05.12.16. Birdlog

05.12.16. Water Pipit, Town Lane, Hale, Cheshire. Colin ButlerPatch Poaching Carla Lane (aka Carr Lane Pools)

After Tony’s patch poaching at Pickerings/Hale on Saturday (I was otherwise engaged) it was my turn to follow suit. I arrived at Town Lane and parked on the bridge. The flooded fields adjacent to the road known locally by birdwatchers as Carr Lane Pools were frozen and have recently played host to upwards of 5 Water Pipit. A bird that is usually difficult to catch up with on the Mersey marshes and was here for all to enjoy. I was alone and after setting up my telescope and giving the area a quick span I picked up the Peregrine. This bird regularly sits out on the dead trees of the duck decoy across the road on Hale Marsh.

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A few Little Egret were waiting for the water to unfreeze while a very confiding young male Kestrel was unconcerned by my presence. A group of Golden Plover and Curlew flew over disturbed briefly by the Peregrine which flew from the decoy before returning to its perch. The main reason for my off piste patch poaching across the river was to see a Water Pipit. It didn’t take too long before one appeared in the distant grass. Eventually walking through the vegetation and frozen ice to reach the spot where I was standing. A fine male Stonechat popped up on the hedge by the road before heading off to the salt marsh. I was joined during the course of my observation by Colin Butler and after a catch up I said my farewell and then headed south to the mothership that is Frodsham Marsh.

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The reassuring glow from the emitting industry awaited my arrival back on the marsh after a short hiatus. Along Moorditch Lane the winter thrush flocks were still present with the chacking and seeping calls of Fieldfare and Redwing filling the air. A big brutish female Sparrowhawk was working the hawthorn bushes attempting to force hiding thrushes from their safe refuge and causing mass panic with the Scandinavians. With the new arrival of immigrants into the area the raptor tally had increased with notable appearances by both Common Buzzard and Kestrel.

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I made my way to the viewing area above No.6 tank and was surprised to find that there was a large area of un-iced water available for the ducks. 23 Common Pochard outnumbered the only Tufted Duck present by a considerable margin (for a change). 30 Pintail, 2 Wigeon, 110 Shoveler, Gadwall, Mallard and 400 Common Teal were also on view. A flock of toing and froing Black-tailed Godwit peaked at 260 birds. A few Common Snipe got jittery whenever I shifted my position on the bank but a Ruff was unexpected but expected if you know what I mean?

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The mitigation area was frozen but a  Common Buzzard sat on a post drawing the attention of 5 Lapwing (unusually) repeatedly stooped at it (almost Spring like behaviour).

A roving band of Long-tailed Tit foraging through the shrubby banks included a brief Chiffchaff. Also on the warbler front an equally brief blast of a Cetti’s was there to remind me that it was still in the area.

05-12-16-stonechat-male-no-5-tank-frodsham-marsh-cheshire-bill-morton-2A very engaging male Stonechat kept me company while nearby a flock of 134 Goldfinch dropping down into the grassy fields of No.5 tank had 50 Meadow Pipit for companions.

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I left earlier than normal but the Starling roost was beginning to make it self known to the Sparrowhawk which I had been seen earlier.

Observer: WSM (images).

Image 1 by Colin Butler.

Birding the Dark Side!

03-12-16-cormorant-pickerings-pasture-tony-broome25-11-16-ditton-brook-pickerings-pasture-bill-mortonHaving seen photo’s of a Common Sandpiper at Ditton Brook, that one of the patchers had taken, had been ‘re-identified’ online as a Spotted Sandpiper, I was keen to go and see for myself, not because I doubted the original identification, but because I couldn’t form an opinion or argue for or against without actually having seen the bird for myself (which is always the best way). The photo in question was a relatively poor quality picture of a bird at an odd angle and into the light. So, with a sense of adventure, I headed down the M56 motorway and came off at Junction 12 as I normally do, but turned right, not left and drove towards Runcorn Bridge. It was a struggle. The car’s auto pilot tried to carry on left and I had to fight to get it to veer north across the river. There was also no coffee stop, no frothy latte, no banter with the experts who knew exactly how I liked my coffee in the morning. What was I doing!? I persevered and eventually wound my way around to arrive in Hale Village and having asked for directions, pulled into Pickering Pastures LNR car park. Phew, I made it! No border guards, no visa stamp, no inoculations and not even an interpreter needed. Bill had implied I would expect all of these.

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I headed for the white bridge over Ditton Brook, staring longingly at the tall white turbines in the distance, about two miles across the Mersey,  that marked the position of where I felt I should be on the weekend and at Frodsham Marsh. I stopped and watched some Goldcrest, their tiny size evident as they sat about a metre away. Blackbird abounded and fed on the path and in the leaves under the trees. The wind was cool, a breeze from the east whilst the sky remained gloomily grey, perhaps promising brightness at times but failing to actually deliver. I arrived at the bridge and noticed a couple already on the bridge. Rob and Carol Cockbain, two regular stalwart. We chatted about the sandpiper and local birding and they wandered off back towards the car park. I waited patiently for a sign of a wader, dodging the steady stream of cyclists that had planned their day out along the Trans Pennines Way, and as it happened, me. A few saw that I was trying to wait quietly for a bird and apologized for disturbing the peace and quiet. Most just talked loudly and carried on their way. The tide came in quickly. A nearby Cormorant caught a big flatfish of some description and swallowed it whole in no time.

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03-12-16-peregrine-from-pickerings-pasture-bill-morton-7I watched out across the river. A gathering flock of waders fed and preened on the nearest sandbank. 500 Golden Plover, 700 Lapwing and 1500 Dunlin, watched over in turn by a Peregrine on a heraldic shield on the bridge. Dave Craven turned up, a birding friend I’d never actually met in person. Another local birder on the Hale side, who along with Ian Igglesden, regularly gripped us Frodsham birders off with tales of good birds almost every day. As if by magic, Dave declared a sandpiper present on the mud along the brook and we both grilled it thoroughly in an attempt to confirm the original identification as a Common Sandpiper. It wasn’t difficult because that’s just what it was, a Common Sandpiper with all the correct plumage and structural requirements. Job done, we walked back towards the cars where we parted company, Dave heading off back home and me pouring a coffee and munching on my sandwiches.

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I finished the food and walked over to the screen hide where birds fed around the feeders. More Goldcrests. The photograph (image 3) showed one to have black feet and legs, aren’t they usually yellowish? Ian Igglesden appeared and we walked back to get the cars before driving around to Carr Lane pools. Full of birds, I was hoping to see a Water Pipit. There’d been up to five on this site. One called and landed amongst the grass, giving good views as it fed unconcernedly. 5 Little Egret darted about the pools in amongst the Teal. A Merlin perched up on a thin vertical branch, its tiny size evident and a Cetti’s Warbler called and showed briefly from the channel by the bridge. I left Ian there with a couple more regulars and headed off westwards and home, getting lost almost at once and took the long route via the M62. As it happened it didn’t make much difference, around 36.5 miles. Frodsham Marsh was a mere 26 miles.

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It had been a good day and completely different to birding Frodsham Marsh. More people but less traffic noise and a lot more close birds. Birds that you didn’t have to strain to see through a haze in the distance. It does make such a difference. However, a patch is a patch and walking about seeing very little on the south side didn’t seem to matter and as I left I was already mentally planning my route out for tomorrow. Intending to try for Woodcock.

Observer: Tony Broome (images 1 & 3-4 & 6-7.

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The rocky/muddy shoreline below the railway bridge. The heraldic shields often provide a handy perch for a Peregrine (see image 4).

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No Man’s Land as seen from West Bank/Pickerings Pasture Trans Pennine Trail.

01-12-16-views-from-westbank-widnes-bill-morton-4 Looking west along the Trans Pennine Trail to Pickerings Pasture.

Achieve images (2 & 5 & 8-10 ) by WSM.

01.12.16. Birdlog

23.02.14. Whooper Swanss, Lordship Marsh, Frodsham Marsh. Bill Morton8 Whooper Swan were back in the flooded fields adjacent to the blue slurry tank on Lordship Marsh.

Observer: Shaun Hickey.

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29-11-16-common-sandpiper-ditton-brook-pickerings-pasture-bill-morton-5Elsewhere there are wintering Common Sandpipers to be found on the Weaver estuary where there are 1-2 birds present.

Other birds are across the river at Pickerings Pasture scrape, Within Way, Spike Island and Ditton Brook. (images WSM).

A Black Redstart was found yesterday on the Gateway construction site road on Wigg Island.

The Viking Falcon

19-11-16-peregrine-adult-ethelfleda-railway-bridge-runcorn-narrows-from-mersey-road-runcorn-bill-morton-64I was out and about around Runcorn old town this morning and called in at Mersey Road to check on the Peregrine present on the bridge. After an absence of nearly 4 weeks the female Peregrine is back on her favourite perch. She sits boldly on the headdress of Britannia set into one of the heraldic shields that adorn the railway bridge. In actual fact the shield lays above the Widnes side of the river so now she’s known to me as the Viking Falcon.

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A brief history of time.

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In the year AD 915 the area south of the River Mersey was under the Kingdom of Mercia and was overseen by a Princess named Ethelfleda. She was the daughter of the Saxon King Alfred the Great. If you’re of a curtain generation then you may remember being taught this at school – Alfred was the king who burnt the cakes. Being the daughter of the king, Ethel was given charge to control the land of Mercia in this area up to, and including, the south shore of the River Mersey (the river derives its name from a Saxon word meaning ‘boundary’). The land to the north was controlled by the Danes (or Vikings if you like).

In more recent times the towns folk of Runcorn and Widnes got together and celebrated the naming of the railway bridge to their favourite daughter Ethelfleda.

19-11-16-peregrine-adult-ethelfleda-railway-bridge-runcorn-narrows-from-mersey-road-runcorn-bill-morton-11There is a point to this…when you travel across Runcorn Bridge from a southerly direction you can see adjacent to the road bridge a sandstone constructed railway bridge (Ethelfleda)  – both of these cross the River Mersey at the narrowest part of the Upper Mersey estuary.

04.07.16. Peregrine, Ethelfleda Railway Bridge. Bill Morton (1)

A car passengers view of where the Peregrine usually sits up on the railway bridge.

20.06.16. Peregrine, Runcorn Bridge. Bill Morton (2)

There are four heraldic shields depicting, two of Britannia seated and holding shields, one of a bird (which looks like a Black Stork but is probably a Cormorant) and one heraldic shield. Just below both of the Britannia shields is a metal via ferrata type ladder. Some days (normally during the winter months) you get a really good view of a fine adult Peregrine Falcon just perched up on the ladder. If there are lots of feral pigeons on the bridge then it’s unlikely the falcon will not be present.

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Ethelfleda Railway Bridge where the Peregrine rests up (viewed from Mersey Road, Runcorn).

Where to see the Peregrine.

The falcon can be seen from the comfort of your car along Mersey Road at either Runcorn old town or West Bank, Widnes. If it is there then it’s a lot safer viewing than craning your neck whilst attempting to drive over the bridge and looking for her.

Alternatively if you fancy combining raptor watching with some Starling murmurations then get here at 3.00 pm on a winters evening. There is a good chance to see Peregrine, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk or even a Merlin? The gulls move west to their roost site on the Mersey estuary at dusk and the chances of seeing large gulls like Iceland and Glaucous are real possibilities.

Video of the Peregrine here: https://vimeo.com/192287393

19-11-16-nordic-jackdaw-runcorn-heath-park-lake-runcorn-bill-morton-2On the same Scandinavian theme nearby the Nordic Jackdaw can still be seen at the park lake off Park Road, Runcorn for its fourth year.

WSM.

Nature Notes #56 (Odds & Sods)

31-10-16-3-year-old-male-black-headed-gull-colour-ringed-j2lc-spike-island-bill-morton-23A small collection of sightings from and about the River Mersey local to Frodsham Marsh.

31-10-16-3-year-old-male-black-headed-gull-colour-ringed-j2lc-spike-island-bill-morton-19Firstly, a colour ringed Black-headed Gull spotted at the canal zone at Spike Island, Westbank, Widnes. A group of birds brought to bread by passersby included a Black-headed Gull wearing a white ring on its right leg and the usual metal ring on its left leg. The letters and numbers displayed on the ring were J2LC on a white band. After sending off details to the BTO we received details of its history. First ringed on 14.05.12 Vaterland, Akershus, Oslo, Norway. After numerous summer revisits to Norway it was eventually spotted in the autumn in the UK at Spike Island in September 2015. So perhaps encouraging to see that it may have started a wintering regime here in the northwest?

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The second sighting involved a dead Conger Eel found on the banks of the river adjacent to Ditton Brook at Pickerings Pasture. The creature was a real river monster measuring roughly 2 metres and an estimate weight of 9 kg.

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04-11-16-conger-eel-dead-ditton-brook-pickerings-pasture-widnesThe video here: https://vimeo.com/190320080

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Fungi are always a popular feature and can be ‘sods’ to identified. I managed a few recent finds starting with this Earthstar which came in this mini form at Blakemere, Delamere Forest.

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A mould fungus measured 8 cm tall and 20 cm long and was at the base of a picnic bench in the forest.

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19-1016-cedar-of-lebanon-bill-morton-2Emerging Fly Agaric’s are few on the ground this autumn but a cluster of 80 were beneath a Cedar of Lebanon in the cemetery off Greenway Road, Runcorn.

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06-1016-coral-fungus-hale-park-bill-morton-9A bunch of Coral fungus were gathered on a wood chip pile at Hale.

common-stinkhorn-egg-daresbury-firs-david-stewartThe sleepy eye of an emerging Common Stinkhorn egg at Daresbury Firs was one of several found along the path leading up the hill path to the top of the firs.

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The 31st October saw a huge irruption of Harlequin Ladybirds locally with thousands about. They included hundreds huddled together and secreting themselves into car door and house door sills, post boxes and gate posts etc etc.

 

08.10.16. Birdlog (Part 1)

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08-10-16-pink-footed-geese-over-overton-hill-frodsham-tony-broome-1Up early and out down the M56 motorway towards Frodsham and the Marsh triangle… that area of sky above the patch that birds seemingly vanish into as they cross from Hale Head. I’d had a look earlier in the week from the old log and saw birds so high that only chance views through a scope had given their presence away. So today, I decided to try a different tack and headed for Frodsham’s Overton Hill, arriving about 08.20 hrs. I phoned Dave Craven over the river at Hale and he’d had several thousand Redwing already plus a Hawfinch going north and lots of finches. Interestingly he did say that the birds were high today, even over Hale. It was virtually calm with only the lightest of south-east breezes, and complete herring-bone grey-white cloud cover, making birds easy to pick up, or so I thought.

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The hill provided a great vantage point with views across the Mersey estuary towards Hale and Pickerings Pasture, and east into the Weaver Valley towards the rising sun. Birds could be picked up by accident through binoculars or through a scope coming towards us, but most were picked up on call as they flew overhead.

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The first birds that came into view were Wood Pigeon, heading south in small parties, perhaps 50 to 100 ft above the hill. The Overton Hill is just over 430 ft above sea level, so they were passing over up to 600 ft. Finches, pipits and wagtails went through, also in small parties, and usually at a similar height of the Wood Pigeon although many were even higher by perhaps another 50 ft, so around the 650 ft mark. The most surprising flock was that of about 50 Redwing which we only picked up by chance as they flew above some other birds. They were just visible through 10x binoculars, mere specks up towards the cloud base, at least 500 ft higher again, putting them at well over a thousand ft up. Amazing! No wonder you can’t see many viz-mig migrants over the marsh, they are just too high!

What was nice was a movement of Pink-footed Goose, all in from the west and all eventually turning north, as though they’d come in from Iceland and hit the coast too far south for the Lancashire mosses, so turned around and headed off up there, around 940 birds in five flocks. The first flock flew at us at eye level before turning around, giving some great views. In the photos it’s possible to see many juveniles.

The tally between 08.20 hrs and 10.05 hrs was: 10 Pied Wagtail, 41 Meadow Pipit, 123 Wood Pigeon, 3 Stock Dove, 76 Redwing, 1 Fieldfare, 38 finch sp, 13 Chaffinch, 8 Skylark, 1 Reed Bunting and 3 Song Thrush. Not massive numbers but I think it could be very good in the right weather conditions.

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A selection of images from Overton Hill looking down to the marshes.

Observer and images: Tony Broome.

15.09.16. Birdlog & Gowy Meadows Notes

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Another brief evening visit to the marsh just to see what’s been coming or going. My destination was the north banks of No.6 or the south banks of No.5 tank depending how you look at it.

A flock of 10 Avocet were leftover from the flock that had arrived yesterday and they were joined by 15 Ruff and 7 Dunlin.

Ducks are a big feature on Frodsham Marsh at the moment and some species are always the bread and butter birds  (Tufted Duck and Common Teal). While others are passing through or beginning to spend the winter (Shoveler and Wigeon). All in all it’s worth spending some time working your way through the flocks you never know you might find the juvenile Garganey which which I again picked out from the hundreds of teal.

A juvenile Marsh Harrier flew from No.5 tank and then disappeared over the mitigation which in turn had 21 Common Teal to show for all the money that’s been  spent on it!

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15-09-16-leucistic-carrion-crow-pickerings-pasture-halebank-cheshire-bill-morton-1215-09-16-leucistic-carrion-crow-pickerings-pasture-halebank-cheshire-bill-morton-1Earlier I came across this partial leucistic Carrion Crow in a stubble field. I’ve often come across crows with various degrees of leucism but this one was one of the better marked birds,

Observer and images: WSM.

Gowy Meadows

An evening walk along the Gowy Meadows and the highlights were a Red-breasted Merganser and Kingfisher. A ‘white’ Starling was seen in a flock near the air products site along the Shropshire Union Canal  earlier in the day.

Observer: Paul Ralston.