Wednesday, February 13, 2013

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...

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