Sunday, 30 June 2013

Woolston Eyes Nature Reserve - Open Day

Having heard of Woolston Eyes, but not having been before, it seemed a perfect time to visit and see what the reserve was like. Travelling with my birding buddy Shaun, we set off from El Porto at around 8.30am and made the short trip up the M56 and through Lymm arriving at Thelwall Lane around 9.10am.

Woolston Eyes is an area of land between the River Mersey and the Manchester Ship Canal that is managed by the Woolston Eyes Conservation Group. It was formed in 1979 after agreement with the MSC company.  It comprises of four main beds or areas of land and brackish pools, with pathways and hides for viewing the birds.

A marshall greeted us at the gate and explained parking arrangements, so we parked a bit further up the lane and decided on a walk around No4 bed. After a short walk, the first thing that we saw was Giant Hogweeds, now this plant is phototoxic and can cause severe burns if you come into contact with it (phytophotodermatitis) very nasty. Some of these plants were over 20ft tall and looked like something out of Jurassic Park, fortunately they were clear of the pathways and some work was obviously underway to stop the spread by using chemicals to control them. The bees seemed to not mind the flowers on them!!

A lot of birds were heard singing including Song Thrush, Chiffchaff,

Willow Warbler, Whitethroat & Sedge & Reed Warblers. It was evident the area was good for the birds, in particular the Thrush as we were constantly crunching snails underfoot, not good when you are trying to walk quietly. Overhead a young Buzzard came into view and we watched for a while as it soared effortlessly in a circular motion.

After about a half hours walk, we went up onto a bank that ran alongside the River Mersey, we saw a Mute Swan and a Great Crested Grebe on the water. Further on we heard a Garden Warbler singing, but despite Shauns best efforts at obtaining a pic, unlike our Delamere bird, this one remained well hidden! Finally we came back out onto the main stretch of road that leads up to the main area at Woolston Eyes, bed No3. We stopped at the burger van for a quick bite and a cuppa and after speaking to our ladyfriend from the RSPB at Burton Mere, we joined a group that was to be taken on one of the tours of No3.

As it was so busy, the volunteers were splitting groups into around a dozen people and setting off in 15 minute intervals so as to alleviate congestion in the hides. Our group leader was David Bowman, the Vice Chairman of W.E.C.G. and he showed us towards a long wooden bridge that crossed over the River Mersey and over towards the hides. We were told that Kingfishers can be seen regularly from this bridge in particular early mornings and late evenings. In addition to the birds, Badgers, Weasels, Stoats and Rabbits can also be seen. I was here for the Black Necked Grebe and it was not long before we were enjoying views of one of the rare migratory breeding species in the UK. Sadly numbers have dwindled since the peak of 52 recorded here in 2002, but they still had around 22 birds, with 5 confirmed broods :-) A fantastic looking Grebe, with a dumpy body and a fluffy rear end, they have a scarlet eye and lovely golden ear tufts, see picture below.......with chick.

Also out on the pool was lots of Black Headed Gulls with young, some Tufted Duck and Shelduck (also with young) and a lot of Gadwall, which do particularly well at this site. David was doing a great job of keeping everyone moving along and we spent at least 10 minutes at each hide which was ample for a look around. Reed Buntings were calling from the reed beds and we also had been told some Water Rails had recently been seen with chicks :) One of the hides had feeders and we saw quite a lot of Greenfinches tucking in. Willow Tits are a declining bird across much of the UK, yet here at Woolston Eyes they breed each year and can be seen on the feeders, sadly not today. Shaun spotted a female Bullfinch on one of the feeders though and he got this shot........

Further on we were shown some Moths that had recently been captured, including a large Elephant Hawk Moth whose caterpillar is said to resemble an Elephants trunk or eyes, make your own mind up :)

After we had seen the moths, we were taken to Kieran Foster who gave us a great talk on ringing and how they capture the birds in the mist nets and how the data is used to track species etc etc, sadly as it was past noon, they only had a Wren to show us, but a beautiful little bird close up all the same. It was time to depart and we made our way back off No3 bed across the bridge when we encountered the Wilde Family, Findlay & Harley rushing ahead, Mum Heather and Dad Nigel struggling to keep up aha, apparently it was my fault for mentioning the open day on Twitter (hehe) naughty step for Bucko. No time to chat unfortunately as it was very busy and queues were forming to get across and also back into the 'tented village' area.

We thanked Dave for him showing us around and joined up for permits to the reserve, which cost just £10 per annum (April to April) and £10 one off payment for a key that allows access to the locked areas of the reserve. Well worth it for some great viewing and for contributing towards the upkeep of the reserve. Other exhibitors today were Cheshire & Wirral Ornithological Society (C.A.W.O.S.) RSPB and the Badger Trust.

So after the obligatory Burger and cuppa, we headed home, soon to return no doubt when it is much quieter and to see lots more exciting birds. Incidentally the reserve has a record list of no less than 232 species since 1980. Here is a link to the groups website.

A big thanks to W.E.C.G. for making it an enjoyable day.

Mike Buckley
Shaun Hickey (Photos)

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Chasing the White Spotted Bluethroat

Wanted to get up early but alarm failed me, first time in ages. I could not get a lift to Martin Mere so I opted to do twitch by train which a few of my twitter friends had said they do an a regular basis..... hmmm. I was after a White Spotted Bluethroat which is normally a bird from Central & Southern Europe and it had turned up at Martin Mere in Lancashire !!  recent sightings apart from todays.

Making the dash to Overpool station, I arrived just in time to deposit £7.25 worth of the queens finest silver into the greedy ticket machine, actually it's not a bad fare to Southport. On the way, it began to rain at of all places Spital, "It's spitting in Spital, everybody in". I had left the house without my coat, but did I care no, I had visions of WSB posing gracefully.

After changing at Moorfields, I arrived at Southport at 11.15am, I then had to get a train to Burscough Bridge Junction, sigh, I arrived at 11.30, I then had to follow a trail of signposts across farmers fields for what seemed an eternity and I arrived at Martin Mere at 12.15. The nice lady said, "Oh your here for the Bluethroat, it's still showing well, just give me your £11.25 and follow the path up to the Harrier Hide and one of our escorts will take you to the bird". Sounded a good deal, so off I set rushing past Egyptian Geese, Goldeneye, Falcated Ducks and Red Breasted Geese without giving them a second glance.

I got to the Harris Hide and where now? not a bloody soul in sight!! Grrrr, My instincts took me up a path and I spotted a couple of birders, one of whom kindly told me the way " Follow the path, don't go through any closed gates and you will see about 20 birders, the birds been seen in a woodpile" Great, thank you, off I marched. When I got there, alas I could see by most peoples faces it didn't look good. I asked one chap had it been seen ....."Yes, showing well up until about 11.35, it was last seen at the back of that logpile". I looked around and there were at least 5 big piles of wood that looked ready for bommy night. Apparently the bird had been photographed by a few lucky souls, but they did ever so well because the bird is Robin sized and needle and logpile spring to mind!!

I waited around and got excited everytime something moved by the logpiles. A Whitethroat kept popping up on top of one of the logpiles causing a sudden surge of adrenaline and twitchers moving their bins around as fast as they could to see if it was the sought after Bluethroat.... alas no, sighs all round. Next it started to rain just to add insult to injury I had the feeling this was not going to be my day. After a couple of false alarms and three and a half hours spent staring into a woodpile, one that I will no doubt see it in my sleep, I decided to give up.

DIPPED !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I made my way to the cafe as I had no brekky this morning, so I sat outside the Mereside cafe with a prawn butty and an orange juice that deprived me of £5.25 sighs again. Time was ticking on so I had to make the cross country walk back to Burscough Bridge Station, feeling deflated, I set off. Turning past a large house and a big field, I flushed a Quail,


I could not believe my luck, it shot down the track before disappearing into the long grass!! I was chuffed as this is a first for me for the year. At the bottom of Crabtree Lane, I took a left back onto the footpath that leads up to the station. Some Telegraph wires run adjacent to the tracks and a bird was sat on the wires, as I got closer I focussed the bins and it was a lovely male Corn Bunting,


 I couldn't believe my luck, a Quail and a Corn Bunting in the space of ten minutes!! It belted out it's song with gusto, I watched it for a full 5 minutes before it flew off over the fields, well chuffed :-) I had been after Corn Bunting down by the barn at Burton Mere Wetlands for months with no luck.

The train back to Southport from Burscough Bridge cost £4 single for a 10 minute journey!! I questioned this with Gupta the conductor (because he looked like Gupta from Only When I Laugh) and he said he does not make policy with regard to fares. I said to him it's £7 return for a 40 mile journey that takes an hour and 15 minutes and you want four quid for a single journey that takes 20 minutes and is 9 miles!! He muttered something unintelligible and thrust the ticket in my hand, so much for customer always being right haha.

Back at Overpool around 6.30pm after 6 different trains, 30 stations and an hour and a halfs walking, am I now a seasoned twitcher?? I doubt it very much lol. Call me a birder any day.

Mike Buckley

N.B Pics are images from Google, not my own.
Footnote, twitter message from Austin Morley received on my way home..... he had seen the bird and was there early and got a couple of pics.........just to rub it in!! No seriously, well done, the early birder gets his bird. 

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Delamere Forest, Blakemere & Hatchmere Wednesday 19th June 2013

Due to equipment not being delivered, it was down tools and a trip for myself and Shaun to Delamere Forest for a bit of birding. Delamere, means Forest of the lakes. It has around 2,400 acres of mixed woodland and therefore is the largest woodland in Cheshire.

I have not been to Delamere Forest for a while, but was excited at maybe seeing a Crossbill as we had been to Brenig with no joy earlier in the month. Walking along the Sandstone Ridge trail around the forest paths, we saw Wrens, lots of noisy Nuthatches with youngsters and heard a number of Song Thrushes, which is always welcome. We came across an area of path next to a field with some horses in, it was just then that I heard a 'tekk tekk' call akin to a skulking warbler, after a quick scan of the trees, I spotted a small nondescript LBJ which at first glance could have been a chiff or willow warbler, but was keeping itself concealed. We lost sight of it and after spying a family of Coal tits with young... see below in flight

we then heard the Warbler singing..... it was a Garden Warbler. It took a while to locate, but we did manage to watch the bird singing from a fairly well hidden position, but Shaun managed to get a fairly decent photo!! 

They do sound like Blackcaps, but without the Blackcaps final flourish (I find they are softer on the ear). Great spot and the first of the Year (another tick for yearlist) now a modest 154. Still way behind Austin Morley :( still it's a marathon not a sprint and an enjoyable bit of fun at that.

The visitor centre was closed when we went past and fag ash Lil poked her head out to advise us it was not open until 9am. No tea for us thirsty expolrers then!!

Walking past the nurseries and towards the Ape around activities, we spotted a bird that our friend Scouse Paul has a fondness for and gets very excited when he sees one, we took a picture just for him :) It was in a nest box in a well kept garden.

The sound of Goldcrests and Treecreepers is quite high pitched but we did manage to see both species and the Treecreepers in particular were all around the Forest.

Just a bit further on, I heard the sharp call of some Crossbills, but could not make them out as they were high up in the conifers, despite our best efforts, we never got a look at them.

Black Headed Gulls are noisy birds, but when you have hundreds of birds nesting at Blakemere Moss, the sound can be deafening.

It was decided in 1992 to restore Blakemere Moss as a wetland environment, which was achieved in 1998 by clear-felling the area and then flooding it. The restored lake now provides a habitat for wildlife, particularly birds. 

We got a good vantage point on a spit of land that projected out into the lake, the odd Tufted Duck and Lapwing could be seen and a Coot with a couple of youngsters. In amongst the nesting Black Headed Gulls and chicks, we also singled out a Med Gull. A lone female Mallard was left to look after 11 ducklings :]

Getting back onto the path, we spotted a couple of birds high up in a dead tree. Crossbills :) They never stayed long enough for us to get a good look or a pic unfortunately, but nevertheless a welcome tick.

The paths around the forest are undulating in character and hummocks and peatland basins have formed in clearings amongst the trees, some of these due to glacial activity. Now Dead Lake, is one of such areas, but despite it's name is alive with various dragonflies and insects going about their business, it is on one of these lakes, that we hoped to get a glimpse of a Hobby, which is renowned for catching dragonflies such luck. A red damselfly was spotted nearby. 

Hunger strikes, so we jumped back in the van and grabbed some sandwiches and a drink from a local store and had a break by the side of Hatchmere Lake. A solitary Great Crested Grebe was out on the water along with the odd Coot. After lunch, we walked through the woods that border the lake, Great, Blue, Coal & Long Tailed Tits were all seen as were the usual Wren, Robin, Nuthatch, Chiffchaff & Willow Warbler. Shaun spotted a Tree Creeper behaving oddly and located a nest with at least one youngster inside, it was wedged behind some old flaky bark on the side of a dead tree and at least one chicks little eye was peering up at us, probably wondering what these two strange creatures were staring at. In order to minimise disturbance, we took no pic and moved swiftly on. The area around the lake was really boggy and Shaun spotted this Common Frog chilling out in the pleasant sunshine. 

At least three Great Spotted Woodpeckers were sighted and a Buzzard flew through the wood on the way back to the van. 

On the way home, we decided to call in at Frodsham Marsh to see what was about and take a look at the silks spun by the Ermine Moth Caterpillar that have enveloped the spindle bushes all along No6 tank. Well, until you see it yourself first hand, it is quite a bizarre sight, here are just a few pictures of these amazing caterpillars..... they had covered the bushes, the trees, the grasses and the fenceposts!!

Not a lot else to report, a few Shelduck and Teal on No6 and many Whitethroats on the adjacent paths. June is a quiet month, but all in all, not a bad mornings birding.

Here is a link with more info for anyone wanting to visit Delamere Forest :- 

Mike Buckley
Shaun Hickey (Photos)

Saturday, 15 June 2013

In Search Of Flycatchers - Loggerheads & Moel Famau Saturday 15th June 2013

Shaun pulled up outside mine at around 6.30am and was greeted by the Green Woodpecker, who is affectionately known as Mr Yaffler, it carried on about it's business without a care in the world, until I left the house and made for the van!! It then, clocked me and flew across to it's nesting site in Rivacre Valley with undulating wingbeats.

Today we were heading for Loggerheads, which I was told was Nr Mold in North Wales. Our goal, to get pics of Pied Flycatchers, which had so far eluded us on our previous trips. The weather was okay when we left but upon arrival, it started to lash down, the clouds were low and the rain relentless, we walked through the wooded area away from the visitor centre and the drip drip of the rain from the trees, soon became a torrent and our waterproofs had a good workout. Needless to say, not a lot of birds were showing and we could hear Robins, Song Thrush and could just make out the diddley diddley diddley dee of Goldcrest. 

The rain eased up slightly, and we passed some Wild Garlic, which Shaun insisted I tasted, which not being one to refuse, did and had the taste in my mouth for over an hour afterwards!! 

Walking further on we came across the River Alyn, which runs through this beautiful mixed woodland, rich in Scots Pines and mature Oaks. We caught sight of a Spotted Flycatcher doing what Spotteds do well, darting out from a branch for nearby insects, however it vanished rather quickly before we could get a snap. Likewise Shaun spotted a Dipper flying low upstream, but alas, that was the only glimpse we had. A pair of Treecreepers were busy collecting insects for young, but it was too gloomy for pics and they never turned out properly :(

The rain was now starting to bucket down again and we decided to head back to the van and try our luck at Moel Famau, at least that would give us a chance to dry off a bit and we could return here later. Upon arrival at Moel Famau, there was a hint of blue sky trying to peep through the ash grey cloud which gave hope. The car park here costs a quid to gain entry and has a barrier system. Once parked up we spotted some Swallows and heard Willow Warbler, Coal Tit and Chiffchaff. 

The keeper to the trailhead we intended on taking looked rather menacing and would not be out of place in a Tolkien film, what do you think......

We heard some Coal Tits high up in the tops of the conifers, they have a distinct sitchu-sitchu-sitchu-sitchu call but were too high up for a good photo, but did manage a few later on....

A male Blackcap was singing away and further up the path a solitary Jay flew overhead. Suddenly the Hweet call alerted me to the whereabouts of a Chiffchaff and nest, we watched as the parent birds made trips back and to with beaks full of insects :) 

Climbing further up and up we had reached over 300m above sea level and had Great Tits, Chaffinch, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaff all calling from the trees along the pathways. A solitary Song Thrush was belting out his song from his lofty position atop a huge conifer.... a magical sound. As we turned the corner, we got amazing views back out across the countryside towards Loggerheads were we had just come from, as you can see from the pic, the weather had improved considerably :)

At the bottom of the trail, the Goldcrests were calling and Shaun managed to get a couple of decent photos, we enjoyed watching them for a while then headed back to the van.

After a cup of tea and a bacon sarnie at the obligatory butty van you find at these places, we headed back to Loggerheads to retrace our steps and see if we could find Pied Flycatcher now viewing conditions had improved. Following the paths, we came across a clearing with spectacular views and immediately spotted a Buzzard, it was being pestered by a pair of Crows (as is usually the case).....

Walking back down through the wood and back towards the river we found a great spot to sit and watch, I immediately spotted a family of Grey Wagtails on the riverbank and it looked as though it was only recently this youngster had fledged...

We then had our Eureka moment, the birds we had been hoping to tick suddenly appeared, at first we saw the female Pied Flycatcher on low branches.......

she then flew down and grabbed a juicy grub, it soon became apparent that a couple of pairs were in this vicinity and we could see where one pair had a nest just across the river in a hole in a tree clad with Ivy.

Trying to get a shot of the male bird was proving difficult as he was busy catching insects at a frantic pace and was busy flitting around the nearby branches, Shaun did manage a couple of decent shots though and it was mission accomplished :)

I was well happy and we stayed for a while and watched these industrious little birds go about their duties. Walking back to the van we passed an old mill and at the Loggerheads visitor centre, there appeared to be a fete of some kind going on as music and games were now being played on the lawns outside. A great place to visit and I enclose a link in case anyone who reads the blog wants more info..... 

On the way home we stopped in for a look at Aberduna Quarry which is now a disused quarry that has been turned into a nature trail, it seemed closed, but here is a picture and a link anyway...

After a dismal start to the day, it turned out to be a well worthwhile trip :)

Mike Buckley
Shaun Hickey (Photos)

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Searching for Goshawks - Llyn Brenig 1st June 2013

With fine weather promised after a dismal few days, myself and Shaun set off at 4.30am to see what we could find at Llyn Brenig. After around a 45 minute drive, we arrived at our destination after a minor sat nav problem and a detour round some back streets!! This early in the morning, the barrier to the visitor centre was down so we parked up in a small area near the barrier.

The first bird we clapped eyes on was a lovely Spotted Flycatcher, a first for the year for me and a lifer for Shaun, what a start.

Willow Warblers were calling and the pink pink of Chaffinches could also be heard.

The views across the lake were breathtaking with conifer plantations, rolling fields and patches of small deciduous woodland and marsh. great habitat to find some boss birds.

 A Redshank flew from a nearby shingle spit and a Pied Wagtail ran along the shoreline catching insects. Walking across the dam, we could see all the boats moored up waiting for trout fishermen to hire them out, strangely no other birds could be seen out on such a vast expanse of water!! We did spot George Bush Snr and Henry Kissenger, who were busy reeling in a large Trout....

The sound of Cuckoos rang out across the valley and it was not long before we spotted one flying low across the fields. I then saw another Cuckoo on a fencepost being hassled by a Meadow Pipit and managed to get the scope on it and we took a few pics with the I phone through the scope with some success. Further on yet another Cuckoo was perched on some telegraph wires, it really was Cuckoo central.

A pair of Bullfinches flew over, detected by their soft call.

The pathways bordered some serious dark conifer plantations and we heard a couple of Firecrests calling, but despite our best efforts we could not see the birds :( gutted as I've not seen one for some years. Further on down the track the different tones of numerous Goldcrests rang out and they actively darted from branch to branch, again no pic, but we did manage one later on.

A couple of Ravens were croaking overhead and a hen Pheasant scurried along the fenceline anxious to evade us as we walked alongside. At the top of a hill, the path descended down into a lovely valley with a small caravan/static mobile home park. What a truly beautiful little spot, crossing a bridge we had this view of the fast flowing stream....magical.

 I said to Shaun, this looks like Dipper territory, so we walked through the homes and into a small field with some mini goalposts and looked up and down the stream to see if we could see one. Nope, nothing, but opposite was a hilly grassy/rocky slope with numerous bushes with some very high up at the top. Shaun spotted some Stonechats and then a bigger bird appeared on a bush perched right at the top of the hill. A lovely male Redstart (not a White Throated Robin) which for a while it looked like as it perched oddly and had a really distinctive long white supercillium and looked bigger, well I can dream!!

Walking back through the caravan park, lots of different birds were enjoying the numerous treats left out, fat bags, peanuts, seed, it was a little birdy haven. Siskins, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Coal, Blue and Great Tits were tucking in.

Making our way back towards the van for some sarnies, we walked alongside the stream and Shaun spotted it...Dipper,

it bobbed up and down on a stone in the middle of the stream and then flew right past us with a beak full of insects. Some hungry chicks were in for a treat!! Cutting through yet more dense conifers, we heard loads of Goldcrests and also a Blackcap, which came obligingly into view for a quick photo :)

After a few sarnies and a much needed cuppa, we headed off. On the road towards the visitor centre, another Spotted Flycatcher could be seen in a small glade and two Mistle Thrushes were having a right old barny. A Song Thrush perched on an overhead wire with a beak full of insects

and a few Chiffchaffs were calling. Goldfinch and Chaffinch were also spotted. Upon arrival at the car park, the first birds we saw were a beautiful pair of Redstarts, Shaun managed a shot of the lovely male, (note the smaller supercillium) than on the first Redstart we photographed.

We had a chat with a lovely young lady at the visitor centre and she told us they had built an Osprey platform as a bird had flown through regularly each year. We could not locate this platform, or any Ospreys. Lots of LBJ's were around, mostly Willows and Chaffs.

One of the little warblers looked like he had been drinking some of the strong stuff!!

As we headed back to the van, I was scanning in the firebreaks between the conifers to see if the elusive Goshawk or any Sparrowhawks or Long Eared Owls were hiding from us, alas nothing :[

We drove further round the lake and came to a decent spot and parked up. As we got out a Tree Pipit flew onto the top of a conifer (a perfect photo opportunity) and after a while started it's song flight and rose up before parachuting back down onto the top of another small fir.

Not much else was about to be fair, a few Carrion Crows and the odd warbler, but very quiet, again no birds on the lake bar a pair of Mallards. Enough was enough so we headed off to the Moors, to see if we could spot the elusive Goshawk maybe displaying above a plantation (live in hope) die in Caegerwle..... ahem.

The heather moors had not yet began to flower and looked very dry and brittle, some Meadow Pipits and a Skylark were all we could see at first, then a pair of Buzzards were spotted side by side in a big conifer at the side of the woodland. Some Stonechats and a few Wheatear were also spotted.

A bit further down the road we stopped briefly at Llyn Bran, yet another reservoir and here we saw, Tufted Duck, Mallard and three Great Crested Grebes.

On the way back home nr Mold, we spotted a sign saying Coed-Y-Felin nature reserve, so decided to see what we could find. At the entrance gate a board displayed what we might see, a Pied Flycatcher stared back at us and gave hope we might see one!! It was a nice wooded walk to be fair and Robin and Blue Tit were all over the place, but no pied flycatchers :( A Treecreeper was a treat as it worked it's way mouse like up a sturdy oak.

It was very warm in the woods and lots of butterflies were to be seen, here are a couple of pics, not sure what they are :-

It was then I heard some chicks calling and spotted a hole in a tree, had to be Great Spotted Woodpecker and soon enough the parent came back with a beak full of insects and allowed Shaun a couple of good photos :)

Willow Warblers and Blackcaps could be heard but not seen, unlike this Peregrine who flew right over the woods above us.

It must be nesting in the nearby quarry as their is some serious sheer rockface/ledges which would be good for a home. That was a good way to round the afternoon off, so we headed off after a thoroughly enjoyable days birding, but NO GOSHAWK !!

List of species seen :-

Mike Buckley
Shaun Hickey (photos)