Wirral Bird Club - Field Meeting Reports

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Field Meeting Reports 2014

Sefton Coast - Saturday 6th December 2014

We met at the car park on Lifeboat Road, Formby.  I was most grateful for the company – the last time we held a field meeting here I was the only member to turn up!  Magpies were numerous, as well as a few Black-headed Gulls.  A small flock of Redwing flew past before we could get as good look at them.  We set off over the huge sand dunes to the beach.  The tide was already well in, and we could see a large flock of waders congregating to the south.  We stated to walk along the beach towards them.  A few Sanderling fed on the tide line.  Out to sea, Cormorants and more distant Common Scoter were present.  As we got closer to the packed wader roost we could pick out numerous Oystercatcher, Knot, and Bar-tailed Godwit, together with smaller numbers of Sanderling, Dunlin and Grey Plover.

We spent some time studying the differences and key characteristics.  Occasionally the flock lifted into the air and wheeled around over the sea in the marvellous ever-changing smoke-cloud formations.  I never tire of seeing this spectacle around our coasts.  Further on several Cormorants were on the beach, wings extended in their sentinel pose.  The sun came out over the dunes at one point contrasting with some black clouds behind, producing a most impressive vista.  We re-traced our way back to the cars for lunch.

In the afternoon we walked inland, and behind St Luke’s Church we found a couple of Red Squirrels.  We were to see at least 3 more at the National Trust reserve.  It was a real bonus to see our threatened native squirrel, and we were surprised by the variation in colour.  In the same area close to the church a mixed flock of birds included Treecreeper, Nuthatch, Goldcrest and 4 tit species.  A pair of Stonechats showed well perching on a wire fence.  On the return journey we found a sizeable flock of Linnets feeding in an Asparagus field - presumably not on the Asparagus!  Chaffinch and Goldfinch were also picked out amongst them.  The late afternoon sun set off the grey head and tail of a male Kestrel beautifully as it perched in a pine tree.  The final ‘tick’ of the day was a female Great-spotted Woodpecker sitting near the top of a silver birch.

We managed to see 40 species - more than I thought we might in this habitat.

However, the highlight of the day for me were the squirrels.


Hugh Stewart

 

New Brighton & North Wirral Coastal Park – Sunday 23rd November 2014

OK, I admit it was not the best of birding trips!  But there was one outstanding moment that helped compensate for the lack of birds otherwise.

There was a cold wind coming in off the sea as we set off from Fort Perch Rock, the first real signs that winter is just around the corner.  A few grey and white Sanderling were feeding on the water’s edge in typical busy fashion but were continuously disturbed by dog walkers and they eventually flew off.  Black-headed Gulls and Starlings were the other main obvious species present in numbers.  There was little activity on the Mersey or looking further out to sea.  A few Cormorants were sitting on the various buoys dotted around, and some were feeding on the sea but were difficult to get a fix on in the swell.

We walked around to the pontoon on the Marine Lake which has become synonymous with roosting waders, and we were not disappointed.  A mix of Redshank, Turnstone, Dunlin and Purple Sandpiper were easily viewable at really close quarters, allowing us to compare the species’ plumage, leg colours and bills.  Hopefully the members present are all wader experts now!  Purple Sandpiper is something of a speciality of this location and Hilbre, so it is always nice to pick them out.  Then as we were about to move on, a movement in the distance caught our attention.  Unbelievably, it was a Kingfisher!  Not the first bird you would think of seeing on the Marine Lake.  Luckily it alighted on a metal ladder, allowing us to scope it and get good views.  Twice it flew around the edge of the lake and settled again, before finally flying up and over the sea-wall heading west towards Leasowe!

Well, it was all rather downhill after that exhilarating experience!  We moved down to the Coastguards station at the other end of Harrisons Drive.  A couple more Purple Sandpipers were on the rocks there with further Redshank and Turnstone, and as the tide started to go out, the birds began to leave the safety of their high-tide roost and start feeding on the beach again.  We walked west towards the Gunsite, and we did manage to find large numbers of waders on the groynes, adding Knot to the species list.  Graham picked out a single male Common Scoter swimming close in by one the groynes.  Sea ducks are not uncommon birds around our coast in winter, but usually they are way out to sea.  A few Pied Wagtails were on the promenade.  Turning back, the sunshine finally broke through and we headed inland where we added Wren, Goldfinch and Meadow Pipit.

We only saw 23 species over the day, and that included Feral Pigeon to boost the count! So not the most productive day.  But the unexpected Kingfisher was a special treat that cheered us up.

Hugh Stewart

 

Hale Lighthouse and Pickerings Pasture – Saturday 25th October 2014

We had left Wirral in sunshine but, as we gathered for our trip to Hale at St Mary's Church, the sky turned grey and we had a few spots of rain.  Undeterred, we set off for the lighthouse on the banks of the Mersey.  Fortunately the rain soon stopped and the clouds lightened, even though there was still a chill in the wind in exposed spots.  Bill had seen a Pheasant in the church grounds.

When the sun was out, Skylarks were seen in flight giving their rolling "prreet" calls.  A sizeable flock of Curlew were settled in a field by the path, pushed off the sand banks by the incoming tide.  At least one Raven flew around the lighthouse, with possibly a second bird seen nearby.  On the shore line, a few Redshank fed together with single Black-tailed Godwit and Oystercatcher.  Looking inland a Buzzard was circling over a small copse.  Shortly afterwards we saw a Buzzard on the ground that was especially pale on the front, requiring a second look to confirm its identity.  We circled back inland, enjoying greater shelter from the cool wind.  I was struck by how many Collared Doves were present around Hale village, together with numerous Wood Pigeons flying over. The latter were almost certainly stragglers from the early morning visible migration that Jeff Clarke had informed us about at our last indoor meeting!

We moved on to Pickering Pastures Local Nature Reserve to have lunch in a pleasant, sheltered spot.  It was a little oasis amongst all the industry around us.  A splendid 'bug' walked across the picnic table - if anyone can identify it, please let us know!  An occasional Cormorant flew passed over the Mersey, while Goldfinch and a Kestrel were seen overhead.  After lunch we walked down river to a screen-hide over-looking some flooded fields.  These were filled with Redshank, Lapwing, around 60 Golden Plover, Shelduck and Cormorants.  3 Little Egrets had been seen on this patch in the morning, but weren't evident now.  The waders suddenly took off in panic as a Peregrine flew over and settled on the grass.  It stayed for some time, apparently not that interested in finding a meal.  A feeding station behind the hide brought in a mix of tits, Greenfinch and Chaffinch.  Jays were still evident, adding to their winter food caches.

Despite the first hint of the winter weather to come, we enjoyed a nice walk in an interesting area, and managed 44 species for the day.

Hugh Stewart

 

Neumann’s and Ashton’s Flashes – Sunday 28th September 2014

These shallow craters near Northwich were formed from collapsed salt mines, and were subsequently used for depositing waste materials from the local chemical industry.  We started our walk at Ashton’s Flash, but the dry, Indian summer we have been experiencing meant that the flash was totally dry.  Apart from a handful of Jays and Magpies, the area was fairly bird-less.  I was getting worried that we were going to have an unproductive day!

Moving on to Neumann’s Flash proved much more promising however, with a growing number of waders and wildfowl found.  There were good numbers of Lapwing, and a small flock of Golden Plover flew in to join them.  Snipe also showed well.  A couple of Ruff and single Black-tailed Godwit and Curlew completed the wader species seen. Amongst the wildfowl were Mute Swan, noisy Canada and Greylag Geese, Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler and Tufted Duck.  A couple of Herons stalked the margins.  Lynn heard a Bullfinch and we later picked out a female at least in a silver birch.

Walking on to Marbury Mere, a local birder put us on to 4 Egyptian Geese, a local rarity!  A single Common Scoter viewed close in to the mere shore was also well away from its normal sea habitat.  Green Woodpeckers were heard ‘yaffling’ on several occasions but never showed, and we had to make do with a glimpse of a fly-over Great-spotted Woodpecker instead.  On the return journey, we did see a Laughing Gull - but alas it was just the name of a narrow boat on the Trent & Mersey canal!

As well as the birds, we also saw a Stoat really well on the path ahead of us, and there were still butterflies and dragonflies enjoying the sunshine.

We walked a fair distance in the end, but from a rather auspicious start, we ended the day with 43 bird species on the list, and I got home just in time to watch the Ryder Cup celebrations!


Hugh Stewart


 

Frodsham Marsh – Saturday 30th August 2014

We had a great turnout of 20 members for our first field meeting of the new programme to Frodsham Marsh.  Maybe it was because we had the benefit of Bill Morton to lead us. Frodsham is Bill’s local patch and his detailed knowledge of the area and its birds was invaluable in adding to the enjoyment of the day.

We started by walking to the River Weaver, where dozens of House Martins, Sand Martins and Swallows were feeding avidly low over the water.  Higher in the sky several late Swifts were also seen.  Across on the far bank, a Common Sandpiper was seen briefly on the water margins.  On the water itself was a variety of wildfowl, including Tufted Duck, Mallard, Shelduck, one or two Pochard, together with many Coot, Canada Geese and both Great-crested and Little Grebes.  It was pleasing to see several young birds of different species amongst them.  Walking on further to the Weaver Bend we added Ruff, Redshank and Lapwing.  On a small sand spit, two Yellow Wagtails sparred with a couple of Pied Wagtails.

We re-traced our steps and went on to Number 6 tank.  The tide on the nearby Mersey was still coming in, but as we waited the number and variety of waders increased.  We saw numerous Dunlin and Lapwing, together with Ring Plover, one or two Little Ring Plover, Greenshank, Redshank and a single Black-tailed Godwit.  Of most interest to many were a handful of Little Stints and a single Curlew Sandpiper.

The site of a ferry apparently moving through a field made us look twice, until we realised it was passing along the unseen Manchester Ship Canal!

As we started to disperse at the end of a wonderful day, a lucky few members saw a Kingfisher fly under the bridge where Bill had earlier pointed out a plaque to the German and Italian POWs who had dug the ditches that helped drain the marshland!  A nice way to finish.

We saw some 51 species in total, which together with nice weather (finally!) and good company made for a great trip out. 

Our special thanks to Bill for his time and expertise, and his patience with our members!

His excellent blog can be seen at: https://frodshammarshbirdblog.wordpress.com

It includes an article about our visit.

Hugh Stewart



Cilcain - Saturday 26th July 2014

The long hot summer continued for our trip to Cilcain.  Once everyone had found the meeting point, we began the gentle climb up the road.  Buzzards were already much in evidence, both with their calls and effortless circling on the thermals.  Kestrels also seemed plentiful during the day.

A row of trees across a field proved productive.  At least two Redstarts flitted from tree to tree, their red tails flashing brightly in the sun.  A female Great-spotted Woodpecker excavated a rotten trunk close-by and a particularly cute Pied Wagtail, that looked like it had only recently fledged, was being fed by its attentive parent.

The identity of a group of young chats feeding amongst the bracken caused a lot of discussion - were they Stonechats or Whinchats?  The consensus was the former, and a dapper male bird nearby helped solve the case.

We stopped for lunch near the highest point of our trek.  Some of our group had to leave but just before they departed, a Red Kite was spotted above a nearby stand of trees.  What a nice surprise.  The view over the valley was stunning, with a colourful carpet of heather, gorse and bilberry.

A male Yellowhammer in the gorse and heather cover proved elusive, but was seen by some of the group.

Swallows, House Martins and Swifts were all busy feeding.  One group of Swallows was perched on the wires, often a sign that they may soon be departing for Africa.  What a depressing thought on such a nice summer day!

The small reservoirs were not productive other than showing a single Dabchick, and swarms of blue Damselflies.  Butterflies were also everywhere on the walk, notably Small and Large Whites, Peacock, Red Admiral and Speckled Wood.

The day count was 38 species either seen or heard, but the scenery was equally enjoyable.


Hugh Stewart



Leighton Moss RSPB - Sunday 22nd June 2014

The coach dropped most members off at the lower hides, looking towards Morecambe Bay.  The most common birds were breeding Black-headed Gulls, but we managed to pick out a few Avocets amongst them, including a couple of chicks.  Waders are less numerous at this time of year, but included Oystercatcher, Black-tailed Godwit, Lapwing and Curlew.  Swallows and Swifts were everywhere, with at least one Sand Martin.

We walked on towards the main part of the reserve - and met the coach half-way in a lay-by!  Although we were booked in, it had been turned away by the RSPB because of an event being held on the Reserve.  We decided to have a slightly early lunch then resumed our trek.

On the main reserve, we headed for the Public Causeway.  Marsh Harriers started to make regular appearances, and these birds were the highlight of the day for many.  We saw a food pass, where a male bird drops a prey item and the female tumbles to catch it mid-air.  England’s slip fielders could learn a lot from them!  Later a bird was performing a sky-dance, flying almost vertically up then turning sharply to plummet back down in a series of switch-back manoeuvres.  Both were wonderful sights so to see, and both in one day was amazing.

We circled back to the other hides.  Bitterns had had a bad year at Leighton Moss and we did not see a single bird or even hear a “boom” call.  A few people caught glimpses of Bearded Tits, and warblers were even harder to see, although we heard Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap.  Views of Marsh Tit, Bullfinch and Nuthatch made up for any disappointment, however, as did a very pleasant walk in warm sunshine amongst beautiful scenery.

The total for the day was 56 species.  Thank you to everyone who supported the coach trip.

Hugh Stewart



Neston - Thursday 15th May 2014

Finally, a warm, sunny day coincided with our evening field meeting to the farmland area behind Neston. Strolling along the footpaths, the warmth on our backs helped put a spring in our steps! We had to work quite hard to grow our species list though.

The leaves on the trees and hedgerows were well out by now, and many birds were deep into their breeding season and so they were more elusive than a month ago. However, several Robins continued to issue their plaintive songs and were relatively easy to see. Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Whitethroat were also vocal. A steady stream of Swallows, House Martins and Swifts whizzed overhead.

We kept hearing snippets of song from a Skylark but could not find it in the sky. With some searching it was eventually located on the ground in the middle of a grassy field.
Of particular note were 7 Wheatears in a tilled field, probably late birds of the Greenland race. 

We walked down Cuckoo Lane to search - in vain - for Yellowhammer, a bird that is increasingly hard to see on Wirral. Bluebells were still in flower in the hedgerows. A juvenile Wood Pigeon caused some debate before we eliminated it as a possible Stock Dove. Surprisingly, the only raptor seen was a single Kestrel – we thought Buzzard would be making use of the thermals.

We saw or heard 29 species – 30 if we add the Feral Pigeons on a barn roof
!

Hugh Stewart

 

Glyndyfrdwy - Sunday 11th May 2014

It was not an auspicious start to the meeting. The weather forecast was for heavy rain, and some members suffered road closures and detours en route. But after a slight delay, we began our walk up the Nant y Pandy valley.

A Dipper made a brief appearance by the bridge over the A55. Barry missed it. Walking into the woods parallel to the river, we found a cracking male Redstart. Moving on we heard a Wood Warbler, and after much searching we found it high in a silver birch above our heads. We could see its whole body quivering as it blasted out its distinctive two-part song. Blackcaps were vocal but not easy to see, while Chiffchaffs were a bit more obliging.

A bit further on we crossed the river by the old slate workings and Jennifer found a pair of Grey Wagtails on the slopes. Then as we temporarily split into 2 groups, each party saw a Dipper – except Barry. As we came out of the woods into open country, more Redstarts and Pied Flycatchers were seen, all males interestingly. Willow Warblers replaced the Chiffchaff.

We stopped for lunch enjoying the panoramic views, and pleasantly surprised that the rain was not as bad as it could have been. A pair of Mistle Thrushes fed on the open fields together with Meadow Pipits, while a Raven soared overhead. Returning down the valley, we saw another Wood Warbler. Nearly back to the road yet another Dipper flew by. And Barry saw it – hurrah!

So despite the odd shower, we managed to see all the target birds of this picturesque Welsh oak-wood valley, and everyone went home happy. Except for experiencing another detour! 

Hugh Stewart

 

Ynys Hir RSPB Reserve -  Saturday 26th April 2014

25 members boarded the coach which took us via Ruthin, Corwen, Bala, Dolgellau and Machynlleth and then on to Ynis Hir.

Ray our driver had to use all his skills to negotiate the narrow lane which led to the Visitor Centre.  On arrival we were met by one of the Wardens who handed out reserve maps and gave a short talk on what we might see.  The reserve is divided into three trails of various lengths taking in woodland, salt marsh and wetlands.

We split up into small groups and spread out over the reserve.  We had good sunny spells and only a light shower as we made our way back to the Visitors Centre at the end of the visit.

Once back on the coach a list of 49 species was compiled which included Siskin, Redstart, Pied Flycatcher, Red Kite and even an Osprey.
Those who managed to stay awake were treated to a superb scenic route home as the weather stayed fine until we climbed up out of Ruthin, and the mountains and spring conditions were at their best.

So thanks once again to our organisers for making this trip another very enjoyable day, and to various Club members for the photographs.

Ken Stackhouse


Aber Falls and The Spinnies - Saturday 29th March 2014

Our meeting point on the edge of the village of Abergwyngregyn allowed an initial scan of the river. We soon found a Chiffchaff in the still leafless branches of the river-side trees, the first sighting of the year for many members. A pair of Mistle Thrushes flew around us. No sign of a Dipper though, so we started our walk up through the village. House Sparrow and Dunnock were conspicuous. Another Mistle Thrush was singing heartily from the top of a tall tree.

As we ascended the valley, a call alerted us but a brief fly-by of a Dipper was only seen by a couple of members. As the path brought us to more open vistas, Buzzards became common, together with a few Ravens. It took a little while for everyone to get onto a Treecreeper as it played hide and seek spiralling round a thick, moss covered trunk. We reached the impressive Aber Falls, and scanned for Wheatear or Ring Ouzel but in vain. After a short rest we retraced our route back down the valley.

We moved on a short distance to the Spinnies for lunch over-looking the Menai Straits. On the shore we saw Curlews, Redshank and Oystercatcher while the water had a couple of Red-breasted Mergansers and at least one Common Scoter. From the reserve hide Jennifer found a smart male Goosander, and a Greenshank was nearby.  At least four Goldeneye included one dapper male. We totalled 45 species from the two locations.

Most members called it a day after this, but one car stopped off briefly at Conway and added a few more species including a male Scaup and numerous Sand Martins. 
While we did not manage to find all the target species, it was enjoyable to have a pleasant walk in beautiful scenery combined with nice spring weather.

Hugh Stewart

 

 

Marton Mere and Fairhaven Lake – Sunday 2nd March 2014

Another wet and windy day was forecast. Surely we must have a nice day for a field meeting soon! It was dry when we arrived at Marton Mere so we set off quickly to the first hide. A mix of duck and gulls were soon noted, including Teal, Gadwall, Mallard and Goldeneye. A single adult Mediterranean Gull was picked out amongst the Black-headed Gulls. We did not manage to see the Iceland Gull that has been seen here off and on over the last few days. A Cetti's Warbler called from nearby scrub, and we heard a second bird later in the day, but they proved typically elusive. A pair of Great-crested Grebes promised to do a little mating dance, but couldn't raise the energy!
We spent ages looking for a Long-eared Owl in its roosting area. Paul especially was trying to convince himself that he had seen 4 or 5 feathers deep in the branches! 

Normally there are a few birds here, but the mild weather meant there was only one bird present for most of this winter. Needle and Haystack came to mind! We finally gave up. A Sparrowhawk low over the reeds initially looked like a hunting harrier, until we got a better view. At the feeding station we were entertained by some Pheasants, and enjoyed Long-tailed Tits, but not many birds were visiting.

We moved on to Fairhaven Lake - which was a huge disappointment. By now the wind had got up and there were squally showers. We struggled to add species to our list as the lake was unusually lacking in birds! The highlight was probably the Toilet! We were even getting excited by a white feral Greylag! We persevered though and walked around the lake, where distant Curlew and Dunlin could be made out on the sands.
We got back to the cars and decided to head home. Despite the inclement weather, and a couple of 'dips', we still logged 51 species.

Hugh Stewart


 

Eastham Woods – Saturday 25th January 2014

As we gathered in the car park at Eastham Country Park, the clouds were already beginning to gather too! We pressed on though, determined to make the most of the day. We soon found a Nuthatch calling and skitting around in a large tree above the path. This species was to accompany us nearly all the time we were in the woods, allowing everyone good views. Some were already paired off, in preparation for the coming breeding season. Interestingly, in contrast we did not see a Treecreeper all day!

We stopped to admire the Bear Pit, a remnant of the 19th century Pleasure Gardens. Further on, first one then a second Goldcrest were found feeding low down, at eye level. This made it much easier to see the beautiful orange crown stripe. We had some fun and games trying to pick out a Stock Dove amongst the more numerous Wood Pigeons. After a few false starts, we found 2 obliging birds that allowed a good view to compare them with their larger cousins.

Our walk brought us down to the River Mersey. A small flock of Shelduck were disturbed by a ship making its way towards the Manchester Ship Canal. Various gulls and a few Cormorants could be seen on the distant mud banks, and a seal put in a brief appearance before disappearing for good. Closer to the shore, we spied Redshank, Turnstone, Oystercatcher and Curlew. Returning to the cars, the promised rain began to spit, and most members drifted off. A few though went in to the Visitors Centre to look at the feeding station. They were rewarded when Ken spotted an odd orange looking Chaffinch - this turned out to be a smart male Brambling adorned with an almost full black head. This species has been rare in our region this winter, so it was a excellent "Brucy Bonus"!

Although the rain ended the day early, we enjoyed the walk and made a final tally of 35 species.

Hugh Stewart

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