Patchwatch Day – 27th September 2009

Each Patchwatch I tell myself there is no point arriving before dawn as I won’t get an owl anyway. I snuggle under the covers for another hours kip but then think, ‘Yes, but what if there is an owl there and I miss it.’ So I find myself stumbling around in the dark at 05.30 again wondering where I left my common sense. All I can hear is Robins, they seem to be singing or ‘ticking’ from every other bush, the ‘Bird Count’ days never record this many Robins.
I walked along the Lower Path towards the river, to the accompaniment of the Robins, and then, in the distance, I heard a cacophony of Jackdaws. By the time I reached the river I had two entries on my bird list. I climbed the bank to peer down into the gloom of the Deep Pit and startled a Heron, which in turn startled the Coots and Canada Geese that were roosting there. As I walked along the Deep Pit bank towards the northern corner the geese settle down again, its still too early for them to be up. I continued along the northern edge of the Deep Pit and approached the Slurry Lagoon and gradually became aware of the squeaks and quacks of the Gadwall, but could make out nothing else in the darkness. Halfway along the Causeway I heard the distinctive calls of a Green Sandpiper and then a second one was calling, I stopped to listen and caught the sounds of Mallard and Moorhen and could just see the forms of Mute Swans. More listening produced Reed Bunting, Carrion Crow, Snipe, the whistles of Teal and the squeals of Water Rail, of which five or six were calling. The Lesser Black-backed Gulls in the roost started to wake up and call as I reached the railway end of the Causeway and a Wren was singing.
The sky was lightening in the east now and I no longer needed my torch to make my entries. A startled Blackbird gave its alarm call as I turned right at the corner to walk towards the Car Auction end of the site. Suddenly a Tawny Owl gave a shrieking hoot almost in my ear, followed by the more normal quavering note, it then flew past me across the pale eastern sky, into the Deep Pit. Wow, an owl at last. It was now 06.30 and the score had reached nineteen.
As the light grew brighter so more birds began to give themselves away with calls and songs. Dunnocks were ‘seeping’, a Blackcap was ‘tacking’ and Black-headed Gulls were screaming as they flew overhead. Then I heard the unexpected ‘churring’ alarm of a Whitethroat, I thought they had all gone. I rapidly added Rook, Magpie, Chiffchaff and Starling to the list and now I could see as well as hear birds and Great Tit, Chaffinch, Blue Tit and Pied Wagtail swelled the numbers. In the bushes near the Footbridge a Chiffchaff was calling and I looked in an elder bush to try to see it. To my surprise a Reed Warbler was hopping amongst the branches, another bird I thought had already left for Africa. I was now walking east along the north side of the Slurry Lagoon, with Wood Pigeons flying from their roost along with several Chaffinches, and on the Slurry Lagoon I could now see Shoveler Little Grebe and a few Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls in the gull roost. I turned the corner onto the Causeway again and saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker fly into the Ash Trees, beyond the Plantation.
As I walked along the Causeway I could see Neil and Paul Matthews coming towards me and they said they had just seen a Jay near the Signal Box and a Kingfisher on the river. As we swapped notes we were also spotting new species and Grey-lag Goose, Greenfinch, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Pintail and Feral Pigeon brought the tally to forty-five by 07.30.
I wanted to see the Jay, so set off to look for it and soon found it near the Railway Bridge. I wanted to see this bird as it is a rarity on the site and so it was with pleasure that I heard its raucous screams and saw its clumsy flight as it moved along the railway line trees. I hadn’t seen a Great Crested Grebe yet, so I walked along the Deep Pit bank again, looking over the Large Gravel Pit until I spotted my quarry, two adults and two well grown young. On the way a Cormorant flew over but I claimed no other new species until I again reached the end of the Causeway. Here in the bushes on the inside slope of the Deep Pit I found two Sedge Warblers with a flock of Great and Blue Tits. On the Causeway I met up with Neil and Paul again and I told them about the Sedge Warblers. Just then a Kingfisher flew along the far side of the Slurry Lagoon, before perching on a reed stem. Neil put his telescope on it so that we could all see it well. Overhead some Skylarks were flying south on their way to more temperate climes, and later some Meadow Pipits. Some Lapwings flew in to rest on the slurry and a Goldfinch flew over, while a Cetti’s Warbler interjected its unmistakable staccato notes from deep within some nearby bushes. Paul and Neil could not stay any longer so I walked with them along the north side of the Slurry Lagoon towards the footbridge, gaining Grey Wagtail and Long-tailed Tit on the way. It was now 08.30 and I had recorded 57 species.
On the path I met Paul Beresford and stopped to chat while Neil and Paul went off, I then carried on alone following their direction, meeting Jackie Dennison as two more Jays flapped their way across the dry end of the Slurry Lagoon. Jackie carried on towards the Causeway and I continued towards the Footbridge, next meeting Rob Woodward as he made his way onto the site. The numbers of new people arriving would help to swell the numbers of birds on the list but today I wanted to see all of the species myself if I could. I continued alone around the western end of the Slurry Lagoon, catching the maniacal laugh of a Green Woodpecker on the way. I really wanted to get Willow Tit on the day list if I could so I aimed for the Lower Path again as this is normally the best place to catch up with them. I had just started walking along towards the river again when the gaggle of geese overhead drew my attention to a skein of about sixty Pink-footed Geese, flying west, probably between the Wash and the Ribble estuaries. A little further along the path a ‘tack’ call, a little less harsh than a Blackcaps, alerted me to a Lesser Whitethroat and I saw two of them chase each other around a bush. Alas, no Willow Tit, but I did meet John Feeney and Tony Lowry near the Irish Bridge. They had also seen the geese go over but had nothing new to add. Paul Beresford approached us from the river, but had missed the geese. As he joined us first Song Thrush and then a Linnet flew overhead. John, Tony and I carried on towards the Railway Bridge. It was now 09.30 and the list had reached 62.
At the bridge a Stock Dove was sat on the wire on the other side of the river but there was no sign of any of the summer’s Swallows that had been here feeding young only a week before. We walked back up the Deep Pit bank, splitting at the top so that I walked anti-clockwise round the Deep Pit while John and Tony went clockwise. By the time I got round to the Causeway again to meet Rob I had only added Collared Dove to my total. Rob had missed the geese but then found another skein of about forty-five flying across the fields. He had found a Dunlin on the Slurry and a distant Buzzard was seen circling over the fields. Pam Gartside ‘phoned me up to tell me about the Buzzard, and later joined us on the Causeway but new birds were now very difficult to find. After a while I decided to go home for some lunch and went via the Lower Path, hoping to get a Willow Tit on the way, and Pam joined me. We didn’t get the Willow Tit but did hear a Siskin’s plaintive call as it flew by. A young lad on a motorbike was being particularly annoying as he buzzed round the pits. I managed to stop him and told him to leave the site before I called the police. He moved onto the railway land and I hoped he might flush a Willow Tit in our direction, but it didn’t work. Instead he met two friends which gave him the courage to come back on site. I ‘phoned the police and the youths left and while we waited for the police to respond the Lapwings all took off from the Slurry Lagoon, shortly followed by all the Feral Pigeons. We both searched the sky for a raptor and high in the sky over the river our efforts were rewarded by the sight of a spiralling Peregrine. As we didn’t hear from the police we went our separate ways to get some lunch. The score now stood at 68, at 12.30.
I came back on site at about 15.00 and walked again along the Lower Path, searching for a Willow Tit. It wasn’t long before a Yellow Wagtail called as it flew overhead, but the hoped for Willow Tit was not to be seen. I walked up the Deep Pit bank and along the top between the Deep Pit and Large Gravel Pit, looking down over both and hoping for a Wheatear, Stonechat or Redstart. Instead I found the Aythea hybrid, a cross between a Tufted Duck and a Pochard that looks a little like a Lesser Scaup. On the Causeway I met Rob again, with Philip Burnham. They had seen a Sparrowhawk and the Peruvian Ruddy Duck, and a group of Swallows flew through to the south. Phil and I went for a walk along the river bank and around the far side of the Large Gravel Pit but found no new species so we joined Rob on the Causeway again, along with Pam and Dave Gartside and Jackie Dennison. Rob had found what he thought was a Caspian Gull amongst the gull flock, a rare species on the site as well as a difficult one to identify but it did have very dark eyes, a long parallel bill and pink legs which were good positive indications of its species.
After resting on the bench for a while Phil left us, making his way off the site along the Lower Path. A little while later he phoned us to say he had found a Willow Tit. I set off after him to see if I could get it too as the only addition to the list in an hour had been a Pheasant that Jackie had heard earlier. There was no sign of a Willow Tit, but I did find a Sparrowhawk as I made my way off.
An hour or so later Rob ‘phoned me to say after I left a Common Gull flew in and two Ruddy Ducks had appeared, bringing the day’s final total to 78.