Thursday, 29 December 2016

Our Time Is Running Out

With time running out in 2016, I managed to get out for a few hours pre-dusk patch birding. It was a lovely clear and bright afternoon, but it remained rather cold, even more so as the sun set. Fortunately the strong winds of Storm Connor had now passed, and it was a calm afternoon on patch.

With limited time before dusk I headed to Pickerings, via a slow drive around Halebank in another last ditch failed attempt for Waxwing. The waders were showing well off Pickerings with c.300 Golden Plover, c.100 Dunlin and c. 500 Lapwing. Despite some good gull numbers there was nothing of note in a brief scan. One of the Peregrines was sat up on the Runcorn Bridge, and a scan along the rubble banks of the Mersey revealed 2 Common Sandpiper.

One last scan before I headed off produced a surprise redhead Goosander, heading east under the Runcorn Bridge. This is only my 3rd record of the year (involving 4 birds), so a nice little bonus. Walking back along the hedgerow towards my car I found a nice group of 9 Bullfinch feeding on the "wrong" side of the hedge, I managed a few poor shots of one of the birds, but the majority were obscured by branches.

After yet another drive around Hale village looking for Waxwing I parked up at Curlender Way and had a brief look from the gate at Carr Lane Pools and walked up to the start of Hale Marsh. A brief view of a Water Pipit, and a single Merlin dashing through towards Carr Lane were the only real birds of note. But the Marsh did also hold a couple of Little Egret, and the Pools held a decent number of Eurasian Teal and a single Wigeon.

I headed round to Carr Lane to see what came in at dusk. Ramsbrook was productive with a Kingfisher, 2 Grey Wagtail and a single Chiffchaff in with a Tit flock that headed off into Great Boar Wood. 2 Little Egret fed along the channel, whilst at least 5 Water Rail started to call from a number of different locations. A Merlin was chasing Meadow Pipits in near darkness, when I picked up an asio Owl hunting at the back of the flooded field. After a little off-roading I managed to get half decent views of a Short-eared Owl as it fed at the back of the pools. As the light continued to fade 2 Woodcock flew out of Great Boar Wood and appeared to land on the edges of Carr Lane Pools. The final bird to put in a showing was one of the local Barn Owls that fed along the rough scrubby area at the back of Ramsbrook. All in all a very enjoyable, but very cold dusk session, but some great birds to get 2017 up and running (hopefully!). 

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Carry On Patching - post Storm Barbara (Windsor)

With all of the Christmas preparations already done and dusted I was able to get a bit of multi-tasking patching and then proper birding done on Christmas Eve. Storm Barbara came and went, and to be honest in the North-West we seem to have avoided most of it, other than a few hefty showers and moderate windy conditions. It was a cold, grey day and the wind was still fairly strong.

Hale Park held the usual Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Mistle Thrush and a few winter thrushes, which were all apparent despite having the distraction of flying a kite! The biggest surprise came in the shape of four noisy Ring-necked Parakeet that flew in from the Airport direction and headed off towards Church Lane. Only my 3rd ever patch record (after one earlier this year and one in May 2015), and the largest number seen on patch.

I headed off to have a look across patch on my own, starting at the bridge on Town Lane. It was eerily quiet with next to no birds on either the flooded field or Hale Marsh. A Common Buzzard sat on the middle fenceline, and a single Stonechat were the only birds of note. Presumably something had flushed everything from the flooded field as it is possibly the quietest I have ever seen it.

I headed round to Pickerings, driving very slowly through Halebank to make sure there were no Waxwings hiding in the roadside bushes - sadly drawing a blank again. The tide was relatively low, but at least this meant that there were good numbers of Golden Plover and Lapwing sat out on the mudflats again. A few Dunlin and a single Knot hid amongst the flocks, but sadly I couldn't dig out anything better.

The walk along to Ditton Brook was relatively quiet, whilst the Brook itself was quiet aside for a single Common Chiffchaff (sadly no sign of the interesting Chiffchaff from the other day) and c.50 Eurasian Teal. With gull numbers starting to pick up on the river I spent the next hour scouring through the c.2000 gulls roosting out on the Mersey. I eventually managed to dig out 3 Yellow-legged Gulls (an adult and 2 x 1st winter), and a single 1st winter Mediterranean Gull. Also of interest was a group of gulls that bombed a Black-headed Gull out of the sky, before destroying it after it eventually gave up it's struggle in the mud (vicious!!).

The walk back to the car was marginally more interesting with a single Great-crested Grebe feeding close into the shore and 3 Common Sandpiper feeding along the rubble (surprisingly difficult to pick up from the main footpath). A couple of Bullfinch flew over, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker was in with a small Tit flock that moved east along the main footpath.

A brief stop at the bridge on Town Lane revealed 2 flighty Water Pipit again, but it was still quiet with next to no ducks on either side of the road. 2 Little Egret were about as good as it got on Hale Marsh! With light starting to fade I headed round to Carr Lane for a dusk vigil. The local gamekeepers were filling the Pheasant traps on the flooded (Ibis) field, but this actually helped me to achieve my largest ever patch count of Common Snipe (55), which were flushed from the area.

As dusk fell the Cetti's Warbler started to call from along Ramsbrook, whilst a couple of Water Rail were squealing away from the flooded field. A Merlin went dashing through heading towards Hale Marsh and just as the light went the Barn Owl emerged again and fed along the cleared ditch by the bridge. As the temperature dropped away I made a quick getaway to get some nice warming mulled wine down my neck.

Merry Christmas everyone!!

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Pre-Bab's Birding

With the impending arrival of the terrifyingly named Storm Barbara (seriously!!), I managed to get a few hours out on patch this morning. Another lovely winters day with bright sunshine and plenty of blue sky. The wind had already started to pick up, and although it was from a south-westerly direction it still made it feel a little chilly.

Although the recent weeks have held some good patch birds, it is now starting to feel a little "samey". Carr Lane held the expected Cetti's Warbler and Water Rail, whilst a little kick around at the back produced c.150 Eurasian Teal and a single female Pintail. A 1st winter male Stonechat was feeding along the hedgerow, but a Merlin scooting through quickly made it seek cover.

A single Water Pipit was feeding along the edge of Carr Lane Pools close to the old bath. The Pools held the expected numbers of Eurasian Teal, Redshank and Lapwing, but little else of interest. A Sparrowhawk flew through scattering everything, and revealed a number of Pipits, the majority appearing to be Meadow Pipit, but contained at least 1 Water Pipit

Moving round to the bridge on Town Lane, the Sparrowhawk was sat on the central fenceline which was causing chaos amongst the birds on the pools and flooded field. A single male Stonechat ventured out to sit on the same fenceline, not sure whether it was brave or stupid?! A flock of 68 Pink Footed Geese flew SW over, heading towards Garston. Hale Marsh was very quiet other than a couple of Little Egret, and the Peregrine scoped distantly on the blue-topped chimney.

After an unsuccessful drive through Halewood checking for Waxwing, I headed towards Pickerings Pasture. The low tide resulted in the waders being very spread out, other than a flock of c.700 Golden Plover and c.600 Lapwing. There were small numbers of gulls, but a decent scan through failed to pick anything decent out; hopefully the New Year will bring another influx of white-wingers.

Ditton Brook held c.50 Eurasian Teal and a single Common Sandpiper, but very little else until I picked up a Chiffchaff low down in the scrub on the east side of the brook. Scanning further I picked up a second "Chiffchaff" which had a very milky-tea coloured appearance to it, with clean white underparts. Sadly it remained silent and I wasn't able to get much else on it before it worked further up the side of the brook and disappeared around the corner. Certainly a good looking tristis candidate, so hopefully it'll reappear and give some calls.

Walking back to the car I was pleased to see that the waders were being pushed in ahead of the incoming tide. The Golden Plover flock had swelled to c.1200, whilst there were at least c.4000 Dunlin. Despite a thorough grilling I failed to find anything else, although the bright winter sun was reflecting off the mud making viewing difficult. A couple of Bullfinch and a small tit flock kept me entertained as I returned to the car.

I stopped at the gate on Town Lane to have a catch up with Rob Cockbain. 2 Stonechat (male and female) were feeding along the fenceline, and a Common Buzzard had taken the Sparrowhawks post. The Pools held a couple of Wigeon, Eurasian Teal, Redshank and Lapwing, but very little else. A few more Common Buzzard and Kestrel were sat around in the back fields, but with my available time running out I said goodbye to Rob before heading to have one last quick look at Carr Lane.

A slow drive up Carr Lane with some regular stops found a few decent sized groups of Fieldfare, 7 Yellowhammer, single Corn Bunting and 48 Linnet. I headed home hoping that Storm Barbara may at least blow something new onto patch within the next few days......


Wednesday, 21 December 2016

The Thrush Flush - Dirty Twitching Part 3

Having gone through the highs and lows of whether the Dusky Thrush in Beeley would stay long enough for me to get over, I finally managed to get over on Tuesday - where have the days of care free twitching gone?! The early pattern of the Thrush regularly feeding in the Orchards appeared to have subsided, and recent reports had all originated from the Pig Lane area. A midweek twitch of a relatively long staying rarity, I was hopeful that there would be enough people still present to make sure the area got enough coverage.

Arriving at first light I parked up in Dukes Barn and got my bearings of where the main spots were to view the bird (just in preparation of any mad dashes!). I spent a while at the orchard behind the barn where a few Brambling and Siskin were moving over, but Thrushes were in short supply with only a few Fieldfare and Blackbird. With little moving I moved to the bigger orchard where I admired the newly rebuilt drystone wall (although the noise of it being repaired probably was putting off many of the Thrushes from coming down to feed). Saying that there were still good numbers of Fieldfare and Blackbird....but still no Dusky Thrush.

Returning to the Barn I walked the climbing area and surrounding fencing, noticing some good numbers of Thrushes coming down into the field (just off Pig Lane). Walking through the horse field, I approached the field and was amazed by the number of thrushes. After about 30 minutes of scanning through stacks of Redwing, Fieldfare and Blackbird I suddenly scanned straight onto the DUSKY THRUSH, probably at about 30 meter range. After a few expletives and as I fumbled to get my phone out the whole Thrush flock flew up into the tree. I was joined by another birder and we scanned the Thrushes as the slowly flew down onto the field again. Seconds later the whole flock (c.400 Redwing and c.50 Fieldfare) got up and flew further along Pig Lane. We could hear the Dusky Thrush calling as it flew away but sadly I wasn't able to pick it up in flight. An immature male Sparrowhawk appeared to be the cause of the Thrush flush, and spent a couple of minutes feeding along the hedgerow.

I spent the next 4 hours with c.40 other birders chasing around Pig Lane as various shouts went up. The increasingly skittish and broken up flocks of thrushes moving around making it near impossible to pin the Dusky down for any length of time. I finally achieved 2 more views, but again frustratingly brief and not long enough for any pics (and partly concerned that I would kill my phone battery and end up with no SatNav!). With my available time running out, I had to head home (even worse as I believe that the Thrush showed better just after I left). Although I was happy to at least get tickable views, I will want to return (if it sticks) for second helpings. 

Birding the Badlands

Although I was up visiting the folks in Southport, I still managed to squeeze in a bit of birding with the boys - well when I say birding it was more strategic stops in suitable areas. At the end of the day it would have been rude not to have stopped to pay our respects to the Cattle Egret at Hightown! With the recent reports indicating that the Egret had been a little more mobile, it was nice to pick it up immediately as I pulled up at Sunny Fields Garden Centre.

My eldest lad didn't seem too impressed, seemingly more interested in the sheep in the same field. But the Cattle Egret performed well, even if the poor light and murk prevented any really decent pics.

Taking the more scenic route up the coast road to Southport I stuck on Marine Drive, intending to stop to have a quick look for the Twite. However I didn't even need to look as a flock of about 150 Twite  with a few Linnet hangers-on flew across the road and landed in trees opposite the KFC. Sadly they flew back to the saltings as soon as I opened the door, but I'm sure I'll be back for a proper look.

A family walk around Hesketh Park revealed plenty of Tufted Duck and more surprisingly a male Shoveler floating about. There were good numbers of Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker and a few Siskin flying around. Whilst there were also a surprising number of very vocal Goldecrest.

The Marine Lake held 3 Goldeneye (2 male and a female), a couple of Little Egret and Little Grebe. A good scan through the gulls revealed a smart adult and 3rd winter Yellow Legged retrospect I should have popped back to my folks to get my scope and take some pics! But best of all (!!) were 2 very manky looking hybrid Red Crested Pochard, which appeared unringed, fully-winged and wary (ahem!!).

Before heading home I had a very brief look at Marshside hoping that I might be lucky and stumble across the Lesser Snow Goose. Sadly it wasn't to be; probably not helped by some surveying work on the marsh. However there were still good numbers of Pink Footed Geese and stacks of ducks. By now the boys were getting a little restless, so I headed home after an enjoyable off-patch spot of birding.