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.
Thanks 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)
- Grey Heron
- Little Egret
- Water Rail
- Black-headed Gull
- Wood Pigeon
- Collared Dove
- Great Spotted Woodpecker
- Song Thrush
- Long-tailed Tit
- Coal Tit
- Great Tit
- Blue Tit
- Carrion Crow
- Tree Sparrow
- Reed Bunting