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!

Sunday, February 03, 2013

An articulated, mechanical wing Sir...

Well, the geo-environmental engineer and I's respective 'CreativeProjects' are under way. I am under instruction to purchase a dead duck so that she can dis-articulate the skeleton, get the hang of which bones go where and then RE-articulate it with pieces of wire as a first dry run of her Dodo skeleton construction.

I meanwhile, have modelled, in card, an articulated, mechanical wing mechanism... and it works a treat. Next stage is to build the other wing, work on the opening and closing mechanism and then scale it all up in mahogany, brass and canvas. Bloody marvellous!

Double 'O' ...

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.

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'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 ;)