Last night I must confess, I had a slight wobbly. Thing was, I really wanted to hit the patch for first light today but I was knacked and it felt wrong somehow to go to bed early...just so that I could get up early come morning. On top of that, I couldn't decide where to go if I did get up. Well, long story short, the geo-environmental engineer gave me my second wind and persuaded me to stick to my plan. We'd watch some Dark Matters, hit the sack, she'd have a lie in and I'd set the alarm and hit the river before sun up.
So, by 6:45am Sunday morning I was parked up on Lapwing Lane by the gate near the Feeding Station, window down. I was hoping to maybe pick up a Tawny Owl calling, but there were just Carrion Crow and Jackdaw making their presence known. Fair enough. Full beam on and I was trundling along the pot-holed path to my usual parking spot by the black and yellow gate. It was drizzling.
Now in pagan circles a Brown Hare is seen as somewhat of a good omen and so I guess I should have anticipated something special might show up today as one lolloped ahead of the car for a minute before hopping onto the grass verge and watching me drive slowly by. Hmmm...car.
Though still dark, there was enough light on the yomp to the river to avoid the deepest puddles and it was calm enough to pick up a distant Song Thrush and Robin kicking off the dawn choruslet.... and by just gone 7am, I was setting up at the river.
The Lights on Fiddler's Ferry
I could hear Lapwing out on the mud and just make out their silhouettes strung out along the waters edge. Another Song Thrush was singing on the far side of the river, a Carrion Crow called overhead and a female Mallard 'quacked' momentarily in the half-light. I'd not long poured my first cup of coffee when the Brown Hare portent paid off - Barn Owl!
I picked the bird up slightly to my right following a diagonal track across the channel that separated me from the mud-bank and Lapwing. It veered slightly when it saw me and followed the final part of the rise on to Norton Marsh before disappearing from view...seemingly heading for the fields. Totally unexpected and bloody marvellous. It was to get better! No sooner had I scribbled it down in my notebook when a second owl drifted low over the reeds right in front of me. But this one was even better - Long-eared Owl!
I was gobsmacked. It followed the bank to the right of me before flipping up over the nearby trees and heading off towards Owen's Wood. My guess is that it came from Wigg Island and was following the shoreline. Two great patch ticks - two owls in one minute! How ironic... especially as I've still not had Tawny Owl...usually the most likely owl on the patch. You see, this is why I love patch birding. You never know what's going to turn up.
07:24 and I'm enjoying the moment. Redshank pipes up and there's enough light now to count the Lapwing... 232. Trouble is, my lighter has packed in! Aha! I have the geo-environmental engineers rucky...she usually packs for all eventualities. I rummage: 1 measuring tape (with what looks like a studded dogs collar and lead attached?), 1 notebook, 1 contaminated soil sample, 1 torch, 1 screwdriver set, another tape measure, 1 box of 'ladies things', 1 trowel, assorted pens, half a bar of Galaxy, various make-up items...and... lighter! Sorted. I light up and pour another coffee.
Scanning right I catch a group of 19 Carrion Crows taking flight from the mud, leaving another 27 behind. Presumably they roosted there for the night. Further out there are 111 Curlew, 9 Mallard, 3 Canada Geese and 2 Shelduck. A Cormorant flies over followed minutes later by a two Common Buzzards in quick succession. Blue Tit and Wren are calling in the bushes behind me as a huge boat ghosts past on the Manchester Ship Canal.
07:48 I can make out the head and necks of 87 Canada Geese and 4 Greylags on the near end of Norton Marsh...but I can't see the Brent Goose. Out on the river 45 Wigeon are swimming about with a sprinkling of Mallard. Nearby on the mud are 340 Lapwing, 1 Redshank and 1 Oystercatcher. In front of me the Lapwing flock has swelled to 376, making a grand total of 716 today.
08:02 Curlew calling... and 14 are in flight heading it looks like to the stubble field by Moss Side Farm where I'd seen a small group feeding the other day. Quick check of the mud on the corner by Wigg Island yields 34 Canada Geese and a few Shelduck. Things have gone a little quiet and so I decide to count the gulls; 400 Black-headed Gulls, 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull, 12 Herring Gull and 2 Common Gull.
08:14 The Curlew flock are now down to 62 on the mud...didn't see the rest slope away... and the Brent Goose has finally made a reappearance...it's preening on its own on the waters edge in the same place I'd seen it before. Get a text from Den and Mal to say 'Lucky Git' (a reference to the owls) and that they're on their way to the Norton Marsh hide. I decide to head off and catch up with them.
Well, I see nothing en route and am chatting to Mully bout the owls when the two veteran patchers arrive. We chew the fat for a bit as the drizzle starts to get heavier and Den spots a Raven being mobbed by crows. Year tick for me that. But alas, n'owt else about and so I decide to abandon the planned yomp around the Snipe Fields for Woodcock and head home via the Feeding Station picking up 8 Yellowhammer (yes Mal, I did SEE them all too lol), 3 Greenfinch and 2 Chaffinch in the bushes of Long Field (still no House or Tree Sparrows - apparently the Forestry Commission are no longer stumping up for seed) and an overflying Meadow Pipit. Get 3 Mistle Thrush over the track on my way to Lapwing Lane... but no hoped for Willow Tit or Goldcrest at or near the Feeding Station.
Never mind! Cracking couple hours and a few more to add to the year list ;)