Watery Birding

Ellesmere, Shropshire

Ellesmere, Shropshire

It’s the last lap of the year list and additions are drying up. A trip to Cotswold Water Park was supposed to net me three more but only supplied one – the absolute banker of red-crested pochard. What an attractive duck that is though, sporting its bright red bill with a tiny yellow tip. No matter that it’s basically one more feral species in this country. I assume they’re breeding at CWP: they’ve been ever-present in goodly numbers since I started visiting 16 years ago.

All the same I wasn’t expecting them at Pit 29, near Ashton Keynes, where I was seeking a reported smew. Having drawn a blank by early afternoon, I was off to Pit 44, which had served back in 2010. However, news of a penduline tit at Waterhay was too tempting and dusk descended on me there instead. With no bird in evidence.

The morning had also fired blanks at Overscourt Wood, near Siston, which fitted this post’s theme by being tremendously soggy underfoot. Bramblings may hang out there, as they may in any of the few Avon woodlands. Even Chew Valley is as likely as in the county for these beech-loving finches.

Which is where I should have gone on the Sunday but Stolford won out with possible Richard’s pipits. What a bleak spot that is, especially in a persistent wind. No other bird life entertained me during the wait and I took off to Hinkley Point, which was even bleaker. The final leg of that walk threads between shelves of rock, jutting into the Bristol Channel, and the sea defences for the nuclear power station; serious wire cages of stones stacked up to twice my height. I wonder if they’ve gone in since Fukushima. Anyway, the sole feature of the day was a pair of stonechats.
Sshhh, I'm Watching Something

The highlights lately have been about as notable, but much farther away.

England has a second, mini-Lake District, or more accurately a Mere District. It runs the length of northern Shropshire and the largest of the lakes is at Ellesmere. This has a 10,000-strong gull roost. Those with an idle few hours can try to find species other than black-headed, common, herring or lesser black-backed.

I didn’t have this amount of time at the end of an afternoon sampling the lesser bodies of water. They hadn’t yielded much; in fact best was a red-legged partridge flying up from the road! I hoped the ensuing morning session would be more exciting.

In the interim I did get to walk past the Mere in starlight. Gracious! There’s one beneficial side effect of a large expanse of water – diminished light pollution. Orion and Gemini were just rising; Taurus was riding high; and the Plough and Cassiopeia swung round the Pole Star. That’s the limit of my heavenly navigation skills these days.

My morning half-circuit of the Mere (you can’t go all the way round) supplied more goosanders, a few nuthatches, one treecreeper and… er, that’s about it. No lesser spotted woodpecker, although my information there is some 20 years out of date and, given the species’ massive decline, doubtless over-optimistic. No smew either, so I then drove a good way in to Cheshire, where one had been sighted at Newchurch Common.

This doesn’t sound very watery but looks to be part of a series of ex-pits that have filled in. Situated in an angle between the A49 and A54, it’s also not easy to find, probably because the Warrington anglers have sole possession of it and no intention of sharing. A spiralling route, blocked by dead ends, put me about as close as I would get and then I tramped in some half a mile. About 20 minutes were needed to scan the lake until I finally latched onto the little beauty, tucked away in one wee corner.

I make that five days effort for two year birds (I haven’t mentioned Sunday’s attempts at water pipit and black redstart; I’m beginning to feel like the Saints – one point in five games). Anyway, 215 species is now looking a more likely final score for 2014.

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