Thursday, July 25, 2013

Oh but T'WERE indeed hunky...

Well I'd decided to go see the sun go down on the river last night... start at the Car Park on Lapwing Lane and walk the quarry by Lapwing Lake in the hope of picking up the recently reported Garden Warbler, walk the path alongside Shipton's Meadow, pop out by the Ethylene Station and walk the rest of the way alongside the MSC. High tide was at 1:30 am and I was curious to 'see' what the roosting birds did as it came in... IF there were any roosting birds. Plan THEN, was to backtrack along the MSC and take the zig-zag route through Upper Moss Side to the White House and back past the Snipe Fields to the car in the hope of picking up an owl or two. It started well...

By the time I'd spent a few minutes at Colin's Seat and made my way to the Quarry path, I'd picked up six warbler species (alas NOT the Garden Warbler), a couple of new species for the year list (Linnet and Green Sandpiper) and a surprise Raven cronking overhead. Always like to get these on the patch...still my favourite bird sound of all time (followed by Common Buzzard, Swift, Grasshopper Warbler and Corncrake - each, I guess to his or her own, eh). So the quarry was nice, lots calling and flying overhead (see trip list at end), strewn with bumble-licking willowherbs, splashed with summer evening sun and barely the ear-pricking whinny of a horsefly anywhere. All was going well...

Got to Bob's Bridge and headed off down the path alongside Shipton's Meadow. Well I guess I should have taken the bodes as unwell when I had to round the steep bank by the bridge and climb THROUGH the metal fence to even get on the path as the entrance was that overgrown. Foolish, foolish me. Why? Because I got it into my head that this was nothing more than a chest high, brambly, thistly, nettley blip and that I'd soon break through onto the path at which point the dory, would as the saying goes, indeed be hunky. Not so! Thirty minutes later, scratched and stung if not to buggery then at least to bugg, I'd had enough. As heavy drops of rain added to the atmosphere it was, I decided, time to bite the bullet, hang a sharp right, thrash through the worst of it, DOWN the bank, over the ditch, UP the other bank and into the far end of Shipton's Meadow itself. Clear. Rain smelled good, but not enough to cool the sweat I'd worked up fighting the vegetation (talk about plant defence mechanisms...think I experienced most the patch had to offer in those thirty minutes if my legs today are anything to go by).

Well the field beyond the meadow was waist high in grass and the pond there too hidden to see and so I decided to head over the gate near the farm and straight to Balloon Hut Field. Why I continue to think I'll see Little Owl there when I know that Stock Dove's have taken over the nest box is a mystery to me, but I do it every time. Time. Time? What IS the time?? Quick check on phone... correction, quick check FOR phone reveals that somewhere amid the jungle of vegetation I'd just yomped through, I'd lost it !!! I think the appropriate text (irony) would read 'O...M...F...G...' Nothing for it but to yomp BACK through the same vegetation in the vain hope that somebody might ring the bloody thing just as I was passing by and that I'd be able to locate it among the tangle of bastard plants. Of course nobody did and I didn't find it. So maybe that's my patch legacy done with. A fossilising HTC, somewhere at the east end... ah well. Try again tonight. No, not for the phone... pfff. Sunset on the river! Perspective people, perspective...

So here's what I got last night... I'm quite interested actually as I've not totted it up until now:

Little Grebe, Grey Heron, Greylag Goose (~20), Mute Swan, Mallard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Common Buzzard (3), Kestrel (2), Pheasant, Moorehen...see what I did there ;) Coot, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Green Sandpiper (north east corner Lapwing Lake), Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Stock Dove, Collared Dove, Woodpigeon, Swift, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Swallow, Sand Martin, Wren, Robin, Dunnock, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Blackbird, Blackcap, Common Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Bleu Tit (yes, it WAS French, could tell by the accent...), Great Tit (it was f**king HUGE), Willow Tit (OK...out of idiocy...yes, it can actually happen any cynics out there), Magpie, Jay, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Raven, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Bullfinch, Reed Bunting, Yellowhammer... what's that... hang on... 53 species.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Cracking morning, Grommit...

I'd missed the river. It had been too long... combination of life being full on and life being full on had meant my little bend opposite Fiddler's Ferry had gone neglected. So, as my raven-haired beautiful other half and our impish blonde 7 year old had take a trip to see the family in Cyprus, I had the place, and a little time to myself and so I resolved to spend some time at Half Way House. The other day I'd taken my eldest there to see the sun come up but we'd missed the ideal time by about an hour...and, got bitten to buggery in the process. Nonetheless it was nice and I figured I'd go early on my tod to catch the rising tide AND the sun together. Promised, I thought to be good conditions to maybe pick up a passage wader or two...or at the very least, spend an hour or two relaxing and soaking it all in.

I set off at 1:45am to ASDA to stock up on provisions and the precautionary Jungle Juice to ward off the midges, mosquitoes and horseflys and by 2:15am I was driving up the track to my usual parking spot by the black and yellow gate. Only a couple of Rabbits on the track this early, but both seemed determined to stay in the beam of my headlights for as long as possible before plucking up enough courage to veer into the verge. Parked up. Togged up. Silence. And I mean TOTAL silence. I had never experienced such quietude on the patch. Not a sound. Nothing. I began the slow dusky crunch along the track towards the piers. There was enough light to see that the MSC was pindrop calm. I'd been going for about 10 minutes when the first sound piped distantly once...a Lapwing...moments later a single equally distant quack from a Mallard and that was it. Silence again and by 3:00am I rounded the willow, climbed the bank and settled on the top, looking out over the mudflats.

Here too there was light enough to see that the tide was out and that there were pools among the mud. No colours though and no silhouettes of anything roosting out on the river. It was so calm, so peaceful and so very quiet. I'm not sure what I'd expected. Maybe a Robin or Blackbird singing...somewhere...but no, everything it seemed was asleep...except me. It was mild but refreshingly cooler than the oppressive sticky heat of these past weeks and so, as nothing was about I applied copious amounts of insect repellent, poured a coffee and took in the view.

There were red lights on the tall tower to the right of the four Fiddlers Ferry cooling towers and occasional orange lights along the bank. The stars were out against a blue-black sky... whitish fluffs of steam ghosted straight up from the cooling breeze...and as I followed them upwards...there was "The Plough" hanging in the night sky directly over the power station. The moon, I guessed was somewhere behind me, obscured by the thicket of the prom. Briefly sound and vision. The bleep bleep bleep of a truck reversing over the river and the silhouette of a Cranefly whisping close by. Time for munchies. Ham, Cheese and Pickle sarnies to be exact... more coffee... and timed notes by phone light.

3:09 - Oystercatcher calling

3:10 - distant rattle of a truck over the river

3:12 - orange lights moving along the far bank and a distant aircraft hum, left.

3:19 - the taste of Jungle Juice...bitter... distant Curlew calling from Wigg Island direction.

3:23 - Reed Warbler song from the reeds in front of me...30s later it's stopped.

3:27 - Reed Warbler has another go... not fully awake yet it seems. Stops again.

3:41 - Gadwall, Lapwing and Common Sandpiper calling somewhere.

3:47 - Brief snatch of Sedge Warbler song to my right... the Common Sandpiper is still calling...moving up and down the flats...I can hear, but not see it. Distant Blackbird singing.

3:50 - Song Thrush singing... and still the lone Common Sandpiper is calling as I begin to see colours.

3:53 - Blue Tit call.

3:56 - Grey Heron over calling... still the Common Sandpiper is calling back and forth along the river...distant Reed Warbler left...

3:58 - Oystercatcher calling.

4:03 - enough light to pick out silhouettes with my Leicas. The Grey Heron and Oystercatcher are feeding on the waters edge...Pipistrelle just flown over my head.

4:06 - Somewhere out on the mud there's an insistent, clipped, slightly harsh 'pee-o'. Sounds familiar, but can't place it...

4:15 - 9 Canada Geese have joined the Grey Heron and Osytercatcher on the water's edge. Carrion Crow over. Grasshopper Warbler left...short bursts...warming up. Bit late for one to be singing I'd have thought?

4:21 - The first Black-headed Gulls of the morning arrive, as always, noisily from downstream, low over the mud. There are a few Lesser Black-Backed Gulls on the mud too. Didn't see them fly in...maybe they just roosted there in ones and twos...

4:29 - the Gropper has now moved to my right and is in full reeling song. Wonderful. Thought I'd missed them this year.

4:32 - Little Egret and Curlew feeding out on the mud.

4:37 - Blackcap singing right.

4:44 - Whitethroat singing left.

4:48 - FOX out on the it through the scope for 5 minutes...sniffing piles of feathers, scent marking and looking around until something spooks it and it tears off across the mud to disappear among the recently encroaching low mist on the far bank.

5:00 - Cormorant over and I head off. Sleep. I need sleep. Well I didn't see...or hear... very much BUT it was WELL WORTH the early rise...truly, truly beautiful and peaceful. Cracking morning, Grommit!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Minor addition...

It's been over a week since I have hit the patch. Last weekend was taken up with a trip to Edinburgh for a mad ceilidh, tea in the window of 'Lovecrumbs', a street sword swallower and farm markets (where we were told the fare was 'well hung and tender'... oo er missus) - great fun... but no birdage. The week that followed was full on work and so before you could say Griseotyrannus aurantioatrocristatus... the weekend was here again and it rather looked like any patching would have to wait until midweek. Why? Because my raven-haired magnificent other half was off to Paris for the day with her air-crew chums and I'd promised her wee 7 year old a pyjama day. We would wrap up in blankets, snack and watch movies.

Ah, but I was wrong.  I had failed to factor in the fickle finger of fate, which, last night, contrived to present the raven-haired one and I with an opportunity to drop off said 7 year old with an Aunt so that we might enjoy Beautiful Creatures at the Widnes Reel, and, furthermore, retrieve our little darling late Saturday morning. As the erstwhile geo-environmental engineer's flight check-in this morning was 05:45, that gave me the perfect chance to shoot back along the M56 after dropping her off  at Manchester's T3 and hit the river for sunrise. Splendid! And so it was... by 06:41 I'd picked up a Woodcock en route (near the same spot as last time) and was ensconced in my orange fezzie chair, munching breakfast corned beef and pickle sandwiches, slurping coffee and looking out over my beloved bend in the river.

I hadn't checked the tide before I set off but it was low and still on the way out and the more often than not, even mud, was today puddled with a dappling of small shallow pools... ideal I thought for attracting a small wader or two as the sun came up. I lit a cigarette and scanned the familiar panorama in front of me with my Leicas. These are great bins, but often, as on the river today, they have a habit of replacing optimism with reality and threw up nothing but the silhouttes of I reckoned about 170 Lapwing to my right. 2 Redshank called amid the flock, but I couldn't pick them out. Another called from the Manchester Ship Canal behind me as a Cormorant flew over, a Grey Heron 'shraaked' to my left and an Oystercatcher 'keebeeked' in the distance to my right. All else was quiet.

By 06:52 there was just enough light to actually count the Lapwing on low mag through the scope. I was out. There was only 142... with... yep, 2 Redshank tacked on the end of the strung-out flock. To my right though there was nothing out on the mud today save a single Shelduck and 6 Crows. But there were Curlew about...somewhere... I could hear one or two calling. Roosting on the back of Norton Marsh maybe? A Reed Bunting called and a Greenfinch trilled. Five minutes later the first gulls began to arrive.

On the river, Black-headed Gulls are always the first to come in at sun up, always from downstream and always very low over the mud. They tend to arrive in small flocks like beads on a string and so today, as little else was going on apart from the arrival (also from downstream) of 10 Greylag Geese I decided to count them. During the 10 minutes that followed, 30 groups passed by me and settled on the fringes of the mud. Quite interesting I thought, so I plotted this.., a kinda time series of the sizes of flocks as they passed by. Oh, and for those of you with a mild statistical bent, the median flock size was 17.

During the same time period I had 16 Herring Gull and 2 Common Gull fly over too...but at different altitudes to the Black-headed Gulls. The Common Gulls were about 10m above the mud and the Herring Gulls over 25m... and the higher the gulls flew the further they were heading. The Common Gulls started to lose altitude over the river opposite the far end of Norton Marsh, but the Herring Gulls just kept going, presumably heading for Moore or Richmond Bank. Well nothing much else happened in the next half hour apart from a distant very pale Redshank confusing me for a while, the Lapwing flock swelling to 432 and 30 Curlew finally deciding to show themselves. So, by 8am I was trundling along Lapwing Lane heading for warmth and a second breakfast at home.

Well to be honest I was all mentally set for the impending pop tarts and coffee when... crowd of about a dozen day-trippers stopped by the little wood near the Feeding Station... a previous haunt of the patch's Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers. Wind down window... "You got it?"... "Nope". Fair enough. I head off up Lapwing Lane. Four birders in the road near the Car Park...bins facing a tree. I stop the car and signal a thumbs up and then a thumbs down to one of them, He gives me the thumbs up. Out of the car and there it is... Dendrocopus minor...scuttling along a branch. It flies to a nearer tree and we all get on it as it starts to drum... cracking little male. I have named him Joey. So, 87 on the patch so far... slow... but promising.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Until the first wisps of snow...

The geo-environmental engineer and I are incredibly lucky. We get to do all kinds of fun stuff together, we both enjoy our work and we both have our own stuff going on. She, for example, likes to hit the town with the girls of a night every now and then and I like to hit the river first thing every now and then and so we tend to take it in turns regarding the domestic arrangements. Of late I've typically been hitting the river for first light on weekends. This works well. She can have a bit of a lie in, and I can have a bit of a wake up. This weekend however we're off to Scotland and next weekend she's off to Paris - care of an old friend from her air-hostess days and so, as I'd be more than likely be up to my elbows in chocolate and cornflakes with a 7 year old, the river it seemed would have to wait.

Not so. My wonderful other half had a quick think and came up with a solution. Why didn't she do the school drop-off this morning, whilst I grabbed an hour at the river before work and see if that was do-able? Excellent idea. So by 6:40 I was parked at the black and yellow gate. Strange though today. There was another car parked there...da da da!!! Never had that happen before. Hmmmmm.  Turned out to be a wildfowler with a black lab. Nice chap. Chatted for quite a while by the river until the first wisps of snow appeared and I headed off to get on with my paperwork. Still, managed an hour no problems... and with the mornings getting earlier this could easily become a regular mid-week thing. Very cool! SO, below is a rough tally of what was on the (very quiet) river first thing today... 3 Cormorant, 1000+ Lapwing, 120 Curlew, 3 Redshank, 1 Common Sandpiper (calling from the Manchester Ship Canal behind me)...

...1 Woodcock (flying over the scrub along the path to the river), 29 Shelduck, 12 Mallard, 2 Gadwall, 30 Wigeon, 8 Greylag Goose, 3 Canada Goose, 1 Common Buzzard, 52 Carrion Crow.

Really, Mrs Beeton... REALLY?

Well as luck would have it, I managed to squeeze the proverbial lemon and collect an hours worth of patch juice after work. There was no time to hit the river and to be honest the tide was not good, so it was a toss up between the eastern end of the reserve for Bittern (can you ever get enough Bittern?), OR, the Snipe Fields for Woodcock. These fields are a bit of a winter haven, not only for Snipe but also for patch Woodcock. Moreover, as previous yompage through these soggy, shrubby fields by one fellow patcher had flushed a fair few, I thought it was about time I gave them my attention. So, I parked up on the lane alongside the first of the fields and nipped into the Forestry Commission plantings for a quick pee.

Woodcock #1

These scrubby FC patches are it seems ideal for Woodcock  as no sooner had I done the deed, the first bird was up and clattering away. Well THAT was easy! Though I must confess, when it flew off it didn't look in the least bit like scrambled eggs on toast with anchovies Mrs Beeton... Mind you... I guess it was a Scandinavian bird and not a Scotch one.

I guess I could have called it a day there and then, but I was curious to see how many Woodcock were about and I needed Common Snipe too for the year list... and so I proceeded to crunch and stumble and squelch around the margins of the first field (Woodcock often like the ditches here) putting up about 40 Teal at the bottom of the field. This bit of the field has changed over the past couple of years and now comprises reed-beds with channels and pools... a nice secret nook for the Teal and somewhere I think they may well decide to breed later in the year. The second field...

Woodcock #2

... yielded at first a single Common Snipe from the tractor tracks that you can still sometimes come across, amid the overgrowth, and then a second Woodcock from the scrub on the little 'island' that once graced the centre of a small overgrown with reeds. The third field...well the top end only, I didn't have time to do it all, gave up only a male Reed Bunting...and then... I was back on the track opposite Moss Side Farm. I'm certain there were far more Woodcock than the couple I found and would love to know just how many continental birds overwinter here. Needs a systematic survey next year I think. Great fields the Snipe Fields, and perfect habitat you'd have thought for an overwintering Great Grey Shrike.

Dreams of Great Grey Shrike...

I did find one on the patch a few years back near the Norton Marsh hide, but there's not been a sniff of one since. Today though, I carried on back towards the Blue Pearl and had a quick scan of the Triangle Field on the left, just as you leave Upper Moss Side. It's got a very wet pooly area with muddy margins now (diggers were working on the far end of it the other evening) and it looks great for passage sandpipers... IF the water stays... which it probably won't.

A Promising Triangle ?

Either way, there were no waders today... I half expected to see a Green Sandpiper bobbing along the edge of the mud... but nice nonetheless AND I still had a little time to check out the Eastern Reedbed for Bittern... until, that was, I happened to notice the huge gathering of gulls on Pumphouse Pool as I drove by. Cue hard left and a stop at the east hide. Lots of gulls... lots and lots of gulls... and good light. Nothing for it but to hunker down and work through them all. Now in my mind, I was really looking for a Med Gull among the Black-headed Gulls... but what I found instead was a totally unexpected juvenile Iceland Gull among the Herring  and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Thought I'd missed the white-wings this year... happy days!

It was almost 5pm and with my lemon juice perfectly rationed I still had a couple of patch sips left. Final stop... the Eastern Reedbed. The Bittern had flown from the island to the left margin about 20 minutes ago I was informed by a regular fellow Bittern watcher, so there was not much chance of it flying to its roosting corner in the few minutes I had left... ah well. There were 3 male Pochard out on the water and a Water Rail piped up... which was a nice end to the day. Well... not quite...

A mini adventure

The other day I'd been held up by the swing bridge. Today I was held up by the swing bridge again. It had opened minutes before I reached it and had then promptly refused to close, so there I was on the wrong side of the bridge... Stuck. What to do? Clearly the intended school run was now a problem. Thankfully though as the chap came out of his hut to say the fitters were on the way, the geo-environmental engineer rang me and was in Runcorn. She would do the school pick-up. Relief. Well, long story short... the fitters duly arrived about 15 minutes later via the track by the Eastern Reedbed to which I had returned in anticipation of their arrival. Why? Because they had to open the barriers to get in... and hence provided me... with a way out. Excellent. All's well that ends well.

Question is... should I risk a return visit BEFORE work in the morning?   Hmmmm, let me think...

Monday, February 11, 2013

Wanted: Waders...

Well you can kinda tell that I have the patch bit between my molars because I'm already starting to think about waders and the patch year has barely started. So much so in fact that I had a quick trawl through some of my old patch records. In one particular year (2010) I pretty much did a mini version of what I plan to do this year : stake out the river. As far as waders are concerned it reminded me just how exciting things could be... 18 SPECIES from this one little bend in the river !

April 20th - 11 Black-tailed Godwit, I Curlew, I Common Snipe, 2 Greenshank, 2 Redshank, 1 Oystercatcher

April 21st - 4 Common Sandpiper, 1 Greenshank, 1 Green Sandpiper, 2 Lapwing

April 22nd - 2 Avocet, 3 Common Sandpiper, 1 Green Sandpiper, 1 Greenshank, 1 Ringed Plover, 2 Redshank, 2 Oystercatcher, 4 Lapwing, 1 Curlew

April 25th - 4 Dunlin*, 1 Ringed Plover

April 26th - 1 Common Sandpiper, 1 Common Snipe, 1 Greenshank, 2 Redshank, 3 Dunlin*, 6 Lapwing, 4 Oystercatcher, 1 Ringed Plover, 2 Whimbrel

April 27th - 2 Common Sandpiper, 1 Greenshank, 1 Whimbrel

May 13th - 1 Ringed Plover

May 20th  - 1 Knot

May 21st - 2 Dunlin, 1 Sanderling

May 25th - 3 Ringed Plover reported from HWH.

July 1st - 8 Lapwing, 2 Oystercatcher

July 8th - 1 Green Sandpiper

July 12th - 3 Green Sandpiper

July 13th - 2 Common Sandpiper, 2 Green Sandpiper, 1 Curlew, 30 Lapwing, 2 Oystercatcher

July 14th - 1 Green Sandpiper

July 15th  - 4 Common Sandpiper, 1 Curlew, 4 Dunlin

July 16th - 5 Common Sandpiper, 4 Curlew, 29 Dunlin, 6 Ringed Plover, 1 Redshank, 220 Lapwing

July 17th - 2 Common Sandpiper, 2 Curlew, 2 Dunlin, 22 Lapwing, 1 Redshank, 1 Ringed Plover

July 19th - 5 Common Sandpiper, 1 Curlew, 474 Lapwing, 5 Oystercatcher, 1 Redshank

July 22nd - 1 Common Sandpiper, 119 Curlew, 825 Lapwing, 2 Oystercatcher

July 23rd - 52 Curlew, 965 Lapwing

August 1st - 10 Curlew, 1100+ Lapwing

August 2nd - 5 Curlew, 580 Lapwing, 1 Black-tailed Godwit, 1 Oystercatcher

August 4th - 1 Common Sandpiper, 3 Curlew, 1 Green Sandpiper, 874 Lapwing, 1 Redshank

August 5th - 3 Curlew, 1 Green Sandpiper, 1 Turnstone

August 6th - 1 Common Sandpiper

August 7th - 1 Common Snipe, 109 Curlew, 902 Lapwing

August 10th - 2 Common Sandpiper

August 12th - 1 Black-tailed Godwit

August 16th - 3 Greenshank

August 18th - 1 Green Sandpiper, 2 Lapwing

August 19th - 4 Green Sandpiper

August 20th - 5 Curlew, 4 Green Sandpiper, 1485 Lapwing

August 21st - 1 Black-tailed Godwit, 2 Common Sandpiper, 13 Dunlin, 1 Common Snipe, 2 Green Sandpiper, 939 Lapwing, 3 Redshank, 1 Ringed Plover

August 22nd  - 5 Black-tailed Godwit, 2 Common Sandpiper, 1 Greenshank, 96 Curlew, 1 Dunlin, 2 Green Sandpiper, 825 Lapwing, 3 Redshank, 12 Ringed Plover

August 26th - 1 Common Sandpiper, 1 Green Sandpiper, 11 Curlew, 1579 Lapwing

September 3rd - 170 Lapwing, 2 Curlew, 1 Ringed Plover, 2 Dunlin, 1 Green Sandpiper

September 12th - nc Lapwing, 29 Curlew

October 2nd - nc Lapwing30 Golen Plover, 1 Ruff

October 5th - 1298 Lapwing, 34 Golden Plover, 9 Curlew, 1 Ruff

October 6th - 1150 Lapwing, 16 Golden Plover, 1 Curlew

October 8th - c1200 Lapwing, 23 Golden Plover, 1 Curlew, 1 Redshank

I can hardly wait !!!

One Hundred and Forty...

140 is somewhat of a magic number for the patch... It's what ought to be get-able provided all the residents, winter and summer visitors are ticked, provided there's good passage movement (especially waders on the river) and provided there's a good sprinkling of local rarities. Quite the challenge though and one that I've yet to achieve. Closest I got to it was in 2010, when I managed 139.. one shy! This has got me thinking... how far off am I at the moment... or to put it another way, how closely does this year's tally so far, match the golden year of 2010? Here's how it compares: 2010 species (list as it appeared at the time) are shown in yellow; 2013 species I have so far and that I got in 2010 are in green and species I've got this year that I didn't get in 2010 are in pink.

BNGrebe, L Grebe, GC Grebe, Cormorant, G Heron, L Egret, M Swan, Greylag, Canada, Shelduck, Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler, Wigeon, Teal, Pochard, Tufty, Ruddy, M Harrier, Buzzard, R Kite, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine, G Partridge, Pheasant, W Rail, Moorhen, Coot, Oystercatcher, Avocet, LR Plover, R Plover, Lapwing, G Sandpiper, Co Sandpiper, Redshank, Greenshank, Blackwit, Curlew, Whimbrel, Snipe, J Snipe, Woodcock, BH Gull, C Gull, H Gull, LBB Gull, GBB Gull, Med Gull, Glaucous, YL Gull, C Tern, Feral Pigeon, S Dove, C Dove, Woodpigeon, Cuckoo, Barn Owl, Little Owl, SEO, Swift, Kingfisher, GS Woodpecker, LS Woodpecker, Skylark, S Martin, H Martin, Swallow, M Pipit, P Wagtail, G Wagtail, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Wheatear, Stonechat, Whinchat, S Thrush, M Thrush, Redwing, Fieldfare, Blackbird, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Whitethroat, L Whitethroat, Sedge, Reed, Gropper, Willow, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, G Tit, B Tit, C Tit, LT Tit, W Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Magpie, C Crow, Rook, Jackdaw, Raven, Jay, Starling, H Sparrow, T Sparrow, Chaffinch, Brambling, Linnet, L Redpoll, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Siskin, Bullfinch,Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting... Knot (121), Dunlin (122), Sanderling (123), Spotted Flycatcher (124), Green Woodpecker (125), Turnstone (126), Garganey (127), Common Redstart (128), Tree Pipit (129), Golden Plover (130), Ruff (131), Pink-footed Goose (132), Cetti's Warbler (133), Goldeneye (134), Tawny Owl (135), Firecrest (136), Water Pipit (137), Goosander (138), Iceland Gull (139)... Smew, Bittern, LEO, Brent Goose

So, what's my best guess for 2013. Black-necked Grebe would have been, up until last year, a guaranteed patch species... but not any more. Little Egret I'll get. Ruddy Duck probably not as they've pretty much been shot locally. Marsh Harrier... if I spend enough time on the river I should get a cream-crown moving through at some point. Peregrine plus the various sandpipers and plovers... yep, reckon so. Avocet, maybe. Blackwit, again if I spend enough time on the river. Snipe and Whimbrel, yes. Jack Snipe, no, not now. Woodcock, yep if I tramp the Snipe Fields soon! Med, Glaucous and Iceland Gull... probably the former, probably not the latter two. Cuckoo, yes. SEO...only if one's about now...and I've not come across one. Tawny Owl, yes. Little Owl... be very lucky. All the warblers bar Cetti's is a yes... though I may have to work for Lesser Whitethroat and Garden Warbler. Chats and Wheatear, yes. Martins, Swallow, Swift... yep. Tree Pipit, Spotted Flycatcher, Common Redstart, Firecrest and Water Pipit are not annual on the site, so probably not. Likewise Knot, Sanderling, Turnstone and Common Tern... but then again, with me staking out the river... maybe they WILL prove to be annual... but Garaganey is hit and miss. SO, I reckon 124 when I plug the gaps... add a sprinkling of this and that...and I'll sit somewhere between 125-130. That's my guess... would be happy with that. As for the river itself, I have no idea... I'd like to make the 100 species... but I think that's seriously pushing it!

Saturday, February 09, 2013

32 minutes...

Today after work I had precisely 32 minutes spare to spend on the patch. There was no time to hit the river... but, thought I, 32 minutes is 32 minutes. Only question was what to do with it. I parked up by the cross-paths near the Feeding Station and decided to walk a loop along the north path of Lapwing Lake, hang a right at Bob's Bridge and then head back to the Blue Pearl along the track through Upper Moss Side.

It was quite interesting. Bins 'n' ears only today; Blackbird, Bullfinch, Chaffinch, Coot, Carrion Crow, Dunnock, Goldcrest, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull, LBBG, GBBG, Grey Heron, Jackdaw, Jay, Magpie, Moorhen, Grey Partridge (calling from the Snipe Fields), Pheasant, Redwing, Robin,  Song Thrush, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Great Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Treecreeper, Water Rail (2 calling from the Phrag Field... a new location), Great Spotted Woodpecker, Wood Pigeon and Wren. A grand total of 32 species... one per minute... be interesting to see what the river gives up in its first 32 minutes tomorrow :o

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Nature's Barometer...

I decided to hit the patch after work today and true to my post of yesterday, I answered the call of the river. Now I knew this would be folly... but nonetheless the call was far too great to ignore and so I togged up and set off down the path alongside the Manchester Ship Canal. It was cool, bright, dry and deceptively still. It took me a little longer than usual to wind my way to the small patch of green opposite Fiddler's Ferry as today I had no walking boots with me..only my precious Converse Shearlings... and these, I was determined, would get neither wet nor muddy!

It was, I have to say a pleasant little stroll, but one that didn't prepare me for what would hit me as I rounded the prom... a veritable blast of environmental flatulence! I should have known from the pile of peanut shells and the two Malteser sized shiny spheres perched on top that I would not last long. Nature's barometer was bang on today... in the biting wind it was freezing. Even shifting position to afford a little shelter care of the small cluster of willows further along from my usual sitting spot was useless. It would be a short stop.

Now to be honest, windy days, present a number of problems... something I have touched on in previous posts, but today six issues sprung to mind.
  1. You lose 340 degrees of hearing. On still days...any sound...from any direction is up for grabs. Great help when you're trying to locate birds. Today though I had a window of about 20 degrees tearing at me from the north-east (I think... I'm never 100% sure if Fiddler's Ferry is due north of me from the river bank or not... NTS: must take a compass)... not good.
  2. Everything is in motion...the reeds...the bushes, trees, grass. There's little chance of picking something up moving against an already moving background.
  3. The wind makes your eyes water making focusing on stuff through the scope tricky. Hard to count dots on the mud at the best of times...but BLURRY dots?
  4. Anything in flight behaves like it's on drugs. It just gets whisked along on the wind, so any chance of using jizz to key in on a bird amid the swirling throng of other birds is a non-starter. 
  5. The wind chill makes my hands cease up, so trying to fine focus the scope becomes tricky and using high mag pointless as there's too much movement of the image to get it sharp. I can't use gloves... I need to be able to feel my optics (no, not a euphemism - literally so) when I'm trying to focus and so gloves are useless. I tried fingerless gloves once and they actually made my fingers colder. Hand stays warm and so you lose more heat through your exposed fingertips I find.
  6. Lighting a fag takes forever.
However, despite the challenging conditions I was determined to at least attempt to count what was about today. So here goes; 1321 Lapwing (took some serious counting, trust me), 90 Canada Goose, c1360 Black-headed Gull, 1000-2000 mixed Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Herring Gulls (about 50:50 split... though it was a less educated than usual guesstimate), 21 Shelduck, 1 Common Buzzard, 23 Mallard, 1 Cormorant, 10 Carrion Crow, 5 Grey Heron and a few Great Black-backed Gull and Common Gull. No sign of the Brent Goose today. Well that was that. Too cold to stay there any longer. I needed shelter. So, I decided I'd hit the east end of the reserve where at least there were hides and set about packing up. It was at this point that I discovered a 7th problem with the wind; stowing my folding camping chair in its bag.

The wind just kept whipping the bag this way and that until I hit on the brilliant idea to USE the wind to my advantage. By turning the opening of the bag into the wind, I effectively turned it into a windsock, and... with said bag now nicely inflated was able to slip the chair into it with no further problem. Job done and off I set back to the Blue Pearl picking up 3 Goldcrest, 1 Grey Wagtail and 34 Curlew on the way.

I was really only planning on hitting the Eastern Reedbed to finish off but as I headed up the road by the Car Park I thought I'd sneak a peak at Birchwood Pool, and if there were gulls, maybe stop for a bit to check for white-wings. Ne pas de sausage... but now the gull-seed was sown and so I found myself doing the same thing as I drove past Pumphouse Pool. Here there WERE a sprinkling of gulls, so I did a quick detour to the east hide to check the 50 or so Black-headed Gulls for Med...nothing. Coot numbers seem down (50) but the Little Grebe and Great Crested Grebe that were there the other day were still present along with 2 Mallard, 12 Tufted Duck, 1 male Pochard and a Moorhen. No Peregrine again on the viaduct.

The Eastern Reedbed was all quiet. Met a lad called Jonathan there today... commutes to the patch by public transport. Now that's dedication! Chewed the fat for a bit and he mentioned somebody had had Med Gull on Pumphouse earlier. Oh ffs ! NOW the gull seed was beginning to sprout too. I'd need to go BACK and check it again!!!  SO, quick count of the ERB... 10 Tufted Duck, 3 Pochard, 4 Gadwall, 3 Coot, 1 Moorhen... and I was off. Second bite of the Pumphouse cherry still didn't offer up a Med Gull though and so I decided to end the short post-work sesh at the east hide of Birchwood Pool... just in case.

No gulls, but lots there: 63 Shoveler, 56 Tufted Duck, 43 Coot, 6 Gadwall, 3 Mallard,  2 Little Grebe, 1 Great Crested Grebe, male Pochard, female Goldeneye, female Smew. Very nice.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

The Siren Call...

I have a dilemma... Tomorrow my plan is to hit the patch for an hour before work. This will necessitate a crack of dawn start...and herein lies my dilemma...and it seems, moreover, to be a recurring one - see 'Double 'O' - where exactly to go? I have various options.

IF I wish to get the pre-migrant ton then I should maximise the likelihood of the most new patch species per hour (see - 'Touch and go...') and so probably do Lapwing Lane and its environs for Goldcrest, Willow Tit, Little Egret (maybe coming off the Lapwing Lake roost), Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Tawny Owl (calling, maybe), Grey Wagtail (maybe at the little pool by the feeding station), and House / Tree Sparrow near the Car Park (they have been there in the past...).

IF I wish to end the year with the longest year list then I should maximise the likelihood of finding those species only around for a little longer...if they're around at all e.g. Woodcock and Jack Snipe (maybe in the Snipe Fields) or SEO and Merlin (maybe on Norton Marsh)... although I'd not have time to do both.

IF, however, I wish to enjoy some patch solitude and watch the sun come up I should simply go to my little bend in the river...and that, dear reader, is the 'problem'... because at the moment I hear the siren call of the river... every time I decide to visit the patch.... and that does not really fit into either of the above scenarios. What's more, I'm even getting an inkling to JUST do the river for the rest of the year and not bother with the rest of the patch! Strange. Maybe it's because Halfway House is so unpredictable... anything could turn up, whereas elsewhere there's a certain amount of predictability. It's relatively easy to 'search' the rest of the patch for 'target' species...but for some reason that doesn't appeal too much at the moment. The river is exciting BECAUSE of its unpredictability and it seems that THAT is what I get most out of patching. Wow, how cathartic blogging can be. I think what I really want at the moment is SPOT BIRDING... look on it as a kind of hardcore patch birding. I wonder how much you could see from just a single spot? Sure the list would be shorter than if I worked the WHOLE patch...but think of the joys of discovery that could await... documenting the seasonal comings and goings on that little bend in the river - magical!

Monday, February 04, 2013

Touch and go...

Well it's been a bit of an odd start to the birding year. On the one hand a good few winter specialities have shown up on the patch... Smew, Goldeneye, Bittern, Brambling... all of which I've managed to get... and Waxwing and winter gulls, that I've not. The Waxwing were apparently in Birch Wood near the east hide feeding on a few berries earlier in the year and I'd not started back on the patch at that time and so had no idea they had even been around until a couple of weeks ago. The Glaucous, Iceland and Mediterranean Gulls that other patchers managed to get, I seem to have missed as there's currently no sign of them on either Birchwood Pool or Pumphouse Pool and a lengthy scan of the Capped Tip the other day didn't produce any either. Even Richmond Bank appears to have suddenly gone quiet, according to tit-bits I've picked up. Odd, as white-wings usually  show for a while yet... to such an extent that Moore has become one of THE few places in the north-west more or less guaranteed to have them at this time of year.

On top of all that I'm still missing silly species... Goldcrest, Willow Tit, Linnet... Ringed Plover, Peregrine, Tawny Owl, Grey Partridge, House Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Grey Wagtail... there's not been a sniff of Pink-footed Goose... the Golden Plover have already buggered off so I missed them... there's not a Stonechat anywhere to be found and I've yet to put up a Common Snipe, let alone Jack Snipe... both of which seem to have entirely abandoned the usual reedy corner where in previous years they have been regularly present. Woodcock are about, but so far I haven't stumbled across any... and the usual Little Egret has yet to join the Cormorants in their roost tree on Lapwing Lake. There's no Green Sandpiper on either Millbrook Pool or the Black Fields, no Common Sandpiper on the Manchester Ship Canal... no Short-eared Owl or Merlin on Norton Goosander on the river... and no Little Owl anywhere... and as for the site speciality, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker... who knows?  It's maddening!

It's like I've hit speed bumps. Not much chance of getting up to the ton before the first migrants hit at this rate! However... but in patch terms are things REALLY that bad? Of those species mentioned above there's only really SEO, Goosander, Stonechat, Merlin, LSW, Woodcock, Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull and Jack Snipe that aren't really gettable at other times of year on the patch so I'll no doubt add the other dozen species at some point. Just goes to show though how high the pre-migrant ton bar really is! I'd pretty much need all but 3-4 of the species above to make it. Touch and go this year... touch and go!