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.

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