Sunday, 29 January 2017

Patch Torment

An earlier finish from work and a spare hour or so to check out the patch was not to be missed, even if the pain from my last visit had not quite subsided. Finding a group of c.50 Waxwing on the way over had clearly perked me up and I arrived on patch with renewed enthusiasm. It was again a rather cold, grey and murky afternoon (not much different to the rest of the week when it felt that it hadn't got light all day!!).

Parking up on the bridge on Carr Lane I picked up a Kingfisher feeding in Ramsbrook, it was regularly fishing and returning to it's obscured perch (hence the even poorer pics than usual!). However other than that it was exceedingly quiet, the flooded field seemed devoid of any birds at all, with not even a peep from the Water Rail or Cetti's Warbler (it's now nearly 2 weeks since I last saw/heard it). Carr Lane Pools was just as quiet with only a handful of Redshank, Eurasian Teal, 2 Shoveler and a single Little Egret. A Kestrel and a Common Buzzard were keeping an eye on proceedings, and looked nearly as bored as me.

Pickerings was just as bad, with only 4 Bullfinch in the hedgerow down to the Mersey. The tide was still relatively high, but the murk meant that trying to pick out anything on the far shore was impossible. A Peregrine was sat up on the Runcorn Bridge in it's usual spot, but Gull numbers were exceedingly poor with only c.30 large Gulls gathered close to the bridge. With a rather bitter wind still blowing I decided to call it quits and head around to the Lighthouse.

The murk had cleared a little by the time I reached the Lighthouse, but saying that I could still hardly make out Frodsham from my side of the river. I again decided to work the shore to the east of the Lighthouse, which was decidedly quiet. I managed to kick out a single Jack Snipe and single Common Snipe. However there were next to no passerines, with only a handful of Linnet and Goldfinch, but surprisingly no Pipits at all. A few Grey Plover, Turnstone were the wader highlights, whilst 4 Shoveler had been enticed into the Mallard posse.

With limited time available I made my way back having a quick scan through a poor number of large Gulls moving west (Gull numbers seem to be seriously suffering this year). A Common Buzzard landed on the post near to me, and in better light may have allowed some half decent pics. 24 Grey Partridge were scattered across the fields of Lighthouse Lane, and another Peregrine bombed through as I made my way back to the car. Feeling rather cold and dejected I made my way home, where at least a few glasses of wine and tapas at a nearby restaurant picked up my spirits. 

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Slim Pickerings

After a fun evening on patch yesterday I was hoping that today would bring more of the same. However the cold, grey and very murky conditions didn't really inspire much confidence. I managed to get out for a few hours from late morning, and decided to head to Hale Lighthouse to check out the shore for rare finches, buntings, arctic ducks, divers and yank waders......

Walking down Lighthouse Lane I was ecstatic to see lots of walkers in brightly coloured jackets, dogs having a great time running across the fields, and a group of kids on bikes screaming their heads off.......I wonder why I'm not a big fan of weekend birding on patch?! Despite that I pressed on, but unsurprisingly seeing very little on the walk down to the Lighthouse. I decided to attempt walking the shore to the east and west of the Lighthouse, where at least there was less human interference.

The section to the east of the Lighthouse at least produced a few birds, including 2 Jack Snipe that waited until the last second before flying up and dropping almost immediately back down into the reedbed. There were at least 4 Rock Pipit also feeding along the edges of the Shore, whilst 9+ Meadow Pipit and a few small groups of Linnet and Goldfinch gave me cause to stop to double check for nothing rarer.

The walk to the west of the Lighthouse was less productive, with next to nothing around. A single Common Sandpiper was feeding along the shore line, whilst I only managed to kick out a single Common Snipe. A Common Buzzard gave a low pass over my head, but even the presence of a raptor failed to frighten anything out of it's hiding spot. The visibility was so poor I didn't even bother scanning Frodsham Score or Ince Marshes, and although I could see plenty of activity out on the Mersey mudflats I didn't waste any time trying to peer through the murk.

A brisk walk back to the car to warm myself up was only interrupted by a brief stop to look at the Grey Partridges. Moving round to the bridge on Town Lane I was thoroughly depressed to see next to nothing. Carr Lane Pools was dead, and the Marsh was not much better. A single Common Buzzard sat on the fenceposts, and 2 Little Egret were the best of not much at all.

Parking up at the entrance to Pickerings Pasture I finally caught up with the male Blackcap which was coming to the feeders by the gate to the control meadows. Up to 8 Bullfinch were again feeding in the hedgerow on the way down to the Mersey. Reaching the river I was again exposed to the freezing cold wind, but at least there were some good wader numbers spread out and relatively close.

Among the c.600 Lapwing were c.70 Golden Plover (I'm not sure where the rest had gone), c.50 Curlew, c.400 DunlinRinged Plover, Redshank and a handful of Black-tailed Godwit. The Peregrine was sat up on the Runcorn Bridge, whilst a second bird was sat up on the higher section of the road bridge. I walked up to Ditton Brook, having an unsuccessful scan through the small numbers of large Gulls that were gathered on the sandbar. I trudged back to the car thinking that I would head straight home, but had second thoughts so decided to pop to Carr Lane....... hindsight I probably should have just headed home. Having thoroughly depressed myself with finding nothing I finally headed home. Where have all of the good birds gone from early January?!

Monday, 23 January 2017

Sealed with a Glauc

After a long week at work I decided to leave off a little earlier and head to the patch for some late afternoon birding, specifically to check out the Gulls (or potentially lack of, following the closure of Arpley Tip). It was a gorgeous winter afternoon with bright sunshine and a deep blue sky, which hid quite how cold it felt!

Stopping at Carr Lane there were a handful of Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer feeding along Ramsbrook. However the flooded field was devoid of life, and again there was no sign of the Cetti's Warbler (hopefully the cold spell hasn't killed it off). One of the local Kestrel had caught a mouse, and quickly dropped down to the floor where it spent a while demolishing it. The Pools were quiet with a few Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, LapwingEurasian Teal, Shoveler but little else.

Parking up at the entrance to Pickerings Pasture I wandered along the track down to the Mersey, spending a while with c.9 Bullfinch that were on show, the males looking very gaudy in the late afternoon sunshine. A few Chaffinch and a small tit flock containing a few Goldcrest moved through whilst I watched the Bullfinch, but sadly no sign of the pale Chiffchaff that Rob had a few days earlier.

The tide was relatively low and still on it's way out, but there were good numbers of mixed waders and gulls present. Sadly despite a good grilling I didn't pick out anything of great interest, but there were again good numbers of Golden Plover, Lapwing, Dunlin with the odd Curlew, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit thrown in for good measure. One of the local Peregrine was enjoying the afternoon sunshine on the Runcorn Bridge, whilst Cormorants seemed to be everywhere. Numbers of small gulls were good (but despite my best efforts I couldn't even pick out a Mediterranean), but "big" Gulls were again in short supply.

Grey Seal (pics c/o and copyright Mike Roberts)

Scanning down towards the Hide I picked up the Grey Seal that had been seen for a while, but I somehow had failed to catch up with. It was actively feeding close to the shore during my visit, but being bone idle I couldn't be bothered to walk up to get closer views - thankfully Mike Roberts did and got some great shots (above).

A brief stop at the bridge on Town Lane was a bit of a waste, with no sign of any Water Pipits again, and very little else. A single Little Egret was feeding in front of the decoy, whilst a small group of Eurasian Teal were sadly not hiding anything better. Even raptors seemed in short supply with only 2 Common Buzzard and a single Kestrel - where have all the Merlin gone?!

Heading round to Lighthouse Lane I was treated to some amazing late afternoon colours in the sky, even if the walk down to Hale Shore was quiet. The exposed mud held a good number of Grey Plover, Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Turnstone. Whilst a scan of Frodsham Score picked up a Marsh Harrier, stacks of Ravens, but surprisingly only a handful of Little Egret (and no Great White Egret?!). The Mersey was covered in small Gulls, but again the "big" Gulls seemed in short supply. However my attention was drawn to large numbers of Gulls heading in from the south-east (presumably from Gowy?) which sadly headed further west from my position.

On the plus side I did pick up a large flock of Whooper Swan which also contained a single Bewick's Swan (almost certainly the group from Chelford that had departed west about 45 minutes earlier). As the sun started to drop further Gull numbers started to pick up, but were (in comparison to last year) still low, with only c.1500 moving west compared to 20-30,000 last year. I had almost given up when I suddenly picked up a monster of a 1st winter Glaucous Gull flying west. Although light was still okay for Scoping, any pics were a blurry mess; What's the difference? I hear you say!

As the sun set below the hills I scanned further west and could see c.8-9000 large Gulls gathered on the exposed mud c.1 mile away - so possibly not all is lost for Gulling on the Mersey following the closure of Arpley Tip, although it may require a different strategy. It will be interesting to see whether a better tide may bring the birds closer to the Lighthouse again - we will wait and see. I made my way back to the car enjoying the sounds of calling Grey Partridge and singing Mistle Thrush (clearly the cold weather hasn't put them off just yet).

I called in briefly at Carr Lane on the way home, bumping into Sean O'Hara and Geoff Bond who were both waiting for the Owls to show up. At least 2 Water Rails were calling, but sadly I couldn't hang around for long, so despite the temptation of watching Owls again made me consider using the "held up in traffic" excuse I headed home.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Spring Tide (aka Ospreygate)

With a mix of cold weather, strong northerly winds, tidal surges and a big spring tide it all seemed to point towards a potentially exciting time to visit the patch. It was a bit of a mixed day weather wise with some cloud, brighter spells and a few light hail showers, with a chilly north-westerly wind.

With the impending high tide I only had a brief stop along Carr Lane, where it was very quiet. A brief squeak from a Water Rail was about it from the flooded field, with a handful of Eurasian Teal and Mallard poking about at the back of the pool. Carr Lane Pools looked equally quiet, but three Black-tailed Godwit were feeding close by (including one with a gammy looking knee!). A Kestrel and Common Buzzard sat on the fences had probably put paid to many passerines, so I quickly got on my way again.

I parked up at Within Way and enjoyed a couple of bubbling Nuthatch, Coal Tit and a decent sized flock of Goldfinch that contained 2 Siskin pretty much by the car. A Sparrowhawk zoomed over the track heading towards the copse, whilst the fields were full of Curlew and Black-headed Gull, presumably pushed off by the high tide. The Little Owl was showing well, and kept a close watch on me as I continued my way down the track.

A brief scan over Hale Marsh revealed a juvenile Peregrine and one of the very pale Common Buzzard helping to reduce the Canada Goose population. There were already good numbers of Dunlin, Cormorant and Lapwing roosting on the Marsh ahead of the rising tide, and a couple of Little Egret flew in towards the sanctuary of the Decoy edge. A scan of the Mersey from my elevated position didn't produce any results, so I hurried down to the end of Within Way.

Scanning the Mersey and Frodsham Score finally picked up an Egyptian Goose, presumably the same bird that spent the majority of 2016 on Hale and has now defected. A female Common Scoter flew east past me, having been flushed by a boat (the "White Osprey"). Somehow my tweet must have been mis-interpreted, with a report of an Osprey flying east quickly emanating on the bird news services?! Hmmmmmmm............

Walking further round towards the Lighthouse I picked up a couple of Great White Egret, 2 Whooper Swan and up to 12 Rock Pipit among good numbers of Meadow Pipits. Waders were starting to move a lot and some impressive counts of Dunlin (5000+), Golden Plover (1200+), Grey Plover (120+), Knot (c.20), Black-tailed Godwit (150+) also contained 5+ Bar-tailed Godwit. Duck numbers were less impressive, with only small numbers of Wigeon and Eurasian Teal visible.

At least 3 Jack Snipe were flushed off Hale Shore as the tide engulfed the vegetation, with c.20 Common Snipe also being pushed off. A male Common Scoter flew east past the Lighthouse, but was always distant. Sadly that was as good as it got for wayward sea-ducks/grebes/divers and auks. However probably highlight of the day were 3 Rook (a rare patch bird) that flew north over the Mersey towards Garston. Frodsham Score provided good numbers of Raven, a female Marsh Harrier and a Peregrine, but little else, whilst the tide pushed a few more Turnstone my way as dry land became a hot commodity among the fleeing waders.

Two hours of watching the rising and turning tide didn't produce as much as had been hoped for, but it was still good fun as ever. Retracing my steps back to my car, I picked up 2 Gadwall just off Hale Marsh, whilst the Little Owl was still awake and watching me slowly trudge back. Hale Marsh held 5 Little Egret, but was surprisingly quiet given the high tide; although the slowly dropping tide had already exposed no mans land and a quick look upriver revealed stacks of waders making the most of the freshly exposed mud. Finally reaching the car I made a brief (rather pointless stop) at Carr Lane before heading home.