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!