Wirral Bird Club - Archive 2008

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Dee Marshes - Saturday 13th December 2008
Although it was on the schedule, we didn't quite make it to The Harp for a lunchtime drink. The birds on the Dee Marshes for our December were so exciting we decided to pass the opportunity of liquid refreshment! The real highlight was the splendid show that the wintering Hen Harriers put on quartering over the flat marshland trying to spook and catch the next meal. We reckon we saw at least 3 female or immature "ring-tail" birds. The rather grey skies made the white patch at the base of the tail stand out really well against the birds otherwise brown plumage. There was also a male bird with its handsome grey colour and contrasting black wing tips. It also showed a few specks of brown on the wings, suggesting it was not a full adult. The harriers passed really close to us on occasions, as good a view as I have had on the Dee. A supporting cast of Short-eared Owls added to the excitement, with their more bouncy flight helping identify them even at a distance. This seems to have been a really good winter for Hen Harriers and Short-eared Owls on the Dee estuary, hopefully a sign of a successful breeding season. Reed Buntings also seemed to be particularly abundant amongst the reeds and bushes, both male and female birds. A large flock of Lapwings took the to air, always a wonderfully evocative sight to me. Often this is a sign of an approaching raptor but we could not pick out any menacing Peregrines or Merlins in the area. Large numbers of Oystercatchers were flying to their traditional high tide roosts, with the occasional Redshank and Snipe. Both Grey and Pied Wagtail were found, but unfortunately no sign of the regular Water Pipits at Neston Old Quay. We were lucky to find a Stonechat which showed well in characteristic pose on the top of various pieces of vegetation in between forages onto the ground for food. Robins and Blackbirds were much in evidence as is often the case in winter when 'our' birds are supplemented by migrating birds from further north or even from the continent. Surprisingly for this time of year though, we did not find any winter thrushes, the Fieldfare or Redwing. The total species count for the day was 45.

Pen Y Ball Top and Flint - Sunday 30th November 2008

The day started cold and foggy at Pen Y Ball Top but within half an hour the sun burned through and it became bright and sunny - which was good for us, and for the birds.

The scrub around the top of the hill held numbers of small birds including stone chat, wren and song thrush, but as the gorse gave way to open fields it was lovely to see a sizeable mixed flock of redwing and fieldfare with the occasional mistle thrush. There were stunning views over the coast, right the way across to Wirral from the meadows at the edge, a couple of raven flew past, and buzzards were very visible.

The estuary was rather bleak as we moved to Flint for lunch, the tide was pretty well full in, with a sharp wind blowing through. It was hard work birding but careful scanning revealed great crested grebe, redshank, teal, dunlin, cormorant, and assorted gulls with a little egret showing well.

A total of 46 species for the day - our thanks to Bill for leading in Hugh's absence.

Corwen - Sunday 28th September 2008

September is a month when winter migrants are beginning to arrive, in small numbers to start with, while at the same time a few summer visitors still linger.
The morning walk for the meeting at Corwen took us first along a hedge lined path towards the summit of Caer Drewyn, an iron age fort. The early morning mist and drizzle made finding the birds difficult, with fleeting views of tits and Dunnocks. We slowly added to the day list with corvids aplenty - Rook, Carrion Crow, Raven, Jackdaw, Magpie and Jay. Robins were very evident the whole day, their mournful autumn song providing an almost constant chorus. How many of these were continental birds supplementing our own birds for the winter? A Willow Warbler was a late stayer, yet to make its long migration to the sub-Sahara. Meadow Pipits inhabited the higher levels. As the grey weather finally started to lift, a Buzzard was spotted on a telegraph pole, and more were seen later as the air temperature rose. Another passage migrant, an elusive Pied Flycatcher was only seen by Muriel along the old railway line. A single House Martin flew over Corwen itself, apparently left behind by its fellow martins and swallows that would have nested in and around the town.

After lunch, we moved on to the Corwen-Cynwyd Railway Line at Stamp. At the historic Llangar Church, we disturbed a mixed flock of Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Mistle Thrushes feeding on an old Yew. Slowly, they started to return as we left the area. On the River Dee, Bill saw a fleeting Kingfisher disappear into a bank-side bush but it failed to reappear for the whole group to see. Cormorants flew off from their inland roosts. A small party of members made a final walk along the path of the railway, with a Bullfinch calling but frustratingly not seen. We soon came across a large and active tit flock however. A Goldcrest performed well in a Hawthorn bush in front of us and Barry picked out a Marsh Tit, a nice bird to end the day.

Hilbre Island. Saturday 30th August 2008
Liverpool Bay hosts hundreds of terns at this time of year, with Sandwich and Common Terns in abundance. Giving them continuous grief were several Arctic Skuas. Often working in pairs, these klepto-parasites harried the terns forcing them to disgorge their food. Very common, either feeding on or flying over the water, were Cormorants, plus a single, immature Shag. Unusually, quite a few Gannets were observed on the sea, while others were seen in characteristic plunge-dives for food. More distant views were had of Manx Shearwater, Great-crested Grebe, Common Scoter and Guillemot. Grey Seals are always inquisitive of visitors to Hilbre and as they were pushed off the Hoyle Bank by the incoming tide, several come over to investigate us.

Wader numbers had not risen to their winter peak yet, but we had excellent views of Oystercatcher, Curlew, Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwit, Turnstone in varying plumages, Ringed Plover and a single Knot as the tide pushed the birds to roost.

On the island itself Linnets fluttered noisily around the seed heads and Meadow Pipits also were evident, both these species being resident on Hilbre. A female Wheatear had stopped off on its way south, while above our heads a slow stream of Swallows were also making their long journey to South Africa.

The last species for the day was a fly-by Peregrine as we walked back across the sands to West Kirby. It swooped low over Hilbre putting up all the birds that had been feeding and roosting on the receding tide line, but did not seem to make a concerted effort to pick out a prey item. Instead it climbed high and loafed off towards Liverpool.

Staying on Hilbre over a high tide is one of the bird watching events in the North West of Britain. We saw 40 species in total, but there was so much more to the visit than just seeing the birds, good as they were. The whole experience is unique, being totally at one with nature, isolated not just physically from the mainland but also from the trials and tribulations of modern life.

Ellesmere and Wood Lane NR Saturday June 28th

We traditionally visit the Shropshire Meres in the winter looking for ducks, Kingfisher and occasional oddities such as Goosander and Smew. For a change, a summer trip was arranged to see what we could find in a different season.

Starting at The Mere in Ellesmere, we were immediately tripping over Canada Goose and Mallards coming for bread that day-trippers frequently throw out! On the water, families of Mute Swans and Mallards kept a more discreet distance. Post-breeding Coots congregated on the far side of the Mere. On a quieter stretch of water, a flock of Great Crested Grebes floated serenely.

We walked through the parkland surrounding The Mere, the trees in full leaf, and slowly ticked off typical species such as Treecreeper, Nuthatch, and the common Tits. A different call brought our attention onto a single Marsh Tit, but it soon moved on and disappeared into the foliage. Blackcaps could be heard but were more difficult to spot. A gentle climb onto Castle Hill gave great views over the Mere and surrounding countryside, and also delivered Chiffchaff, Great-spotted Woodpecker and a very obliging Jay.

After lunch we moved onto Wood Lane. The highlight here was the Sand Martin colony. Numbers were perhaps past their peak, but enough birds were still flying in and out of their excavated nest holes in the man-made sand bank to make an impressive sight. Swifts, Swallows and House Martins were also seen during the day.

A Sparrowhawk made a spectacular attack on the feeding station by the hide, but failed to hit its target. It sat dejectedly on the peanut feeder for a few moments before flying off. The Tree Sparrows and Chaffinches could relax again for the time being at least. Sedge Warbler, Oystercatcher and Lapwing were spotted around the small pools together with Moorhens, Tufted Duck and a Heron.

So I think we can say the June visit was a success. The weather was kind to us for once this summer, and we clocked up 45 species for the day.

AGM Thursday 27th May 2008
Read the Chairman's Report

River Churnet Valley Saturday May 17th

Once we gave the coach driver the correct site details, we finally made it to Consall Nature Park!

In keeping with this Spring's weather, it was a little cool and overcast, but just the odd spot of rain. An unusually tame Great-spotted Woodpecker entertained us at the Visitors Centre, along with Robin, Dunnock and Nuthatch. The trees were getting quite full into leaf, making seeing the birds more difficult, and putting our song and call identification into practice.

Song Thrushes seemed to be calling everywhere, plus Blackbird and Mistle Thrush. Warblers were also plentiful, with Chiffchaff, Willow, Blackcap and Garden Warblers all present.

Crossing the River Churnet and on into RSPB Booth's Wood, it was unfortunately really quiet but Paul finally found us a dapper male Pied Flycatcher. We returned to the Visitors Centre for lunch - and the best bird of a day. On first glance it was called as a Buzzard, but the large, broad-winged, soaring bird soon turned into a superb Goshawk. This was a first sighting ever for several members, so a real bonus. It slowly drifted effortless away out of view behind the tree line, so we moved on for the afternoon walk.

We followed the canal path north with Swifts, Swallows and House Martins feeding busily overhead. Dragging ourselves past the Black Lion, we noted a pair of Grey Wagtails feeding underneath the weir. A stop at Consall Station allowed a bit of train spotting and a frustratingly brief view of a Dipper! Pheasants were plentiful, presumably the result of local rearing.

We had 39 species for the day, and we only explored a fraction of this beautiful valley site, so we have a good excuse to return.

Llanfair Talhaiarn Saturday April 26th
For the end of April, the weather was still cool but at least it remained dry for us. In the village car park, there were plenty of House Sparrows but surprisingly no House Martins. Following the River Elwy, Chiffchaff were calling, our first summer migrant.

As we climbed into slightly more scrubby habitat, the Willow Warbler replaced its cousin. A male Redstart showed briefly then frustratingly disappeared before everyone had good views. Above a field with a herd of cows, many Swallows and House Martins plus one or two Sand Martins fed constantly, no doubt keen to refuel on the insects.

As we neared Bont-y-Gwyddel, a stop on a small bridge provided excellent entertainment as a Dipper flew back and forwards over our heads! A Grey Wagtail was another typical bird of this habitat. The stop for lunch on a stone bridge gave another chance to study Dippers and a pair of Grey Wagtails close up. A Kingfisher was less obliging. An accidental game of Pooh Sticks with a seat mat completed the stop! Thank you to Viv for retrieving it from down-stream!

On the return journey, Pied Flycatchers seemed to be everywhere, both males and females, although we could not find another Redstart. As we neared the end of the walk, a pair of Goosanders flew off from the river. As Wirral birders, we are more used to seeing these birds on the coast in the winter, but of course they move onto rivers in the summer to breed.

We clocked up 45 species, with the returning migrants especially pleasing to see again. Surely the weather must improve soon!

Leasowe Common Evening Walk Thursday April 10th
Spoonbill, Great Grey Shrike, Garganey - we didn't see any of these birds at the evening meeting on Leasowe Common!!! As we congregated in the car-park by the lighthouse, the clouds gathered and darkened, the heavens opened, and we were pelted with torrential rain and hail accompanied by claps of thunder! It did not take long for the group to agree to cancel the event. Pity the migrants that we had hoped to see having to battle against the elements in their effort to reach their breeding areas. However, the species mentioned at the start of this article were all seen locally in the following couple of 2 days, indicating that such inclement weather only delays the inbred migratory behaviour.
[No photos!].

little neston group photo ©Bill Dickinson
burton marsh photo© Bill Dickinson
PenYBall Top ©JMEvans Monument PenYBallTop JMEvans© View from PenYBall Top JMEvans© flint marshes photo ©JMEvans
Birding at PenYBallTop JMEvans© Flint Castle JMEvans© Birding at Flint JMEvans©
Corwen Hill Fort photo ©Bill Dickinson Corwen River Dee photo ©Bill Dickinson
orwen, Muriel in pursuit of birds, photo© Pat Butler Corwen Llangar Church photo© Jennifer Evans
sea watching from hilbre island© P Butler
hilbre island group© H Stewart
looking out to sea from hilbre©
our chairman keeping watch© P Butler
immature ringed plover© H Stewart
turnstone and knot on hilbre©J Evans
birded out! ©H Stewart
The Mere, Ellesmere. ©J Evans
Castle Hill, Ellesmere. ©J Evans The Mere, Ellesmere, ©J Evans
Wood Lane NR ©J Evans Sandbank, Wood Lane ©J Evans
Wood Lane NR ©J Evans
Churnet Valley © Mike Hart Churnet Valley© Mike Hart
Churnet Valley © Mike Hart
Churnet Valley © Mike Hart
Churnet Valley © Mike Hart Consall © Hugh Stewart Consall © Hugh Stewart
checking for the Dipper©H Stewart Llanfair TH © J. Evans