Monday, 29 February 2016

Last Leap of the Month

Due to family commitments I wasn't able to get out on Sunday, and it was frustrating to hear that 7 Twite were found east of the Lighthouse. Twite are an exceedingly good bird for the patch, so I was keen to try and get down as soon as possible to see if I could find them. Thankfully with the lighter evenings I was able to head down for a couple of hours after work today.

By the time I reached the end of Church Road the drizzle was horizontal, and the cold easterly really didn't make it feel too pleasant. A Sparrowhawk shot across the gravel track down to the Lighthouse, whilst the weedy field held a good group of Curlew, Starling and a small number of Linnet. A female Merlin whizzed through, disturbing the Linnet flock and flushing a mix of Reed Bunting, Yellowhammer, Meadow Pipit and Skylark.

Climbing down the river wall I walked the entire length of Hale Shore from the Lighthouse to Within Way. I really should have learnt by now to wear some proper footwear because the time I reached Within Way my feet were rather cold and wet. I managed to flush 4 Rock Pipit, 5 Common Snipe, 17 Grey Partridge and a few groups of Linnets and Goldfinch, but I failed to locate any Twite. The fields didn't hold much on the return walk, but a few Grey Partridge were calling and showing fairly well.

Scanning the Mersey from by the Lighthouse I was startled by a smart male Merlin that nearly took my head off. The river was quiet and only held a pair of Great Crested Grebe, and a few small rafts of Gulls. The murk made picking out anything on Frodsham Score difficult (no chance of picking up the possible Brents seen yesterday!), but a couple of Little Egrets stalked the outer edges, whilst the Whooper Swans at least stood out like beacons. A couple of Ravens were being tossed around in the wind, and a Peregrine towered over the back of the Score, but I'll have to wait for a clearer day before attempting any further patch theft.

I settled into a sheltered spot under the Lighthouse in preparation for some gullings, but there was a stark difference to Saturdays gull fest with only a handful of Black Heads and Lesser Black Backed present on the exposed mud. There seemed to be a larger congregation down towards Ince Marshes/Ellesmere Port, presumably due to tide height and winds. However from around 5pm Gulls starting to stream down the Mersey with many at mid-channel distance and low of the water, which actually made ID easier.

To start with the majority of gulls moving were Black Heads and Common, with a single 1st winter Mediterranean Gull picked out. But from about 5.15pm the larger gulls started to move, with good numbers of both Herring-types and Lesser Black Backed. At 5.27pm I picked up a 1st winter Iceland Gull, which brings the Iceland total to 5 birds over the last couple of days. Larger gulls continued to pour through and at about 5.35pm I picked up a 3rd winter/adult type Iceland Gull,  on closer inspection it appeared to show greyer edging to the primaries (roughly P1-P3), however it continued flying away and I failed to get any further salient features. Gulls continued to pour through until I left, but having lost all feeling in my cold damp toes I decided to head home....hopefully the trench foot won't hold me back in March!

Saturday, 27 February 2016

London Buses

The broken clouds and sunshine had given way to rather cold murky conditions by the time I got out today. The wind had dropped slightly, but seemed to have a bit more easterly in it, which meant it felt even colder than yesterday.

The flooded fields on Carr Lane produced almost the identical species as yesterdays visit. A couple of Buzzards soared in the distance over Ramsbrook Lane, but there was something else that was spooking the local Pigeon and Dove population. A flash of wings between the hedgerows hinted at a small falcon, but it was a few minutes before it revealed itself as a female Merlin. It was rather confiding as it sat up in one of the bushes along Ramsbrook, and for once I obtained half decent photos (for me!).

I had another good scan of Carr Lane Pools, but again failed to find the Green Winged Teal amongst it's European cousins. The Pools were otherwise quiet with only a handful of Lapwing, Redshank and Canada Geese. Relocating to the Town Lane gate failed to produce anything further of note, but I did pick up the Merlin cutting through the back of the Pools.

I was a little torn as to where to go Gulling this afternoon given the light and tide height; so I decided to stop at the bridge on Town Lane whilst I had a think. Closing (well slamming) the car door shut I flushed a Jack Snipe and 3 Common Snipe from about 10m away. On closer examination and a bit of pishing I flushed 29 Common Snipe and a further 3 Jack Snipe. I can't remember seeing Snipe in any great numbers at this location, so I'm not sure where they have come from, or even whether they are regular.....not that I'm complaining!

After a bit of thought I decided to drive round to the Lighthouse instead of trying Within Way again, thinking that if all else failed I could walk along the river wall to lasts nights viewpoint. A few Grey Partridge called from the weedy field, whilst a few Linnets and a Yellowhammer called from their hiding spots. Settling into my position under the walls of the Lighthouse I had a scan of Frodsham Score, which produced a Great White Egret, 14+ Whooper Swan, 12 Raven and a small party of Pink Footed Geese among the Canada's, but the murk didn't help.

Hale Shore held a nice selection of waders including Curlew, Black tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, and a single Knot. There was a distinct lack of Gulls on the move, but scanning a little further east of the Lighthouse I noticed that a few Common Gulls, Black Heads and Lesser Black Backed were starting to settle. On the second scan I noticed a Daz-white Gull sat at the front of the group, a 3rd winter Iceland Gull (which I assumed was the same bird as last night at the time).

More and more gulls started to congregate along the shore, not on the scale as last night, but impressive enough. I could see that numbers were continuing to build, so I decided to move to the east of the Lighthouse to get a better angle. I quickly picked up a further Iceland Gull (adult), and a few Yellow Legged Gulls before I was joined by Ian Igglesden and another birder who had come over from Stockport in the hope of seeing some white wingers. He wasn't to be disappointed as I picked up 3 Iceland Gulls (2 adults and a 3w) sat almost together in front of us, although trying to get a picture with all of them in view was difficult.

Ian picked up one of the Great White Egrets flying east over our heads, presumably on it's way to Hale Decoy to roost. I managed to pick up a few more Yellow Legged Gulls, but sadly nothing else rarer decided to show. The light was deteriorating rather quickly so I decided to leave Ian and head home; but not before picking up a 1w Glaucous Gull (missing p3 & 4 on it's right wing) in a kettle of gulls above my head. I would imagine it's fairly safe to assume that this is the same bird as last night.

So having spent pretty much the whole of the winter moaning that I hadn't seen any white wingers on patch, I have ended up seeing a minimum of 4 Iceland Gulls and 2 Glaucous Gulls in two days. Not bad going, and maybe I'm being a little greedy hoping that I may eventually pick up something even rarer. Roll on the next Gulling session!

Friday, 26 February 2016

White W(h)ingers

I had been itching to get back out onto patch all week; so a day off meant a bit of free time to have a mooch around. Despite the weather look rather spring like, the wind made it feel a lot cooler.

The wet fields on Carr Lane are starting to look really good now that the water levels are dropping. The muddy edges are attracting large numbers of Coot and Moorhen, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Little Ringed Plover in the coming weeks if the water levels don't drop too much. A couple of Grey Partridge were calling away but stay hidden, but otherwise it was quiet.

I decided to give the Teal a good grilling on Carr Lane Pools, but despite a thorough look I couldn't pick up the Green Winged. The pools held little else with only a pair of Shoveler, single Black-tailed Godwit and 5 Redshank. I really hope that the rain has helped to return the pools to their fresh water status, and reproduce the wader numbers of last Spring....only time will tell.

After a very poor run of Gull roosts at Pickerings Pasture, I decided to try giving the Gull roost off Within Way a go. Having previously seen large gatherings of Gulls whilst watching from Pickerings I hoped that it may be more productive. Walking down Within Way I failed to find anything of note, and it felt distinctly like the dead zone between Winter and Spring. 2 Little Egret on Hale Marsh, and a Peregrine powered over but otherwise it was very slow.

The tide was still quite high, and there was only a little exposed mud on the Frodsham side, however there were already a few Gulls on the move. c.20 Raven tumbled around over Frodsham Score, but I couldn't pick out anything more exciting. As the tide dropped, groups of Gulls started to move downriver from the Pickerings/Runcorn area, coming through at all heights from just over the Mersey to about 100ft over my head. As I was scanning the next big group I suddenly picked out a monster of a 1st winter Glaucous Gull, which sailed past at about eye level at mid-river range. My first patchgold of the month, and helping to ease the frustration of finding two just off patch last year.

As the tide dropped and exposed more mud, Gulls and Herons began to drop in. I eventually picked up a 2nd winter Mediterranean Gull among the Black Heads, but frustratingly the bigger Gulls were continuing overhead and landing further around towards the Lighthouse. Deciding to make a quick dash around the corner to have a closer look at the roost, a Merlin shot through at the back of he fields.

Gull numbers were pretty awesome (well in comparison to the poor numbers of late at Pickerings) with c.1200 Lesser-black Backed, c.50 Great-Black Backed, 700 Herring, 300 Common and probably c.3000 Black Heads. However despite a good grilling I couldn't find anything better. Groups of big gulls were continuing to stream over in very good numbers, I really can't remember seeing so many big Gulls on the Mersey. Scanning towards Runcorn I picked up 5 very large 'kettles' made up of c.5-6000 birds. Settling in to scope the kettles I was amazed to pick up a second Glaucous Gull; again this was a 1st winter, missing p3 and p4 on it's right wing, clearly identifying it as a different bird. I watched as it drifted west over my head towards and beyond the Lighthouse.

Reverting back to the kettles I picked up an adult type (or possibly 3rd winter) Iceland Gull. I have only seen 1st winters on patch so I was pleased to have finally picked up an adult. The cold by this point was becoming too much to bear, so despite the continuing stream of Gulls I decided to head back to the car. I was just able to pick out the Little Owl in the gathering dusk, whilst a few Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk headed off to roost.

I'm not sure why I haven't tried Gull watching from Within Way previously, but I will definitely be trying it again. I estimate that c.75,000 Gulls passed through in the two hours I spent watching the area. The negative points are the distance from the car, lack of shelter and dependence on tides, but it appears that the Gulls almost get funnelled into a pinch point and it will be interesting to see what else I find in the coming months. At least you won't hear me whinging about not seeing any White Wingers this winter!!

I called in briefly at the flooded fields on the way home, hopeful I may pick up the Short Eared Owl that Ian Igglesden had seen on Tuesday. It wasn't to be, but strangely I did have an asio Owl fly over the slip road from Higher Road onto Speke Boulevard (about a mile off patch). Maybe one to keep an eye out for on patch.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Monday Murmurations

With the weekends Best Man duties finished I was itching to get back out onto patch. By the time I managed to get out, the weather had turned rather showery and blustery. My main target was the gull roost at Pickerings Pasture, but with a possible Green Winged Teal having been seen at Carr Lane Pools last week, I thought I would have a quick check. Sadly there was no sign among the group of c.150 Teal, and there was little else of interest.

It was raining quite heavily when I reached Pickerings, and I was quickly drenched. A couple of Siskin buzzed about the car park, Bullfinches called from the hedgerow and a Great Spotted Woodpecker was drumming in the distance. Reaching the river I was disappointed by the rather poor gull gathering. A single sinensis sat among the carbos (one pictured below), who by now were also starting to look rather smart in their summer dress.

Settling into check the gulls, I was struck by the lack of 'big' gulls with only c.40 Herring, c.100 Lesser Black Backed, 10 Great Black Backed; although small groups streamed west along the Mersey away from the main roost. I eventually picked out a single 1st winter Yellow Legged Gull, but failed again to find anything more interesting. The 'smaller' gulls were better represented, but I still only managed to pick out 2 Mediterranean Gulls (adult and 2nd winter). Fortunately a few Redshank managed to keep me entertained throughout.

With the light fading I decided to head back towards the car, but a quick scan towards the Runcorn Bridge put paid to any early exit. I had clearly missed the Starling murmuration over Runcorn Hill, but they had decided to gather on the Bridge, and I spent about 15 minutes being entertained by the massive flock of c.35,000 birds. A couple of the local Peregrines ensured that the flock was constantly moving, although the main group always stayed on the east side of the Bridge which restricted some of my views.

Best bird(s) of the day went to 2 Goosander that flew past the Starling murmuration and east upriver towards Moore. A handy bird, and one that always requires a certain amount of luck to connect with on patch.

I ended the day at Hale Marsh, parking up by the bridge on Town Lane. A juv. Peregrine was roosting in the dead oak on the decoy, being joined by c.65 Cormorants. 2 Great White Egrets came into roost at 17.46pm. But otherwise it was nice just to listen to the Grey Partridges calling away, with a Little Owl yelping in the distance.

Winter isn't quite over, and I'm hopeful that the gull roost at Pickerings will still produce something; but I must admit I'm already getting excited about seeing my first migrants.....not long now!!

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Loving Littoralis

The temperature had only just crept into positive figures by the time I reached Carr Lane; and despite the bright sunshine and blue sky, the biting easterly wind and frozen puddles reminded me it was still winter.

Driving past Burnt Mill Farm I noticed a fat bunting sat on the wires. Pulling over into the layby and winding down the window I could hear a Corn Bunting jangling away; clearly the birds are thinking Spring is just around the corner. Driving down to the bridge I stopped to check out Carr Lane Pools and the flooded fields. The pools were quiet with only a single Little Egret and c.65 Teal of note. The flooded fields and surrounds held good numbers of Grey Partridge and Skylarks, and a Peregrine was helping with the population control of Woodpigeons. A Kingfisher bombed down Ramsbrook, and Great Boar Wood was alive with singing woodland species (Great Spotted Woodpecker, Treecreeper and various tits).

As the tide was low I decided to have a look at Within Way. The gardens opposite the entrance to Within Way were alive with Nuthatch, Goldfinch and a good number of House Sparrow amongst others. The fields were quiet and only a few Mistle Thrush and Fieldfare remained. The Little Owl was in it's usual tree but was far from showy; probably having more common sense than me by hiding out of the wind.

Hale Marsh was quiet, but a male Merlin was chasing some small groups of pipits and larks. Scanning further afield I picked up a minimum of 15 Common Buzzard, with a couple of the local birds already starting to display. Continuing to the end of Within Way I found one of the wintering Common Sandpipers on the rocks in front of me. A Rock Pipit that was in the little channel finally gave me my first decent views of this species on patch, and allowed me to finally assign one to race (this being a littoralis).

The Mersey was quiet, with most waders either opposite Pickerings Pasture or further out on the far banks of Frodsham Score. However a small group of Redshank that flew in also held something different, a Ruff; not rare on patch but certainly unusual to be seen on the Mersey. More Common Buzzard were displaying over Runcorn Hill, and a distant juv. Marsh Harrier soared over Frodsham.

Having lost all feeling in my toes, a brisk walk back to the car and drive (with the heaters on full) round to Pickerings Pasture helped to rejuvenate me. The wader flock was for once close to the river wall, and contained 158 islandica Black-tailed Godwit (many already moulting into summer plumage), 96 Golden Plover (again many already starting to show signs of summer plumage) and roughly 3000 Dunlin. Rather surprisingly there didn't appear to be anything further of interest in the Dunlins, however they were tightly packed so something may have been hiding.

Meeting up with Ian Igglesden by Ditton Brook (the white bridge) we gave the gulls a good grilling, but surprisingly couldn't even find a Med Gull among the fairly decent gathering. It was interesting though to note that the majority of large gulls were adults with very few younger ages. The hawthorn hedges of the river wall held small numbers of Linnet, Goldfinch, a single Siskin over; whilst a few tit flocks moved through. However the dog walkers, runners and cyclists probably didn't encourage the recent Bullfinches or Firecrest to put in an appearance.

One final scan of the waders opposite the car park failed to reveal anything new, so I decided to cut my losses and retreat to the warmth. I'm starting to get that sinking feeling that I'm not going to find a white-winger this winter, but with news of a Glossy Ibis just over the water at Gowy there is enough enthusiasm to keep me going until Spring.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Ding! Ding! Last Orders Please!

By the time I got out onto patch it was the birding equivalent of last orders at the bar. With the light fading fast and a chilly easterly breeze, the lack of available light left was not being helped by the thick dark clouds rolling in.

An adult Mediterranean Gull joined the Black Heads in scavenging for scraps of bread by the car park at Pickerings Pasture. A Peregrine sat on the Runcorn bridge surveying a few pre-roost Starlings daring to come near it, and a fewBullfinch trumpeted from the Hawthorn behind me. The gulls were, as usual, rather distant due to the tide height; the numbers weren't that great, and scanning down the Mersey I kicked myself seeing the numbers that were gathering off Within Way. However I persevered and the gull numbers, and especially the "bigger" gulls eventually picked up. I managed to pick out 5 Yellow Legged Gulls (3 x adults, 1 x 1w and 1 x 3w), but sadly no white wingers still. The highlight of my brief patch visit was the Starling roost that appeared to come out of the west side of Runcorn Hill/Frodsham area and headed over Runcorn Hill. I estimated in the region of 50,000 birds but I have a feeling I may well have severely under-estimated their numbers.

Having been joined by another patch stalwart Ian Igglesden, we continued to grill the gull roost. Failing to find anything further of interest, the light had deteriorated so much that it was a waste of our time to scan any longer. We decided to head around to the bridge on Town Lane, Hale to see whether there were any Owls kicking around.

Parking at the bridge I quickly picked up a Peregrine roosting in the dead Oak trees on the edge of the duck decoy which we enjoyed in the gathering dark. We failed to pick up any Owls, and I was starting to feel rather cold when I finally picked up a Great White Egret flying into the decoy at 17.34. A second bird came into roost at 17.40. With Rob Cockbain having a bird here at 16.15, it is possible that there are in fact 3 birds roosting in the decoy tonight.

A number of Grey Partridge called from the fields at the back of Carr Lane Pools, but more surprisingly was a Red Legged Partridge. Although a pair bred on patch in 2015 I had not had a sniff of one since September, so a real bonus.

Calling in briefly at the bridge on Carr Lane for last knockings, I heard a Water Rail squealing and a Tawny Owl gave out a few hoots from Great Boar Wood. Not a bad rather short patch visit, but hopefully I'll get out for a bit longer tomorrow.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Fire in the Hole!

With the evenings slowly getting lighter it won't be too long until I can get out a bit more during the week; however I decided to take a days leave to make up for a lack of real birding time this year. The weather certainly felt more spring like, and a brilliant blue sky and mild conditions made up for the rather appalling weather we have experienced so far this year.

As the tide was still low I decided to start at Pickerings Pasture. The hedgerows were alive with singing birds, and the sun actually felt warm on my face for the first time this year. A couple of Siskins and Lesser Redpoll buzzed around the carpark, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker was drumming in the distance. The light was stunning and (if I had a decent camera) would have provided some great photo opportunities.

A couple of Linnets feeding gave some nice artistic shots, but the Mersey was rather quiet. Having seen a large swarm of gulls congregating on the Mersey whilst on the train yesterday morning I was disappointed by the rather measly turnout today. 4 "sinensis" Cormorants fed along the channel, whilst I did eventually manage to pick out a 2w Mediterranean Gull.

However the real stars of the morning were the passerines, with the Hawthorns seemingly full of Goldfinch, Linnet and Bullfinch (at least 12 birds), whilst small parties of tits passed through. Ditton Brook held a Kingfisher, whilst 7 Buzzards were using the mound to kettle up into the sky. Whilst "attempting" to get some decent photos of the Bullfinches, I picked up a crest with the Long tailed Tit flock; a Goldcrest popped out from the same spot and I assumed that I must have imagined the eyestripe that I thought I had seen. But a few seconds later, my suspicions were confirmed when a cracking Firecrest popped up.

I tracked the Firecrest along the Hawthorn bank until it cut the corner of the industrial estate and appeared to continue along the back of Pickerings Pasture.
Moving round to Hale Lighthouse I had, for pretty much the first time this year, got the tides just right. The fields were full of singing Skylark, whilst the hedgerows were buzzing with Yellowhammer and Reed Buntings. Small groups of Linnets and Goldfinch flew around as a Peregrine thundered through. Scanning Frodsham Score I picked out a lone Great White Egret and a minimum of 18 Whooper Swan, whilst a few Buzzards and Ravens picked over the remains of some less fortunate soul.
The Mersey itself was relatively quiet, so when I bumped into another birder who wanted to see Jack Snipe I did the gentlemanly thing and sent him off into the thick mud of Hale Shore, whilst I gave directions from the safety of the river wall. However he was very excited when he finally kicked a single Jack Snipe up (a lifer for him), along with 3 Common Snipe. Mark left celebrating his Jack Snipe success, leaving me to get back to the business at hand. The Curlew roost on the fields had now swelled as a result of the incoming tide and now numbered 267.
Returning to scanning the Mersey I finally started to pick up new birds drifting in on the monster high tide. A couple of Great Crested Grebes started it off, before I picked out a pair of Red Breasted Merganser off Garston/Speke. A small brownish-black blob picked up even further out, slowly turned into a rather smart female Common Scoter. This is now my 4th record (of 5 birds) in the last year, which would appear to indicate that they are much more common this far up the Mersey than I first thought.

The tide was still on the rise when I had to leave, and I'm fairly certain it was well over the estimated 8.80m level. I dread to think what else I may have missed, especially considering a Surf Scoter was seen just off the mouth of the Mersey at about the same time. It certainly starts to make you think of what "may" be possible on patch with a bit of'll just have to wait until the next monster tide.