way over the river towards its favourite perch atop the pylon to my left. Well, that'll be it for a bit until things settle again. Time to go I think. WTF? What IS that on the waters edge? Biggest bunch of Jetsam I've ever seen on the river... in the form of, yes, a sofa!!!

I've seen some odd stuff washed up on the patch, but that wins the prize for the oddest. Little Grebe on the ship canal by Randal's Sluice (Goldeneye still there too) is another of the day's new additions to the year tally (along with Shelduck, Curlew and Dunlin) as I head back for a quick shuftie of the east end. Funny what you miss in the dark. I must have walked right past these on the way down but only spotted them now. A pair of swan wings.

Juvenile Mute Swan

At this point Farley decides to put in an appearance (cue smell of rusk) and sends me off through Top Scrub and the wet Juncus patches between Shipton's Meadow and the ship canal. I really must sort the little imp out! Seems like he only needs to whisper the word Snipe in my shell like at the moment and he's got me. Well, there were NO Snipe, much to his delight (if the devlish cackles were anything to go by) but I did get a Collared Dove singing by the redbrick houses - another addition to the patch year list.

Arrive back at the car to find I've left the window wide open! Idiot!! Thank god I'd left the river a little earlier than I'd planned. Thank god for that Peregrine! Plan now was to check for thaw on the ponds. Surely by now... Answer? Yes. Lapwing Lake actually has birds on it for the first time in about a month! Not much mind you as there's still a little ice but birds nonetheless in the form of; 6 Mallard, 10 Teal and 3 Tufted Duck in the east corner and 2 Grey Heron perched in the dead tree. Looked like the thaw was taking hold of Birchwood and Pumphouse Pools too (gull city, but no time to sift...) and it had certainly worked a little magic at Millbrook Pool.

Arrived to find bikes. That meant Roy and Harry had got there early and were enjoying the flush of wildfowl that the milder conditions had brought in; 39 Canada Geese, 27 Gadwall, 62 Teal (some in display),  3 Mallard, 6 Shoveler, 5 Wigeon, 14 Tufted Duck, a pair of Pochard and a Coot! Considering there'd been mostly Teal and Shoveler on previous visits, this was somewhat of an upturn in duckage - excellent! Even the Eastern Reedbed had a few birds back; 2 Mallard and a Teal. Happy Days. Well, that was me done. Added Starling and Mute Swan to the year list as I left and checked the barns on the Big Hand Ranch as I drove by. Looks like the Kestrels have set up shop again in the barn owl box - pair sitting on top of it. Would have preferred Barn Owl to be honest, but ho hum. Patch Year Tally 70 species.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Ctrl H...

Ctrl H. That, as many of you will know, is the shortcut key for Replace in Word and Excel that allows you to replace one string of text or set of numerical values with another, lots of times, in one fell swoop. You've probably used it and very useful it is too... especially when renaming or recoding bird records. Why am I telling you all this? Because it was a bit of a Ctrl H type session on the patch today. Take for example the Angler's Pool... my first brief stop off point this morning. Now I know we've had the odd chilly day of late but you'd have thought that on the whole, overall, taking all things into consideration that it had perhaps been mild enough to return the patch pools to water wouldn't you. Not quite... and there was a twist to boot, hence the moniker of today's post. Where once there was ice [Ctrl H and in the Find what: box insert the word 'ice'] there was now thinner ice (and less of it) shrouded by a low-hanging mist and an ocassional sprinkling of drizzle [in the Replace with: box insert the word 'mizzle']. Oh the irony. We have, at last, a partial thaw with which to draw birds back (if I may go all Hot Fuzz for a moment - YARP!) but limited opportunities to spot them on account of the crap visibility (NARP!!). Such was today's theme. SO, condiments at the ready dear reader... todays counts may be a little 'off', but I've done my best.

The Anglers Pool earlier

Angler's Pool - nothing. And I'm pretty sure there really was nothing lurking in the mist (see pic above) but at least it was a little more 'chirpy' there today... mostly Great Tit sure, but one was actually singing as if t'was a spring morning, bless his scaly little socks.

Big Hand Ranch - nothing. No mist here (just seemed to be over any open water / ice today) and so I'm sure of it. Not even the resident Kestrel. Not even sure I remember any of the resident horses being there today either come to think of it. Hmmmm.

Pumphouse Pool - Loadsa stuff! Ooo. Well waddayano! Slid the car through the mud to the east hide and got my trusty black notebook out. There was mist here too (I couldn't see the west hide), but at least I could see 2/3rds of the pool  and there were birds on it; 14 Mallard, 12 teal, 4 Shoveler, 1 Moorhen and 2 Canada Geese.

Pumphouse Pool today

Then there were the gulls. Hundreds of them. Actually, maybe even a couple of thousand. It was like Birchwood Pool had come to Pumphouse! The vast majority (~90%) were Black-headed Gulls, but there were Great Black-backed, Lesser Black-backed, Herring and Common among them too. Shame, but I didn't have time to go though them all for the likely Med Gull hiding in their midst. Had a brief chat with another birder, Ian, who'd come in from the east end via the river (no Goosander seen) and who was on the patch for the day, clocked a couple of Bullfinch in front of the hide, and headed off to...

... Millbrook Pool - more stuff here today; 11 Mallard, 73 Teal, 14 Canada Geese (first back since freeze), Coot (likewise, and the only one I saw on the pools today - they still haven't returned from wherever it is that they went when the cold snap hit last year and I'm now getting a little worried about them), 13 Shoveler, 20 Gadwall, 1 Grey Heron. No Snipe though... which was a little surprising. the wet flush looks ideal for them at the moment.

Eastern Reedbed - still frozen, though looks about ready to break. Birdwise...Nada... I lie... 1 Carrion Crow... on the ice.

East River - for Goosander. Yes I know it's already been checked today BUT... just in case. Well, they do come and go a bit to be honest, so why not? PLUS it gave me a chance to take a couple of phone snaps of the south and north ends of the river there that together dlimit the eastern boundary proper, of the patch. SO, here they are...

The east river looking south

The east river looking north

...oh and another, which I thought was quite funky... Giant Hogweed on the river bank...

and one that really annoyed me... why do people just dump crap???

Birds. Well, there's a flock of 25+ Goldfinch twittering away, a male Pheasant coughing in one of the fields, a Song Thrush 'tsip-ing' somewhere, Wren churring and...oh... ripples near the far bank. Fish up or bird down? Bird down it turned out as it's just bobbed up again. Cormorant. Had me going for a moment. Further down there's another and beneath the trees on the near bank by me, a pair of Mallard roosting... and that's it. No Goosander, just as Ian had said.

At this point, suffering as I was from intermittent stomach cramps (the result I'm sure of last nights' encounter with a somewhat disagreeable sausage), I was set to leave when the familiar imagined smell of rusk heralded the arrival of my imp, Farley, who proceeded, as he usually does, to bend my ear about leaving the patch prematurely. Today the little devil perched on my shoulder wanted me to check out the Black Fields.

"No Farley! I have gut rot and need to get back!"

"But Master might find a Green Sandpiper there or one of his Snipes"

Oh brilliant! The little bastard had me and before I knew it I was off down Firecrest Alley to view the Black Fields from the bank. Well, there was sod all on there (much to Farley's obvious amusement), BUT there was a flock, yes flock (!) of 5 Goldcrest working west along the hawthorns. They all looked really well fed and healthy too - smashing. And that was pretty much me done... except for a quick check of Birchwood Pool from the road (frozen - no birds), Lapwing Lake from the east hide (frozen - no birds) and the loop through Upper Moss Side in the hope of anything new for the year (I'd drawn a blank so far). Now there's a small stand of newishly planted trees just before the White House with all the building works going on and it has been good for winter Woodcock the past couple of years. Thought it was worth a go. Alas, no joy and I wasted 10 minutes... and now there was this big fuck off truck trundling my way and blocking the road so I'd have to wait another 10 minutes for it to pass. Meh. May just as well check the little field to my right then! First birds I see (and, it turned out, the only ones in the field) are 4 Grey Partridge! Happy Days - an addition to the year list after all. Year Tally 62 species.