Forecast to be bright and sunny with a southerly wind, Saturday promised to be a good birding day with blue sky and sunshine. There was to be some cloud later on in the day as a front came in from the south-west but as long as most of the day was fine, I could put up with that. Everything was ready except for the coffee and sandwiches, but they were always best done fresh. The M56 was clear and I cruised westwards, listening to Sounds of the Sixties and to the news that the eastern seaboard of the United States was due to be hit by the worst snow storm in a hundred years. As long as it didn’t stop todays birding, it could do what it wanted to!
I arrived at the bridge over the motorway dead on 8 o’clock and turned left towards No.4 tank and the Score beyond. 8 Pied Wagtail fed in the horse paddock around a small flood. The tracks were scandalously deep in a glutenous mud that squelched as I drove through it. The local farmer and construction traffic had churned it up into a blancmange-type semi solid and only driving slowly prevented it covering the car completely. No.6 had over 500 Canada Geese on it but I drove on to get to the northwest corner of No.4 for the high tide, my intention being to go straight there and take a good look at was being moved off the Score by the tide. But, as I rounded the corner of the slope down to No.3, I was met by the spectacle of over 500 Lapwings wheeling around over the flooded area and as they began to settle, I couldn’t drive past without taking a few snaps.
I then noticed a Common Buzzard sat on a post. I moved the car forwards it until I was a few metres away. Ridiculously confiding, it allowed me to get within two metres but flushed as a construction tractor sounded its horn to ask me to move. Typical! The only other vehicle all day. What a lovely bird it was. Video here: https://vimeo.com/152829190
I parked up thirty minutes later than planned and walked to the corner and set up for a scan over the Score. It was surprisingly cold, a fresh southerly wind feeling more like it had a touch of north in it. There was a lot of activity as the tide was already high, although not fully up until around 11.00 hrs. White egrets dotted the Score to the west, around 12 Little and 2 Great White Egret. Smoke-like flocks of Lapwings, maybe 6000 or so, flew back and forth in the distance, spooked into flight by an unseen predator.
Wheeling blizzards of Dunlin careered over the water, the sunlight making the white of their underparts look like snow flakes, also amongst them were smaller numbers of Grey Plover, 100 and 6 Knot. The Dunlin numbered around 10,000 birds. Duck numbers were low in comparison with only about 150 Wigeon and 3 Pintail of note.
Bill joined me and we scanned beyond the river towards Pickerings Pasture but the Shag that had been reported during the week didn’t materialise. A lone Greenfinch was new for the year and 3 Jackdaw overflew going south-west. There were fragmented flocks of Goldfinch which swerved around the edge of the tank. A sharp-eyed Merlin was perched up on its favourite hawthorn bush, bobbing its head in anticipation of a hunt, but it wasn’t to be. A Peregrine did a fly past chased by a Great Black-backed Gull but was quickly lost to view behind the bank where 22 Raven gathered around a dying sheep. A Chiffchaff worked its way along the north bank of four and was a little reluctant to show itself.
A couple of Great Crested Grebes and 6 Stock Dove were also noted. Apart from a handful of Golden Plover, surprisingly no big numbers like last week. 6 Oystercatcher and 20 Redshank were the only other waders with no sign of any Bar/Black-wits. At midday the sun came out and the landscape was bathed in a golden glow. It looked warm, but certainly wasn’t. An hour later it had disappeared with thin high cloud making the sun watery before thick grey cloud came in threatening rain.
We retired to the car for some lunch and relaxed as the heated seats and hot coffee brought our internal temperature back up to something like normal. Bill helped me finish off my meagre cheese sandwiches and a bag of crisps and drank most of my coffee to save it going cold. He even polished off my Garibaldi`s (oo-er). That’s what good friends are all about…
After the raid on my lunch box I managed to stir enough enthusiasm to walk out again and then spent some time looking for Jack Snipe. There wasn’t any luck but I did flush out 2 Common Snipe, 2 Gadwall and 3 Skylark which were the best I could muster. Bill wandered to another area and saw a few more Common Snipe. As we met up at the car, a Grey Wagtail perched up on some scaffolding around the outlet sludge pipe to No.6 tank.We then drove to the slope on No.3/6 and watched over the reed beds and rough pasture. Again there were no harriers or any owls to keep us distracted.
However, the pool on No 3 held around 200 Lapwing and a massess of Starling with an estimate of 6,000 birds crowded shoulder to shoulder in a pre-roost gathering next to the water, their noisy chattering conversation filling the air until a Sparrowhawk went through low and they all took flight and headed towards Runcorn Bridge and a safer roost. They looked like a black carpet on the ground and then a swarm of bees in the air. Bill caught a murmuration on his camera which resembled a Killer Whale shape.
As we packed up to go, impressed by the spectacle we’d just witnessed, a Water Rail squealed, hidden, from the phragmites on No.6… A good day’s birding… and the first lamb of the year was with its mother out on Frodsham Score earlier.
Written by Tony Broome.
Images 1-12 & video: WSM
Additional notes by Paul Ralston and WSM included a Marsh Harrier, sinensis Cormorant, 20 Little Egret and a Kingfisher. Ducks present on No.6 tank were: 74 Shoveler, 6 Wigeon, 120 Common Teal, 34 Mallard, 11 Tufted Duck and 14 Pochard (including 5 females).
Slide show by Tony Broome.