Saturday, 10 March 2018

Migration begins with a trickle

The Safari took a group out onto the the beach to explore the rockpools last week - by eck it was chilly but a good time was had by all as we were all wrapped up. We made the (deliberate) mistake of putting our arm in to the freezing water to pull out a Beadlet Anemone to show the youngsters - now that was seriously cold! The things we do for science/education eh!
We put it in one of our trays but sadly it hadn't opened its tentacles out before it was time to leave. 
A good time was had by all!
Searching the runnels
Here's a few of the shells they found in the runnels and on the beach
Later in the week we went back around Herons' Reach and managed a very fleeting glimpse of the Kingfisher and had great views of the two Water Rails on the defrosting pond. We nearly got a pic of them together but a a couple of loose dogs put paid to that; as we were holding on to Monty (to stop him getting near the pond) they rushed towards him he dodged out of their way and we went down like a sack of spuds lucky not to break a collar bone or land on the camera and damage that, thankfully neither us nor the camera came up worse for wear other than covered in mud but not an apology or an 'are you alright?' from the woman with the dogs who saw the whole thing unfold just an 'oh they're friendly they're only having fun'. Fun it certainly wasn't and expensive it could have been! And the Water Rails were flushed deep in to cover not to come out in the 10 more minutes or so we waited for them - Feckin dog walkers
The following day a bit of an improvement in the weather saw us visit Marton Mere for the first time in a while. The sun had brought Song Thrushes out in to song and a little later we watched one listening for worms in the grass.
There was a reasonable number of gulls on the water but no sign of the local Iceland Gull amongst them, has it discovered somewhere else to bathe, a flooded field perhaps?
The 'fritillary meadow' was scrutinised and we found a couple of Cowslips in flower but there didn't seem to be as many as in previous years. We also spotted the first shoots of the Snakeshead Fritillaries and one clump even had a small flowerbud beginning to form - spring won't long now folks. The team there need to get the fence fixed before a football gets kicked over the meadow and the plants get squished by said ball or booted feet retrieving it.
The rest of our visit was fairly quiet. The volunteers were working on the island and we had hoped they might flush a Bittern or a Jack Snipe, neither appeared as the dragged the last of the cut reeds out of the scrape to prepare it for the spring  wader passage. 
A Buzzard soared high to the north east over the fields and lifted three pairs of Lapwings up to see it on its way. Hope they have a good season in those fields this year but it so much depends on what farming activities are going to happen and the timing of them, all to often the eggs and or chicks get rolled, mown or ploughed and only a tiny handful survive and even any predation sees the remainder off as there aren;t enough adults left on territory to help with the defence. When we first started birding there were three times as many in the fields as there are now - a sad loss and very much a part of that thing that is the reduction in Bioadundance rather than Biodiversity.
The scrub areas were quiet but a sudden movement in the 'Paddock' had us look closely to see what it was - a nightmarishly back lit Stonechat 
Signs of the first bits of migration, we've not seen one on the reserve since the start of the winter and this part of the reserve isn't normally favoured by them, in fact we've not seen one here for at least 20 years!
Later, getting towards the car the Buzzard or another appeared overhead.
This time it was pursued relentlessly by a small number of crows who pushed it off their patch and out to the south east over town.
Back at Base camp a Coal Tit (Garden #17) as a new visitor to the feeders for the year. Possibly a refugee from the recently 'tidied' (= ecologically devastated) park on Patch 1. We really hope the White Letter Hairstreaks will be OK and the extensive tree felling hasn't included any Elms nor altered the micro-climate unfavourably for the overwintering eggs or opened up the canopy to enable any passing Elm Bark Beetles to find the trees and kill them. We'll have to wait until the summer to find out what if any the consequences have been for our favourite colony of rare butterflies. Fingers crossed it might actually have enhanced it...we're not holding our breath though.
Short but very important family business south of the river was order of the day yesterday but it did give us the opportunity to take CR on a bit a twitch and a run around Memory Lane.
We started off hurtling down the motorway network to a peviously unheard of Country Park on the outskirts of Liverpool with a most un-scouse sounding name, Stadt Moers CP. Here a couple of Hawfinches have been fairly regularly seen in the SE corner of the park. After our Sizergh Castle debacle last time out we were hopeful although the most recent news we had of them was almost a week old and it had snowed heavily since them, never the less we were feeling optimistic and the weather was mild, no need for a hat!
The locals were extremely friendly and helpful setting us off on the right paths and once on the bottom field a birder was already there - good stuff. He told us he'd not seen 'anything yet' but warned there were a lot of Greenfinches in the area and indeed there were. We don't think we've seen so many of them on one place for a long time. 
Two hours later and almost all the other finches in the book spotted including a pair of unphotographable Lesser Redpolls (115) but not a Hawfinch in sight.
The supporting cast included plenty of Great Tits, Blue Tits, Robins, Dunnocks and Song Thrushes, a flock of about 10 Redwings, a flock of Long Tailed Tits, a Jay and a soaring Buzzard or two. 
This area was the first place we saw Buzzards once the persecution of them had waned enough for them to spread for their core areas in the mountains. We used to look forward to a drive down the much less busy then motorway with our birding mates hoping we might see one way back when. 
We even saw the 'double-decker' Airbus A300-600 Super Transporter (nicknamed the Beluga, and everyone’s favorite, ridiculous, aircraft) approaching Liverpool airport - now why didn't we take a pic?
From there were headed to our old birding stomping ground at the coast at Crosby. Black Headed Gulls and Carrion Crows came to bread thrown copiously in the car park and Skylarks sang above us in the dunes, one even landed close by and posed very nicely for us (YLPC #93).
Out on the beach the tide was on the way in but still a fairly long way out but was beginning to push the waders from the further mudflats closer inshore, including a nice Grey Plover (116. YLPC #94).
CR saw a flit in the grass and this time it wasn't a Skylark but a grounded Meadow Pipit (YLPC #95).
We saw several Stonechats but couldn't approach them closely enough for a pic but there was no sign of any of the secretly hoped for early Wheatears, other birders we spoke to also hadn't come across any although like us they thought they might given the mild conditions and the wind direction. 
The tide inexorably kept coming in as it does forcing the waders ever closer but still not quite close enough, lots of Dunlin and Redshank but only one Ringed Plover and a fair few of the star of the show, the Bar Tailed Godwits, some getting into their brick red summer plumage (117, YLPC #96).
Making our way back tot the car park we came across a couple of Stonechats close to the path, one of which was very confiding at last.
We finished the afternoon at the usually excellent Lunt Meadows but it had far too much water on it today and was rather quiet. We looked for Grey Partridge on the fields as we got close, none but a day-flying Woodcock was a good spot, shame it wasn't still flying when we reached the reserve.The selection of waterfowl was less than usual and the numbers of each of the species much reduced too. There was no sign of the regularish Red Kite just a couple of Buzzards. The fields on the far side of the river held masses of Lapwings and a few lingering Pink Footed Geese along with huge numbers of Common Gulls.
The earlier sunshine had now gone and ever thickening cloud was rolling in dropping the light intensity so we were hopeful for the appearance of the Short Eared Owls. Other birders with big cameras began to arrive but by now we had to leave so if they did come out we missed them.  While we waited in vain for them we heard a Cetti's Warbler briefly and saw yet more Stonechats, there does seem to be a lot of them about this last week or so, we even had one on Chat Alley when out with Monty the other day.
A quick peak in the barn round the corner didn't give us the Little Owl before we hit the motorway and headed back to Base Camp after a good a day in the field.
This morning while out with Monty it was Meadow Pipits all the way, deffo the best day of migration so far for them. At least 10 were seen including one coming in off the sea and a flock of four going north along the cliff edge, and others being only's getting closer folks!

Where to next? we have a secret plan for early next week, lets hope the weather is good enough for us to carry it out and there's success rather than our seemingly interminable Hawfinch-like failure.

In the meantime let us know who's on the move in your outback.

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