Monday, 27 February 2017

Brent Dipping

I had a feeling that Storm Doris may bring something in on the back of it, but was unable to arrange any leave at short notice. I was proved correct when Rob Cockbain found a Pale Bellied Brent Goose on Hale Marsh the next morning. Although recorded annually they can be exceedingly difficult to catch up with, so after an earlier finish I headed straight to patch in strangely mild, calm and sunny conditions.

I headed straight to Within Way and after a quick march positioned myself overlooking the Marsh. I located the manky Ruddy x Common Shelduck hybrid, but despite a prolonged search failed to relocate the Brent Goose. The Marsh was fairly busy with plenty of birds roosting and feeding, despite the now receding tide. The Cormorants held at least one sinensis among the commoner carbo, whilst at least 100 Dunlin, which also contained a single Knot were still feeding along the edge of the Marsh.

Raptors were very much in evidence with up to 9 Common Buzzard, a single female Marsh Harrier, 2 Peregrine, Sparrowhawk and 4 Kestrel on the wing. I also managed to pick up a very smart looking male Merlin sat on the trees on the decoy, but sadly the heat haze (amazing for February) and distance meant that the pics were fairly awful.

With limited time available I decided to have a quick look at Carr Lane Pools from the gate at Town Lane. A single Ruff (my first of the year) was a nice bonus, but didn't really make up for dipping the Brent. The pools are looking pretty good, and hopefully it won't be too long before we start getting out first passage waders of the Spring. Aside from the Ruff there were 8 Black-tailed Godwit, 9 Redshank and a good smattering of Lapwing. Shoveler numbers are increasing, with at least 14 birds present between the Pools and flooded fields.

A brief stop at the flooded field on Carr Lane proved productive with me relocating the male Merlin (although again the light played it's part in not getting any decent pics). The Merlin was having a field day chasing 2 Water Pipits from the back of the flood, my first I have seen in a while. There were still good numbers of raptors on the wing, and with mild conditions felt almost ideal for an early Red Kite, sadly time was against me and I headed home.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

What was I thinking?

After a very poor first visit back to the patch at the weekend, I for some reason thought it would be a good idea to get a couple of hours in after work (to make the most of the lighter evenings). Sadly the light drizzle and fairly hefty winds had worsened during the day, and by the time I reached the patch it was thoroughly miserable, with heavy rain and a strong South Westerly wind.

The heavy rain put paid to much birding at Carr Lane, with only a single Common Snipe squelching over. There were no sign of any Pipits on the pools, and the torrential rain meant picking out much on the Pools was pointless. However I could just about make out 11 Black-tailed Godwit, 7 Redshank and that was about it. I decided to press on and give the Gulls a go from the Lighthouse.

The rain was pelting my face as I walked down Lighthouse Lane, but as I reached the shelter of the Lighthouse garden I picked up a rather nice female Merlin which was chasing a few Meadow Pipits along the weedy fields. It perched briefly in the field, allowing some half decent scope views, but was off again before I could fire off any pics. The rain started to ease slightly which allowed a scan of Frodsham Score, where I picked up 5 Whooper Swan and a single Great White Egret. Sadly despite spending the next hour waiting for the Gulls to start moving I was left disappointed, with next to no Gulls moving at all. Clearly I haven't worked out the Gull movements since the closure of Arpley Tip!

I decided to retreat to the car and meet Iggy on the bridge on Town Lane, hopeful that something may pop into the decoy. However the birds were clearly staying away, but it was good to catch up with Iggy and hear all about his Thai exploits (birding, nothing else apparently!!). With the light all but gone, we said our goodbyes and headed off home. 

Lacking Motivation

A long weekend of dirty twitching with my best mate Nick (more in a separate post, but you can read Nick's Blog here) meant that I hadn't been out on patch for nearly two weeks, and I was finding returning difficult. The uninspiring weather, and recent downturn in fortunes meant there wasn't the same excitement at getting out and about. However I eventually dragged myself out.....

I spent a couple of hours stomping about the stubble fields around Burnt Mill Farm, hoping that the recent good showing of Buntings would continue. However it wasn't to be, with only 4 Yellowhammer, 7 Reed Bunting and a handful of Linnet and Meadow Pipit the rewards for the trudge. The only bonus was a pair of Red-legged Partridge that I kicked out of the hedge south of Burnt Mill Farm (maybe some recent shooting releases given their scarcity over the last few years?).

Carr Lane was equally devoid of birds, with the flooded pool quiet other than the swarms of Moorhen and Coot, and a handful of Eurasian Teal. The main Pools were nearly as bad, with only 7 Redshank and 3 Black-tailed Godwit of minor interest. A Common Buzzard and Kestrel were patrolling the area, almost certainly the reason for a lack of passerine movement around the Pools.

Heading to Pickerings Pasture I was hopeful that there may be at least a few bits to keep me entertained.......! I spent the next couple of hours searching through every single Gull present (of which 99% were Black-headed), and failed to pick out anything. A couple of the local Common Buzzard were causing the few "large" Gulls present to go off in hot pursuit. A scattering of waders held a few Golden Plover, Dunlin and a single Knot, but very little else.

One of the Peregrine was sat on the Runcorn Bridge, but the surrounding hedges and Ditton Brook were remarkably quiet despite my best efforts. With my patience and any remaining motivation slowly ebbing away, I decided to call it quits and head round to Within Way in the hope that the Little Owl would cheer me up.

 Sadly even the Little Owl was not playing ball, and the Marsh itself was fairly dead. A single Little Egret stalking the near edge, and a Common Buzzard sat on the posts. However scanning back over towards the decoy I quickly picked out a rather nice Great White Egret. Although not a rare bird at all on patch, it was the first I had seen on the Hale side of the Mersey in a number of months. Sadly the light wasn't great, so despite half decent scope views the pics don't quite do it justice. With little else to keep my attention, I decided to call it quits and head home.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Patch Targetting

After a very successful January (my best in three years of Patchwork Challenge), it was always going to be hard work adding new birds for the year in February. However with some nice winter sunshine, and a few targets I couldn't resist getting out on patch again. A relatively bright and sunny afternoon, with a surprisingly brisk southerly meant it at least still felt like winter!

With the number of rare Buntings around this year I decided to spend some time checking out the local flock at Burnt Mill Farm. Parking on the corner I walked back along Carr Lane towards the Farm, and was pleased to find a good number of Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer feeding in the stubble fields. However the viewing was rather restricted, with many of the birds returning to the hedge when flushed.

I spent the next hour or so with the flock, giving them all a good grilling as they moved between the stubble field, hedges and the Farm garden. A minimum of c.60 Reed Bunting, c.24 Yellowhammer  were pretty impressive for the area. On further inspection I also found 2 Corn Bunting and a Tree Sparrow (which was new for the year). However I failed to pick anything rarer out, however with good numbers (and maybe a little seed assistance) hopefully there is still time.

A stop around the bridge on Carr Lane was depressingly quiet, with none of the early winter specialities showing or calling. A Kingfisher whizzed through, whilst a Grey Wagtail, was feeding in Ramsbrook, otherwise it was very quiet. The Pools were not much better with only 7 Black-tailed Godwit and a few Redshank, among the normal ducks showing.

Before I had gone out I had specifically targeted spending some time overlooking the Weaver Sluice and Bend, in the hope that some of the Frodsham wintering ducks may have a fly around. I made my way along Within Way, which was relatively quiet although it was nice to bump into the Little Owl, which was sat out enjoying the afternoon sunshine.

Positioning myself with the best combination of height and visibility I had a brief scan of Hale Marsh. The grotty hybrid Ruddy Shelduck had again returned with the Shelduck flock. There was little else to keep my interest, so I began my vigil of scanning the Sluice and Bend. After an hours wait I was about to give up when a big Common Buzzard drifted over spooking everything in its wake. My luck was in as it flushed c.30 Tufted Duck, 12 Pochard (more than the entire number I have seen in my 4 years of patching!) and 3 Goldeneye.

Rather pleased with myself I made my way back to the car, although I spent a little time with the Little Owl again. I quickly headed around to the Lighthouse where I could spend some time on the evening Gull roost.

Grey Partridge seem to be everywhere at the moment, and today was no different with at least 28 birds scattered across the fields along Lighthouse Lane. The fields are still surprisingly lacking the normal build up of Buntings and Finches this year, but Skylark at least still seem to be doing well. Reaching the shore I decided to view from the east side of the Lighthouse as usual. Almost the first bird I picked up was a smart male Goosander, always a good bird to catch up with on patch.

The shore held a nice mix of waders and ducks, including 9 Turnstone and 4 Grey Plover. I spent the remaining light scanning the Gulls moving west past the Lighthouse. However it was a rather frustrating evening with wind conditions, with birds coming in from all directions and heights. However in good numbers of moving Gulls  I eventually picked up a 1st winter Iceland Gull and a single near summer plumaged Mediterranean Gull which both flew west past the Lighthouse. I'm certain I missed a lot more than I saw tonight, but that's just the way it goes!

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Everything's Not Lost

Well the weathermen clearly got the weather forecast wrong........with mainly dry conditions for the majority of the day on Sunday. I managed to grab a few hours in the late afternoon, although rather annoyingly the weather did finally start to turn as I headed towards patch. The last remaining hours of light were generally light to moderate drizzle with a north-easterly breeze.

I called in briefly at Pickerings Pasture where the tide was still relatively high. 2 Common Sandpiper were feeding along the rocky edges up towards Hale Marsh, whilst a Peregrine was sat in it's usual position on the Runcorn Bridge. There were good numbers of waders on no mans land, but Gull numbers as had been the trend of late were poor. Walking back to the car I picked up 5 Bullfinch, whilst 2 Lesser Redpoll (or should that just be "Redpoll" now!) flew over calling.

I headed to Hale Shore to watch the Gull roost, not really expecting too much following the closure of Arpley Tip and the historical trend of Sunday being a "poor" Gulling day. However reaching the Lighthouse I was pleasantly surprised to see good numbers of Gulls heading west past my position (just underneath the Lighthouse walls). Not only were there good numbers of smaller Gulls (Common and Black Headed), there were also good numbers of larger Gulls (predominantly Lesser Black Backed and Herring).

Continuing to scan through the Gulls pouring through I managed to pick up a stunning adult Iceland Gull (although the pics clearly don't do it justice!). This was quickly followed by 2 adult Mediterranean Gulls. Over the next hour I picked up a further 1st winter Iceland Gull, 3 Yellow Legged Gulls and 3 more Mediterranean Gulls (adult, 2nd winter and 1st winter). I estimated that roughly 15,000 large Gulls passed west, not far off the numbers of last winter/spring. Where they have come from I really don't know; although clearly there are still feeding areas further up the Mersey. So after my doom and gloom of fearing the end of Gull watching on the Mersey, maybe I spoke too soon, and I can't wait to get back down to check the roosts......maybe that Ivory or Ross's will finally turn up!!

Apart from the Gulls the Mersey was quite productive with a single male Goldeneye flying east past the Lighthouse (my 120th patch tick of the year). A Great White Egret was padding around on Ince Marshes, and up to 12 Little Egret were constantly flying around. A few Great crested Grebe were again feeding on the Mersey, whilst duck numbers were fairly impressive with some good Wigeon and Eurasian Teal flocks.

So not a bad last patch visit of the month, with two new additions leaving me on 120 for the year. Not a bad start, although the rest of the winter period may be hard work.........

Swanning about on the Mersey

The forecast was fairly grim for the weekend, so I decided to try and risk getting out on Saturday to avoid the impending "torrential" rain on Sunday (which never materialised!!). It was still a fairly grotty day, with low cloud, heavy rain and light drizzle, whilst it still felt relatively cold. Fortunately visibility was marginally better, and with a reasonable high tide (7.8m) I decided to head down to Hale Lighthouse.

I decided to park up at the end of Church Lane to scan the Mersey from a higher vantage point, which turned out to be an inspired idea. I immediately picked up 3 Red-breasted Merganser on the far side of the Mersey feeding just off Ince Marshes. They were quickly followed by my first Mute Swan of the year (a rather grotty looking juvenile) floating along in front of Frodsham Score. A Great White Egret and c.8 Little Egret were on Ince Marshes, but unfortunately the Geese were all a little too distant to have a proper look through. The covey of Grey Partridge had increased to 28 birds, although they looked fairly miserable in the wet conditions.

The walk down to the Lighthouse was quiet with only a few Reed Bunting and Skylark (where are all of the Finch and Bunting flocks from last year!?). A couple of Raven cronked over, always a joy to see on this side of the Mersey (despite seeing massive groups on the Frodsham side). I spent the next hour or so scanning the Mersey with little luck, only managing 9 Great crested Grebe, but nothing rarer. Hale Shore held 2 Rock Pipit, 7 Turnstone, 2 Grey Plover and a few small groups of Linnet and Goldfinch, but was otherwise quiet.

With the rain becoming heavier and more persistent I found a slightly more sheltered spot by the Lighthouse and had a good scan through the Canada Goose flock that has taken up residence on the fields. However there was nothing hidden amongst their number on this occasion. Loosing patience with the weather I headed back to the car, enjoying the Ravens that had come down onto the fields, and were cronking away to each other.

Moving round to Within Way I had a brief wander along to catch up with the Little Owl, but the fields were otherwise dead (probably not helped by the endless shooting going on in the background). A scan of Hale Marsh revealed one of the pale Common Buzzard, Peregrine, a couple of Little Egret but little else and again no Merlin.

I decided to check Carr Lane Pools from the Town Lane gate. A male Stonechat was feeding and sitting up on the fence posts, whilst a couple of Common Buzzard were also sat around. The pools held c.400 Lapwing, c.150 Eurasian Teal, 3 Common Snipe and 2 Shoveler. A Little Egret flew in and fed at the back of the Pools, but otherwise it was rather disappointing. Hopefully the rain will at least raise the water levels a little in time for Spring.

The sun finally did manage to put in an appearance, so I spent the next hour searching for Bunting and Finch flocks along Carr Lane - sadly without much success. A flock of 18 Yellowhammer, c.7 Reed Bunting were the best, with a Sparrowhawk causing chaos among a group of Meadow Pipit, Linnet and Goldfinch hiding in the stubble field. The flooded field though seems to be going through a quiet patch with no sign of the Cetti's Warbler (again!) or any Water Rail. By now although I had pretty much dried out I was feeling quite cold and tired, so I decided to head home.