Trip reports

Lancashire 2014

Calling redshank in meadow

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

After May 2013's epic journey to Somerset the October 2014 Group holiday was a little closer to home. We began, as most of our recent holidays in the Red Rose county have done, with a trip to Martin Mere, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust's reserve near Ormskirk. The site is famed for its wintering geese and swans and we were buoyed by the news that a record count of 45,000 pink-footed geese had been made just a few days before our visit. The geese were not to disappoint as the main pool and surrounding grassland was covered with them. Throughout the afternoon more 'pinkies' flew in. It was 3.30pm before Angela Belk commented 'This is the first time there have been no geese flying in'. A short time later the sky was full of birds drifting in from the south west with, at one point, over a dozen skeins, each with over a hundred geese, in the sky together. Numbers of whooper swans built up more slowly. For much of the visit there were probably less than thirty birds on site but during late afternoon small parties dropped in until there were over one hundred whoopers before we left. Noticeable however was the small number of juvenile birds, identified through their browner plumage and pink and grey beaks. Also noticeable was the amount of posturing going on between groups, particularly around the pile of potatoes. We were a couple of weeks too early for the start of the daily feeding sessions and wildfowl numbers were lower than they will be later in the season. there were good numbers of Teal and Wigeon and of Ruff which exhibited a variety of colourings. In winter ruff are supposed to be almost identical, on this occasion there was quite a variety of colouring from grey to rich brown.

The second day saw us travelling to the far north to spend the day at RSPB Leighton Moss. This vast reed bed reserve lies in a bowl near Silverdale at the southern end of the Lake District. It had a reputation for being a good site for bittern and bearded tit. Our morning walk took us to the northern half of the reserve and along the causeway beside which trays of grit are set out to attract the 'beardies'. As we walked past they were nowhere to been seen. Although it was a little breezy it was not violently windy but they did not show, and we did not hear their distinctive pinging calls. And to avoid any false hopes I had better point out now that we did not see any bitterns either. Again there were good numbers of many of the commoner wildfowl but not massive numbers. The woodland areas produced mix flocks of tits while at one time we intently peered into some willow trees behind a patch of brambles as a small flock of goldcrests moved through.

Interest in the southern half of the reserve centred not on the birds but on the mammals, and on the largest mammals at that. After views of a red deer stag and two hinds from one hide we moved into Grisedale Hide where an impressive 12 point stag was holding court. He looked a magnificent beast and his roar echoed across the reserve as he defended his harem of half a dozen hinds from two other stags. One young stag timidly hid behind a small tree hoping not to be noticed. Another stag who drifted in from our right did not challenge this supreme beast. The presence of the deer possibly accounted for the lack of birds seen from both hides although teal and wigeon were again common. While most of the group were watching the deer David Bosworth, after watching live coverage on the café CCTV, went back to the causeway and saw the bearded tits on the grit trays.

To finish off the day we drove the short distance to the Eric Morecambe Hide which overlooks a vast saltmarsh on the edge of Morecambe Bay. This was particularly good for wildfowl with more waders that we had seen before. The lapwing stayed out on the saltmarsh while about 70 redshank fed in the pools. Here we could compare them with winter plumage spotted redshank noting the differing tone of the back, the longer beak and more obvious eye stripe of the spotted. In the far distance a flock of about 150 black-tailed godwits looked like a mud bank while a few greenshanks proved to be the only ones we saw on the holiday. Although a kingfisher performed close to the hide the highlight was the two great white egrets present, alongside about a dozen little egrets. Larger, with all dark feet and orange beaks, unfortunately these magnificent birds remained distant.

Sunday began with a later start as our first destination was only a 10 minute drive away. The Lancashire Wildlife Trust's Brockholes reserve opened with much fanfare a few years ago. With a visitor complex built on a pontoon in one of the pools it looks fantastic. What is not so fantastic however, is the damage this reserve beside the M6 on the edge of Preston has suffered from vandals. The site is also so close to the motorway that there is always a background rumble of heavy traffic. The site is also bordered by the River Ribble. A walk beside that river provided good views of three female or immature goosanders. We spent a little time near the woodland which fringes the motorway but stayed in the middle of the reserve to avoid the noise. The pools held some of the commoner wildfowl but were lacking the waders I had seen on previous visits. The single reed bunting we found was the first of the holiday.

In the afternoon we moved on to Southport and the RSPB Marshside Reserve. With the sun behind us we had views over the wet fields between the Marine Drive and the town. Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler were everywhere but the commonest bird by far was the black-tailed godwit, most in a single flock ouside the southern hide. Most were resting, a few were feeding. Suddenly there was an explosion of grey, white and black as these impressive waders rose and fell, twisted and turned first showing their grey backs and black and white wings, then their all white undersides as they rose in unison in response to a sparrowhawk. The hawk made a number of passes through the flock, which remained faithful to the pool they had been on. The sparrowhawk made a few swoops and on one occasion came close to striking a godwit but that was its last act as it departed across the road and over the salthmarsh. The godwits soon settled although all the wildfowl were now, nervously, resting on the pool. The only birds which appeared undisturbed were the curlews which continued to feed in the longer grass. Just as we were preparing the leave the hide a water rail briefly emerged from a patch of reed just below the windows.

The northern half of the reserve appears to be less grazed and it was this area which attracted the geese. Again there were good numbers of pink-footed geese and, in the distance Canada geese. There was a lot of scanning of distant geese in the hope of seeing the two barnacle geese which had been on the reserve. There was less trouble in seeing the star bird of the reserve when a white goose with black wing tips, and a blue based orange bill dropped in from a pool on the saltmarsh. This was a Ross's goose.

The holiday ended on the Monday with a visit to Pennington Flash, a wetland site near Leigh, which is run by Wigan Borough Council. Most of the site has been formed by mining subsidence and consists of a large, deep lake and a number of smaller pools. The mallard, Canada geese and black-headed gulls here were clearly used to being fed. After much debate it was agreed that one of the wagtails was a white wagtail. We again had excellent views of a kingfisher. One of the best hides, although also the smallest, overlooked a well stocked feeding station which attracted a large flock of greenfinch, alongside nuthatch, marsh and willow tits and bullfinches. The holiday ended with a list of 94 species.

We travelled with Bus King Holidays and stayed at the Best Western Premier Leyland Hotel which is conveniently, if a little noisy, situated next to the M6. It is a very modem hotel and made an excellent base for our travels across Lancashire.