09.12.19. Birdlog.

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A day off work and at last some time to devote to my patch on Frodsham Marsh. A walk out from Marsh Lane to the distant realms of the marshes produced some good birds and some frisky bullocks.

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The hedgerows bordering both Moorditch and Lordship Lanes where heaving under the weight of the mass of Fieldfare still taking advantage of the bumper crop of hawthorn berries. Also in attendance but in very much reduced numbers were Redwing, Song Thrush and Eurasian Blackbird.

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The flooded maize fields alongside Lordship Lane had flocks of Black-headed and Common Gull with c100 Western Jackdaw and Carrion Crow. It wasn’t until I got to the elevated position overlooking Lordship Marsh and the fields by Hillview Farm. I managed to pick up one of the long-staying Cattle Egret from this position. Taking the public right of way that edges alongside the field I made my way out and obtain some closer views of the egret(s). A frisky herd of bullocks were typically curious by my pressence and uninvitedly they approached as I walked along the edge of their shitty field.

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After negotiating a couple of stiles which were attached to electric wires, I got in a reasonablby good position to view the egret. Almost immediately it was joined by two others and all three settled in an adjacent field…

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…I set up my telescope and looking through my angle eye piece I locked onto one of the birds, suddenly a large pink rasping bovine tongue blurred out my view and proceeded to lick the objective lens of my scope. The slimey ouze dripped off the scope and down the legs of the tripod. I was surrounded by a herd of overly attentive cattle and blocking my view of the egrets. After a little of persuasion from me the herd stood back but were never too far away to lick or snort snot over me and my optics once again. I gave up after a while and wandered back to Lordship Lane where a couple of Little Egret were feeding with the now flushed (by the cows) 3 Cattle Egret. A herd of 18 Whooper Swan were by the M56 motorway in the flood affected fields.

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I walked out to look over Frodsham Score and without any cows to bother me this time. I had unrestricted views of several hundred Pink-footed Goose, tens of hundreds of Canada Goose and 6 Whooper Swan which were additional to the birds seen earlier. A huge flock of Northern Lapwing including several hundred European Golden Plover were settled deep into the swarthy grass. There were 4 Great Egret and singletons of scattered Little Egret numbering 20 birds.

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I also heard and saw loads of bubbling cries of Eurasian Curlew and a distant Western Marsh Harrier was quartering the saltmarsh further out. A Common Sandpiper was again on the muddy banks of the Manchester Ship Canal and a single Great Crested and 2 Little Grebe were on the water. The Raven were gain enjoying the updraught of the canal banks whilst annoying the Common Buzzard present.

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The mitigation had several hundred Eurasian Wigeon with most of the Eurasian Teal from No.6 tank here and a big herd of Pink-footed Goose munching the grass with c400 Northern Lapwing.

A walk over to No.6 tank revealed two more Western Marsh Harrier veying with Common Buzzard and Raven for dominence. A flock of c40 Common Snipe were flushed from cover and a Stonechat was being coy for a change in the reeds. Ducks were keeping a low profile with c21 Tufted Duck, 12 Northern Pintail, 11 Northern Shoveler and 18 Common Pochard.

Observer and images: WSM.

08.12.19. Birdlog.

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I started at Rake Lane this morning where the Whooper Swan herd of 14 birds could still be seen near Hillview Farm and from the motorwayfootbridge, also in the same field were 2 Little Egret.

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Along the lane and closer to the farm were Fieldfare feeding in the stubble alongside Reed Buntings and Chaffinch, while on Lordship Marsh a Green Sandpiper was flushed from a ditch.

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The 3 Western Cattle Egret and two additional Little Egret were with them.

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The stubble fields along the Holpool Gutter held a large flock of Eurasian Curlew and Black-tailed Godwit which were flushed by a Peregrine which moved onto Ince Marsh to hunt the plover flocks there.

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Further out on the saltmarsh were a further 4 more Whooper Swan were present with 15 Little Egret, 7 Egyptian Goose and a single Ruddy Shelduck.

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Both Common Buzzard and Raven were competing with each other for the dead spoils left on the saltmarsh and a Common Sandpiper still winters on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal and 2 Llittle and a single Great Crested Grebe.

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Over on No.3 tank were Eurasian Teal, Mallard and Northern Shoveler were on the ‘Splashing Pool’ and c200 Pink-footed Goose were grazing with the Canada Goose flocks.

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Walking back along Lordship Lane and a Kingfisher sped along the ditch while a Eurasian Sparowhawk hunted the finch flocks ending a cracking day on the marshes.

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Observer and images: Paul Ralston.

07.12.19. Birdlog.

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I was out this morning with a start at Moorditch Lane where a large flock of Fieldfare and Redwing which were feasting on the hawthorn berries along the lane. Onward to No.6 tank reduced numbers of Northern Shoveler were on the water with 19 Common Pochard similar number of Northern Pintail plus Eurasian Teal, Tufted Duck and Mallard. Common Buzzard and Kestrel were active during my walk and a large female Peregrine hunted over the reed beds. A mass of mostly Northern Lapwing with a few hundred European Golden Plover were in the air over No.3 tank and c300 Pink-footed Goose were grazing with the Canada Goose near to the Canal Pools.

A group of Raven were feeding on the long dead Badger on the track between No. 3 & No.6 with more cleaning up the deadstock elsewhere.

Shooting was taking place on the saltmarshes with just a few Little Egret dotted about and the geese flocks kept on the move.

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Looking over the stubble fields along the Holpool Gutter where more Northern Lapwing were feeding alongside c200 Eurasian Curlew, c30 Black-tailed Godwit and 4 Ruff.

Reed Bunting, Chaffinch, European Goldfinch and Linnet were all noted along Lordship Lane and a male Stonechat was fly-catching from bushes on the No.4 bank.

Looking over Lordship Marsh from the junction of No.4 and No.6 revealed 3 Cattle Egret feeding around the cows laying down and chewing their cud. The Whooper Swan herd were out near the M56 motorway.

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Observer: Paul Ralston (images 1-2). Image 3 by WSM.

01.12.19. Birdlog.

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I started this morning’s walk at Brook Furlong Lane where a smart male s>urasian Sparrowhawk sped past me at knee height and tried in vain to catch one of the many Fieldfare and Redwing that were feeding in the bushes.

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On the Weaver River a small flock of Tufted Duck joined the usual duck species and a group of 9 European Goldeneye which were all females.A herd of 12 Mute Swan and c300 Canada Goose which were sheltering on the river away from the shooting parties out on the salt marsh.

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A large mixed flock of Northern Lapwing and European Golden Plover were moving about on the Mersey estuary with several Common Buzzard keeping them on the move.

A wintering Common Sandpiper flew east along the Manchester Ship Canal and a single Great Crested Grebe was fishing and managed to catch a small fish.

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The Canal Pools held many more Canada Goose with c50 Eurasian Coot, Eurasian Teal, Northern Shoveler, Mallard and Tufted Duck.

A pair of Stonechat were along the path and a flock of c60 Eurasian Curlew passed overhead towards Lordship Marsh.

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The sound of gunfire put a mass of Canada Goose into the air which soon was followed by several hundred Pink-footed Goose and the Eygptian Goose flock were with the Ruddy Shelduck in with them.

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The stubble fields alongside the Holpool Gutter were empty apart from a few Eurasian Curlew and Northern Lapwing.

Walking along Lordship Lane and Reed Bunting, Chaffinch and European Goldfinch were commonplace and were being shadowed by another Eurasian Sparrowhawk.

Looking over Lordship Marsh from the junction of No.4 and No.6 tanks and the Whooper Swan herd could be seen in the far distance and back in their winter fields after being disturbed yesterday.

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A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over No.6 and another bird was seen on No.4 tank.

A Marsh Harrier was hunting the reed bed on No.6 and another pair of Stonechat were on the path edge. A family group of 5 Mute Swan joined the usual ducks on the tank with c80 Eurasian Curlew and European Golden Plover were feeding on No.3 tank.

Observer and images: Paul Ralston.

29-30.11.19. Birdlog.

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A long weekend off from work and a early morning walk around the Ince and Frodsham Marshes where I started at Moorditch Lane with 2 Common Kestrel were hunting in the pony paddocks and several Raven were struting about in the stubble fields.

On to No.6 tank where the duck numbers were reduced but still held Northern Shoveler, Cmmon Pochard, Eurasian Teal. Tufted Duck and Mallard alongside a few Canada Goose. A Sparrowhawk was flushed from the path I walked along and took off carrying a European Blackbird.

Three Common Buzzard included one sat in a tree drying out in the early morning sun, the other two were hunting the reed beds and were joined by a Marsh Harrier which flew over No.3 tank flushing a flock of Eurasian Teal and Northern Shoveler off one of the scrapes.

Reed Bunting, Chaffinch and Meadow Pipit were numerous during my walk as were European Goldfinch and Linnet flocks.

A look over Lordship Marsh from the junction of No.4 and 6 tanks in an attemp to locate the Cattle Egret flock from last week proved negative, but c50 Eurasian Curlew were feeding in the fields there.

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Walking along the Holpool Gutter and more Eurasian Curlew (c80) were feeding in the stubble with 6 Black-tailed Godwit and c60 Northern Lapwing. The calls of many Pink-footed Goose could be heard over the saltmarshes and a large flock were dropping down to feed amongst the Canada Goose herd which were already settled on the marsh.

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A gathering of c15 Little Egret and 3 Great Egret were dotted about the marsh and another Marsh Harrier was out by the river.

On the Canal Pools were c50 Eurasian Coot and a few Eurasian Teal and Mallard being noted. On the Manchester Ship Canal there was 3 Little Grebe and 5 Great Crested Grebe and a Common Sandpiper crossing to the far bank. Another Eurasian Sparrowhawk flew over the canal to ambush a European Starling flock feeding in the long grass and managed to nail an unfortunate victim.

A mass of Northern Lapwing and European Golden Plover were their usual nervous selves and took to the air time, time and time again as anything they took be a threat. Fieldfare and Redwing were feeding along Brook Furlong Lane and a flock of c40 Black-tailed Godwit flew east.

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Driving back home I stopped off to look over Lordship Marsh from Helsby and could see the Whooper Swan herd and 3 Cattle Egret were in the distance but would have been invisible to see from Lordship Lane on the marshes itself.

Observer and images: Paul Ralston.

30.11.19. Birdlog.

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I had an hour to kill this morning so a walk along Rake Lane from Helsby was rewarding with a flock of c30 Reed Bunting feeding along the lane with House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Meadow Pipit and Pied Wagtail.

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A flock of c100 Eurasian Skylark dropped in to the stubble to feed alongside c40 Eurasian Curlew and a Stonechat was sat on the fence.

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Shooting was taking place on Lordship Marsh which forced the Whooper Swan from the frosty fields herd and the 3 Cattle Egret equally got a frosty reception and they too look for somewhere quieter to feed.

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The Whooper Swan flock made their way towards the  Mersey estuary while the egrets circled around and landed by the Holpool Gutter before moving again towards Ince.

Observer and images: Paul Ralston.

The South Mersey Marshes (WeBS) Bird Count by Shaun Hickey

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The South Mersey Marshes

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A small group of bird watchers are lucky enough to have access to the south Mersey marshes once a month to carry out a WeBS (https://bto.org/our-science/projects/wetland-bird-survey) BTO bird survey.

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This part of the estuary is cut off by the Manchester Ship Canal so public access is near impossible. The only way to cross onto this part of the estuary is by crossing over from Eastham locks where the River Mersey meets the Manchester Ship Canal, a small boat used by a farmer at the Marsh Farm, Frodsham marsh, or a small ferry at the Stanlow oil refinery, this latter is the one that we counters use. Here’s an account by myself about spending a day here walking 10-14 miles with a bit of history and natural history on ‘our’ marshes.

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There are three areas that is covered by our counters and we cover Mount Manisty, the Point and Ince/Frodsham marshes.

If you are heading towards Manisty bay then a pair of decent wellies are needed, because you will return across a marsh that has just been covered with the tide. During the summer months this area of the marsh is waist high in vegetation so that can add to the difficult walking conditions.

Another route that we take is towards Ince/Frodsham marshes. This is the route I will concentrate on in this account.

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The other spot we count the birds is known as Stanlow Point. This area is a sandstone outcrop on Stanlow Island. This area has plenty of history with ruins of an Abbey dating back to 1178, all that remains is a few old sandstone walls, most of the stone work was recycled to build a farm house in the 1800’s. When the refinery was established in the 1950’s the farmhouse was flattened and six terraced houses were built along with other buildings associated with the refinery. The houses were flattened in the late 1980’s, but some of the disused refinery buildings still remain with nature slowly reclaiming them back. More here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanlow_Abbey

The count day begins 3-4 hours before high tide and we meet at the oil refinery factory to check in with their security. From here we head to another part of the site to receive a visitor pass and another security check. We then park our vehicles and get ready for the day ahead. We are then taken by a refinery mini bus to the ferry terminal where we take a short crossing of the canal and onto the banks of the marshes.

The oil refinery is very much in use with oil tankers bringing crude oil in and other tankers taking the finished products out to the world beyond. Once across the Manchester Ship Canal we pass through a locked gate and onto Stanlow island itself. A small walk takes us pass some disused building and down to the area where the River Gowy enters the River Mersey saltmarsh after being syphoned under the ship canal.

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We approach the embers of the River Gowy as it finally enters ‘the big river’ to see what birds are feeding on the exposed mud. Eurasian Teal are the main species here with Common Redshank, Common Shelduck and Mallard. The teal can be in their 1000’s during the winter months and to watch them take to air in one massive flock is truly magical. From here all the counters are designated their allocated count spots and head off in their own directions, and for me it’s a long walk to Frodsham Score that lays 8 miles away. I cross the River Gowy and join the bank of the ship canal to my right. The first area is always good for passerines, mostly Goldfinch, Linnet and Stonechat. During the warmer months this is a great place for migrating Northern Wheatear.

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A quick scan over the salt marsh on my left and Canada Goose, Little Egret, Grey Heron and Common Shelduck are frequently seen. The sounds of Eurasian Curlew fill the air with their bubbling calls, but seeing them in the long vegetation is near impossible. I flush the odd Common Redshank as I trudge along. The canal on my right is very quiet with the odd Mallard where usually Gadwall are here, but not today.

I approach Ince banks on my right as the refinery comes to an end and farmland takes over. This area has a monument (a rail signal post) commemorating the days when the canal was built and 10 men were killed in a rail accident and they are buried at Ince church, all in one grave. DISASTER ON THE MANCHESTER SHIP CANAL. 1891-07-23| Flintshire Observer Mining Journal and General Advertiser for the Counties of Flint Denbigh – Welsh Newspapers. More here: https://newspapers.library.wales/view/3787282/3787284/3/LIVERPOOL

Onward with the bird count and 2 Great Egret show themselves, but disappear immediately into one of the deep gullies that drain the salt marsh on the ebbing tide. I flush a Woodcock from a patch of gorse bushes, it flew straight over the canal into a small wooded area and was lost to sight. As I’m walking along the bank the occasional Common Snipe takes flight. In the distance on the canal there are 50 Eurasian Coot and their numbers are building up. I have no idea why they come to this area during the winter but something attracts them.

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My first bird of prey is a male Common Kestrel hovering over the bank ahead of me and then 2 Common Buzzard are over the pig farm. I pass an old brick building that I’ve been told stored dynamite in a munishion magazine whilst the canal was being built. There are more Canada Goose herds out on the rivers edge with just their heads popping above the vegetation.

A large group of Long-tailed Tit bound around me like I wasn’t there. A quick scan across the marsh and a large flock of European Starling are feeding on the ground until a Merlin comes from nowhere and puts them into a small bait ball. The Merlin flew straight passed me and out of sight. A few Common Shelduck are dotted about and I see my first Eurasian Curlew.

I take a sharp left across the marsh towards the rivers edge. It’s a short walk if you know the route which avoids missing the many gullies that can be a few metres deep and the same width across. Flushing more Common Snipe with Meadow Pipit and the odd Eurasian Skylark. A small number of Canada’s are feeding to my my right a closer look through my binoculars produced 8 Egyptian Goose and 1 Ruddy Shelduck.

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At the rivers edge further towards Frodsham there are Eurasian Wigeon everywhere with Mallard and Great Cormorant which line up alongside Eurasian Oystercatcher. Now to my left I can see huge flocks of Dunlin opposite Stanlow Point and Manisty. On the river there’s a few Great Crested Grebe with more Common Shelduck bobbing up and down on the incoming tide. Small groups of Eurasian Curlew fly up river with more Common Redshank and Eurasian Teal which join them. I retreated back away from the incoming tide towards the ship canal embankment taking a slightly different route where I am fortunate to flush out 2 Jack Snipe and more pipits. Another Merlin again flew straight across in front of me, no more than 10m away.

In the distance ahead towards Helsby I can here the yelping cries of Pink-footed Goose and a quick look through my optics and I can see the first skeins appearing followed by wedge after wedge heading right towards me. They approach the marsh and the formations break up as they look for somewhere to land. The sound of the geese is truly amazing. Most of the geese land on the marsh to my left. I quickly pull out the scope and the clicker counter is in overdrive. I count 2000 ‘pinkies’ now on the marsh between myself and the ship canal path. Another 1000 came over Ince to my right, they didn’t land but went straight over head and up river towards Manisty.  I couldn’t avoid walking towards the grounded birds, so the inevitable happens they take to the air once again this time heading towards Frodsham Score and out over the river. They finally landed again on the rivers edge where I was standing 15 minutes earlier! A very special moment to treasure and I was completely on my own!

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Back on the canal bank I head left over the Holpool Gutter and onto Frodsham Score. I walk up to the ‘Alun Williams’ gun turret that was left behind after WW2, and is still there looking a bit rusty but ready for the next invasion (There’s also another pill box at Ince where the clay pigeon shooters play).

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More Eurasian Curlew and good numbers of Great Black-backed Gull are near the Weaver Sluice Gates. High tide has just passed, so I head back to Stanlow where another male Common Kestrel is hunting over the score. Little Grebe on the canal with a scattering of Pied and 2 Grey Wagtail feeding on both banks. A male Western Marsh Harrier is near Ince Berth and a few more Common Buzzard linger about.

I finally got back to Stanlow Point where I meet the other counters and we talk about what we have seen and usually have a moan about the weather and an update on the football scores. The ferry awaits and takes us over the ship canal and to our the mini-bus and we are soon back at our cars in no time.

We tot up our sightings and the day comes to a close. When I next do my count I’ll try and write another update from Manisty.

Observer and images: Shaun Hickey.

Additional articles covering this area are here: Round the Back pt 1 https://frodshammarshbirdblog.wordpress.com/2015/01/08/round-the-back/ and here Round the Back pt 2 https://frodshammarshbirdblog.wordpress.com/2016/04/12/round-the-back-part-2/

24.11.19. Birdlog.

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I started with a watch over Lordship Marsh this morning from Smithy Lane in Helby where the herd of 14 Whooper Swan were feeding in the flood water by the farm.

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I then moved on to Moorditch Lane and the first of many Redwing and Fieldfare were again present in numbers sharing a telegraph line with a couple of Common Kestrel.

Onward next to No.6 tank where Northern Shoveler, Common Pochard, Northern Pintail, Mallard and Eurasian Teal were all feeding in the shallower waters with 4 Mute Swan.

The local Common Buzzard were hunting the reed beds and flushed a group of 10 Common Snipe, it’s clearly evident that without persecution, raptors like the buzzard can thrive and adapt easily to a variety of different habitats and situations.

Looking over No.3 tank and a flock of c800 Northern Lapwing were with a few Golden Plover which dropped into the fields close to Marsh Farm.

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Across the Manchester Ship Canal and on Frodsham Score saltmarsh the wintering flock of (now) 14 Egyptian Goose were sharing the area with several Little Egret which spread out with the Canada Goose herds. A Cetti’s Warbler was singing in a reed bed along the path and a male Stonechat was playing hide and seek with a Common Kestrel, which eventually lost interest and moved on.

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The stubble field alongside the Holpool Gutter had a few hundred Northern Lapwing and Eurasian Curlew with a Merlin sat on a bale of hay watching over them all.

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Hundreds more winter thrushes were feeding along Lordship Lane attracting the attention of at least 2 Eurasian Sparrowhawk and a Peregrine. Many Pied Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Reed Bunting and Dunnock were all active along the lane, and a Jay flew off the bank of No.4 tank.

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Early afternoon and a look over Lordship Marsh from the junction of No.4 and 6 tanks gave me the opportunity to observe a group of egrets could be seen in the distance, and on closer inspection revealed 3 Western Cattle Egret and 2 Little Egret with c80 Eurasian Curlew. The new Cattle Egret flock brings the total number ever sighted here to 6 records.

Observer and images: Paul Ralston.