Monday, 30 May 2016


Another gorgeous day with plenty of warm sunshine and blue skies. The north-westerly winds had picked up slightly, which at least meant that the patch didn't feel quite as blisteringly hot as it did on Saturday. I finally made it out for a few hours tonight which coincided with the high tide.

Starting at Town Lane I was hoping that the tide may have pushed a few waders onto the Pools.....sadly I was wrong. a couple of juvenile flava Wagtails were feeding in the far corner, and were a little too distant to have any certainty of their true flavour! Other than that it was the regular Shoveler, ShelduckRedshank and very little else. I was joined by Iggy and the two Pauls (Kurs and Booth), and we had an enjoyable catch up around the patch.

The pools by Town Lane were marginally more productive, with 2 Little Ringed Plover, 2 Tufted Duck, a couple of Grey Heron and the usual Meadow Pipits, Pied Wagtails and ducks (Mallard, Shoveler, Shelduck). Hale Marsh was equally quiet with 5 Common Buzzard, a distant Peregrine (on the blue topped chimney) and number of Skylark and Meadow Pipits.

Moving round to Within Way to start our "Quailwatch". We had a brief snippet of singing Quail at the very start of the Oilseed rape field, but despite a reasonably long wait none of them decided to sing again. Whilst scanning the Mersey I picked up an Arctic Tern flying east towards the Runcorn Bridge, we watched it for a long time before losing it towards past the bridge. The fields held a number of Yellow Wagtail, Skylark, Goldfinch and Linnet, but otherwise it was exceedingly quiet.

Saying our goodbyes I decided to have a quick call in on Carr Lane on my way home. The flooded field didn't hold the hoped for Spotted Crake or Penduline Tit (only a matter of time surely.....!!). However there were loads of singing Reed and Sedge Warbler, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over.

A year ago today I was listening to Corncrake singing away by Burnt Mill Farm.....sadly there was to be no repeat today. However there were at least 5 singing Grey Partridge, 2 singing Corn Bunting and a couple of Yellow Wagtail, great to see these farmland species still doing well in the area. Random sighting of the day goes to 3 Tufted Duck which flew in from the direction of Carr Lane and ditched in the middle of the fields?!? Not sure exactly what they were up to, but presumably there must be some water there!!

So that's nearly May over and done with....although there's still one last day to hope that something turns up!!

Saturday, 28 May 2016

May Doldrums

After a bit of a mixed week weather wise today was hot with hazy sunshine. Nevertheless it was my first opportunity to get out onto patch in a week, so I wasn't going to refuse. By the time I reached patch at midday the visibility was poor with a strong heat haze and a lingering murk, which I normally associate with later summer.

The hedges along the road at Burnt Mill Farm are getting higher and higher, making viewing rather difficult. 2 Corn Bunting were jangling keys along the wires, whilst 3 Yellow Wagtail were sitting on the fencing at the back. A Peregrine zoomed through towards Great Boar Wood, but other than a few recently fledged Starling it was very quiet.

The water level on the flooded field along Carr Lane is looking worryingly low, and with no significant rain forecast it probably won't be too long before it is totally dry. Despite this it still held Redshank, Lapwing, Little Grebe and family parties of Mallard and Coot. The reeds were alive with singing Reed Warbler and Reed Bunting, but the Sedge Warbler numbers seemed reduced. A male Kestrel drifted through, and a single Buzzard was up on the thermals, but it was surprisingly quiet raptor wise.

Within Way was relatively productive with at least 3 singing Quail in various locations. Yellow Wagtails were constantly on the move, often dropping down onto the track to feed in the remaining puddles. A Channel Wagtail dropped down onto the puddles, but didn't stay long enough for a photo opportunity - it would be interesting to know whether it is lingering as a breeder. Other than that there were plenty of Whitethroat, a single Blackcap, and numerous Goldfinch and Linnet.  

Walking along Hale Shore to the Lighthouse, I had hoped that I might bump into a few waders. It wasn't to be, but the reeds were full of Reed and Sedge Warbler. The hybrid Ruddy Shelduck x Shelduck was feeding out on the Mersey, and provided better views than usual. There was little else and with poor visibility I couldn't even rely on a bit of patch theft from Frodsham.

I sat at the end of Within Way for an hour waiting for the rising tide to push some waders in, with no luck. A couple of the local Buzzard were still displaying, whilst a few Cormorants were drying off in the sunshine. With very little moving I decided to walk back to the car, which was even quieter with not a peep out of the Quail on the return. 

Carr Lane Pools and Hale Marsh were as quiet as the rest of the patch with only a few lingering Redshank on the main pools. 2 Little Ringed Plover at least cheered me up a little, whilst a female Sparrowhawk caused panic amongst the small group of roosting Black Headed Gulls. With the sun feeling even warmer, I decided to head home for a cold drink! Is that Spring finished with already?! I certainly hope not....!!

Sunday, 22 May 2016

The tale of the Quail, and other stories

A bit of a mixed bag weather wise today, with some monsoon like rain late morning (at least the Pools will last a little longer!). By the afternoon the cloud and rain had been replaced by blue skies and bright sunshine, and it felt remarkably warm in the sunshine. My Dad is normally a lucky charm when it comes to birding, so I had high hopes as we headed to patch.

A brief stop at Burnt Mill Farm produced a couple of Yellow Wagtail and plenty of Goldfinch and Linnet, but surprisingly no Corn Bunting. A couple of Buzzard were making the most of the thermals, whilst Swifts seemed to be screeching around everywhere. The flooded field on Carr Lane again held a good selection of Shoveler, Gadwall, Mallard and Shelduck, but there was no sign of the Garganey today. The reeds were again alive with Reed and Sedge Warbler, whilst Reed Buntings were singing from every possible vantage point.

Moving round to Town Lane and a small group of waders were at least an improvement on yesterday, with a minimum of 37 Ringed Plover, 15 Dunlin and a single Little Ringed Plover. 9 Avocet were spread across the Pools and the flooded field by Town Lane. Tufted Duck numbers were down to only 4 birds today, and it's not too clear where there disappear to. A further 7-8 Buzzard were on the wing, and a Sparrowhawk drifted through.

Within Way was quiet with a few Mistle Thrush among the expected finches moving around (Linnets and Goldfinch). A number of Cormorants were circling on the thermals with a Kestrel, that looked slightly bemused by its neighbours. We bumped into a number of birders walking back up Within Way who had failed to hear or see the Quail, which had been last reported singing at about lunchtime. Reaching the gate near the bottom we bumped into Iggy, who had been waiting for quite some time.......within a few seconds one of the Quails started up singing.

After a bit of time listening to the Quail (and failing to see it) we wandered down to the end of Within Way hoping that there may be a few waders. Sadly the Mersey seemed fairly dead with not a Dunlin or Ringed Plover in sight. Rather disappointed we headed back up Within Way, stumbling across the second singing Quail. Meeting back up with Iggy I had brief views of a brown blob lurking in the crops, which may well have been the Quail, but despite my best attempts at standing on my tiptoes I couldn't see any more of it......note to self, bring a step ladder next time!

So the old man managed to bring a bit of luck with him, but it would have been nicer to have got a lifer or at least a new patch lifer.....I'll just have to make sure we bring the four leaf clovers as well next time. 

SEO Saturday

After a week of no patch birding I had developed severe withdrawal symptoms; despite being tied up with DIY duties at home (never a good time of year!) I managed to get a few hours out on patch today. After some heavy rain showers, slightly brighter conditions had developed and it had left a rather muggy afternoon. By the time I reached Carr Lane though it was hammering it down with rain again, fortunately it didn't last too long.

The flooded field was full of ducks including many ducklings - 4 Shoveler, 7 Gadwall, 12 Mallard (with 15 duckling) and a male Teal. A Hobby shot over towards the farm on Town Lane (yes, that's the dot in the blue sky!). The reeds were full of singing Sedge and Reed Warbler, whilst the hedges and edges of Great Boar Wood seemed alive with the songs of Whitethroat, Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff.

Scanning over towards Carr Lane Pools I noticed at least 14 Tufted Duck feeding on the pools, the first to make it onto the pools this year. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a bit of commotion, with a Carrion Crow and a number of small passerines mobbing something sat on the posts. I was surprised to find it was a smart Short Eared Owl. It rarely got a minutes piece throughout its stay with pretty much every bird having a go at it at some point.

Another quick look on the flooded fields resulted in a female Garganey feeding out in the open. It quickly decided that it was far too exposed and returned to the reedy section again. Although a regular summer visitor on patch, this was surprisingly the first on patch this year, hopefully still time for more to come in.

Moving round to Town Lane (having got eaten alive along Carr Lane by the increasing number of mosquitos and midges) the Short Eared Owl was still performing whilst the Tufted Ducks were the only birds of note on the Pools. The wet field to the east of the main pools continue to look good and held 15 Ringed Plover and a single Little Ringed Plover, but very little else.

Hale Marsh was quiet except for a single Little Egret and the masses of Canada Geese. The Cormorants on the decoy seem to be doing well, with many appearing to be incubating. The moat around the decoy also held 9 Tufted Duck, clearly an influx into the Pools over the last week. Walking back to the car the Short Eared Owl had finally had enough as it headed over the road to Hale Marsh (with a  Lapwing and a Shelduck in pursuit).

Within Way was relatively quiet with just the expected Goldfinch, Linnets, Skylark and Meadow Pipit. A single Yellow Wagtail flew over calling, and was pretty much the only highlight until I reached the Oilseed Rape field. At least 2 Quail were singing, albeit distantly in the field.....less surprising was that they didn't show! With my available time running out I decided to head back to the car.

A quick stop at Burnt Mill Farm produced a single singing Corn Bunting and at least 4 Yellow Wagtail, but sadly no Corncrake still.....! Maybe it's just wishful thinking, but I'll keep checking. 


Sunday, 15 May 2016

All Hail The Quail

It was still rather cold on patch today, with the blustery north-westerly masking the warmth of the sun. The cloud cover broke as the day went on to leave some fine spring sunshine. I received a call from Tony Broome to let me know he had just seen a Spoonbill flying west along the ship canal at Frodsham and it may be worth a look from the Hale side.

Having a small window of opportunity I decided to take a quick look, thinking that I could always have a look through the waders if all else failed. The copse by the turning circle held 3 Whitethroat and 2 Blackcap, and a small party of Long tailed Tit moved through. The walk down Lighthouse Lane was quiet and there was nothing of great note.

Scanning Frodsham Score I picked up a number of Raven, a female Marsh HarrierGreylag Goose, 2 Whimbrel flying over and a group of 9 White Blobs (that I assume were Mute Swan). However there were no white herons/egrets and as the sun began to break through it was near impossible to identify whether the blobs were even birds.....even worse was that there were next to no waders on Hale Shore. Wader numbers have dropped considerably with only 23 Dunlin and 8 Ringed Plover left. 

With limited time available I thought I would give Carr Lane Pools and Hale Marsh a quick check (to make sure that the Spoonbill hadn't doubled back). Viewing from Town Lane I picked up 2 Avocet, 3 Little Ringed Plover, 1 Black Tailed Godwit and a single Ruff (a white ruffed bird, although the amount of ginger on the chest and nape would indicate it may be a new bird).

A Hobby was skimming over the oilseed rape fields at the back of the pools whilst I walked down to check Hale Marsh, but it wasn't sticking around and headed off towards the farm on Town Lane. Hale Marsh was quiet with a single Little Egret among the hordes of Canada Geese. Again there were no waders present on the pools, disappointing given how good they look. With time nearly up I made my way home with a brief look at the flooded fields and Burnt Mill Farm producing very little.

An afternoon visit to the folks with a detour via Marshside to catch up with the (exceedingly distant) Glossy Ibis was nice, as were the brick-red islandica Black Tailed Godwits plodding around close to Hesketh Road. However a text from Rob Cockbain to let me know of a singing (and showing!!!!) Quail on Within Way had me making plans to make a quick return visit to the patch.

Arriving a little after 7pm I joined Iggy and Phil Oddy at the bottom of Within Way. Almost immediately I heard the "wet-my-lips" song, although it was another 5 minutes before I heard it again. It was then another 20 minutes before we heard it again and that was about it. The cool wind, and the setting sun probably didn't encourage it to sing, let along come and put on a show. If only it had arrived last week!! Walking back along Within Way, the Little Owl was yelping from the first copse and Grey Partridge were calling from all directions.

So Quail was my 170th patch tick of the year, and was also a patch and county lifer for me. It is interesting to hear that Quail was formerly fairly common at Hale with 7-8 birds regularly singing during the summer months. It's status has clearly taken a downturn in recent years, but fingers crossed for a better year.


Saturday, 14 May 2016

Arctica (Brass) Monkeys

Despite the blue skies and bright sunshine it was proper brass monkeys this morning. When I first arrived at shortly before 6am the temperature gauge was indicating 3 degrees, and it hadn't reached double figures by the time I left. The strong north-westerly made it feel even colder; a direct contrast to the last weeks warm weather.

The paddocks around Burnt Mill Farm held a single singing Corn Bunting, a few Stock Dove and Grey Partridge, but little else. A Sparrowhawk flapped lazily over, looking as bleary eyed as I felt. The wires on the drive down Carr Lane held a number of Linnet, Goldfinch and Reed Bunting, whilst I could hear Whitethroat singing away from the hedgerows.

The flooded fields and Ramsbrook were quiet with only a couple of Lapwing, Mallard and Coot families. The reeds were full of the sounds of Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler, whilst a single Yellow Wagtail flew over towards Carr Lane Pools. Great Boar Wood was full of the songs of Blackcap and Chiffchaff, but there seemed to be a lack of other passerines to keep the interest up.

Carr Lane Pools was equally quiet with just 5 Ringed Plover providing any real interest. Hale Marsh wasn't much better with no waders making use of the enticing looking pools. A single Little Egret was stalking the margins of one of the distant pools, and a male Whinchat was sat on the fenceline on the west edge of the marsh, but remained distant at all times.

Deciding to head down to Hale Shore to coincide with the dropping high tide. The fields on Lighthouse Lane held at least 12 Grey Partridge, including a couple of quite showy birds. The hedges were full of Linnet and Whitethroat, but there was still a lack of any migrants. Reaching the Lighthouse I scanned west towards Garston and was delighted to pick up 2 Common Tern (a difficult bird on patch, along with the rest of the terns!) fishing just off from the Airport Tower.

At least 3 singing Corn Bunting were singing along the Shore area, the highest count in this section of the patch for a number of years. There were very few waders to the west of the Lighthouse (a single Whimbrel and 2 Ringed Plover), but fortunately there was a much better gathering about 200m east of the Lighthouse. Shortly after setting up I was joined by Rob Cockbain, and we spent the next hour or two grilling the waders.

There was a decent sized group of Dunlin and Ringed Plovers. But despite much searching there was no sign of either the Broad Billed Sandpiper or White Rumped Sandpiper. The best that we could produce were 2 Sanderling (in near summer plumage), but numbers were clearly down on the last 2 days with only 436 Dunlin and 89 Ringed Plover. Despite this it was still great fun looking through the variety of Dunlin (although the arctica numbers compared to Thursday were again much reduced). 

I did allow myself a few scans of the Mersey and Frodsham Score between watching the Dunlin, and I picked up a female Common Scoter which flew in from the west, made a few circles and then finally ditched on the Frodsham side. A female Marsh Harrier was hunting the Score, whilst a couple of Whimbrel flew through. 

With very few waders on the move, and no "new" groups joining the main flock I decided to call it a day. A couple of stops on the way home, at the flooded fields and Burnt Mill Farm, failed to locate anything of great interest. Maybe these winds aren't actually helping.....unless you are lucky enough to live on the east coast!! 

Not on patch, but I had an enjoyable trip up to Crosby and Seaforth later in the morning, finding a smart 1st Summer Caspian Gull, whilst also catching up with a nice selection of Terns (including Black, Arctic, Little, Sandwich and Common). Oh, to have that selection of terns on patch.....I can but dream!!