Wednesday, 5 April 2017

March Showers

I was keen to get one last patch visit in before the end of the month, and I was fairly hopeful of a good visit based on the forecast. Unfortunately the weather had other plans, and it was very much a case of sunshine and heavy showers. However at this time of year it is good to be out whatever, with the prospect of migrants starting to arrive.

Arriving at Burnt Mill Farm the light drizzle had turned into slightly more persistent rain. The paddocks were pretty much devoid of life, not especially surprising given the conditions. A few Meadow Pipits, Reed Bunting and Linnet were still moving around. I had a very brief look for the Lapland Bunting, but with fairly poor conditions I didn't spend too long.

Luckily by the time I had driven down Carr Lane the rain had relented and some signs of brightness were slowly starting to come through. The male Garganey was again showing well on the flooded fields, with Little Grebes, Mallard, Shoveler, Gadwall and Lapwing as supporting cast. Moving across the road I picked up my first Little Ringed Plover of the year on the edge of the Pools.

Water Pipit (c/o Mike Roberts)

The summer plumaged Water Pipit was again showing fairly well (although my pics were awful - fortunately Mike Roberts got some good pics the day before). A few hirundines were moving through as well with a group of 12+ Sand Martin, House Martin and Swallow over the back of the Pools. The pools held the usual suspects, but Black-tailed Godwits numbered about 90, a slight increase on recent numbers. Just as I was about to leave another group of c.20 Sand Martin suddenly arrived and starting feeding over the flooded fields, real "active" migration - one of the reasons why I love Spring.

Moving around to Town Lane the Pools didn't reveal much else, but the Ruff was again feeding in the far corner of the pools. 3 Greylag Geese (an increasingly scarce patch bird) had joined the Canada Geese which were spread across the Pools and Town Lane floods. Duck numbers are pretty much the same at present with a single male Wigeon, 46 Eurasian Teal, 24 Shoveler and a handful of Mallard and Gadwall.

Town Lane was fairly dire with Hale Marsh exceedingly quiet. However a rather tatty looking Kestrel gave some nice views, and a few Little Egret were stalking the outer marsh. After the initial optimism from Carr Lane, there seemed to be a real lack of migrants, and even the Meadow Pipit and Skylark numbers seemed to be down. A quick look over the Pools on my return to the car revealed the male Garganey had relocated again.

With the clouds finally starting to break I decided to walk Within Way, with the anticipation of doing the full Hale Head loop via the Lighthouse. However it was so appallingly slow that I rejected the idea, with the sum total of a good mooch around being 2 White Wagtail, 1 Wheatear, 5 Chiffchaff and 2 Sand Martin flying north. The return walk was enlivened slightly with a/the female Merlin dashing through. To make things worse the dark clouds then unleashed a massive downpour....thank god I had decided to leave my waterproofs on!!

With the rain easing again I decided to head to Hale Park (probably the first of many Spring visits) to have a look for any grounded migrants, although given that it was only the end of March I was not too hopeful. Needless to say there were next to no migrants, but it was nice to catch up with plenty of Treecreeper, Nuthatch, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Goldcrest. Scoping across to Frodsham Score and Ince Marshes I picked up a single Great White Egret, 2 Mute Swan and 9 Swan sp. (which through the haze looked likely to be Whooper). The dry weather didn't last long and with heavy rain starting again I decided to call it quits and head home.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

......and Relax!!

I managed a brief visit to the patch during Sunday afternoon, and was again rather surprised that nothing rarer had been reported despite plenty of people on patch. It was disappointing to hear that the people had been walking through the fields to try and find the Lapland Bunting, and it was not overly surprising to hear that it had only be seen briefly.

I again checked out the paddocks by Burnt Mill Farm, but was again left disappointed with no Wheatear present still. However there were good numbers of Linnet and Meadow Pipit present, and the oilseed fields at the back held singing Corn Bunting and Reed Bunting. It surely won't be too long until the first Wheatears are back......

Moving around the sharp bends I was surprised to find no birders at all. I picked up the Lapland Bunting quite quickly, whilst it was calling and flying around. However, unlike the last two days it didn't seem keen on settling - I'm not sure whether this was due to the Kestrel in attendance or the persistent flushing that it had received earlier in the day?! With limited available time and having had good views over the last couple of days I decided to leave it in peace and move down Carr Lane.

The flooded field held the usual Little Grebes, who were exceedingly vocal. A female Merlin was perched up in the hawthorns behind the floods and gave good scope views (but clearly not good photo opportunities!!). A single Water Pipit was feeding on the Carr Lane side of the road, but was rather mobile and didn't want to settle either. It all seemed rather quiet in comparison to the last couple of days.

Moving round to the gate on Town Lane I relocated the male Garganey, which was sadly feeding right at the back of the Pools. A good number of Black tailed Godwit were present, but were feeding in the deep water so no chance of colour ring reading on this occasion. A single Ruff was present in the back corner, whilst the single male Wigeon, 40+ Eurasian Teal and 24 Shoveler were again present.

I walked up to the bridge on Town Lane hoping that the first Little ringed Plover would be in by now, but sadly there was still no sign. A couple of Little Egret were feeding out on the Marsh, but otherwise it was very quiet. Meadow Pipit and Skylark were present in good numbers, but despite a thorough search I couldn't find much else of interest. With my available time running out I headed back to the car. A rather tame patch visit compared to the last couple of days, but then I shouldn't really complain given that it is still only March! 

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Evening Bash

I was tied up for most of the day, so only managed to get out for the last couple of hours of light. It was good to hear that so many people connected with Lapland Bunting during the day, although I was rather surprised that nothing else was found despite the number of eyes out and about. It was still a gorgeous evening, with light south-easterlies and warm sunshine.

Stopping at the horse paddocks at Burnt Mill Farm, I was rather disappointed that there were no Wheatear again. The paddocks were relatively quiet but held a small number of Meadow Pipit and Linnet. A couple of Reed Bunting could be heard singing from the fields at the back of the paddocks, and 4 Yellowhammer flew over heading towards Carr Lane again.

Moving around to the stubble field I was able to catch up with the Lapland Bunting again which was feeding in almost the same place as yesterday. Sadly the pictures aren't much better than usual, but you get the idea! A couple of Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting were calling from the hedges, but otherwise it seemed remarkably quiet.

Driving down to Carr Lane and parking up by the bridge, Great Boar Wood was again alive with the songs of Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Nuthatch. A single Water Pipit was showing remarkably well, and even if I couldn't fail to get some half decent shots. Scanning over towards the main pools I couldn't see any of the earlier Avocet, but there was a good selection of the expected species with Black tailed Godwit numbers clearly starting to increase.

The flooded field (aka the Ibis Pool) held at least 3 Little Grebe, and for once they were actually quiet showy. The water levels are just about right for this time of year, but there is a nice muddy edge developing (hopefully just in time for the wader passage!). A selection of Eurasian Teal, Mallard, Lapwing, Coot and Moorhen were the only other birds who were making the most of the Pools at the moment, fingers crossed for some goodies over the next few months.

Parking up at Curlender Way I wandered over to the gate on Town Lane. One Avocet remained on the main scrape (down from 3 earlier in the day), and a couple of Common Snipe were probing away at the back of the Pools. A female Merlin caused havoc as it flew in from the east and landed all too briefly on one of the posts at the back of the Pools...sadly just too quick for me to get a decent pic. Interestingly it appeared to be quite a dark bird, and may in fact be a different to the other lingering bird.

Walking along Town Lane towards Hale Marsh failed to relocate the Cattle Egret but there were a couple of smart looking Little Egret feeding out on the marsh. The flooded section held 24 Shoveler, and the usual selection of other ducks. It seemed a world away from yesterdays visit, with the Marsh seemingly very quiet. It was broken by a surprise Spotted Redshank that came off Carr Lane, calling over my head and out onto Hale Marsh. I'm not entirely sure how I had missed it when I was scanning the Pools?! I bumped into Mike Roberts and had a quick chat before he headed off to Within Way and I decided to head back to Carr Lane for last light.

Returning to Carr Lane and parking by the bridge I quickly relocated the male Garganey at the back of the Ibis Pool. It felt good to be out at last light again, and it felt that little bit more atmospheric with screeching Water Rail, a Tawny Owl hooting and plenty of whinnying from the Little Grebes. Although I waited until near darkness there was no sign of the early winter Barn Owls, but after a long dark winter it was nice to finally have a milder evening to enjoy.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Lapping It Up - Cattle Style

I received a twitter message from Luke Ozsanlav-Harris after my visit on Thursday to say that he had found a Lapland Bunting near Burnt Mill Farm. Needless to say I was keen to get out after work to have a look around to see whether it had stayed put. The weather was more late-Spring than early, with bright blue skies, WARM sunshine and only a light breeze.

Parking up on the sharp bend past Burnt Mill Farm, I could hear a number of Meadow Pipit, Reed Bunting and Yellowhammers, and a single Corn Bunting jangling away. Seconds later I could hear the distinctive "prrrt" of a Lapland Bunting, and quickly picked it up in flight. It landed close to the hedge opposite the farm, so I made my way round to the public footpath. Amazingly I picked it up on the deck, and although the heat haze was fairly bad I got some good pics and video (sadly I have managed to delete everything other than those that I posted on Twitter somehow!!?!?! - Grrrrrr!). I enjoyed prolonged views of what is only my second record on the patch, and got a few other local birders onto it before I headed off towards Carr Lane.

Great Boar Wood was again alive with singing Chiffchaff and Blackcap, and it surely won't be too long now before they are joined by some of the other regular migrants. The flooded field was fairly dead, but 2 Little Grebe were whinnying from their hiding place. Common Buzzard seemed to be absolutely everywhere, whilst Kestrel and Sparrowhawk were on the wing. The male Garganey had moved out onto the main Pools whilst a single Water Pipit was again showing well in the wet horse paddock.

I again moved round to Town Lane where the single Ruff was feeding in pretty much the same location. Duck numbers are pretty static at the moment with 24 Shoveler, 29 Eurasian Teal, 2 Gadwall and a single Wigeon. Walking along Town Lane I could see a white dot sat at the top of the trees, which I expected to be a Little Egret. I was amazed when it turned out to be a Cattle Egret, a patch lifer and patch first! Although their rarity status has been somewhat devalued, and it was an "expected" addition to the patch list it was still a bit of a rush!

Cattle Egret (pics c/o Mike Roberts)

I was joined by Mike Roberts and Paul Lees on the bridge, but within seconds of Mike setting up his camera the Cattle Egret took off to the east! Fortunately it pitched down in the horse fields, and Mike was able to get some distant shots of the bird feeding. Sadly the patch stalwarts Rob, Carol and Iggy were all away in different parts of the UK, so it is frustrating that despite the bird going to roost in the decoy it has not been relocated since.

Hale Marsh was fairly productive with a single Swallow flying through east. A couple of Little Egret were feeding in the longer grassy areas. A female Merlin was zooming about at the back of the marsh, whilst a Peregrine towered over before heading off towards Frodsham. With my available time running out I headed back to Burnt Mill Farm briefly, where a couple of local birders were having no luck in relocating the Lapland Bunting

After a couple of very poor months, it is great to see the patch finally returning to form. Cattle Egret also took my patch life list to 201, not bad for a quiet little corner in the north-west!!