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.

If you wish to register, please email me
Log in

Archives

Expand All
BUBO Listing www.bubo.org
  • Categories


  • My Favourite Links

  • Chew Valley on Fire in the Fog

    At the beginning of the month my Avon list raced on to 200 (so many milestones!) with two “great” birds, i.e. an egret and a diver. Both had been at Chew Valley Lake for several days and, being large as well as great, should have been easy to spot.

    The drive down from Dundry Hill hinted at possible difficulties. Spread below me, a mist blanketed the landscape, as far as the Mendips. It didn’t bode well despite more…

    Rose-coloured Starling, Bristol

    Rose-coloured Starling

    Rose-coloured Starling, Rhos-on-Sea © Dave Curtis

    This sets all sorts of records. Only my second sighting of the species, it’s also my only adult: 1998’s bird in Andover, Hampshire was a less spectacular juvenile. Saturday’s individual in Bishopston lived up to its name with a pleasant bullfinch hue to its body feathers. A dark hood and dark wings added contrast and the light was good enough to pick out pinky legs and a pale bill as the bird perched atop a birch.

    To make the scene even more memorable, more…

    Cattle Egret, Burton Mere RSPB

    A change of name for this reserve, from Inner Marsh Farm to something more descriptive of where it is, which should have helped after ten years of failing to find the place.

    It wasn’t as simple this time either and I again found myself hunting round Neston, where my road map erroneously places the RSPB symbol. This lower half of the Wirral Peninsula in Cheshire is becoming rather familiar. Even so, it took the local postie to set me right and send me back to a very discreet sign pointing down more…

    Road to Spurn

    Spurn Point, E Yorks

    Ex-Road to Spurn Point, E Yorks

    All the way along the M18, M62 and beyond to Kilnsea, recent rain had left standing water in many fields. Night fell; being north and east of Bristol, East Yorkshire loses its sun early. I had to search for my B&B in darkness and succeeded just as a sharp shower coincided with my dash between car and front door.

    “You timed that well,” said the landlady.

    I’d heard that phrase before, but more…

    The 300 Club

    I don’t think this exists in the same way as the UK400 Club, but I’m unlikely ever to join the latter so I’ll have to invent the former. In any case on Saturday a green-winged teal at Slimbridge was my 300th British species, just as I’d predicted weeks back on 299.

    Having tried for what’s presumably the same individual already this year, I had an uncanny feeling as I approached the Zeiss Hide that I would crack it. Sure enough, many scopes were trained on one spot as I entered and a little enquiry soon put me on to one bird with more…

    200 Up

    Forest of Dean

    Forest of Dean, Parkend

    That’s now my tally for 2014, so only five more will beat my previous best. Even so, I’m running a paltry 130-somethingth on the Bubo chart. Some folk must have a lot of time and money.

    White-fronted geese at Slimbridge on Saturday were 199 for the year. They were easy to spot from the Holden Tower as usual, as were flocks of greylags. I scanned through those several times on the way back to the Rushy Pen before finally landing more…

    Recent Avon Sightings

    The year list moved just once in mid-October during what was otherwise a month-long stall. But in the best way with a great skua: I’ve not seen this magnificent species in the five years since Porthgwarra. I left it late: the question on my first free Saturday was whether the bird would continue its week-long residence at Chew Valley Lake.

    The answer was yes and the first comment as I entered Stratford Hide was: “It’s over towards Bernard King.” The two guys already in there knew what I’d come for. Sat out on the lake, a brown-plumaged shape was clearly my bird: more…

    Screwing Civilization IV

    After massaging values in this game’s XML files to simulate some sort of collapse between 2000 and 2016, the most notable effect was on my workers. More by conquest than anything else, I had many and it was getting harder to find productive stuff for them to do. Since they now cost upkeep, I started disbanding those that couldn’t pay their way. Doesn’t that have echoes of austerity? Of course in the real world they’d spend most of their time merely maintaining the vast infrastructure of empire.

    I continued to rack up values mentioned in previous posts. Every eight years was beginning to look like more…