It was a brilliantly clear start to a crisp, cold day with the -5 c not feeling as cold as it should have due to the lack of any breeze. With all the open still water frozen, No.6 tank was practically birdless except for a few hundred Lapwings and a handful of Great Black-backed Gulls. The temperature rose to a warm 2c before finishing the day back in minus figures at -2 c. The air became hazy into the distance and everything was tinged that icy blue that you only get with prolonged low temperatures. Patches of snow added to the feeling that winter had well and truly arrived.
Around 1000 Lapwing and 300 Golden Plover made up the flock with another few thousand Lapwing and 500 Golden Plover on Frodsham Score. Over 100 Curlew mixed in with them on No.5 tank during the afternoon.
Flocks of Pink-footed Geese were moving with skeins of 43 south and flocks of c50 and 60 north in the morning. Four Common Snipe flushed from the boggy ground on No.6 and over the NE corner of No.4 tank there were flocks of 8 and 27 flying around mid afternoon.
The frozen water in most places meant that birds were seeking ice-free water and the Canal Pools had 45 Coot, 18 Shoveler and 16 Gadwall, with 4 more Coot on the ‘Splashing Pool’ and two more surrounded by ice on No.6. 10 more Shoveler were out on the Score where 500 Wigeon braved the guns of the hunters, even as they struggled to feed.
A Merlin sat on a fence post on the Score for an hour or so, not far from a Little Egret, the only one I recorded but there was no sign of the Cattle Egret despite a search. The juvenile Marsh Harrier did a circuit, covering most of the tanks during the day.
Perhaps most intriguing of all was the arrival of the first Bewick’s Swans of the winter and a party of Barnacle Goose. Six Bewick’s Swan were found resting on the mud next to a channel, off the NE corner of No.4. Four adults and two juveniles, they preened and drank for a while before going to sleep. Later on they became more active and as the tide came in, swam about near the Canada flock. One of the adult Bewick’s appeared to have a silver ring on the left leg and a white or yellow darvic on the right leg, although the distance and icy-haze made deciding which impossible.
The Barnacles, one adult and four juveniles I assumed, although the distance was against me, appeared swimming, also near the Canada’s, before drifting off on the incoming tide. Both these species originate from the same area of NE Europe. Had they just arrived from somewhere towards there, forced west by snow and ice, and were the Barnacles genuine wild birds?
Mr M joined me after work for the last glow of sunlight and the day finished with a spectacular display from the Starlings, against a fabulous winter evening sky, over their new roost site, in the phragmites reed bed below the viewing area at the junction of No.6, 5 and 3 tanks. A good day by anyone’s expectations.
Starling roost video: http://vimeo.com/115533894
Observer: Tony Broome (images 1 – 9 and video link by TB and image 10 by WSM).