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.)
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)
- Mute Swan
- Canada Goose
- Red-legged Partridge
- Black-headed Gull
- Wood Pigeon
- Collared Dove
- Great Spotted Woodpecker
- Song Thrush
- Mistle Thrush
- Long-tailed Tit
- Great Tit
- Blue Tit
- Carrion Crow
- House Sparrow