Monday, 29 August 2016

Migration Slowly Kicking In

A rather late start to proceedings on patch today. Having missed the morning high tide, and not able to get out for the evening high tide I wasn't too hopeful, but at this time of year you never know. The clouds were heavy, and although the air temperature wasn't that warm it felt rather sticky and humid. There was a moderate westerly breeze which at least cooled things down a little, especially once the sun started to break through by mid afternoon.

As usual I started at the flooded pools on Carr Lane. There was a good selection of ducks including 25 Eurasian Teal, 2 Shoveler and 15 Mallard, whilst the Moorhen numbers seem to keep increasing exponentially. There were only 4 Common Snipe on view today, and sadly no other waders. Scanning around the fields at the back I picked up a juvenile Stonechat on the hedgerow, the first returning bird of the winter (presumably part of the post breeding dispersal from Garston/Speke). There were surprisingly good numbers of raptors on the wing with a 2cy Hobby, Peregrine, 3 Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and 9 Common Buzzards.

Turning my attentions to Carr Lane Pools I was surprised to find a female Redstart along the hedgerow (which supported at least 3 birds this Spring), whilst a female Wheatear was sat on the fenceline by the Pools. A scan of the Pools revealed 3 Ruff, 12 Black Tailed Godwit, 2 Little Ringed Plover and loads of ducks; 130+ Eurasian Teal, 7 Shoveler, 4 Gadwall and loads of Mallard.

I moved round to the bridge on Town Lane, where the flooded area is really starting to look good again. It's strange how this area has really come into it's own this year, although it is likely to be down to the lower salt water content on this section compared to the main Pool which was flooded by the tide last year. The Egyptian Goose was again present, whilst there has been a big influx of Ruff with at least 9 present.

The pools also held at least 6 Little Ringed Plover, 3 Common Snipe and 2 Redshank, but best of all were the two Wood Sandpiper which were feeding at the back of the Pools. There were also plenty of Eurasian Teal and Mallard spread across the flood, but sadly nothing of greater interest. The Kingfisher bombed past me as it headed down Ramsbrook towards Carr Lane.

With a few migrants already along Carr Lane I decided to park at Within Way and do a full loop of Hale Head. The walk down to the Mersey was very quiet migrant wise with only a handful of Whitethroat and Chiffchaff. However there were substantial numbers of hirundines (including 2 late Swift) building, appearing to be waiting to cross the Mersey. The finch numbers in the end field were impressive with c.300 b, c.100 Goldfinch and c.80 Greenfinch, and it was not a surprise to see a Sparrowhawk trying it's luck on a couple of occasions.

The Mersey was dead to say the least with only a handful of Curlew, Redshank and Oystercatcher providing any wader relief from the slightly more numerous Gulls. The overhead migration was at least picking up though with a couple of Yellow Wagtail, Meadow Pipit and Skylark on the move. More surprising, and what would have been a mega on the Frodsham (only one previous record) side of the Mersey, was a Nuthatch that flew out over the Mersey towards the Weaver sluice. Sadly Tony Broome wasn't able to intercept on the Frodsham side. But with two further Nuthatch bubbling away in the copse (unusual in itself away from Hale Park) there may be a further opportunity if there is any further dispersal.....

The walk round to the Lighthouse was unproductive with only a few Blackcap, Whitethroat and Chiffchaff in the bushes. As I neared the Lighthouse I noticed a Sparrowhawk clattering into the top section trying to catch a couple of Swallows that were trapped inside the light section. Nearing the rocks at the bottom of the Lighthouse I was overjoyed to find loads of people walking about....not much hope of any waders being present!!

Fortunately I saw a small group of c.150 waders fly on to the receding tide line c.300 meters west of the Lighthouse. A wander through the thick vegetation and tidal channels and I managed to get a bit closer to the group. Although many were hidden out of sight I managed to pick out 3 juvenile Curlew Sandpiper among the Dunlin and Ringed Plover. There were plenty of waders on the far side of the Mersey, but by now the sun had emerged and made viewing near impossible.

The walk back along Lighthouse Lane and Church Lane was a bit of a schorcher, and not surprisingly very quiet other than a few Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler in the end gardens along Church Lane. Another week or two and hopefully with some decent weather systems it will have improved!! A pair of Bullfinch flew over the car by Within Way, but despite a long trudge round the patch it was a rather disappointing return.

A quick stop at Carr Lane Pools from the gate on Town Lane produced pretty much the same species, with the Wood Sandpipers still present and correct. The main Pools held 23 Black Tailed Godwit and even more Eurasian Teal, but otherwise it was the same as earlier. A quick stop at the flood on Carr Lane produced a further 5 Black Tailed Godwit and 9 Common Snipe but the sun seemed to have put paid to any migrants. 

Not long until the start of September and hopefully the start of real migration. Fingers crossed for some decent weather systems, and I'm keeping everything crossed for some decent NW'lies to push some of those Leaches Petrel down the Mersey!!


Sunday, 28 August 2016

Walking in a Wader Wonderland

An opportunity to get out after work on Friday was not one I was going to miss. The weather was bright and sunny with variable amounts of cloud to start, but got better as the evening wore on. The westerly wind was moderate and had a slight edge to it, but it still felt mild. The tide height (although not massive) and time looked like it could be productive for a trip to Hale Lighthouse.

A quick stop at the flooded pool along Carr Lane was fairly unspectacular, with only a handful of Common Snipe on show, but there were 18 Eurasian Teal and plenty of Coot and Moorhen mooching around. A male Sparrowhawk was circling over Great Boar Wood, whilst a few Kestrel and Common Buzzard were also on the wing.

I had a quick look over towards Carr Lane Pools which looked quite busy for once. There were c.200 Black Tailed Godwit, 19 Common Snipe, 5 Ruff, 2 Little Ringed Plover and a Common Sandpiper; whilst duck numbers were continuing to increase with c.120 Eurasian Teal, 5 Shoveler and the usual Mallards. But with the main purpose of my patch visit being wader watching at Hale Lighthouse I didn't investigate the area any further.

Parking up at the end of Lighthouse Lane I was slightly concerned that the harvesting of the Barley fields may disturb the waders. Walking down the track to the Lighthouse produced a few Yellow Wagtail, Linnet and Greenfinch on the move, whilst there were also 2 Whitethroat feeding along the hedges. The Lighthouse garden held a Blackcap and a few Phylloscs, but passerines appeared to be a little light on the ground.

So onto the waders it was; my fears that there may be a little too much disturbance were to be unfounded and it turned out to be a one of my best wader experiences on patch. Despite a few interruptions from a Common Buzzard, Peregrine and Sparrowhawk the waders gave some great views, especially as the tide rose and pushed them closer and closer.

Over the course of the next two and a half hours I scanned over wave after wave of wader that dropped in, many also coming from the Frodsham side of the Mersey. Among the c.3500 Dunlin and c.1700 Ringed Plover I eventually picked out 39 Curlew Sandpiper, 9 Little Stint, 8 Sanderling, 2 Knot, 3 Turnstone, Common Sandpiper, Grey Plover, along with the expected Redshank, Curlew and Oystercatchers. Below are a selection of some of the better pics I got of the highlights:

Curlew Sandpiper - 39 is by far my highest count on patch, and reflects the national invasion of this species this autumn.

Little Stint - 9 showing remarkably well as the tide came in, again one of the highest counts that I have had on patch.

Sanderling - 8 were present and starting to look exceedingly smart as they moult into winter plumage. I never get bored of watching them, even if they aren't as active or fun as they are by the sea.

In addition to the above I had all too brief views of a wader which looked very interesting at the time. Having been scanning through thousands of Dunlin I came across a bird with (what appeared in the field) to have a marginally longer primary projection than the surrounding Dunlin. It had a prominent supercilium extending well beyond the eye. The base of the lower mandible also appeared pale. Unfortunately after firing off a few shots it promptly disappeared behind the rock and never reappeared!! Grrrrrr. On reflection it probably doesn't look as good in the pictures as it did in the field, but just goes to show the variability of Dunlin!!

The tide eventually covered most of the exposed mud and rocks and the waders were all pushed into areas out of view. A quick scan of Frodsham Score picked up a Marsh Harrier and a few Raven tumbling about, but with my time running out and with the temperature quickly dropping I headed back home via Carr Lane. The Pools were a little more productive with 5 Black Tailed Godwit, 17 Common Snipe and a single Green Sandpiper.

With the tides looking promising over the next few days for Hale Lighthouse hopefully the waderfest will continue, and maybe produce a few more surprises.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

El Scorchio!

What a difference a few days make! The torrential rain had been replaced by unbroken blue sky and very hot conditions; fortunately the moderate breeze took the edge off slightly (but only concealed the fact that I would look like a lobster by the end of my visit!). Probably not the most ideal of conditions for anything too rare, but I never need too much of an excuse to get out onto patch.

I started as usual at the flooded field on Carr Lane. A single Wood Sandpiper was still present, but was playing hard to get along the near edge and vegetation with only a few rubbish pics. A single Black Tailed Godwit was feeding along with c.23 Common Snipe, 2 Eurasian Teal and the usual selection of Mallard, Coot and Moorhen. Apart from the usual birds the whole area was swarming with Common Darter and Dragonflies.

I spent a while trying to lure an Aquatic Warbler out of the reeds, but only succeeded in 5 Sedge Warblers and 9 Reed Warblers. The warm weather was obviously a relief to the local raptors with a minimum of 19 Common Buzzard on the wing, supported by a single Peregrine, 5 Kestrel and 3 Sparrowhawk.

Carr Lane Pools were relatively bland with 16 Black Tailed Godwit, 143 Eurasian Teal and 7 Shoveler the only birds of note. The flood along Town Lane wasn't much better, not helped by the fact that it was still low tide out on the Mersey. 4 Ruff and 2 Little Ringed Plovers were the only birds worth of mention, and there wasn't even a sniff of the Egyptian Goose for the first time in a while.

Fortunately a 2cy Hobby zooming around above my head (presumably having a field day on all of the darters and dragons) relieved some of the boredom. Hale Marsh was also quiet with 4 Little Egrets providing a modicum of excitement. There were some large flocks of gulls feeding on erupting insects, and I eventually picked out a juvenile Mediterranean Gull among the many Black Headed Gulls

I decided to head round to Pickerings Pasture, taking the United Utilities entrance round to the scrape. There were large numbers of both Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler, with smaller groups of mixed Tits (mainly Long Tailed, Blue and Great). A couple of Blackcap were moving around, and a group of 6 Bullfinch flew over, but I failed to pick out anything better.

The scrape held a single Little Egret, but otherwise the Marsh was very quiet (other than the usual swarm of Canada Geese). The Mersey wasn't much better with the majority of birds sat on the far side on no-mans land. However I did pick out 800+ Black Tailed Godwit, 300+ Lapwing, 100+ Redshank, 50+ Curlew and Common Sandpiper feeding along the near edge. Despite scanning I couldn't find any small waders, and even the gull flocks didn't hold anything of interest.

Deciding to move round Within Way, where the walk down to the shore was quiet other than a few Yellow Wagtail and a good number of Common Buzzard on the wing. The tide was still fairly low when I first reached the shore, but the speed of the incoming tide was quite scary. It took roughly 15 minutes for the rocks in the above picture to be totally submerged. The number of waders on the move was very disappointing with only c.100 Ringed Plover and c.150 Dunlin seen as the tide came in.

I did pick up a rather strange looking Dunlin with a very pale grey bill which appeared very chunky and long? Other than that a single Peregrine was soaring over Weston Point, whilst a male Marsh Harrier and c.20 Raven were over Frodsham Score. Having turned a redder shade of Lobster I headed back to the car to meet up with Iggy at Pickerings Pasture again.

A pair of Sparrowhawk were the highlight of a very brief look from Pickerings, with the only waders present being 300+ Redshank on the far shore close to the Runcorn Bridge. With very little about and the tide pushing everything too far away I decided to head home via Carr Lane, A quick look over Carr Lane Pools revealed c.390 Black Tailed Godwit, and the same ducks as earlier. Sadly the Godwits were all feeding waste deep in the water, and in the far corner of the pools (so no colour ring spotting for me today!). As I was now looking even more red I decided to head home and climb into the freezer......I really shouldn't complain about decent weather after the drenching I got on Sunday!