Saturday, 30 January 2016

It's a bit breezy!!

With Storm Gertrude battering the UK with strong winds, I was hopeful that a stray diver, auk or seaduck would put in an appearance on patch during the high tide. It wasn't until I reached the turning circle on Lighthouse Road that I realised just how strong the winds were.

The recent finch and bunting flock were keeping their heads down, and it clearly wasn't going to be a day for passerines. A group of 200 Linnets briefly popped out of the weedy field, but quickly settled down and were not seen again. It makes you wonder just what else is hiding in there! Setting up the scope I started to scan the river, but after being knocked over by a few particularly strong gusts I decided to try and find a bit more shelter.

Walking the shore west of the lighthouse I kicked out a Jack Snipe and 8 Common Snipe, before I nearly stepped on a Short Eared Owl. After a good influx from late autumn Short Eared numbers have dropped off on the Hale side of the Mersey, probably due to disturbance and the temptation of the quieter fields of Frodsham.

Having found a few bushes to shelter behind I spent the next hour and a half scanning the river and Frodsham Score. The Mersey was disappointingly quiet, with the sole highlight being a smart male Red Breasted Merganser; no divers or auks decided to put in an appearance, but conditions were testing with a deep swell. Frodsham Score was marginally more productive with 100+ Pink Footed Geese, 14+ Whooper Swan, Great White Egret, 12 Raven and Marsh Harrier. As the tide pushed in further the waves of waders increased with thousands of Dunlins and Redshank, but best of all 3 Bar Tailed Godwit, my first of the year on patch.

A hail shower that pelted hail at my frozen face like a BB gun, was the final straw, and I decided to beat a quick retreat to the car. The Curlew roost in the weedy field had grown to 157, but otherwise the rather brisk walk back was uneventful.
Moving round to Pickerings Pasture for the Gull roost, I had a brief look at the feeders and was pleased to find a (the?) Tree Sparrow. I had a single bird in the same area just before the New Year at the feeders, and given their status locally it would seem likely that it was the same bird. There was no sign of the mixed finch flock that had been reported recently, but there were a few Bullfinches and smaller numbers of Goldfinch and Greenfinch.
The numbers of Gulls were not massive, and sadly contained no Yanks or White Wingers; but I did pick out 3 Yellow Legged Gull and 5 Mediterranean Gull. Hopefully there is still plenty of time left this winter to pick out something good (and maybe finally put my Glaucous nemesis to bed!).

Whilst watching the Gull roost I watched at least 3 Peregrines go to roost under the Runcorn Bridge, presumably a slightly more sheltered roost site than the usual exposed pillars.

The light was quickly going and any chance of picking out a decent gull was fading. I decided to give the reported Barn Owl roost site a go. Stationing myself on the edge of Hale Park I scanned the farm buildings, watching large groups of Fieldfares and Redwings making their way to roost. I was about to give up and go home when finally, in near darkness the Barn Owl popped out of one of the outbuildings before heading off north over Hale village. The direction of its departure may account for the recent reports of a single along Ramsbrook Lane.

So a further 5 additions to the Patchwork Challenge which takes me to 114. Already 15 ahead of this time last year, but only one "new" bird over 2015. Let's see what Storm Henry brings with it.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016


A day off from work meant only one thing.....a bit of patch birding. Although it remained cold, the bright blue sky and warm sunshine had clearly confused many of the local birds.

Driving along Carr Lane I spotted a flock of Chaffinch flying around on the edge of Great Boar Wood; a quick scan picked up at least 4 Brambling among the 70+ Chaffinch. Bird song drifted out of the wood and with Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming away the birds clearly thought that it was already Spring.

The bridge and flooded field at Carr Lane were surprisingly quiet, but a bit of pishing eventually enticed the Chiffchaff out of hiding. The finch theme continued with Linnets constantly on the move, and a group of 9 Siskin joining the larger flock of Goldfinch in the alders on the edge of Great Boar Wood.

Realising I had missed the high tide (which seems to be a recurring theme these days!!) I quickly made my way to Hale Lighthouse. Settling into my favourite spot just to the west of the Lighthouse I started to scan the Mersey, but as expected the tide was quickly receding and any hopes of finding a stray sea-duck or diver were evaporating before my eyes.

Turning my attention to Frodsham Score I quickly picked out 7 Bewick's Swan sat away from the Whooper and Mute herd, and may indicate they were freshly arrived birds? Better still were 4 Egyptian Geese (presumably part of the group of 5 seen on the 10th) sat on the edge of the Score in front of the Canada Geese, a difficult bird to catch up with on the patch and only my second record since I started to watch the area.

Moving to the east of the Lighthouse it was evident that the big finch and bunting flock was still present, although they had now separated into a number of individual groups. I spent about 2 hours grilling the finches which was great fun, but not overly productive. Final combined totals were c.450 Linnet, 37 Goldfinch, 11 Chaffinch, 2 Greenfinch and 1 Lesser Redpoll, whilst Buntings were represented by c.68 Reed Bunting and 12 Yellowhammer. Meadow Pipits seemed to be everywhere with a low estimate of 75, and a minimum of 3 Rock Pipits which managed to constantly evade a picture!!


Whilst chasing the finch flock I still managed to keep an eye on Frodsham Score and picked out a juvenile Marsh Harrier and 4 Pintail came in to feed with the Mallard flock by the Lighthouse, but the Mersey remained relatively quiet. Having failed to pick anything exciting out of flock and the fact that my feet were now soaked (note to self - remember wellies when walking the shore!!), I decided to head back to the car and move round to Within Way. As I was about to get in the car I heard a number of agitated finches from behind the turning circle; peering over the hedge a very smart ringtail Hen Harrier was flying away over the fields towards Hale Marsh.
Within Way and Hale Marsh was fairly quiet, with a single Peregrine sat out on the marsh and a couple of Ravens picking over the remains of a Canada Goose. A Kestrel allowed me some nice close views, and a Little Egret turned out to be my only Egret for the day (not sure where they have all gone!?). The fields by the farm held a nice winter Thrush flock with c.60 Fieldfare, 5 Redwing, 17 Mistle Thrush; hopefully it'll turn up a mega before this winter is out.
Calling in briefly at Carr Lane Pools I picked up a single Ruff in the flooded section by Town Lane; an unseasonably early record for patch. Teal numbers have picked up nicely with about 350 now present, sadly the Green Winged from across the water hasn't decided to pay a visit yet.....
So 9 new additions to the patch year list today leaves me on 109; already 10 head of the January last year. At this rate I'll be hitting 300 by the end of year.......or it could mean a very slow second winter period. Whatever happens you can't beat a day out birding on patch.


Saturday, 16 January 2016

Ton up!!

Due to a mixture of work and best man commitments this was my first visit to patch in over two weeks; possibly my longest gap in patch birding in the last 18 months. Reports of decent birds trickled out during my absence and I was desperate to get back out in the field.

Waking up early I thought I would brave the sub-zero temperatures to see whether I could catch up with some Owls, having failed to connect with any on the 1st. Skidding my way along Carr Lane I noticed a brown lump in the road; a Woodcock!! Cold snaps are great for catching up with them on patch and today was no different, seeing a further 3 along Carr Lane.

Pouring myself a coffee; I stood on the bridge on Carr Lane and quickly picked up Tawny Owl, Snipe, Water Rail and loads of calling Grey Partridge. A rather hurried splashing in the stream alerted me to 7 Tufted Duck trying to escape from just below my feet; an unseasonal record, usually not returning to patch until late March. Scanning the flooded field in near darkness I picked up 4 geese, who clearly didn't like me putting my tripod up.....but at least their 'wink-wink' call gave them away.

Pleased with the start I drove round to Hale Park, where a Barn Owl has reportedly been roosting and feeding recently. Sadly there was no sign; and the prospect of loosing my toes to frostbite made me move on quickly. Whilst getting into the car I noticed two large flocks of Cormorants, totalling in excess of 100 birds flying NW over?! Presumably local birds going to feed on the coast?

Moving onto Within Way, it was evident that the cold weather had pushed some birds in to the area, with 3 Yellowhammer and good numbers of winter thrushes feeding in the first field. The Little Owl put in a brief appearance in its normal roosting tree, and a Merlin bombed through causing the passerines to scatter. 

Other than the normal coveys of Grey Partridge, the only noteworthy birds were the very large numbers of 'big' gulls on the move. Scanning the Mersey towards Pickerings/Runcorn there was almost a carpet of white, quite possibly the largest gull gathering I have seen on this section of the Mersey. What I should have done is gone straight round to Pickerings Pasture, but hindsight is a great thing!!

Scanning the Mersey from the end of Within Way I picked up a number of new birds for the year including Rock Pipit, Common Sandpiper, Great Crested Grebe and Med Gull; whilst 4 Pinkies that flew towards Frodsham Score were presumably the same birds that were earlier on Carr Lane. The gull numbers still looked very impressive, so I decided to give up and head round to Pickerings Pasture.

Despite it only taking about 20 minutes to get back to the car and around to the carpark at Pickerings,  my decision was clearly flawed; with the mudflats nearly devoid of any gulls by the time I got there!! Bullfinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Siskins in the carpark lifted my mood, as did the small groups of waders including my first Knot and Golden Plovers of the year. Walking up to the White bridge I scanned the remaining Gulls (down to a measly 1000 or so) but found nothing of note. I finally picked up the 1w Shag; which seems to have relocated nearer to the Runcorn Bridge.

Moving back to Hale Lighthouse, I hoped I might pick something out on Frodsham Score or on the river. A quick scan only produced the Whooper Swan herd, which has now increased to 16. A small group of passerines flying into the weedy field just east of the lighthouse gave me a welcome diversion from scanning a rather empty estuary. Walking just past the end of the Lighthouse garden I quickly picked up a nice mixed flock of Linnet, Goldfinch, Yellowhammer, Reed Buntings and Meadow Pipits feeding on the salt marsh. Hoping to pick out the recently reported Twite, I continued to scan the flock when I suddenly heard a loud 'prrrrrt' from behind me. A massive group of c.200 Linnet had just flown up from the weedy field, which contained a Lapland Bunting! My first patch lifer of the year, and a welcome grip back having failed to connect with any of the five birds that were seen last autumn. I spent the next half hour trying to see the bird on the deck, amongst the deep weeds. Although I saw and heard the Bunting on a number of further occasions I failed to get views on the ground. A Merlin shot through causing chaos and revealed that there were even more birds hiding away with final estimates of c.350 Linnet, c.50 Goldfinch, c.30 Chaffinch, c.90 Skylark, c.40 Reed Bunting, c.10 Yellowhammer with numerous Meadow Pipits adding to the fun.

Having finally lost the use of my fingers and toes I decided to head home and warm up. All in all a very productive mornings birding, adding 14 patch yearticks which take me to 100 for the year. I am already 1 ahead of my January total for last's hoping it continues like this for the year!!

Sunday, 3 January 2016

2015 - A Year of Patchbirding

Returning to the north west from Suffolk in 2012 was a shock to the system. Suffolk is blessed with some of the best birding in the UK and I held little optimism of seeing or finding much at all, let alone finding a local patch close to Liverpool with any decent birds on wrong I was!!

2015 was my first year of competing in the Patchwork Challenge, and it proved to be an exceptional one. I visited the patch on 144 occasions, managing to see 182 species. To put this in to context, my patch lifelist up to the end of 2014 was 159, and through the course of the year I managed to add 28 new patch lifers. It is likely that 2015 was a freak year, with some exceptional birds present, but we will wait to see what 2016 brings....


Patch visits - 8
Patch lifers - 2 (Twite & Rock Pipit)
Patch Yearlist - 99 (114 points)

(Great White Egret - River Mersey off Within Way)
(Grey Partridge - Hale Head)
The start to my birding year was to be delayed due to a mixture of a hangover and then a failed twitch for the Little B*stard in Yorkshire. Early highlights included a good haul of raptors on the 2nd including my first Merlin of the year. A full day out on the 3rd was more productive with my first Great White Egret, Tawny Owl (a bird I only heard a further two times all year), 3 Woodcock and my first patch lifer of the year Rock Pipit which flew over Withins Way. The rest of the month was spent cleaning up on the more expected yearticks on patch, but included an overwintering Common Sandpiper. It wasn't until the 24th that I found my next patchtick, a Twite, found in a group of Goldfinch by Hale Lighthouse. January came to a close on the 31st with a last ditch Marsh Harrier, stolen from the Frodsham side of the Mersey.


Patch visits - 7
Patch lifers - 2 (Red breasted Merganser & Common Scoter)
Patch Yearlist - 109 (126 points)

(Common Scoter - Hale Lighthouse)
(Bullfinch - Pickerings Pasture)
February continued as January left off, with many of the same birds. However the 7th produced the first real surprise of the year in the shape of a male Common Scoter with an overwintering Blackcap and Short Eared Owl providing a mix of winter and summer. Diligently checking the winter finch flocks finally resulted in my only Brambling of the first winter period on the 14th. A monster high-tide on the 20th persuaded me to take a days annual leave, and I was rewarded with a male Red Breasted Merganser, along with 3 Great White Egrets and a real spectacle of watching birds being displaced from their normal high tide roosts. Having failed miserably with gulls throughout the winter I was losing hope of finding any "white-wingers" but the 28th just proved that perseverance does pay off, with an Iceland Gull. However there was some frustration as I found a further Iceland Gull and a 1w Glaucous Gull (a bird that eluded me for the rest of the year) on the same day but from a vantage point off patch. Subsequent checking from the patch failed to relocate them!!


Patch visits - 9
Patch lifers - 1 (Red Kite)
Patch Yearlist - 115 (133 points)

(Corn Bunting - Burnt Mill Farm, Hale)

March proved to be a relatively quiet month, with many of the winter birds clearing out and migrants failing to make the early journey north. The 7th produced a nice Barn Owl, a bird that seems to be in serious decline in the area and that I only saw on a further 3 occasions. The 14th produced my only patchlifer of the month, a Red Kite that lingered over Hale Park, the grim weather failing to true a stunning bird in it's true light. The 14th also saw me finally ticking Rook for the year!! There are no Rookeries around the patch and it is in fact a very difficult bird, until the autumn dispersal of corvids. My final year tick for the month ended up being a Green Sandpiper on the 26th.


Patch visits - 19
Patch lifers - 4 (White fronted Goose, Firecrest, Egyptian Goose & Osprey)
Patch Yearlist - 145 (178 points)

(White fronted Goose - Frodsham Score)
(Channel Wagtail - Carr Lane Pools)

(Little Ringed Plover - Hale Marsh)
As expected April proved to be the best month for patch yearticks with many of the expected migrants returning. However the month started with a lingering winter bird a White fronted Goose on the 2nd, scoped from Hale Lighthouse on Frodsham Score (a recurring theme for the year - patch theft from Frodsham!!). Even better the next day (3rd) was a Firecrest in the Lighthouse garden, sadly it didn't show well as it kept behind the fence for long periods. 2 Egyptian Geese that flew onto Hale Marsh on the 5th were patchlifers and were probably the Frodsham birds relocating. A smart male Ring Ouzel on the 9th was a surprise, as was a Tree Pipit over the horse paddocks in Hale Park on the 11th. Carr Lane Pools were starting to produce some brilliant birding with large numbers of passage waders and flava wagtails (Blue Headed on a couple of dates and up to 3 Channels on a number of dates). The 23rd produced one of my best visits to the patch all year, with a fine Wood Sandpiper and Channel Wagtail, followed quickly by an Osprey heading SW over Hale Marsh and a ringtail Hen Harrier being mobbed by Lapwings, all within the space of about 10 minutes! The 24th saw me in the gathering dusk looking for a recently reported Little Owl (a bird that had been absent from patch for nearly 3 years), I was delighted to finally catch up with the bird just as I was about to give in. My final yearticks of the year were on the 26th and were both the only records I ended up with all year, a Common Tern flying upriver off Hale Park and a skulking Garden Warbler in Hale Park.  


Patch visits - 14
Patch lifers - 5 (Bean Goose, Ring necked Parakeet, Spotted Flycatcher, Eider & Corncrake)
Patch Yearlist - 157 (190 points)

(Bean Goose - Hale Marsh)
(Common Eider - Within Way)

(Corncrake - Burnt Mill Farm, Hale)

(Corncrake - Burnt Mill Farm, Hale)

Where do I start with May?! A good early run of migrants in the month included my first and only Cuckoo of the year on the 1st, and a smart Hobby chasing hirundines on the 3rd. Carr Lane Pools has always been good for Garganey, and so it proved again with the first pair of the year on the 7th. The evening of the 9th produced a surprise find amongst the hordes of Canada Geese, a Bean Goose (presumed Rossicus) a patch first for one of the local birders who has been watching the site for 30 years! A Ring Necked Parakeet on the 15th along Church Road was a surprise, and a welcome addition. Carr Lane Pools continued to deliver with passage waders with large numbers of Black Tailed Godwits and Dunlins, supported by regular Curlew Sandpipers, Little Stint, Wood Sandpipers, Ruff, Bar Tailed Godwit, Ruff, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank - not bad for a large puddle! A scan of the incoming tide off Within Way providedmy 2nd surprise seaduck of the year - a female Eider. The 25th provided one of the highlights of the year, receiving a phone call from a stammering Rob Cockbain telling me to get down to the patch NOW! Not quite believing my ears I raced down to Burnt Mill Farm, and sure enough there it was......a CORNCRAKE!!!! It was amazing listening to such an enigmatic bird with a background of singing Corn Bunting and Grey Partridge. A 1w Little Gull on Hale Marsh rounded off the month nicely.


Patch visits - 21
Patch lifers - 3 (Sandwich Tern, Hawfinch & Pied Flycatcher)
Patch Yearlist - 161 (200 points)

(Sandwich Terns - Pickerings Pasture)

(Pied Flycatcher - Pickerings Pasture)

The Corncrake lingered on into June, and resulted in one of the most painful patch misses of the year - a Pacific Swift, which was reported over Burnt Mill Farm on the 3rd. Had it not been for the Trimley bird in 2012 I think I would have been near suicidal! June also saw the safe arrival of my second son, but meant that I had paternity leave and an excuse to do multi-tasking visits to Hale with my eldest son to the park.....and so it proved with my first Crossbills of the year over Hale Park. The 20th proved to be a bit of a red letter day when I picked up a Sandwich Tern on Hale Marsh from about half a mile. Deciding to go and have a better look from Pickerings Pasture I started to walk back to the car when a large finch flying into the tree ahead of me caught my eye.....a Hawfinch! A rather strange record for this time of year. Quickly moving round to Pickerings Pasture I scanned the gull roost and couldn't pick out the Sandwich Tern, had I imagined it? After all this would be the first record in over 20 years....but sure enough it finally stuck its head up, followed by another, and another AND ANOTHER?! 4 Sandwich Terns all together, I managed to get the news to a couple of the Frodsham regulars Bill Morton and Frank Duff who also managed to pick up the birds as they departed (although I'm still awaiting that promised pint.....!). The rest of the month was spent fruitlessly checking the gull and wader roosts on Hale Marsh, but did lead me to finding a Pied Flycatcher on the path down to the hide, providing a nice end to the month.


Patch visits - 11
Patch lifers - 0
Patch Yearlist - 161 (200 points)

(Wood Sandpiper - Carr Lane Pools)
July proved to be my only blank month of the year for patch additions. The majority of time again spent searching the gull and wader roosts on Hale Marsh with little to no success. My second records of the year of Little Owl along Within Way and Little Gull at Pickerings Pasture on the 11th, and a smart Wood Sandpiper (presumably an early returning bird?) were a few of the highlights of a slow month. A pair of Willow Tit were found on Hale decoy at the end of the month, but despite keeping a look out there was no further that got away?


Patch visits - 9
Patch lifers - 2 (White rumped Sandpiper & Willow Tit)
Patch Yearlist - 164 (208 points)

(Whinchat - Carr Lane Pools)

Due to family holidays I was unable to get down to patch as much as I would have liked. My visits at the start of the month again mainly focusing on the wader an gulls roosts, surely it would pay off eventually? A small pale skua sp. remained too distant to identify positively whilst scanning the Mersey from Within Way. Finally on the 18th I stumbled across a large 'crest and tit flock behind Pickerings Pasture hide, and sure enough there was a Willow Tit, presumably the wandering pair that had originally been seen on Hale Decoy. Having returned from Cornwall I was keen to get one final visit in to the patch on the 31st. It started well with my first Tree Sparrow of the year along Town Lane, and a few returning Whinchat. Scanning Hale Marsh it appeared to be crawling with waders, so I relocated to Within Way to get a better look. Nearly the first bird I picked out in the swarms of waders was a White Rumped Sandpiper! I managed to get Rob Cockbain and a few birders at Pickerings onto the bird before the high tide covered the marsh and the waders all relocated to drier ground. Finally a decent self-found bird on patch, and my only big point scorer of the year.


Patch visits - 17
Patch lifers - 0
Patch Yearlist - 168 (218 points)

 (Common Redstart - Within Way)

(Crane - Within Way)

Whilst the east coast was dripping with mouth watering rares, the patch didn't fare quite so well. However the 5th produced my first patch Redstart, a cracking female which showed really well. A 1w Pied Flycatcher by the farm on Within Way on the same day, clearly got my expectations up, but it wasn't to continue for the rest of the month. A walk along Within Way on the 10th provided a surprise of another Little Owl, but even more surprising was that it was sat next to two recently fledged birds! The first confirmed breeders for well over 4 years, although I'm not sure how I had overlooked them all year? A Kittiwake on the Mersey off Hale Marsh on the 12th was not expected, but much appreciated. The best bird of the month appeared on the 26th when I picked up a Crane flying NW over Within Way (this or another was seen at Frodsham a week later). Some good birds considering the location of the patch, but what I would give to have an east coast patch again!


Patch visits - 9
Patch lifers - 4 (Great Skua, Black Redstart, Woodlark & Spoonbill)
Patch Yearlist - 175 (230 points)

(Bonxie - Hale Shore)

A couple of trips away again meant that I missed some of the prime birding season on patch, but the 11th started well with a Firecrest in Hale Park whilst again searching for Yellow Browed Warbler. Whilst scanning the Mersey from Hale Shore I picked up a large dark blob, which on closer inspection turned out to be a Bonxie, a very good record for this far down the Mersey. The 17th produced only my second record of Cetti's Warbler for the patch, surprising given that they are regularly recorded across the water at Frodsham. The first returning winter birds included Jack Snipe, Merlin and Short Eared Owl, but despite lots of trying there was still no Yellow Browed Warbler. I was finally in the right place at the right time to catch up with 3 Goosander flying upriver, having dipped on at least five occasions through the year. Even better was a female Black Redstart at Pickerings Pasture on the 25th, having taken the more sheltered route back to the car to avoid the bitter wind. Note to self - vary your walks to and from the car!! Having been stuck at work all week, missing a number of good birds at the vizmig watch, I was finally able to get out onto patch on the 31st, and it wasn't going to disappoint. Not being able to get out as early as hoped I had already missed a number of quality patch birds and the number of birds moving had dropped off drastically. Positioning myself by the lighthouse I suddenly heard a Woodlark flying over, which continued over the Mersey and towards Frodsham. Scanning the Mersey I saw a large white heron get up with the Egrets, a Spoonbill! It settled on the bank of Frodsham Score, but was just out of view for the Frodsham stalwarts. As the tide rose rapidly I picked out a Guillemot and two female Common Scoter. An amazing end to the month with two new patchlifers and only my second Guillemot.


Patch visits - 10
Patch lifers - 4 (Mandarin, Brent Goose, Great Northern Diver & Red Throated Diver)
Patch Yearlist - 180 (240 points)

(Mandarin - Hale Lighthouse)

(Pale Bellied Brent Goose - Hale Marsh)

(Common (Mealy) Redpoll - Within Way)

Nearing the closing stages of the year I was scratching my head to think of potential new additions for the patch yearlist. An afternoon off work on th 3rd provided me with an excuse to get out on patch (as if I really needed one), and resulted in one of the more surprising records of the year - a male Mandarin. Just goes to show the importance of checking each group of birds thoroughly (even the common ones like Mallards!). The winter migrants were starting to pour in now with regular Merlin, Hen Harrier, Great White Egret and Short Eared Owl sightings. November saw some strong winds, and saw me regularly watching the Mersey from my vantage point on Hale Shore. It proved very worthwhile with records of Great Northern Diver (15th), Kittiwake (15th) and another Bonxie which the Frodsham regulars finally caught up with. A text from Frank Duff on 15th had me racing  onto patch to see 5 Pale Bellied Brent Geese, another very good bird for the area. After a very cold and unproductive "sea"watch on the 21st I was pleased to find a group of 8 Redpolls land almost next to me on Within Way - a closer look found that one of the Redpolls was in fact a Mealy, very nice! The strong winds continued and the 29th was no exception, with a Red Throated Diver noted and a further Kittiwake. A surprisingly good month, maybe next year with the right winds at the right time an even better seabird is possible?


Patch visits - 10
Patch lifers - 1 (Water Pipit)
Patch Yearlist - 182 (244 points)

(Merlin - Carr Lane Pools)
(Shag - Within Way)

Into the last month, and I was hopeful that I may still be able to add a further couple of species, identifying the gull roosts as the most likely source. The last bird that I had expected to find on the 11th was an adult Shag, but one was found roosting with Cormorants on Hale Marsh. Amazingly this bird and further 1w were present for much of December along the Mersey, but proved very mobile and difficult to catch up with, with intermittent reports from both the Frodsham and Pickerings sides. A text from Rob Cockbain had me rushing down to Carr Lane Pools on the 18th to catch up with a Water Pipit, which ended up being my last patch lifer and yeartick of 2015. It didn't quite end there with regular checking of the gull roost at Pickerings Pasture. I again found a Glaucous Gull, which again was frustratingly off patch whilst searching for a small wader that looked remarkably like a Purple Sandpiper....two that got away!! The rest of December was spent enjoying the vast array of winter birding available on patch.

2015 Summary

So what did I miss? In the patch area I missed a few decent birds including Pacific Swift, Siberian Chiffchaf, Lapland Bunting, Caspian Gull, Glaucous Gull, Marsh Tit amongst others, and when taking into account birds recorded at Frodsham (only a short hop across the Mersey) roughly 204 birds were recorded. So plenty of room for improvement in 2016......!! Saying that the other birder who watches the patch felt that 2015 was phenominal and won't be repeated in a hurry. So what made 2015 so good? Increased coverage, time spent on patch, targeting the right species for the weather conditions or was it just pure luck? Well 2016 will be the acid test and I can't wait.

Friday, 1 January 2016

We go again....

A new year, a new challenge. Not only that, but the new weather was a shock to the system with a ground frost and a biting cold SE wind making a change to the milder conditions of late. Starting off at Burnt Mill Farm on Carr Lane, I quickly added a number of year ticks, the best being a lingering Corn Bunting (unusual for this time of year as they have normally dispersed into the feeding flocks elsewhere). Grey Wagtail and a number of commoner birds got the list ticking over nicely.
Driving along Carr Lane I stopped by the bridge at the corner of Carr Lane Pools, adding a few specialities including Jack Snipe and 7 Grey Partridge. A Kestrel and Sparrowhawk were the first raptors seen for the year, on a day where raptors were in short supply. Carr Lane Pools were quiet, but a single Little Egret was nice to see.
I met Ian Igglesden here and we decided to give the patch a good grilling, moving onto Hale Park to complete a full loop of the eastern half of the patch. Hale Park was relatively quiet producing the expected woodland birds including Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Siskin. Moving onto Hale Shore we had a good scan of the river and Frodsham Score, picking up our first Great White Egret and Whooper Swans of the year. A Rook picked out on the Frodsham side saved the embarrassment of having to wait three months for my first one of the year like 2015. Walking along the shore we kicked up at least 12 Common Snipe and 1 Jack Snipe. We flushed one rather intruiging looking Snipe with dusky underwings, but sadly were unable to relocate that got away? A male Stonechat sat on the reed fringes briefly but quickly disappeared, probably blown away by the strengthening winds. Reaching the lighthouse we tried to find a more sheltered spot to scan the river and Frdosham Score again, picking out a flock of 39 Pink Footed Geese, a smart adult Yellow Legged Gull and a few expected yearticks.
Continuing along towards Within Way a Merlin bombed across the back fields, and Ian somehow picked out one of the Peregrines roosting on the Runcorn Bridge. There was no sign of the Shag today, but there were at least 3 sinensis Cormorants roosting on the sandbars.
Hale Marsh was unproductive, but a Peregrine sat out on the Marsh looking fairly miserable in the biting cold be fair Ian and I didn't probably look much happier! A small flock of Fieldfares with smaller numbers of Redwing were feeding in the fields, but the rest of the walk up Within Way was uneventful. Walking back through Hale Village past the Childe of Hale a few feeding stations in the gardens of Church Road caught our eye. A male Blackcap and a Great Spotted Woodpecker were nice additions to the yearlist as a result. Adding a detour around the fields of Hale Park we picked up a single Lesser Redpoll in the Linnet flock, whilst the Buzzards looked particularly miffed at the stiff breeze.
Stopping at Carr Lane Pools on the way to Pickerings Pasture we had a few call only records of the Water Pipit (last reported on the 29/12 but clearly still lingering and getting even more elusive!), and our only Shoveler of the day. By the time we had reached Pickerings the tide had rather quickly covered most of the mud (schoolboy errors once again), but we added a few new year birds before I had to head off. Bypassing Carr Lane on the drive home I was able to add a squealing Water Rail and one of the local Kingfishers zoomed past, a nice end to the day. Although the birding was hard going today I was pleased to have seen or heard 86 species....only 97 to go to beat last years score!