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.

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