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!! 

Patch Mojo

Most of my recent birding has been away from the patch, but with a day off and some half decent weather forecast I decided to get back out onto patch to look for migrants. The weather was very spring like indeed with bright sunshine and blue skies, although the coolish north-easterly reminded me it was still March.

Starting at Burnt Mill Farm I was a little disappointed to find no Wheatear on the main paddocks, but a few Common Buzzard and Kestrel were keeping the local Meadow Pipits and Linnets on their toes. Moving around I checked the fields around Burnt Mill Farm and was pleased to find some fairly decent numbers of Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer, along with good numbers of Meadow Pipit and Linnet again.

Driving down Carr Lane I could hear Chiffchaff and Blackcap singing from Great Boar Wood. Parking up on the bridge I could hear plenty of woodland species in full song including Nuthatch and Treecreeper, whilst various tits and finches were clearly making the most of the spring-like weather. I had a little off-road explore and was pleased to find a very smart male Garganey at the back of the flooded field, sharing the area with 3 Little Grebe, Gadwall, Mallard and the usual Coot and Moorhen.

Moving across the road I immediately picked up 5 Water Pipit feeding very close to the road. 2 of the group were already well advanced into summer plumage and I enjoyed watching them for a while. The pools looked relatively quiet with a handful of Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank and the expected assortment of ducks. A female Marsh Harrier swept through the back of Carr Lane Pools before heading off and out onto Hale Marsh and away.

Moving around to Town Lane the Pools held pretty much the same that I could see from Carr Lane, but a Ruff was mooching around in one of the secluded corners, whilst a pair of Gadwall were also present amongst the expected Eurasian Teal, Mallard and Shoveler. Wandering along towards the bridge I heard a loud Thrush "tuking" overhead, looking up I was greeted by a male Ring Ouzel. The rest of Hale Marsh was relatively quiet other than 2 Little Egret.

I decided to have a look along Within Way, hopeful that my run of Spring migrants would continue. The Little Owl was again showing well, and a female Merlin was briefly perched up on a distant bush, but otherwise it was a quiet and rather blustery stroll. Scanning across Hale Marsh there were 5 Golden Plover, 2 Turnstone and a single Dunlin among the Redshank and Lapwing.

Strangely Gadwall is one of the first signs of Spring on the patch, and the pre-breeding flock was already starting to build on Hale Marsh with at least 57 birds, whilst a further 12 were out on the Mersey. A small group of 14 Wigeon still remained, and it will be interesting to see how long they remain before heading north. Scanning the grassy area at the bottom of Within Way I was pleased to finally pick up my first patch Wheatear of the year, whilst out on the Mersey 3 Avocet were feeding in the gutter which runs off from the Weaver outflow. By now the wind had really picked up and I had to head home, however the return walk produced probably the best patch bird of the day.....

.....searching through the corvids I stumbled upon 3 Rook! They are a remarkably rare bird to see "on patch", and with no local Rookeries, most birds are singletons during autumn migration. Returning via Carr Lane I had another brief look at the Water Pipits and Garganey, before heading home. So a pretty good return to form for the patch and it finally felt as though I was getting my patch mojo back......thank God for Spring!! 

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Exploring the Cheshire Badlands

With a day off work I was keen to get out birding again, but I really am struggling to get back onto the patch at the moment. So with a decent forecast, which for once was pretty much spot on I decided to have a bit of a wander around Cheshire. March is a great month to find displaying resident species, and with that in mind I decided to head off into deepest, darkest east Cheshire.

Reaching the site at just before 9am I was delighted to see and hear all three Woodpecker species within minutes of arriving. The whole area was buzzing with Treecreeper, Nuthatch and the other expected woodland species. Up to 5 Mandarin were also in the area, always nice to see and hear. Great Spotted Woodpecker seemed to be everywhere, whilst Green Woodpecker were constantly laughing away in the background. But the star birds were the pair of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker that performed brilliantly.

At least 2 birds were in the area, with possibly another present. It was great to finally catch up with them again, having not seen one since I moved back to the North-West. Not wanting to disturb them, I left them in peace and returned to the car with a rather large Cheshire Cat Smile.

I decided to head to Newchurch Common to catch up with the Red Crested Pochard that had been present for ages. However I wasn't entirely sure where I was going, but after a few non-starters I eventually found the area, parking up and walking along the track to view the lakes. The whole area was alive with the calls of Chiffchaff and a couple of Blackcap, and the weather certainly made it feel like Spring.

I eventually picked up the Red Crested Pochard in the west bay. The lake also held 2 Wigeon and stacks of Tufted Duck. There were also good numbers of gulls present, and on closer examination I managed to pick out 4 adult Mediterranean Gulls, one of which was very vocal and displaying. Continuing to scan the lake I was surprised to pick up the female Smew hiding under the overhanging willows on the east side of the lake. I'm not aware of any reports recently, so maybe it has been hiding elsewhere in the mean time?

I decided to head to Kelsall where there had been a flock of c.150 Waxwing earlier in the day. However despite my best attempts I was unable to locate them, with no sight nor sound of the flock. However the orchards still held good numbers of Fieldfare, Redwing and Blackbirds. The air was full of raptors with loads of Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel. But with no sign of the Waxwing I decided to head on towards Gowy Tip.

Reaching Gowy Tip I was disappointed to find that the Gulls were all wheeling around the site, and not settling. I spent a while grilling the masses of gulls over the tip and eventually picked out a juvenile Glaucous Gull and a juvenile (1st or 2nd winter) Iceland Gull. However throughout my stay the birds didn't land for longer than a few seconds, and the "wash" pools were looking decidedly dry. With many gulls drifting off towards the Mersey I decided to call it quits.

I had a brief stop at Moore, but annoyingly had managed to kill my phone storage with photos from earlier! A Green Woodpecker was calling away, whilst there were again good numbers of Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker. A look at the feeding station was productive with at least 2 Willow Tit calling and feeding in the area, whilst the feeders still held plenty of the expected species. I had planned to stop via the patch on the return home, but other than a quick scan from Town Lane I decided to head home and put my feet up.

North Wales Birding

Despite only being a stones throw away from North Wales, I have done next to no real birding in the area since I returned to the north-west. With patch birding being slow (a huge understatement) and the temptation of seeing a number of scarce breeders I thought I would give it a go. I managed to talk Iggy into taking a break from the patch and together we headed into Wales at some ungodly hour.

Arriving at Worlds End at just before sunrise, we slowly drove along patiently awaiting the arrival of the Black Grouse. A couple of calling Red Grouse, Stonechat, Meadow Pipit and a brief Merlin put in a showing, but strangely there was no sign of any Black Grouse?! Retracing the road we finally managed to pick up a very distant lek of c.15 birds....but to say they were distant would be kind! Thankfully we could hear some more birds calling, so carried on a little further until......

The lek must have decided to have a sleep in, as 21 males were sat right by the road. Using the car as a hide we managed to balance scopes and optics through the windows and get some great views. Sadly there were no females on show, but a female Mallard that decided to walk through the lek drew some admiring glances...... Having had our fill of the Grouse we headed back towards civilisation, taking in a much better view of a male Merlin and a few Red Grouse on the way.

We headed towards Clocaenog and along one of the minor roads had some great views of Common Crossbill and Siskin. Both were very much in evidence across the whole of the forest. Pulling over to let a car pass, Iggys car unfortunately dropped into a newly created "gutter" of water and mud. After c.30 minutes and realising that we were well and truly dug in, we managed to find a kind farmer to extract us! Why I forgot to take any pics I will never know!!

A number of stops around the area failed to yield any Goshawk, and the lack of phone reception didn't help in trying to locate the Great Grey Shrike. On the plus side we jammed in on a singing Firecrest, along with the more expected woodland birds including plenty more Common Crossbill and Siskin. A distant raptor certainly looked good, but having stupidly walked down the hill without a scope I wasn't to firm up any ID (note to self - don't walk anywhere without a scope!!).

Driving up towards Llanbedr y Chenin we had a number of stops, and eventually found a smart Dipper along one of the many good looking rivers. Red Kites were very much in evidence with at least 5 birds, and a female Goosander flew over the car. Despite Google Maps attempting to take us to random locations we finally made it to Llanbedr y Chenin in good time (despite the numerous river stops).

Within seconds of arriving we were watching a couple of Hawfinch at the tops of the trees. However getting decent views was a different matter, with the birds very mobile and deciding to sit just the wrong side of branches! There was a minimum of 9 birds, but an accurate count was difficult given how mobile the flock was. We also distantly scoped a group of 5 Goosander and had another 4-5 Red Kite circling around above our heads.

A "posh" toilet stop for Iggy at Conwy RSPB allowed me to pick up a couple of Chiffchaff  in the car park, whilst an adult Mediterranean Gull flew over calling. By now the drizzle was becoming quite heavy, but undeterred we pushed onwards to Llandudno and the Great Orme. After navigating our way to the Mines, we were slightly miffed to find that the clouds were exceedingly low, reducing visibility to near zero.

A drive around and a scan from the Church resulted in a few Red Throated Diver, Shag, Cormorant, Guillemot, Razorbill. A stop by the cafĂ© along Marine Drive produced my first 2 Wheatear of the year, but the cold wind definitely didn't make it feel much like Spring! Jackdaws were very much in evidence, but we just couldn't locate any Chough. We decided to carry on and have a mooch around the Limestone Pavement.

A wander around the rather windswept top produced very little other than 8-9 Stonechat and plenty of Meadow Pipit. But finally the sounds of Chough filled the air, but sadly views of a pair flying away were far from what was hoped for. The early start was starting to catch up with us both, so we decided to call it a (rather successful) day and head home. The drive home was uneventful, but we picked up the 21 Whooper Swan on the M56 at Frodsham (opposite Helsby Hill). I'll definitely be heading back to North Wales again soon, if nothing else to catch up with the Pied Flycatchers!