Wirral Bird Club - Archived Field Meetings 2005

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River Dee - December 2005
We are the Wirral Bird Club after all, and you certainly do not have to leave the peninsula to find plenty of birds in a beautiful setting. Our December field meeting took us to Banks Rd, Heswall. Scanning out over the marsh and the River Dee towards North Wales as the tide pushes the birds towards you can be a most rewarding sight, and we were not disappointed. One of the first birds we saw was a Peregrine perched on a pole, nonchalently preening and ignoring the clouds of waders rising and falling as the incoming water pushed them off the shoreline. Later, we had a very obliging merlin on a lone sapling on the marsh, eyeing its potential prey before suddenly taking flight. Initially it flew low across the reeds before accelerating and climbing in pursuit of what looked like a meadow pipit. The birds twisted and turned in aerial combat before we finally lost sight as they sped inland.

Meantime, the waders continued their business, either busy feeding to replenish their critical energy reserves, or starting to form hightide roosts, comforted by the safety in numbers of the massed ranks. Dunlin, knot, black-tailed godwit, curlew and lapwing were the most common. Teal, shelduck and pintail bobbed on the river itself or the smaller creeks that penetrate the marsh.

After lunch we moved inland along the Wirral Way, and increased our list with a number of woodland and farmland species. Among the more common thrushes and tits, redwing and fieldfare were evidence of winter arrivals from the continent. A lone (lesser) redpoll fed in a Silver Birch.

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Martin Mere - November 2005
The autumn had been particularly mild, until the week before our visit in late November, when a spell of cold northerly winds had brought in much colder weather. Martin Mere is a Wildfowl and Wetland Trust reserve, with hordes of winter swans, geese and ducks the main feature.

Whooper swans were certainly everywhere, but we failed to find one of the half dozen Bewick's that had returned so far this year. They were probably out feeding on the surrounding moss-land. Wild pink-footed geese and feral greylags and Canada geese were also seen. Numerous duck species were on the Mere, with pintail, wigeon and teal the most numerous. One or two drake goldeneye looked particularly splendid. Waders were less common, but the lapwings are always nice to see, and four ruff gave good close views.

There are other birds than wildfowl of course, and amongst the highlights were merlin and buzzard, numerous tree sparrows, a pair of obliging goldcrests and a stonechat.

At the end of the day, most members watched and listened to the spectacle of the feeding of the swans, a sight that encapsulates the Martin Mere experience.

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Moore Nature Reserve - September 2005
This reserve, near Warrington, has quickly become a favourite site for local birdwatchers, with something of interest all year round. Our visit in September was the first Field Meeting of the 2005/6 programme. For the end of September, the weather was wonderfully sunny and mild.

Whilst waiting for the final members to arrive, long-tailed tit, robin and blackbird put in an appearance. On Lapwing Lake we found a mix of geese (Canada) and duck (including mallard, pochard, tufted and ruddy duck). The high pitched call of a dabchick drew our attention to an adult feeding one of this year's fledglings.

On through the woodland we had to search more patiently as the trees were still full of leaf. A late chiff-chaff was calling but not seen. A green woodpecker proved elusive but most members eventually had a brief glimpse at least. Easier to see were kestrels and buzzards and later a pair of sparrowhawks, all enjoying the thermals as the air warmed up.

A particular feature of the day was the the large numbers of jays seen flying in the open. Usually a shy bird more often heard than seen, this activity was almost certainly related to their habit of storing caches of food, especially acorns for the winter

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Glyndyfrdwy - May 2005
We followed the valley up from the village, situated on the River Dee near Llangollen. Almost immediately we started to find some of the speciality species of these Welsh woods. Both Spotted Flycatcher and Pied Flycatcher, and Wood Warbler were seen, the characteristic trill of the later always a joy to hear each Spring. On the river, an unusually obliging Dipper gave excellent and classic views amongst the rocks under a small waterfall. A pair of beautifully marked Grey Wagtails fed on insects in the dappled sunlight. A cuckoo was heard in the distance, but unfortunately was not seen.

Higher up the valley, we turned onto the more open moor-land and the vista opened up, giving us wonderful views of the surrounding hills and valleys much of it carpeted in bright yellow flowering gorse. A Peregrine sped majestically by, a bird that was almost certainly breeding on a nearby crag. One or two probable Tree Pipits flitted around some small scattered trees, but were too far away to identify conclusively.

As we returned to the cars, the heavens opened, but our spirits were not dampened! The day was rounded off by a most entertaining performance from the volunteer signal box men for the level crossing on the Llangollen Railway! Even this had a birding flavour, as we noticed a Blue Tit family busily nesting in the top of the Signal Pole!

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Nercwys - June 2005
This is a traditional site for Woodcock and Nightjars, and the weather was set fair as we started to walk along the forestry track. This kind of bird watching requires patience, as the birds only materialise as the sun is setting, just when you think there will not be enough light to see them.

We waited patiently over-looking some suitable habitat. Was that the distant "churring" of a Nightjar? No, just someone zipping up their coat as the air started to chill just a little! Another wait. We hear Tawny Owls hooting, the sound seems to be coming from back where we had parked the cars! Then there comes a high "tsi-wick". Is it Heather's sandals squeaking again?!! No - there it is - a maleWoodcock performing its "roding" display flight around his territory. Just a silhouette, the bird skims the edge of the wood, then all too quickly disappears. Usually, the birds keep patrolling around the same circuit, but frustratingly our bird does not show again.
Even more disappointing, we neither heard nor saw any Nightjars.

This was not the most productive of evenings. But then again, if birding was always easy and predictable, we would not get so much enjoyment out of it. Do you agree?!

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Elan Valley -May 2005
This had to be one of the best day's birding I have had with Wirral Bird Club! A combination of great views of some wonderful birds, set amongst the spectacular, Welsh scenery in this beautiful valley, and in the company of enthusiastic Club members, all made for a memorable trip. Spring birding at its best!

As soon as we left the Elan Valley Visitor Centre, a Peregrine Falcon swept majestically along the valley ridge.

Once we entered Cnwch Wood on the opposite side of the River Elan, the speciality species of these oak woodlands soon started to show. First, a female, and then a superb male Pied Flycatcher flew around a nest-box, although we did not see either enter. We were to find many more examples of this smart species during the day.

The characteristic trill of a Wood Warbler was then heard, and after a brief search, a pair of these beautiful birds was located, and they proceeded to put on a wonderful display, with their lemon yellow throats and fluttering flight much in evidence. Common Redstarts also showed well, one pair by the river outside the Visitor Centre being especially obliging.

First a Garden Warbler and then a male Blackcap allowed visual comparison of these similar sounding species. The former especially gave good views, rather than following its more usual skulking nature hidden in the centre of a bush! We could make out its most striking characteristic - that it has no distinguishing features!

Red Kites soared on thermals above us, as did Common Buzzards, paired off in preparation for the breeding season ahead. A Tawny Owl sunning itself right on the edge of the wood was a nice find, albeit surprising! Common Sandpiper, Wheatear, Siskin, Raven, Tree and Meadow Pipits - I could go on and on, as we ended up with a final day-list of 47 species. It was a cracking day!

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World's End - April 2005
Just as dawn broke over the barren hills behind us, the bubbling coo of the lekking Black Grouse rose to a crescendo, producing a wonderfully evocative atmosphere. The birds sounded close, but in fact they were away on the brow of a small ravine.

As the light increased, we could see three birds posturing and beak thrusting at each other, raising their tails to flash the pure white under-tail coverts.The efforts to improve the status of this species are certainly welcome, and there are positive signs in North Wales at least.

Other moorland specialities started to become active. First a ghostly male Hen Harrier meandered slowly across the moor, once hanging in the wind in a Buzzard-like pose. Then a dashing Merlin flashed across the valley. Later a pair of Peregrines flew by in formation, presumably soon to be breeding on one of the bluffs nearby. Meadow Pipits were everywhere - no doubt providing plenty of prey for some of the raptors we had seen! In the conifers where we parked, Crossbills and Redpolls were busy feeding then flying noisily around in excited flocks. Crossbills are very early breeders, and we picked out some of the more streaky young birds from this year's broods. Other notable species seen were several Stonechats, Red Grouse and Wheatear.

Given the quite specific habitat in which there can often be a sparsity of birds, we ended with an impressive 20 species.

Eccleston and the River Dee
On the way back from World's End, we stopped at Eccleston and walked along the River Dee. Birds seen that are especially dependent on the river included a typical fleeting view of a Kingfisher, at least two inland Cormorants, Heron, and Coot. Amongst the trees lining the river were Mistle Thrush, Goldcrest and Nuthatch. Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler were heard more than seen. Above us in the now blue sky were a single House Martin, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk. From the village churchyard, we saw a pair of Mandarin Duck fly into a tree, a reminder that these feral birds are hole nesters.

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Spring Migration in Wirral - North Wirral Coastal Park - April 2005
Our local walk around the Coastal Park provided plenty of evidence of migrating birds. After some colder weather had held the first wave up, a couple of days of more southerly winds had kick-started mass movement again.

One of the first birds we saw was a superb cock Ring Ouzel, initially found sitting high in a bush. At a quick glance, it could be have been easy to dismiss it as a Blackbird, but with another look the white gorget showed brilliantly in the early morning sun. The bird flew down onto the ground, showing some white streaking in the wing. The bird looked a little bigger but slimmer than a Blackbird to us, maybe partly because of the longer wings required for its migration. This bird would soon move on to higher moor-land in the UK or even Scandinavia to establish its breeding territory, so we were privileged to see it.

There had been a large fall of Willow Warblers overnight, with many birds busy feeding in the small catkin-laden trees above the car-park. By contrast, we only heard one or two Chiffchaff, in the taller trees a bit further inland. The number of waders was down from the winter peak counts as many have started the journey to their northern breeding grounds, but there were still Sanderling, Knot, Turnstone, Curlew, Oystercatcher and Dunlin on the beach. There were also good numbers of Grey Plover, their black axillaries ("armpits") obvious on raised or flapping wings. A few birds over winter in the UK, but most of these would be en-route from West Africa to the high Arctic tundra.

Three Sand Martins and a single Swallow were my first sightings of these species for the year. Also of note was a pair of White Wagtails, the continental sub-species of our own Pied Wagtail. There is an annual passage of this race up the west coast of England, birds possibly en route to Iceland.

It was not just migrating birds of course. Skylarks were pouring out their beautiful repertoire overhead. A pair of Stonechats looked to be on territory around some bright yellow gorse in the dunes. In total we saw 35 species, and plenty of evidence that Spring is well upon us.

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Puddington to Shotwick (and Denhall Lane) - December 2004
The villages of Puddington and Shotwick are ancient, tucked away, and quite unspoilt. Even without the birds this was an interesting walk and of course, there was plenty of time to walk round the villages and even look into Shotwick church.

The day started with an albino jackdaw which looked very strange.

Although the walk was very muddy in parts, there were plenty of birds to be seen - notably fieldfare and redwing of which we had great sightings. Standing watching small birds in a farmyard, a sparrowhawk flew right through our group in pursuit of something for dinner!

After a late lunch, the day was rounded off with a walk along Denhall Lane. The salt marsh was full of birds, and we had superb views of a peregrine sitting on a post, several snipe, plenty of wigeon, a little owl, and at least four short eared owls which came in very close in to the lane.

Field Meeting to Penrhyn Bay and the Little Orme February 2004
A cloudless blue sky, brilliant sunshine and a bitterly cold wind coming straight off the sea - thank goodness for waterproofs and thermals! A walk along the shingle beach yielded a good selection of waders, including turnstone, oystercatcher, lapwing, while groups of wigeon bobbed on the sea with hundreds of gulls, and the occasional red breasted merganser and great crested grebe.

Two purple sandpipers were a nice sighting. A bracing climb onto the Little Orme was rewarded by a peregrine, half a dozen fulmars, some shag, lots of jackdaws and a pair of ravens. Stopping off at Pensarn and LLandulas on the way home, a party of 12 snow buntings were on the beach - a lovely sighting to round off the day.

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Field Meeting to Beeston - December 2003
The weather was kind - bright and not cold - and the sunshine encouraged the birds to show themselves! A pair of peregrine falcons displayed over the Castle, followed shortly afterwards by a pair of ravens, their plumage looking almost purple in the sunlight.

The walk took us over farmland (small flock of redwings, and a large flock of assorted gulls - mainly common) to the River Gowey and Shropshire Union canal, which we crossed by the Shady Oak. Several mallard and two mute swans took great interest in our coffee break edibles but we were largely ignored by a dozen or so happy house sparrows, busy doing what house sparrows tend to do. Walking back up the lane, we had excellent views of fieldfare - their muted colouring standing out extremely well, and just as contrast, the small, energetic, and visually stunning grey wagtail, almost near enough to touch, its long tail never still.

Crossing back through fields and farmyard, the most amazing spectacle of starlings feeding alongside cows in an open barn! They were lined up on the railings, on the cow's heads and backs, and were so thick on the ground it was like a moving carpet, a magic carpet which every so often would take off and fly a circuit of the surrounding fields before settling back to feed. The farmer should be congratulated on his 'open door' policy but it's doubtful if the poor cows would agree.

Over 40 species in all - a great day out.

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whooper swan landing at Martin Mere photograph J. Evans

Whooper Swan landing at Martin Mere

ringing at Woolston Eyes
ringing at Woolston Eyes


birding at Gigrin Farm, pic by Paul Thompson

Gigrin Farm

elan valley

Elan Valley

tawny owl

Tawny Owl at Elan Valley

bird club group at Glyndyfrdwy

World's End


Derwent Water

ring ousel by j.m. evans

Ring Ouzel

lunch break

Lunch break

oh my aching feet


among the bluebells at Melin y Wig

Power Station, Connah's Quay

Bluebell covered hillside, Melin-y-Wig

Beeston with castle in background