01.06.17. Birdlog & NN #59

A few interesting nature notes from this evening included a Grey Seal spotted off Oglet shore on the incoming tide. A Hobby was seen edging along the steep banks of the Mersey Way and was a typically brief sighting.

A reestablishing colony of Honey Bees were clustered along a tree branch on the bank. The bank had been scorched by a recent fire and presumably the fire had destroyed their hive and the bees were protecting their queen by shielding her from any other threats. Honey Bee video here: https://vimeo.com/219917448

After a visit to the back-end of Kelsall later this evening for Luke Lozsanlov-Harris’s Iberian Chiffchaff it was down to the marsh for a reality check.

The first new day of the month wasn’t particularly inspiring but I can think of worse places to spend the last part of the evening. There were just a few Black-tailed Godwit on both No.3 and 6 tanks with 27 Avocet and 60 Dunlin, the non-breeding plumage bird was still present.

Common Shelduck are still increasing in numbers with presently c300 birds on the shallow waters of 6. There were 4 drake Common Pochard, c100 Mallard, 40 Tufted Duck and 34 Gadwall.

A Cetti’s Warbler continues to attract attention with its explosive song along the byways of the marsh.

The Peregrine was sat on the blue topped chimney and a smart male Marsh Harrier was seen. Common Swift were over Main Street in Frodsham.

Observers: Ian Iggulden, Gary Worthington, WSM (images).

01.05.17. Birdlog (Part 2) & NN #58

I thought this mornings watch by Joe from Chester couldn’t get any better considering the volume of marsh terns sweeping across Cheshire  (how wrong could I be).

Myself and Sparky decided to spend some of Bank Holiday Monday walking the trails of Delamere Forest. When we arrived it seemed that all the world, its wife and kids had come up with the same idea (that Gruffalo in the forest has got a lot to answer for ;O). Renegotiating our route we walked out to the former Eddisbury Fruit Farm on Yeld Lane in the hope of seeing some of the lingering Waxwing that were reported yesterday. Drawing a blank we were just about to turn tail and wander back into the forest when the trilling calls lured us up the lane to a tree where the flock were sat out in the open.

The birds were still gorging themselves on the fermenting apples still bubbling away on the floor of the  orchard. Going by the methane haze hanging above the tree you can only imagine the wind swaying the branches (and I’m not talking about the breeze). The highlight was the bizarrely unique experience of trilling Waxwings and a singing male Cuckoo in the distance…surreal!

While we were in the forest I received a text from PR who was out on the marsh and kept me abreast of the Black Tern situation on the Weaver Bend…they were still there!

When you have a partner who isn’t remotely interested in birding it can take a lot of diplomatic negotiations to persuaded them that a Black Tern is of paramount importance. If that doesn’t work, falling to your knees and sobbing uncontrollably usually does the trick!

We had a lovely walk in the forest with a Redpool flock and a Crossbill heard. When Paul sent me another text saying that there was now 14 terns we delayed a visit to the local supermarket and was on the Weaver Bend in the blink of an eye.

On arrival Sparky was the first to spot the Black Tern flock hawking over the ‘bend’ while a Lesser Whitethroat was singing from the eastern banks of the I.C.I tank. Although the lads on scrambler bikes could have been a bit more thoughtful (as if).

Other birds noted this afternoon included: Swift, Cetti’s Warbler and 2 Marsh Harrier per Shaun Hickey, Gary Worthington.  Also spotted from the Hale side of the estuary was an Arctic Tern flying alongside Frodsham Score plus 4 Black Tern leaving the Weaver estuary and a Little Gull by the sluice gate close to Marsh Farm Farm. Observers: Dave Craven & Ian Igglesden.

Paul was situated on the bank watching the terns and we both took loads of photographs while they were unconcerned by our presence. During the course of our watch more birds joined those already present and another 16 were added. At the last count 32 birds were on the river.

Nature Notes #58

Paul had witnessed earlier in the day the spectacle of a Stoat killing a young Rabbit and managed to capture the moment on his camera.

Observers: Frank Duff, Mike Turton (image 1), Paul Ralston (images 5 & 7-13), Sparky, WSM (images 2-4 & 6).

10.04.17 Birdlog & NN#57

A short walk from Ince to the Holpool Gutter early evening with Chiffchaff and a few Swallow which were near the Pig Farm. There were 13 Mute Swan were with the Canada Goose on the Manchester Ship Canal. A male Marsh Harrier was over No.4 tank and was mobbed by a Raven. Walking back to Ince and a group of Little Egret were feeding at one of the pools before going to Their roost.

Observer: Paul Ralston (image 1).

A day off today and I’m on gardening duty. One of our tasks was to shift and haul the erratic granite mini boulder. I found this last year in a field in Daresbury and intended to use it as a feature in the yardinere. Anyway after rearranging some logs and the bug condominium I found a couple of spiders species that are worth mentioning. The first were several Woodlouse Spider hidden behind a plaque on the garden wall. The spiders had constructed a funnel-web which had been decorated with wood chipping and a macabre collection of desiccated Wood lice attached. The second species was a Black Lace-weaver Spider – Amaurobius ferox which was also attached to the plaque and found in a wood pile. Both species are common but difficult to find. Video of Woodlouse Spider here: https://vimeo.com/212645883

After all that work we decided to head out to Delamere Forest for a walk but not before having a brew and a slice of cake from the highly rated Station Cafe off Station Road. We bumped into a birder (Graham Connolly and his family) and he mentioned he had just seen a flock of Waxwing situated in trees in the car park at Linmere Visitor Centre. After a light lunch we headed over to where Graham said the waxies were. When we finally arrived at the spot there was nothing to see, so cursing our luckl or the lack of it we continued to Eddisbury Fruit Farm. Walking past Linmere Farm the distinctive sound of a flock of 21 Waxwing could be heard and seen as they flew over head in the direction of the visitor centre. We decided to do a 180 and head back to the centre. On arrival the flock was perched up in the newly leafing trees in the car park and were there for 30 minutes before restlessly flying off.

We eventually headed out to Blakemere where the colony of Black-headed Gull were busily engaged in their courtship or nesting. A pair of 2nd summer Mediterranean Gull were on the periphery of the main gull group and spent some time posturing to each other.

Continuing we encountered Siskin and Lesser Redpoll, Willow Warbler and Blackcap which were fairly active alongside our walk. A Crossbill could be heard distantly over Station Road on our way back to the car.

Observers: Sparky and WSM (images 3-4 & 5-6).

Additional image (4) by Graham Connolly.

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.

 

Nature Notes #55 ‘Fungal Jungle (Part 2)’

06-10-16-earthstar-hale-woods-dave-stewart-2

20-12-15-earthstar-delamere-forest-bill-morton-6I have a bit of a soft spot when it comes to fungi. I always have since I discovered an antique green coloured spotted Verdigris toadstool when I was a kid and ever since whenever the opportunity comes along I’ll take a peep or photograph them. I consider myself an enthusiastic spotter of fungi rather than a mycologist ( I’ll leave all the expert stuff to Fungal Dave).

September – October starts the puffball rolling and with the arrival of autumn comes a time of plenty, beneath the berry laden hedgerows, hidden in fields and scattered in the leaf litter of a woodland floor are the fungi families and a life form which is more tuned to us humans than they are to plant life. I try my best to identify what I can and as a rule I generally don’t rely on posting any photographs to forums or online experts of the fungal species which I find. If I make a mistake with identifying them it’s my mistake and an added opportunity to learn from it.

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What fascinates me about fungi is the variety of species from slime moulds through to the intricately structured ornate species and the variety of habitats they occupy plus they come in some weird shapes, colours and wonderful forms.

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Where are the best places to get to see them and when. The best place I know to see fungi is without doubt Delamere Forest although examples can be found anywhere. The growth in the use of wood chippings from garden centres has increased the dispersal of some species. I’ve found earthstars, stinkhorns and milkcaps in weird places and well away from their usual habitat. Local Nature Reserves are a good source of spotting toadstools/mushrooms. One particular site close to me is Runcorn Hill and its declining heathland and its mixed deciduous woodland. Keep a lookout for fruiting Fly Agaric and with the mild weather conditions I would expect to be seeing them well into December.

Images 1 & 5 Dave Stewart and images 2-4 WSM.

18.09.16. Birdlog & Nature Notes #54

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After spotting a tweet about 4 Great White Egret from Dave Craven over at Hale lighthouse and due to my limited availability today, I decided I shouldn’t miss out on relocating his discovery out on Frodsham Score. However, the score isn’t that easy to access especially since the turbines have been erected on the marsh. So, the easier option was to watch from Runcorn Hill which would give me a wide panorama vista across the Mersey Estuary and the Frodsham Score salt marsh.

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Where I was set up the morning sun soon warmed the back of my neck and cast some excellent light across the river. It didn’t take long before I singled out a Great White Egret which flew across the salt marsh to join a second bird. Further along the tidal gutters emerged a third bird and close to a group of gorging Raven, Great Black-backed Gull and Carrion Crow feasting on another dead sheep was a fourth bird. A potential fifth bird gave a tantalizingly brief view in a gutter close to a group of 19 scattered Little Egret.

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Observer and images: WSM (with a grateful nod to DC).

18-09-16-frodsham-score-from-frodsham-marsh-paul-ralston-1A walk from Ince along the Manchester Ship Canal as far as No.4 tank during high tide.  A Little Grebe has joined the Mallard and Common Teal on one of the new pools at Ince and a Chiffchaff was feeding in the trackside vegetation. Along the canal path 2 more Chiffchaff were noted and the ‘Heinz 57 goose’ was on the canal with the Canada  . Two of the WeBs counters were making their way along the salt marsh ready for their high tide count in the warm sunshine.

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18-09-16-pleasure-boat-on-the-msc-from-frodsham-marsh-paul-ralston-2A small pleasure boat made its way west along the canal and flushed a Green Sandpiper as it went by while a female Stonechat was flycatching from a hawthorn bush. A flight of several Common Snipe flew overhead on to 4. A couple of hundred Dunlin were resting by the Holpool Gutter as the tide filled the channels and were joined by Oystercatcher, Redshank and Curlew. There were at least 10 Little Egret and a single Great White Egret were feeding as the water covered the marsh (where the other four went I have no idea?). A Peregrine chased down a wader and landed with it in the shallow water while the local gulls and crows tried to intimidate it while the raptor impressively mantled its prey. There were at least 2 Pink-footed Goose on the marsh.

A further 25 Pink-footed Goose were spotted by the WeBS counters along with confirmation that there were 5 GWE at Ince Marsh). Eds.

Observer: Paul Ralston (images 4-6).

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The middle of September 2016 and the height of the Autumn migration, or at least it is if you are on the east coast. I thought that I’d give Frodsham Marsh one more chance to prove itself as I headed down the M56 at the rather casual time of 9.30 am. It wasn’t to be a journey without incident. As I passed junction 11 I was thinking of where I’d start my bird watch off and was idling along in the middle lane (like you do) when I noticed what I took to be a big white paper bag in the outside lane close to the central reservation. As I passed it, it put its head up, looked around, and went back to sleep. An adult Mute Swan asleep with cars narrowly avoiding a collision with it! I called the emergency services but they’d had several calls already and were on their way. It had been a full harvest moon last night and I wondered whether the swan had mistaken the motorway for a river?

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Calling at the local coffee house briefly for two take-out lattes, extra hot, one shots, I headed for the junction of tanks 3, 5 and 6, parked up and set up for a raptor vigil, the clear blue sky and sunshine looking promising for big birds of prey. Common Buzzard were everywhere with at least 14 throughout the day. Add to that a Marsh Harrier quartering No.3 and 5, with 3 Kestrel and 4 Sparrowhawk and a Hobby soaring in the distance over No.3 and it wasn’t a bad tally. But no Osprey or Honey Buzzard as hoped for. The second sighting of Marsh Harrier was over No.5 where it soared through the array of wind turbines level with the middle of the blades. If they’d been going around, it might not have been so good for the harrier.

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Out on the mitigation (see image 7) 9 Wigeon dropped into the pools but disappeared into the waist-high vegetation, the pools remaining invisible due to the lack of credible management. 2 Ruff flew over onto No.6 tank.  The recent passage of hirundines were few and I only saw Swallow, perhaps 20-25 through the day. The local Meadow Pipits and a few Skylark flew about the beds but there was not obvious movement.The vast thistle beds held big flocks of swirling Goldfinch, and I guessed at over c500, but it could easily have been double that.

18-09-16-secluded-poolfrodsham-marsh-tony-broome-2Alyn Chambers appeared and joined us for an hour or so. He had walked all the way down the south side of No.4 and had many warblers during the walk. All I had Chiffchaff calling! A Kingfisher flew past over No.3 before turning around and heading for the ‘Splashing Pool’ where Alyn had seen it earlier. The dried up pools on No.3 had four alba Wagtail and a Yellow, but no waders. A Dunlin did fly over and looked as if it was interested, but thought better of it and flew back to the Frodsham Score where the high tide at around 1400hrs covered some of the Score marsh but not enough to push any waders onto the tanks. No.6 has at last got a muddy margin, but apart for a couple of waders Alyn saw, there was nothing of note.

18-09-16-migrant-hawker-frodsham-marsh-tony-broome-2I had a look at the secluded pool but apart from a single Tufted Duck and 3 Coot, it was birdless at first. A Water Rail did scream a little after I arrived and there were 2 or 3 Reed Warbler in the margins, but nothing major. Insects took over my attention as a fine Small Copper landed in front of me. They aren’t very common and a September one was nice. Large White’s and Red Admiral were moving south throughout the day and I saw c10 of the former and c25 of the latter, all singles and all straight through. There was a handful of local Small Tortoishell as well. The pool had a single Common Darter, 2 Brown Hawker and around 10 Migrant Hawker.

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A quick look at No.6 on the way past revealed a couple of hundred ducks, mainly Common Teal, but the sunlight was against me and I carried on to Marsh Farm where I found the fore-mentioned Hobby still quartering the thistle beds, but still too far away for a photo. The farmer had dumped a dead calf next to the track and the putrid smell attracted hundreds of flies (and surely competed with the stinkhorn mentioned in NN#53). Surely to leave a dead animal where members of the public can walk by is against Defra policy?

A weather front approached from the west and the last rays of silver light caught the turbines on No.4. Not a bad day if only for the sunshine and 22c. It was just nice to have been out with a chance of something unusual. Maybe next time…?

Observers: Tony Broome (images 7-13) and Alyn Chambers.

Nature Notes #54

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18-09-16-black-darter-black-lake-delamere-forest-bill-morton-35A late summer walk along the sun dappled glades of Delamere Forest hoping to find a few ordanata and early autumnal fungi. At Black Lake there were still a few darters and dragonflies including a very confiding Black Darter with Common Darter and two Brown Hawker actively hunting around the water margins.

Earlier as we headed out to Black Lake from the main path we took a diversion through a less worn route which we hadn’t covered before. All along the walk in a series of spots you couldn’t avoid smelling the rancid odour of Stinkhorns. 18-09-16-stinkhorn-delamere-forest-bill-morton-1The smell hangs in the air in patches but because of the heavy growth of bracken it was almost impossible to find the fungi. One particular spot produced a rampant stipe complete with oozing head covered in flies and didn’t half pong! There were several emerging eggs ready to thrust out of the ground and it looked and reads…”Carry On-esk”.

A short distance away were a few Tawny Grisette and a rarely encountered Clitocybe Odora. Further discoveries revealed numerous Earthballs, Burgundy coloured Russula’s and Saffron Milkcaps.

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Observers: Sparky, WSM (images 1-3, 14-18).