Friday, 22 February 2013

The chase is on

The Safari loaded the Land Rover and set off southbound on the motorway.
We played our usual motorway spotting game and got a grand total of Buzzards 1 v Kestrels 0.
Dead things on the hard shoulder included a fresh looking Barn Owl :-( (M55), nothing other than numerous Pheasants in Lancashire – they were actually numerous in all counties, but in Cheshire we witnessed carnage with a Buzzard, a Badger and what looked like a Polecat/Polecat-ferret hybrid type thingy – we didn’t stop to get a DNA sample. Nothing of note other than Pheasants in Staffordshire.
Nearly two hours later we had survived the traffic and pulled into a truck stop to await the arrival of LCV. Not long after we’d shifted parking position by about ½ a mile and were now within spitting distance of a year bird. Loading loads of optics and tons of sandwiches into C’s car we drove the couple of hundred yards down the lane to view the (European) White Fronted Geese (107).
We needed have bothered about sneaking up on them as some other birders arrived while we were turning the car round and got out of their vehicle – fortunately the geese didn’t flush although they did get a little nervy. We took advantage of the little cover and got as near as we could, about 20 feet away!
Photo’s taken and notes written in notebook we got back in the car and hit the ancient hunting forest of Cannock Chase. 

Never been there before and even on this horrendously cold day looked pretty good.
He took us to an area of recently cleared plantation which only had a few stumps and a handful of standing hardwoods round the edge. A Great Grey Shrike has been seen here most days for months...if only it had been sunny like earlier in the week...not a sniff of the ferocious little beast. Apparently it regularly sits on the still standing tree poles...not today it didn’t.
A couple of Buzzards hung on the wind and a Raven (108) croaked gruffly as it passed even giving us some tumbling and upside-down aerobatics to enjoy.
A single Siskin (109) crossed the open ground but we didn’t see if it landed in one of the perimeter trees.
We walked all round the four or five acres of clear fell and scoped a smaller area on the far side of the valley to no avail.

It's supposed to be on the poles!
Only one thing to do and that was to move to another site. A few minutes and a few miles later we were at a different part of the forest with Crossbills as the target. In the car park someone had chucked some bread into the scrub at the side and a couple of Ravens were taking advantage with Magpies and Carrion Crows in attendance hoping they’d leave some scraps. Not a bad car park tick but too dark under the trees for any pics of a black bird.
Getting out of the car we quickly saw a Jay (110) and heard a Green Woodpecker (111) yaffling a couple of times in the distance. Walking down the main path it was obvious there was nothing flying about in the seriously cold stiff breeze.
Reaching the huge conifer plantation there was no evidence of any birds at all, not even the sheltered areas had easy conifer stuff like Goldcrests or Coal Tits, never mind any Crossbills.
Deciding it was deadly duff we headed back and met another out of town birder who had been told of a nearby feeding station which he kindly showed us, must have been the best well secreted feeding station we've ever known, we'd never have found it if Mr X hadn't taken us to it - cheers mate yer a star. This is where all the birds were. Jays, Blackbirds, Chaffinches, Goldfinches, three male and two female Bullfinches, one of the males gave us our best bully pic ever – so far – and we don’t recall seeing them feeding on the ground before. 

Stonker - oh to have them in the garden
As well as the previous mentioned species lots of Blue and Great Tits, a Coal Tit or two and a flock of Long Tailed Tits were all taking advantage of the free nosh until a dog walker came by and flushed everything. An unknown number of Lesser Redpolls che che che’d overhead.
With just about everything except Crossbills bagged here it was time to depart for pastures – or more accurately reservoirs – new.
Close to a large landfill site is Kingswood pool, a fishing pit, which attracts a pre-roost of gulls dropping in for a wash n brush up before heading off to their main roost. We hit it bang on time, as we were getting in position large numbers of Lesser Black Backed Gulls started to drop in. Without wasting a moment we started to scan through them.
We soon found a couple of oddballs.
Anyone fancy an ID
1st winter = 2CY

 Next two are probable argentatus Herring Gulls.

 3rd winter what?

Apologies for the poor quality pics - too far away, no tripod so handheld and very windy, and very dull. But please let us know what you think on any of the four.
Then it was onto the main roost reservoir which was HUGGGGE. And the gulls were on the far side where there was a bit more shelter for them over night. There were thousands!!! Bliss! A female Goosander (112)
Only one way to do this - start at one end and work through...and no too many minutes later a1st winter Iceland Gull gave itself up....NICE!
We couldn't even see the whole flock from our very cold and exposed vantage point. Using a scratty Willow shrub be tried to get in as much shelter as possible so as not to have our eyes watering like a tap.
We didn't give the Black Headed Gulls enough attention so we didn't find any Mediterranean Gulls. Concentrating on the LWHGs we eventually found a thick square headed Yellow Legged Gull (113) two 2nd winter Glaucous Gulls (114) within about 1/4 of an hour of each other - job done!
With the light fading and the cold becoming bone-numbing we called it a day.
Very many thanks to LCV for the great company and showing us his cracking local patch; we're seriously thinking about a spring return for the summer visitors - could be very, very good.
Today wasn't brilliant but reports of 'new' Waxwings  here and there was interesting.
Where to next? The next episode of the Winter thrushes survey in the morning, how many and what else will we find?
In the meantime let us know if you've been off-piste from your outback.


cliff said...

Sounds like you had a top day out Dave. Shame the Shrike & Crosbills weren't about, two birds I'd love to see.

Anonymous said...

"not brilliant" it would`ve been in my book Dave.

Lancs and Lakes Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

The not brilliant bit referred to the following day Dean :-) - my day out with Chris was doubler brilliant apart from the shrike and crossers of course...