Wirral 24.02.15

Windswept, cold and on the whole bright

In truly blustery conditions, the Team met at the rendezvous just after 10am to be greeted by our old friends and local guides, Kenny, Colin and Stewart, as full of information as ever, and by our erstwhile guru Dave, who also penned the following:

The Wave of Windswept Wintry Weather Wended its way along the Wirral, Wheedling its way into the sinews of Team Tuesday, BUT without having the desired effect of Whisking these Wanderers back from Whence they came, for this Team is Wedded, nay Welded together with such a Watertight bond that Withdrawing from this gathering Would have Warranted far worse conditions that a Winsome Winnowing blow of Wind!

Thus all were soon bathing in the warm glow of their usual welcome from our beloved Wirral Threesome; Kenny, Colin and Stewart who were more than ready (as ever) to share their coastal patch with their favourite landlocked Mancunian’s! Hugs and almost kisses over, all set off at the usual companionable pace along Denhall Lane heading in the general direction of Denhall Quay.

A shout then went up as a Short-Eared Owl passed breezily overhead giving all easy viewing as it bounced about the sky directly in front of the Team. This always welcome (and so wished for) bird then proceeded to give a bravura performance landing out on the marsh/flying low/sweeping high/engaging with a second SEO enabling all to grab this sighting and place it deep within the safety of our ‘Wow what a day that was’ memory banks!

A few deep breathes and a few moments of ‘Karma’ were then attained before our composed spirits could continue with our quest to gain as much as this beauteous marshy landscape had to offer and only a few paces onward came Wigeon, Teal, Black Tailed Godwit and Redshank all of which were happy to swell the ranks of our inevitably large ‘Day-List’.

Nelson’s mooring place reached, we took a few minutes to further appreciate this delightful landscape which kindly offered up Curlew, Little Egret and that now sadly increasingly rare passerine House Sparrow. The Ying and Yang of age then came briefly into play as a gaggle of young children with their Teachers on a school history fieldtrip arrived at the same spot, but through my eyes the distinction betwixt the two somewhat ‘distant age groups’ was impossible to discern when I tried to compare the sheer joy and enthusiasm that both the groups effervesced in equal measure as all simply delighted in just being in the moment of this bright and breezy day.

Practicality then broke my esoteric musings as I realised that there was much more to achieve on this whirlwind trip of a day, and thus, after a quick de-brief, we set off for destination number two: Burton Mere Wetlands RSPB Reserve (The Titchwell of the North!) for here lay shelter and lunch!

A steady wander back to our cars led most of the Team to add Stonechat to the list, but much more importantly we were able to absorb two more integral members of our beloved Team, who owing to a few hiccups that life has served them of late had not been able to do our route-march over to the Harp Inn. Thus J and M were whisked along to join us for lunch in the well appointed Hide at the Mere. (At this point, let us all reflect on the work that the RSPB carry out on behalf of Birds (and Nature in general), and when we read of the bad press that is sometimes directed at this LAUDABLE organisation, let us pause and note that in my opinion, if it was for this reserve ALONE, they deserve our loyalty and admiration for their efforts to at least try and stem the wave of destruction that we humans impose upon the defenceless, natural, and seemingly ‘voiceless’ world!)

 A warm welcome, a ‘roaring’ fire, a pleasant greeting by the RSPB Volunteers and a set of comfy seats pleased all on our arrival but even more delightful for TT was our re-grouping with T (and D) which apart from our much missed AD ‘completed’ our register.

Dunlin/Little Grebe and Coot were neatly scribed onto our list whilst we had lunch but this tally needed to grow thus soon we were out in the ‘cool’ adding Pintail and Avocet to the ‘exotica’ part of the list, but resting on our laurels was not an option and thus one more push led most of the Team to Parkgate.

Grey windswept skies greeted us on our arrival at Parkgate, but by this time the warmth of our the enveloping froth of a TT bubble-bath of a day popped and fizzed with our collective optimism, and sure enough within ten minutes we espied out there above ‘that marvellous marshy stage’ not one but TWO Ring Tailed Hen Harriers soaring about the heavens — “how could we ever beat such delights?” was then the question and, having gained our answer, all headed to awaiting cars just as the hail came in as if saying there is nothing more we can give — OK, we may have also delighted you at the last push with Redwing, Linnet and Song Thrush just to edge your tally to greater numbers, BUT now most assuredly was the time to quietly retreat homeward.

Kenny, Colin and Stewart, we salute both your Wirral and, more importantly, your good selves.  Dave

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Interestingly, the following list is remarkably similar to those of our previous visits to these sites in 2013 and 2014, both in terms of number and range of species seen.  Thanks again to Barbara for her great efforts in producing the list for our record.

Bird List for Wirral (BP)

  1. Little Grebe
  2. Cormorant
  3. Grey Heron
  4. Little Egret
  5. Mute Swan
  6. Canada Goose
  7. Shelduck
  8. Wigeon
  9. Gadwall
  10. Teal
  11. Mallard
  12. Pintail
  13. Tufted Duck
  14. Hen Harrier
  15. Buzzard
  16. Kestrel
  17. Pheasant
  18. Moorhen
  19. Coot
  20. Oystercatcher
  21. Avocet
  22. Grey Plover
  23. Knot
  24. Dunlin
  25. Black-tailed Godwit
  26. Curlew
  27. Redshank
  28. Lapwing
  29. Common Gull
  30. Black-headed Gull
  31. Herring Gull
  32. Lesser Black-backed Gull
  33. Greater Black-backed Gull
  34. Feral Pigeon
  35. Stock Dove
  36. Wood Pigeon
  37. Short-eared Owl
  38. Great Spotted Woodpecker
  39. Skylark
  40. Meadow Pipit
  41. Pied Wagtail
  42. Goldcrest
  43. Robin
  44. Stonechat
  45. Blackbird
  46. Fieldfare
  47. Redwing
  48. Song Thrush
  49. Great Tit
  50. Blue Tit
  51. Nuthatch
  52. Magpie
  53. Jackdaw
  54. Rook
  55. Carrion Crow
  56. Raven
  57. Starling
  58. House Sparrow
  59. Chaffinch
  60. Goldfinch
  61. Linnet
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Trans-Pennine Trail 10.02.15

Overcast, and still. Some mist, but without the icy wind of late

For the first time in almost twelve months the Team returned to what had been, in the past, a regular haunt and, from the car park at the end of Atlantic Street, set off along the old track bed of what previously had been the railway to Lymm and beyond. (Subsequent research revealed that it had been part of the Warrington and Stockport Railway, opened in 1853, closed to passenger services in 1962 – pre-Beeching! –  with the double track finally lifted in 1988, prior to its incorporation into the 207 mile-long national coast to coast route, from Hornsea to Southport, which was officially opened in 2001.)

Dunham Massey Railway Station (building still in use as a private house near Rope and Anchor).
Dunham Massey Railway Station c.1960. (Building still in use as a private house near Rope and Anchor). Looking back towards Broadheath.

At the outset, the fields of winter wheat on either side of the trail were virtually devoid of any bird life and that, together with the poor light, threatened to cast a certain gloom over our outing. However, it wasn’t long before spirits were raised, and we were all engaged in trying to locate a woodpecker that could  be heard drumming in short bursts amongst the tall trees in the wood on the southern side of the trail. Eventually, we were allowed the briefest of glimpses of this teasing bird as it flew from one end of the wood to the other, and although we heard it later, there was no clearer sighting. Both the wood and the stubble nearby were providing cover and feeding opportunities to numbers of birds (apparently untroubled by the watchful presence of a pair of Buzzards) and amongst the large number of Chaffinches seen, at least one Brambling was identified!

Making our way up onto the tow path of the Bridgewater Canal, we were treated to the sight of winter thrushes, starlings and corvids making the most of the good feeding in the soft earth of the fields on the far side of the canal. Fieldfare and Redwing were present in large numbers, and flying up, every so often, into the small trees alongside the canal, they provided a good opportunity to study their comparative sizes. This section of our walk was truly notable for the sheer number of birds present on both sides of the canal, all feeding away on the ground, which must, until a few days ago, have been hard and frozen. Nonetheless, it took sharp eyes and some patience to catch sight of the two or three Yellowhammers that were feeding amongst the Chaffinches and others in the stubble in the fields on our side of the canal. As a finale to this stage of the route, a trio of Red-legged Partridge put in a star appearance, near Little Heath Farm, just before we left the tow path to head along a surprisingly busy School Lane back towards the Trans-Pennine Trail.

Having rejoined the Trail, a scan of the fields revealed huge flocks of Carrion Crow and Jackdaws, like the thrushes previously, all taking advantage of the good feeding in the damp, soft earth.  Apparently disturbed by something unseen by us, they rose up en masse coming to settle on the telegraph wires revealing their distinct silhouettes and contrasting  sizes. Lapwing and Black-headed Gulls were also present in fairly large numbers, but seemed less inclined to take flight.

At this point, as flasks were emptied and the cold dampness began to bite, and just as the last few of the group turned for home, we were called back for a moment by the clear and unmistakable song of a Skylark which rose high above us, before circling away; a welcome note of joyfulness on a morning that, if anything, had become a bit mistier by this time.

With only a straight line to follow back to the car park, the group fragmented as individuals proceeded at differing pace and the fields on either side of the path were scanned for new sightings. Mistle Thrush and Nuthatch (and perhaps others) were added to the tally before we finally got back to our starting point, almost exactly three hours after having set off, and having been treated to the sight of several hundred birds; a welcome reminder of how hospitable this area of mixed habitat is to avian life.

Bird List for the Trans-Pennine Trail (BP)

  1. Cormorant
  2. Mute Swan
  3. Canada Goose
  4. Mallard
  5. Buzzard
  6. Red-legged Partridge
  7. Pheasant
  8. Lapwing
  9. Black-headed Gull
  10. Wood Pigeon
  11. Collared Dove
  12. Great Spotted Woodpecker
  13. Skylark
  14. Blackbird
  15. Fieldfare
  16. Redwing
  17. Song Thrush
  18. Mistle Thrush
  19. Robin
  20. Long-tailed Tit
  21. Great Tit
  22. Blue Tit
  23. Nuthatch
  24. Jay
  25. Magpie
  26. Jackdaw
  27. Carrion Crow
  28. Rook
  29. Starling
  30. House Sparrow
  31. Chaffinch
  32. Brambling
  33. Greenfinch
  34. Goldfinch
  35. Yellowhammer

Mere Sands Wood 03.02.15

Cold, but bright throughout with clear blue skies

On what was one of the brightest days we have had for what seems like ages, the largest number of the Team seen of late gathered in the car park of this Lancashire Wildlife Trust nature reserve just before 10.30am. After a quick briefing from Simon, and exchanging stories of the fine views from the top of the hill above Parbold, that notorious speed camera and the hundreds of what looked like Pink-footed geese in the fields outside Rufford, we headed through the Visitor Centre to the feeding station and the Lancaster Hide. The feeding station was drawing in good numbers of woodland birds including Tree Sparrows and Bullfinches, both male and female, but the silhouette of a bird cautiously making its way along the other side of the hedge attracted our attention and some were fortunate enough to glimpse the unmistakable long red bill of a Water Rail. The lake in front of Lancaster Hide was largely frozen, as was most of the open water in the rest of the reserve, but half-a-dozen or so Reed Buntings were making the most of seed left on a floating feeder and also perching picturesquely on the gently swaying reeds from which they take their name.

Working our way in an anti-clockwise direction round the reserve, the Marshall and Ainscough Hides afforded, after some friendly jostling for position, fairly distant views of water fowl, all crowded towards the western fringes of the lake where there were some gaps in the ice. Shoveler and Shelduck were lit up in the sunlight, the bright red feet of the former, as they walked cautiously across the ice, being a somewhat unusual sight. The sunlight also helped with the identification of a pair of Goldeneye on the far side of the lake, as the white cheeks of the active male caught the light. Although this first sighting was shared at the time by just a few members of the Team, others saw the pair when our route took us nearer the stretch of water where they were.

Walking along the track past the Holmeswood Corner Feeding station, perhaps surprisingly not shielded from the path by screens, several Nuthatch were in evidence and further on, several minutes were spent in observation of one of these birds exploring a hole in a tree, presumably with a view to establishing a nest there. The Rufford Hide appeared to offer little of interest at first, but after a few minutes scanning sharp eyes made out the motionless outline of what all agreed was undoubtedly a Snipe, just on the water’s edge.

Our route then took us back towards the warmth of the Visitor Centre and lunch, but not before we had enjoyed the sight of busy Treecreepers seemingly taking part in a ‘race to the top’ and glimpses of Great Spotted Woodpeckers, with a female, identified by its black nape, showing particularly clearly in the bright sunlight high up in one of the tall trees at the side of the path.

After a brief lunch break, reports of a Little Egret behind Lancaster Hide drew us all out again into the fresh air, but unfortunately ‘the bird had flown’ and we shall have to content ourselves with Heather’s and John’s excellent photos, as proof of its presence. Our compensation was the sight of a ‘bouquet’ of pheasants slipping and sliding their way across the edge of the frozen lake.

Encouraged by the bright sunlight, the Team set out to complete our tour of the reserve by visiting the Cyril Gibbons Hide. Unfortunately, the frozen lake was almost devoid of birds, except for one corner, where Mallards seemed to be the only species in evidence. Continuing along the path round the edge of the reserve, we had distant views of corvids and gulls following a tractor and plough, but these were just too far off for more precise identification. At this point, just as we were about to turn back towards the Visitor Centre, someone remarked that the tall fir trees on this side of the reserve, as well as being the known haunt of Red Squirrels, were also just the sort of habitat favoured by Goldcrests: and there, all of a sudden, a Goldcrest was spotted flitting backwards and forwards amongst the spiky branches above us!

The final push towards the car park showed that determined birders never give up, since, pausing for a final survey of Mere End, amongst the crowd of Mallard noted earlier on the unfrozen stretch of water, the sharp eyesight of our leader made out a pair of Gadwall, like the other birds enjoying a lazy swim in the warmth of the sun. With that, it really was time for home, but not without, at least for some of us, a final salute from the woodland bird that had perhaps most frequently been noted during the course of the day, the Robin, one of which was standing guard, red breast proudly puffed out, on one of the bushes near the exit to the car park.

DSCF9021Thanks to the reserve manager Lindsay Beaton for her welcome and, as ever, to our photographers for some really excellent shots and to our recorder for the impressive list.

Bird List for Mere Sands Wood (BP)

  1. Cormorant
  2. Grey Heron
  3. Little Egret
  4. Shelduck
  5. Wigeon
  6. Gadwall
  7. Teal
  8. Mallard
  9. Shoveler
  10. Goldeneye
  11. Buzzard
  12. Pheasant
  13. Water Rail
  14. Moorhen
  15. Coot
  16. Snipe
  17. Black-headed Gull
  18. Wood Pigeon
  19. Collared Dove
  20. Great Spotted Woodpecker
  21. Goldcrest
  22. Wren
  23. Dunnock
  24. Blackbird
  25. Song Thrush
  26. Robin
  27. Long-tailed Tit
  28. Coal Tit
  29. Great Tit
  30. Blue Tit
  31. Nuthatch
  32. Treecreeper
  33. Jay
  34. Magpie
  35. Jackdaw
  36. Carrion Crow
  37. Tree Sparrow
  38. Chaffinch
  39. Greenfinch
  40. Bullfinch
  41. Reed Bunting