Tuesday 5 December 2023

Southwards for a change

The Safari picked up CR and headed south across the river to meet IH at our boyhood birding haunts.on arrival we immediately saw why IH had told us not to look for the previously regular(ish) Little Owl, its favourite tumbledown house had been demolished prior to redevelopment. It was a bright, crisp winter's day and on Lunt Meadows itself the first pool was totally frozen over and also totally lacking in life. Needless to say we didn't stay more than a couple of minutes before heading round the rest of the reserve in a clockwise direction. A birder we met at the gate told us he'd seen both a Hen Harrier and a Marsh Harrier earlier in the morning so to keep our eyes peeled. While waiting for us to arrive IH had already seen a Buzzard too, we can remember when Buzzards were almost unheard of in these parts and should one turn up it would have been top of the local gamehkeepers' hit lists. Thankfully things have changed for the better; for Buzzards at least, not so much the Hen Harriers which still suffer horrendous illegal persecution.

The first field held its usual large gaggle of feral Grey Lag and Canada Geese. There were probably more of the latter than we saw in Canada last year, although to be fair we didn't see that many. Beyond the geese the edge of the frozen pool saw a few Lapwings and Coots roosting up conserving energy in the cold conditions. A Reed Bunting flew over and a  Blackbird skulked about the boundary hedge but much more bizarre was the Ring Necked Parakeet that flew over us. We had no idea they were anywhere near hereand as non-native species go we'd much sooner have the Little Owl than these pesky parrots.

We anbled slowly on towards the next pool where a small group of birders were stood, hopefully with the 'main event' in view. The main event being an American Green Winged Teal which has been on site for at least as long as its moulted into its plumage with the vertical white shoulder stripe enough to separate it from the hundreds of our own green winged Teals. Fortunately the birders already had a scope set up on it although it wasn't showing particularly well. Can you see it?
We had the brainwave of noticing there was a bit of a gap between the Wigeon that were obsuring it and the Teal to the right so moved down the track ten yards or so to see if that made a better  viewing angle, it did, quite a bit better. The cold breeze was making us shake around rather a lot when taking pics but here there was a stout fence post without vegetation around it to lean on.
Other ducks on the pool included Mallards, some Shelducks, a few Shoveler and a handful of Gadwall with a few Coots and a couple of Moorhens thrown in for good measure. A Redshank flew in calling, possibly hoping for some soft ground to probe for worms in but it would be out of luck the ground along the track was rock hard beneath our boots. Wandering on we wondered where all the Cetti's Warblers were, usually they are the noisiest bird on the site but today there were silent. At the next pool there was some open water but most of the ducks were hauled out on the ice asleep.
Scans of the horizon, much more distant from here as the viewing point is elevated a few feet above the track, gave us no sign of any raptors even tyhough the sun was now beginning to get some warmth to it and the morning chill was going out of the air. We moved swiftly on heading to the river. The hedge beside the path was lively with small birds, indeed it was easily the liviest part of the reserve. There were Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Robins, a Wren, Reed Buntings a female of which stayed still long enough for us to point the lens at.
And right at the end of the hedge two Dunnocks sat up in the top of a Hawthorn bush, not often you see two of these skulky little devils sat out in an exposed position at the same time!
The river gave us paddling Mallards and some Lapwings in the fields beyond. Two distant Buzzards were found and a distant Heron along with a flock of small birds, Linnets or Skylarks or something else??? They were a very  long way off. We kept an eye on the reedbeds stretching below us on our side of the river just in case a Bittern should pop up - no such luck! It's amazing to think that this area is only a mile or so from our boyhood home ands we used to traipse the fields of spuds, carrots and cabbages that used to be here on our bike with a pair of almost un-see-through bins seeing nothing but Lapwings, Skylarks, Grey Partridges and occassionally in winter a skein of Pink Footed Geese - how times have changed...Bitterns a mile from our front door - who'd have believed it. The Grey Partridges are still here but sadly not much more numerous than the Bitterns now and we didn't see any today.

Having completed the circuit of the reserve it was getting near butty time and IH suggested quick nip to the coast rather than eat our scran at the car with little or nothing to look at. But rather than going to hall Road coastguards he suggested driving up to Hightown to start the coastal walk from the north end - good plan! It must be 50 years since we last crossed the railway into Hightown village and we'd never have found the parking spot access to the dunes without following IH. There we grabbed our butties and headed out to the river mouth passing through a little fence IH told us he'd helped build as a coastal volunteer about 40 years ago...all creditr to him, it still looks pretty sturdy!

A short walk brought us to the river mouth where we sat on the frozen dunes and admired the view out across the wider Mersey bay over a mirror calm sea while tucking into all manner of pies and sandwiches. Over on the sandbanks there was a huge number of waders roosting up over the high tide, Knot, Dunlin, Oystercatchers, Curlews, Redshanks and a couple of Little Egrets, a throng of Great Black Backed Gulls lined the far bank of the Alt and further out a line of Cormorants stood on the outer edge of the sanbank. More of their number roosted on the channel marker nearby while below them a large number of  Shelducks pottered about in the shallows and river channel. Scanning further out we couldn't find any Harbour Porpoises even though conditions were perfect for spotting any that might have been there.

Butties mucnhed we set off southwards along the shore line, the low afternoon sun made looking that way uncomfortable at times but at least it was warm now and we soon felt overdressed in our full winter togs.

The ebbing tide was revealing fresh mud and soon more flocks of Knot along wit ha large flock of Black Tailed Godwits flew in to take advantage of the freshly uncovered feeding areas. Walking south towards Crosby and past the WW2 bomb rubble on the beach we hoped to find some more waders although the tide seemed to be taking a long time to drop and leave a particularly favoured spot uncovered, one we've been watching since the early 70s. It's quite weird thinking back and realising there was a lot less time between the end of WW2 with that rubble being dumped there and us starting birding the area than there is between those early birding adventures and now. How time flies.

We did come across a couple of Turnstones feeding quite high up the beach.

And then saw a Grey Plover fly in showing its black axcillaries very nicely as it fluttered to a halt on the rocks (=bricks etc) on the water's edge. Trouble is we had to cautiosly get a dozen or more yards past it to look back on it with the sun behind us. Luckily our snaeking around skills didn't let us down and it stayed put allowing a few snaps.

The area has always been good for Stonechats and today was no exception. Not sure how many we saw today as they can be quite mobile but we'd hazard a guess at at aleast half a dozen. They seem to be particularly good at two things today - keeping just out of range and/or staying on the wrong side of the light. Eventually we caught up with a trio that nearly behaved for us. We only managed a pic of a young one, the snazzy male leaving his perch on a tangle of heavy duty wire a millisecond before we pressed the shutter button.
By now it was time to head back to the car before it got too dark for pics. It was a bit of hasty retreat but there wasn't too much to see along the way. We took a shorter,easier walking route back which passed by the Natterjack Toad breeding ponds - no chance of these warm weather creatures being out today, their ponds were frozen solid...a spring evening visit is on the cards to here these 'Lancashire Nightingales' singing. The low sun illuminated the seed heads of the Reeds beautifully though.
The shortly before reaching IH's ancient fence we spied a flash of white moving in a Sea Buckthorn thicket, a couple of Fieldfares were using their wings to balance their eway through the prickly mass to get to the choicest berries. A Blackbird was in there too and managed to flush on of the Fieldfares low and to the back tof the bush. Fortunately the other one stayed on the front of the bush but unfortunately in the heavily shaded part rather than the brightly lit patch a yard to the left - how annoying!
A few minutes later we were back at the cars saying farewell until next time to IH and heading back to Base Camp after a lovely day out on safari in our old haunts.
Where to next? Could be anywhere.
In the meantime let us know who's eating berries in the dark in your outback - and don't say Waxwings - - sore point!

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