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.