Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Last Birding of the Month......Probably

What a cracking start to the day, bright blue skies, a light south westerly and feeling relatively warm in the bright sunshine. It felt like a great day to be out on the patch, and I had high hopes of an early Spring scarcity.

I had only just parked up when a female Merlin dashed over the hedgerow, always a nice way to start a bit of patch birding. The fields held 19 Curlew, a few Grey Partridge and plenty of Reed Bunting, Skylark and Linnet. A scan across the Mersey and Frodsham Score held the usual assortment of 10 Whooper Swan, 20+ Raven, and a big mumeration of 350+ Black Tailed Godwit.

The walk along the shore to Within Way produced a minimum of 9 Wheatear (7 male, 2 female), a single male White Wagtail, loads of singing Reed Buntings, 90+ Linnet and 3 cronking Ravens. The fields were full of Skylarks, and the edges held a couple of pairs of Grey Partridge. All of the "Blackbirds" remained as Blackbirds, but hopefully the checking will eventually result in a Ring Ouzel.

Reaching Within Way I almost trod on a Jack Snipe in the wet area at the point, it shot up briefly before ditching into the nearest reedbed. 3 Chiffchaff were in sub-song in the hedgerow at the bottom of Within Way, presumably fresh migrants. The Gadwall flock had reduced to 27, whilst a single Ringed Plover flew through. It was surprisingly quiet so I decided to head back to the car; broken cloud had drifted in and the winds had strengthened making it feel a lot colder. Despite constant scanning of the sky the only bird of note was an immature Peregrine. I bumped into Jenny Jones who I had a brief chat with, pointing her in the direction of the Wheatears and Chiffchaff.

Moving round to Carr Lane Pools I met Gail and Mark Gann who were already scanning the Pools, sadly it was fairly quiet and only produced 2 Ruff, 38 Black Tailed Godwit, 17 Redshank and very little else. Gail and Mark had headed off in search of Little Ringed Plover on Hale Marsh, which seem to have done a bunk for the time being. As I scanned the Marsh I picked up an immature male Merlin, which I was able to show to them both, going a little way towards compensation for a lack of Plovers. My poor picture below doesn't compare to the cracking pictures that they managed to get!

I spent the next hour and a half scanning for raptors from Town Lane, which although relatively productive failed to produce any hoped for scarcity. The highlight being a male Marsh Harrier that drifted high NW, whilst there were constant kettles of Buzzards (probably in the region of 30+ birds seen), 3+ Sparrowhawk, 2 Kestrel and a single Peregrine.

So that's March done with (probably!) leaving me on 135 species for the year, roll on April and the real push of migrants....and hopefully some real scarcities!

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Gull Trauma

Heavy rain hammering against the windows woke me this morning; but with the promise of brighter weather following on behind I thought I would head to the patch to see what Storm Katie had left behind. It was still cold, and the stiff South Westerly made it feel even colder.

Driving along Lighthouse Lane I could hear a couple of singing Chiffchaff singing from the gardens, presumably fresh in which raised my hopes. The dark clouds were still looking rather heavy as I parked up and walked down the track to the Lighthouse. Other than a few Grey Partridge, Skylark and Reed Buntings it was quiet. Scanning Frodsham Score I picked out 9 Whooper Swan, a few Pink Footed Geese and very little else. It was starting to drizzle when I picked up an interesting Gull quite close to me; I watched it for about 5 minutes before deciding that it might be a little "more" interesting and attempting a few shots, sadly it started to pelt it down with rain and I retreated to the cover of the bushes by the Lighthouse.

First impressions were of a mid-sized Gull (appearing smaller than a Herring), a striking white head, pale mantle (paler than a nearby Black Head), a paler iris (although not strikingly pale) and a pinky bill with a ring. My initial thoughts were of Ring Billed Gull or possible hybrid, but something didn't seem quite right. Was the mantle pale enough? Was the head to white (surely they should have retained some flecking)? After a bit of Twitter diagnosis, Pete Kinsella suggested the structure (big head and shortish primary projection) pointed towards a 3cy Herring Gull. You live and learn, and with Gulls I think you are always learning!

Walking along to Within Way was exceptionally quiet, with very few passerines and even less out on the Mersey. Reaching the end of Within Way I was surprised to find an impressive count of 43 Gadwall feeding on the short grass, easily my largest count on patch by quite some way. A rather lost looking Ringed Plover posed on the rocks at the end, but there was little else. Turning back towards the Lighthouse I picked up a few Wagtails that had just dropped in, followed by a few more and a few more. Suddenly the field was alive with about 40 Pied Wagtails (still no White's???) and 3 Wheatear.

The fields were suddenly alive with Reed Bunting, Linnets, Skylark, Pied Wagtail, whilst the corvids that had appeared held a few Raven. Nearly back at the car and a massive male Peregrine nearly took my head off before heading towards the Lighthouse and across Hale Shore.

Moving round to Carr Lane Pools it was great to see 4 Avocets feeding in the shallow pools, supported by 2 Little Ringed Plover, 5 Ruff and 57 Black Tailed Godwit. The sun by now was providing a bit more warmth and 12 Buzzards were thermaling over Great Boar Wood, with singles of both Sparrowhawk and Kestrel. A female Wheatear was feeding busily in the field in front of me, whilst a few Grey Wagtail flew over.

Hale Marsh was again rather slow with no waders on the pools, and hardly any passerines on show (other than the usual Meadow Pipit and Skylark). Scanning over the decoy though, and I picked up three hirundines, which turned out to be my first Swallows of the year.

A return multi-tasking visit to Pickerings Pasture later in the afternoon didn't provide much of interest, though another Swallow battled west against the wind, whilst a single Chiffchaff was singing halfway along the hawthorn river wall. So Spring is arriving in fits and starts, but it won't be long until the mad April rush. At least I shouldn't have too many Gull traumas for a few months now......back to Gulls revision for me over the Summer.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Easter Patching

Sunshine, torrential downpours, a strong south westerly and feeling cold again; what a difference a few days make!! The first visit to the patch today was meant to be a multi-tasking visit to Hale Park, but having stepped out of the car a torrential hail/rain storm put paid to that. Although a drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker and Nuthatch were still audible from the car park.

A brief stop along Carr Lane at the flooded fields and overlooking the Pools in the pre-downpour drizzle picked up a few Ruff, Black Tailed Godwit and Redshank. A few Teal and Shelduck were milling around with a single Little Egret, but with limited time I was unable to pick anything further up. The flooded field again held 3 pairs of Lapwing and a pair of Redshank.

A stop at Burnt Mill Farm produced at least 2 singing Corn Bunting which were being buffeted in the wind. A few Linnet and Goldfinch milled around at the edges of the paddocks, but there was sadly no sign of any Ring Ouzel yet; maybe a little early still. A Sparrowhawk struggled over, whilst a few Buzzard looked rather miserable; a complete opposite to the Friday's Spring like day.

A late evening return to the patch, and fortunately the rain had all but cleared, but it felt cold in the strengthening winds. A Buzzard sat on the fences at the edge of Pools had made everything decidedly edgy, and other than a couple of frisky Grey Partridge I couldn't pick much up from the Carr Lane side of the Pools. However the paddocks held 17 Meadow Pipit and 26 Pied Wagtail, but surprisingly not a single White Wagtail among them?! Surely there should be more moving through by now?

Moving around to the Town Lane side of the Pools was a lot more productive with 2 Little Ringed Plovers feeding in the far corner, 52 Black Tailed Godwit, 5 Ruff, 1 Ringed Plover, 12 Redshank and a single Snipe. A Greylag Goose had joined the Canada's on the Pools, a bit of a rarity on the Pools still. More Pied Wagtails were flooding in, but there were still no White's. I picked up 3 hirundines coming in from the South, which turned out to be my first Sand Martin's of the year.

Hale Marsh held a further 2 Little Ringed Plovers in the roadside pools, whilst a male Merlin shot through chasing a small passerine. The Cormorants are still nest building, and it will be interesting to see how many young a raised this year. 2015 was the first record of breeding on site (producing 18 young), and 2016 seems likely to beat that given the number of nests being built.

A quick scan of the Pools again produced no new waders, but a male Wheatear had appeared and gave some lovely views in the late evening sunshine. A Chiffchaff moved along the hedgerow by the Pools, whilst the Little Ringed Plovers had started to display. Spring is well and truly here, although maybe some slightly warmer weather would be nice!

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Patch Gulling - An Overview

So I started writing this post about a month ago.....but for some reason got distracted by proper birding!!

No birding for me today, but I thought it would be useful to write a post regarding Gulling on patch; especially in light of the recent White-Winger invasion and increase in birders turning up hoping to connect with them.

There are three distinct areas on the patch that I have concentrated my efforts on; Pickerings Pasture, Withins Way and Hale Lighthouse. Each site has it's own positives and negatives, and chances of finding or seeing decent Gulls are affected by a number of factors. I will attempt to discuss some of my findings below:

Arpley Tip

Probably the biggest factor that affects Gulling in the areas is Arpley Tip, which is open from Monday to Friday, and half day on Saturday (closing at 1.30pm). There is a direct correlation between Gull numbers on patch and the Tip being open and active. Arpley Tip is closed on a Sunday, and this clearly has an effect on Gull numbers and their associated behaviour. Any gatherings are normally smaller, and contain a lot less of the expected "big" Gulls, and the typical movement, and build-up of Gulls moving west along the Mersey pre-dusk does not occur until much later, quite often not until after sunset. It will be interesting to see what effect the closure of Arpley Tip in 2017 will make to the Gull numbers in this section of the Mersey.

Richmond Bank/Moore and the Lower Mersey

Interestingly it has become apparent (unsurprisingly) that many of the Gulls using the Mersey to roost have originated from Richmond Bank and Moore with the same 3rd winter Iceland Gull, leucistic Black Headed Gull and a partial leucistic Lesser Black Backed Gull being seen at both sites. It is likely that some of the other Gulls that have appeared on patch have also originated from these sites. It is a fair assumption that if birds are reported from further up the Mersey, then they will likely roost in the Upper Mersey off Hale at some point.

Tide Height

Other than Pickerings Pasture, where Gulls will often congregate throughout the day, tide height is a major factor in determining whether you will get good views of Gulls.


The wind strength and direction can play a major effect on the evening Gull movement. Light winds result in Gulls moving through at various heights and from all directions, which makes sifting through them very difficult. Strong winds push the Gulls lower and they will often stream through the narrows (the closest points between Hale and Frodsham) at a consistent eye-level; this provides the best chance of picking something out. Wind direction is generally best for viewing from Hale when it has some Southerly in it, as it pushes the Gulls closer to the Hale side. In general winds from the North push the Gulls to the Frodsham side of the Mersey.


Given that the best time for Gull movements is from about 2 hours before dusk (but with generally the biggest movements occurring between an hour before dusk), it is essential that you have bright conditions, but preferably not too sunny. Viewing east from Hale Lighthouse is generally best as you have a good field of view to scan from and have a good opportunity to identify Gulls before they head into the setting sun/poor light to the west. The lights from the industrial estate at Pickerings Pasture allows you a bit of "extra" time for Gulling, but will be very dependant on where the Gulls are roosting.


In conclusion if you intend to visit the Hale area for Gulls the ideal conditions are 2 hours pre-dusk, with mid-strength winds and high tide 3 hours prior to dusk.......oh, and avoid a Sunday!!

Friday, 25 March 2016

Spring has Sprung

Another stunning early Spring day with largely unbroken blue sky and warm sunshine, although the South Westerly winds still had a little bite to it. The signs looked promising for some early migrants, but after a number of failed attempts recently maybe my expectation levels weren't quite as high.

Starting at Burnt Mill Farm again I was rewarded with at least 3 singing Corn Bunting, along with a number of groups of Linnets. Raptors were again very much in evidence and a scan of the surrounding area produced at least 15 Buzzards, 3 Sparrowhawk and a Kestrel. The Buzzards and Sparrowhawk were clearly enjoying the sunshine, producing some stunning displays. I failed to locate the large mixed finch flock at Great Boar Wood, reported on the 22nd, but a small number of Goldfinch fed quietly in the treetops.

The flooded fields again held 6 Lapwing and 2 Little Grebe (which were very vocal again) but little else. Turning my attentions to Carr Lane Pools a quick scan revealed 2 Ruffs, 30+ Black Tailed Godwit and a Green Sandpiper, great to see some early passage waders already on the move. I moved around to view the Pools from Town Lane, with the sun making viewing rather difficult from Carr Lane.

The light was much better and allowed for a proper count of Black Tailed Godwit (48 - but no colour ringed birds) and to find a further couple of Ruff, taking todays total to 4. A couple of Little Egrets stalked the far edges of the Pools, but a thorough scan failed to reveal the hoped for migrants. Duck numbers are slowly dropping, but there are still 84 Teal, 7 Gadwall and loads of Shelduck.

The flooded fields between Carr Lane Pools and Hale Marsh held plenty of ducks, but nothing of great interest. Hale Marsh was full of Meadow Pipit and Skylark, and a couple of smart Little Egret in full breeding dress, but there was still no sign of any migrants. After a bit of scanning across the marsh I eventually picked out a Whimbrel, close enough to be a Spring migrant. Walking back to Carr Lane Pools I bumped into Chris Tynan, but other than a few more Sparrowhawk we failed to pick out anything further.

The walk down Within Way was fairly uneventful,with a single yelping Little Owl in the first copse and a few Buzzard overhead. Continual scanning of the ploughed fields failed to pick up any migrants, but reaching the end of Within Way I finally picked out two male Wheatears. This is a favoured spot for the Wheatears, and so it proved today, and finally my first "true" migrant of the year. I spent quite a while scanning Runcorn Hill and the hills behind Frodsham picking out a single Marsh Harrier, 20+ Buzzard, 2 Peregrine and 3 Sparrowhawk, but sadly nothing better.

A quick look back in at Carr Lane Pools found 5 freshly arrived Golden Plover in and an additional Ruff, although there was now no further sign of the Green Sandpiper. Spurred on by the new arrivals I decided to have another quick look at Hale Marsh, and sure enough there was a Little Ringed Plover fresh in, my second "proper" migrant of the day. It also serves as a reminder that at this time of year birds can drop in at any time and move on just as quickly.....hopefully if that mega arrives it'll stay longer!!

So three new year ticks, and I'm suddenly up to 133, miles ahead of this time last year. With April just around the corner, I can't wait for the full rush of summer migrants.


Sunday, 20 March 2016

Let's Go Fly a Kite

It felt a lot more Spring-like today with warm sunshine and plenty of blue sky, although the north-westerly still made it cold at times. With a small passage of Meadow Pipit and a couple of Buzzards over my house, all of the signs looked good for a visit to the patch.

Arriving at Burnt Mill Farm there were already a good number of Buzzard on the wing, many slow wing-beating and stooping. I spent a good half hour scanning for raptors and had a minimum count of 19 Buzzard, 3 Sparrowhawk, 4 Kestrel and a Peregrine. It really felt like a good day for an Osprey, but nothing materialised. A slightly funny "Corn Bunting" singing from the tall trees by the farm, had me scanning for a good while before I realised that it was a Starling mimicking! Certainly the first time that I have heard Starling mimicking Corn Bunting; sadly I didn't manage to pick up any "real" birds again.

The flooded fields on Carr Lane held a pair of Lapwing and 3 Redshank, which were scattered by a male Merlin dashing through. It perched up briefly before pursuing a female Merlin that was zooming around the back field; and a further female/immature bird was also found perched up in the trees. The Little Grebes were again making a racket from deeper cover, whilst the reeds were full of Reed Bunting. Great Boar Wood again held a Nuthatch, whilst at least two Great Spotted Woodpecker were drumming away.

Carr Lane Pools were quiet again, but held a single Little Egret, 11 Black tailed Godwit, 2 Snipe, and the usual selection of Teal and Shelduck. The mewing of Buzzards was constantly in the air, whilst I watched a Merlin (one of the Carr Lane birds?) hunting Snipe on the edge of Hale Marsh, the Merlin only failing to catch one after some particularly good manoeuvres by the Snipe. Hale Marsh was full of the sound of displaying Meadow Pipit and Skylark, but otherwise it was another Wheatear-less landscape. A further Peregrine and 9 Buzzard were soaring around, including the Rough-leg look-a-like which had gone missing for most of the winter.

Within Way produced some more Buzzards, and two yelping Little Owl from two different locations - promising some more breeding birds on patch this year fingers crossed. Ravens had joined the raptors on the thermals, having made the short journey across the river from Frodsham. The recently ploughed fields were being propagated, meaning any chance of a Wheatear was going to be remote, and the rest of the walk down to the end of Within Way was quiet.

The rocks at the end of Within Way held 37 Wigeon and 12 Gadwall, both quite high counts for this area of the patch. Waders were in short supply but Curlew, Black tailed Godwit, Redshank and Oystercatchers were evident. Walking along the shore to the Lighthouse failed to pick up anything more than a few Linnet, Reed Bunting, Skylarks and a single Rock Pipit. A female Marsh Harrier was scoped distantly over Frodsham, whilst Buzzards still seemed to be everywhere. A little disappointed I started to head back, but had one last look from the end of Within Way. Scanning Runcorn Hill I picked up a gull-like raptor, and as it banked I could see a clear fork - a Red Kite. It continued it's way east along Runcorn Hill, although trying to get a distant shot proved difficult (as proved below!) Although I have seen many already this year on the trains to London it was great to see one on the patch again.

The recently seeded fields on the way back up Within Way were suddenly alive with birds, with about 70+ Fieldfare, 400 Starling, 50 Stock Dove, Skylarks, Linnets and Greenfinch, all jostling for position among the corvids.

A brief stop at Carr Lane on the drive home failed to add anything further, but the Buzzards were still enjoying the thermals. So another day with no migrants, but Red Kite was my 130th bird on patch this year, so not all bad.