Field Trip Reports 2009

WWT Llanelli – 13 December 2009 – Report by Sue Brealey

A group of 34 members set off from Shrewsbury by coach for the journey to WWT Llanelli, picking up 4 others at Craven Arms. After one compulsory stop for the driver, the group arrived at Llanelli about 11am. On arrival, the duty Manager, Dominic, gave the group a briefing about the reserve, and having agreed that the coach would leave about 4pm the group split up into smaller groups to enjoy the reserve in their own way.

A small party went through the captive bird park to go the British Steel hide, overlooking the estuary. The weather was clear with blue skies all day and very little wind, a bit on the chilly side but not freezing!! On arrival, the first bird seen was a Spoonbill, which was really good start and lifetime tick for one member of the group who keeps a Welsh list! The views were really clear especially as it moved from place to place. Then we saw two birds in the middle distance, which due to the low light were very difficult to work out being silhouetted, but they were definitely medium to larger waders. Eventually it was concluded that they were Spotted Redshank. Amongst other birds seen at this point were Wigeon (there were lots of these!!), Lapwing, Mallard, Greylag geese, as well as a Greenshank, Cormorant, Curlew, Kingfisher and Common Buzzard. Little Grebe were seen on the lagoon to the rear of the hide, as well as Gadwall and Tufted Duck.

On the way round to the Michael Powell hide, we added a few more common birds, including Chaffinch, Great Tit and Blue Tit as well as Blackbird. From the Michael Powell hide, there were very good views of a Common Buzzard having just finishing eating a kill, and eventually had good views of 3 Common Snipe which had been very difficult to find (Well Done Jean!!). We then had lunch and after deciding to move, the main group went to the Heron Wing’s hide, where there were good numbers of various Wildfowl, Shelduck and Grey Heron. A walk around this end of the reserve proved rather disappointing, but we all felt the earlier sightings made up for it.

Eventually, we all assembled back at the coach at 4pm to start the journey home, and from the motorway going East there were really good views of a splendid sunset. The overall impression was that everyone had enjoyed themselves, with the weather on our side on this pre-Christmas trip.

Parkgate & Burton Marsh – 18th October 2009 – Report and photos by Jim Almond

The Dee estuary is always a popular venue for an autumn visit with Raptors and waders the key target birds. The SOS membership also thought so too and a party of 20 birders (easily the best turn out of the year) assembled at Parkgate in the ‘old baths’ car park. The tide table indicated a reasonable, 9.6 metre high tide, peaking at midday but this was still insufficient to breach the saltmarsh and push the waders nearer. Nevertheless we were certainly kept entertained by numerous Raptors and many other local birds!

We were immediately into Peregrine, every now and then tearing across the marsh in search of prey – at least one Curlew had a very narrow escape from the clutches of those talons! Hen Harrier were also hunting at reasonably close quarters, at least three individual Ringtails were seen. Perhaps the real highlight of the day however was a Barn Owl, hunting over the marsh late morning. It’s not every day you get to see such a spectacle and after several unsuccessful attempts, we witnessed the Owl successfully catch and carry off a Vole for lunch! Sparrowhawk and Kestrel were also added to the raptor count here but we had to settle for distant views of waders including Curlew, Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit, Knot and Common Snipe. There were good numbers of Little Egret and Shelduck present plus Stonechat in the nearby scrub too.

Barn Owl, Parkgate

Barn Owl with vole, Parkgate

We split into two separate groups (to ease the parking) and call in at Inner Marsh Farm, situated just a couple of miles away and despite a disappearing act by the Long-billed Dowitchers, there was plenty to see here as well! Waders seen here included a distant and rather elusive Curlew Sandpiper. The ‘regulars’ were much more obliging and included Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Golden Plover, Redshank and Lapwing on the scrape in front of the hide. A few Pintail were on the water with good numbers of Teal and Shoveler. Mixed in with the Geese were a couple of Barnacles.

Kestrel, Parkgate

Kestrel, Parkgate

The final session of the day included a walk along the marshside track at Burton Marsh. There is an elevated area about half a mile or so down the track, with clear views towards the estuary. We settled down to scan the saltmarsh. We had seen Kestrel and Common Buzzard along the walk but were able to enjoy distant but extended views of at least three Short-eared Owls, a couple of Merlin and a female Marsh Harrier. With more ringtail Hen Harriers interacting with the Shorties, this really was a brilliant spectacle! Have you been counting? The final raptor tally for the day was NINE species, including more than one of most of these. Supported by the wader count and other birds on view, at least 40 species were seen. Thanks to Andy Latham for keeping everyone on their toes and making sure nothing was missed!

Devon Weekend – 18 – 20 September 2009 – Report by Joyce Jones

In September, twelve members spent a very pleasant weekend in Devon , based at a hotel at Kennford just south of Exeter . The Exeter Court Hotel provided very good accommodation for the whole party. We met up at Dawlish Warren on Friday 18th. The Warren is an excellent birding location with Whinchat and Wheatear showing really well and it was interesting to see the female Wheatear feeding on blackberries and taking whole fruits – there is always something new to learn about bird behavior! Although the tide was out, Ian found a flock of Common Scoter not too far out at sea. After lunch, we spent the afternoon at Exminster Marshes. Keen-eyed members were lucky enough to see a Kingfisher along the canal but the rest of us had to make do with tea and ice cream at the pub on the lock. We did have very close views of Black-tailed Godwits only yards from where we were sitting. An afternoon stroll around the field was quiet until Dave and Ian found a Short-eared Owl and from our vantage point on the towpath we had grandstand views of the Owl perched, hunting and in flight. A Kestrel, a Buzzard and a Sparrowhawk provided us with a good half hour of raptor watching at its best. Late afternoon we were at Bowling Green Reserve watching good numbers of waders including Greenshank, Godwits, Dunlin, Curlew and a few Knot. As the light faded we made our way to register at the hotel and then enjoyed a very jolly evening meal at a local Inn .

The hotel was very comfortable and provided a substantial breakfast which kept us going until well after lunchtime on Saturday. We had to be ready for 9.00am on the dot! And were soon on our way to Berry Head. There were plenty of Tits and Warblers to be seen on the walk up to the headland with Whitethroats being very obliging. The weather was good and we had a pleasant walk along the cliffs where there are interesting remains of fortifications from the Napoleonic wars. Although it was very hazy over the sea we had plenty to watch as there were migrating hirundines feeding over the headland, and sure enough a Hobby appeared to chase them. It proved to be a juvenile but it gave us a superb demonstration of flying and catching food on the wing and stayed around the cliffs for 20 minutes. We also had good scope views of Cirl Bunting feeding in the Wardens’ garden. At lunch time news came through on the grape vine that a Glossy Ibis was at Seaton, so forming an orderly convoy we went there only to find the Ibis had flown to pastures new. Late afternoon saw everyone return to Bowling Green Reserve for the high tide wader roost.

On Sunday morning the tide was right for a second visit to Dawlish Warren. As we walked out along the dunes our keen eyed spotters soon picked up waders on the shore. Three Golden Plover and a Little Stint were close enough to let us really study their plumage. The long walk out to the hide was well worth the effort to see the variety of waders at close quarters, and a single Grey Plover was an added bonus on the way back. We had lunch there and then said our goodbyes and special thanks to Sue and Jim for organizing such a lovely weekend. Some of the party then headed homewards and some set off to the Somerset Levels to look for Spotted Crake after a very noisy half hour by a busy railway line watching a Slavonian Grebe in Dawlish Harbour.

We do appreciate all the hard work that goes into organizing these events and if you have never been on a SOS weekend away do think about going on the next one – they are such good fun!

Prees Heath & Whixall Moss – 19 July 2009 – Report by Estelle Hughes

In less than ideal conditions four members met at Prees Heath for the summer(?) outing, concentrating on butterflies and dragonflies and, hopefully, a few birds.

Two buzzards gave a wonderful and noisy display, seeing off a couple of crows and trying to resemble a golden eagle as one landed in a tree with its wings raised high above.

Yellowhammers gave excellent views and song, one kestrel, whitethroats and linnets also obliged, but the highlight was a bevy of thirteen larks, soaring and calling as we crossed their flower-strewn meadow onto the recently seeded heather area.

Sadly, no silver-studied blues, the speciality of the site, showed and only meadow browns, ringlet and green-veined white braved the elements. It didn’t help to meet a man who said there were clouds of the blues and some dozen purple emperors on the organised walk the previous weekend!

Rain stopped play at midday and the decision was made not to proceed to Whixall Moss which was vindicated by the torrential rain and thunder which would have hit us in the afternoon. A sad end to a rather disappointing field trip.

Elan Valley – 6 June 2009 – Report by Helen Griffiths

It was pouring with rain when we left Shrewsbury for this trip, and apart from a few minutes of driving on a dry road just as we entered Wales, it continued to rain heavily for the rest of the day – which, of course, meant that the “rainforests” of mid-Wales, hanging oak woods full of ferns and dripping with mosses, looked at their very best!

Three of us met at the Elan Valley Visitor Centre, and after a quick coffee we set off on foot across the bridge over the River Elan and up the track in Cnwch Wood. Swallows and house martins swooped over the river, and as we ascended the path we had excellent views of two wood warblers and a female redstart. We heard at least six singing wood warblers during the morning, as well as song thrush, redstart, plenty of willow warblers and chiffchaffs, and ravens in the distance. After a walk to the top of the wood, we returned down the track and walked through the Elan Village by the river, where we watched redstarts and a family party of grey wagtails feeding by the water. We added goosander to the list when a female flew downstream, but, surprisingly, there was no sign of pied or spotted flycatcher.

After returning to the cars, we watched a family party of redstarts in the bracken on the hillside above the visitor centre for a few minutes and then drove up the Claerwen Valley to the dam where we had lunch (in the car!).   A pied wagtail in the car park was the best we could do, so we decided to return to the Visitor Centre via the rest of the Elan Valley , by which time it was even wetter. En route we saw meadow pipit, wheatear and stonechat at the roadside by Garreg Ddu reservoir, and had an excellent view of a red kite over Hirnant Farm.

This was the day of Pont ar Elan Show when all the locals and their working dogs get together and compete for prizes in classes such as best terrier and best hound; this takes place right at the top of the Elan Valley overlooking Craig Goch reservoir and in spite of the conditions there was a huge turnout, although lots of people were sheltering in the beer tent!

There was a disappointingly low turnout for trip and I would be interested to hear why members don’t turn up for the trips anymore. Yes, I know it was very wet – but the Elan Valley is a wonderful place with some special birds almost guaranteed and those of you who didn’t join us really did miss out on a very enjoyable day. Our total count for the day was only 26 species, but several quality birds and the spectacular scenery made it worth getting rather wet!

Woolston Eyes – 24 May 2009 – Report by Estelle Hughes

A very select group (3 of us) met along the Manchester Ship Canal for the visit to Woolston Eyes reserve, managed by the Woolston Eyes Conservation Group and the canal company.

Crossing the metal bridge (accessed only by members onto the private area) we looked over the first of a series of pools, but no black-necked grebes (the speciality of the reserve) were showing. The site also has nationally important numbers of breeding pochard and gadwall.

Moving on to the next hide we saw 3 of the grebes together with little and great-crested, both with young. It appears the black-necked, which sometimes have their young by mid-end of April, are late breeding this year, but we did see around 8-10 adults. A pair of shelduck, proud parents of 12 young, were a delight as were the young of ruddy duck, pochard, coot and moorhen.

Reed warblers were very active and visible as we watched them collecting the fluff from bulrushes for their nests. Reed bunting, whitethroat, willow warbler, blackcap and chiffchaff were present, but no grasshopper warblers were seen or heard, despite several pairs breeding on site. A few swifts flew over the pools, but no swallows or martins and the only birds of prey were buzzards and a kestrel.

After lunch we had a very hot walk on the public area without adding to the species list, but we had an enjoyable day in perfect weather with some 40 species recorded.

Stiperstones & Bridges – 9 May 2009 – Report by Jim Almond

Six members turned out for this local field trip with hopefully a good range of upland and woodland species in prospect! A cold wind was blowing but rain held off all day!

The Stiperstones were our first destination and the walk up to the top held predictably: Meadow Pipit, Stonechat, Skylark plus Ravens overhead. Wheatear and Red Grouse were seen at the summit with particularly open views of the latter perched on a rocky outcrop Walking down to and then along the Gatten plantation, a pair of Mistle Thrush and Jay were seen in flight. We looked long and hard for Redstart with no success, numerous Willow Warblers and Common Whitethroat, a few Chiffchaff plus a lone Blackcap.

Bridges was next and Pied Flycatcher were in view, calling right from the start of the streamside walk. We saw a few males and females but the showiest birds here were a pair of Grey Wagtails. Raptors had not been much in evidence, we had seen Kestrel and Buzzard but a couple of bonus birds – Peregrine and Red Kite were seen over the adjacent hillside from the far end of the wood.

Our final destination was the short drive up to Pole Cottage up on the Longmynd. One new bird here was a male Whinchat, seen in the valley across the road. Plenty more Stonechat, Whitethroat plus Reed Bunting.

Nothing too exciting showed up then but with a tally of 40 odd species a pretty enjoyable day out!

Doxey Marshes – 19 April 2009 – Report by Sue Brealey

A group of thirteen, including 3 new members, arrived on time at Doxey Marshes, near Stafford, for a walk around this reserve under the leadership of Alan Heath. Another couple arrived a bit late and decided to go round in their own time. The weather although initially a bit cloudy with a cool wind, soon developed into a lovely spring day with blue skies and warm temperatures, which had members of the party gradually taking off various layers!

Around the car park, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush and Goldfinch were noted. Coming to the first group of ponds, Sedge Warbler was heard, Reed Bunting was seen in the reeds, and Greylag Geese flew in. Great Crested Grebe, Teal, Tufted Duck with Coot & Moorhen were seen on the water. A Grey Heron flew in, and a Swallow also flew past.

After walking along a path at the back of some houses, the path descended on to public path which passes across the reserve. Near a Barn Owl nesting box, very good views of a pair of Blackcap were seen. On the lake opposite Lapwing were noted, several Buzzard flew over & a Waterail heard, but not seen. After a further walk, when a Kestrel was seen, the group went off down a side path and here they got very good views of a Sedge Warbler, and then a Willow Warbler. House Martin was seen along with a Wren and some Redshank flew past noisily in their usual manner. On reaching the one hide on this reserve, the group had a small break, but also noted on the scrape a couple of Little Ringed Plover, a couple of Common Sandpiper and a lovely view of a Dunnock in the hedge to side of the hide. It was interesting to note the behaviour of the Little Ringed Plover, which were starting to tidy a little indentation making a nest scrape in the process. Oystercatcher was seen as well, plus Pied Wagtail.

While in the hide, the reserve warden happened to be present and he was asked about anything that may be of interest on the reserve. The very happy news was the presence of Grasshopper Warbler. He gave the group directions and so we followed these and found a small group standing on the main path going towards Stafford centre. Here there was a small wild rose bush, and the warbler had been seen in its vicinity. After a bit of patient waiting, the characteristic call of the Grasshopper warbler was heard, and then it was seen gradually flying up into the rose bush. After a while it flew off only to be seen again near some very yellow coloured grasses, and again very good views of this elusive bird was seen. This was a life tick for a few of the group. Very good news.

A couple of the group went off after this to ventures new, and the rest of the group slowly walked back towards the car park, but trying to view the rest of the reserve on the way. Very good views of a Whitethroat was the main event on the park of the walk, and near a viewing point over a pond, a Lapwing was seen tidying away in order to make its nest scrape. After this it was about 3.30pm , and it was that there probably wasn’t much else to see, so the group departed after a very happy day.

Many thanks go to Alan Heath for his leadership, knowledge and enthusiasm.

Titterstone Clee & Bury Ditches – 28 March 2009 – Report by Richard Camp

Only four members braved the high wind, cold weather and even colder wind chill factor to meet leader John Tucker on this trip to two locations.  The high winds kept most birds (and even more birders) at bay so that counting birds instead of species would still not have produced a reasonable list!  Titterstone Clee was tackled first and it was really hard work walking to the trig point in the wind.  No Wheatears or Ring Ouzels were seen – though perhaps a little early for good numbers.  Best birds were a pair of Ravens and a pair of Skylark – all keeping low to the ground.

After bacon sandwiches at Harry Tuffins we tackled Bury Ditches.  It was the same story.  No Crossbill and no Goshawk.  A few Buzzards did take to the air and tumbled around but the best view was of a male Sparrowhawk in pursuit mode which streaked across our path and into the woods – chasing something we did not see.  Although bird numbers were low, all agreed the walk was exhilarating and the views spectacular.

RSPB Dearne Valley – Old Moor – 8 February 2009 – Report by Sue Brealey

A coach trip had been arranged to visit this venue, but there was some hesitation due to the weather forecast, which predicted snow. However after looking at the local forecast to Barnsley , which predicted clear weather, a decision was made to go. So at 7.30am , a group of 21 collected at the Shirehall. Some people had had to stay at home due to illness.

An uneventful journey of about 2½ hours got us to Old Moor, where the group split up to go around the reserve at their own pace. As the previous week had given the country the worst winter conditions for nearly 20 years it was not surprising that the majority of the lagoons were well & truly iced over.

In the main lagoon, there were plenty of winter wildfowl, including up to 430 Widgeon, & 300 Teal. There was also about 30 Goosander both male & female, plus lots of Gadwall, some Shoveller, Pochard, Tufted Duck, & Mallard and 1 male Pintail. A Greylag Goose & Canada Goose were present & a few Mute Swans. Wader-wise, there was a winter plumage Oystercatcher showing its white chin strap, plus a Redshank & Snipe. Amongst the Black headed Gulls, some of which were really starting to go into summer plumage, were some Common Gulls. A Sparrowhawk put up the Widgeon a couple of times.

On one of the other lagoons were a Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, and very good views of a Snipe. Later on return to the Reception Centre, members of the group enjoyed a good lunch, and went to the Reedbed Hide in the hope of seeing a Bittern, which had been seen earlier in the day, but no joy. Also it had been hoped that the reported Waxwings may have been around but again no joy. However a Little Owl & Barn Owl were seen and the Feeding Station proved profitable with Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Blue & Great Tit, female Pheasant plus excellent views of Long tailed Tit, Tree Sparrow & Bullfinch.

All in all, the day proved to be really enjoyable. It was suggested that another visit at a different time of year may well be prove beneficial. It was decided to leave a bit early in order to avoid bad weather, which came in the form of sleety rain from Burton onwards.

And the highlight for the writer of this report was watching Carrion Crow ‘slip slip sliding away’ on the ice!!

Ynys Hir RSPB Reserve – 17 January 2009 – Report by Sue Brealey  

On a day that threatened westerly gales, a group of nine members arrived at the appointed time at Ynys Hir to blue skies with hardly a cloud to start a trip under the leadership of Martin George. While in the car park, the feeding station provided lots of Greenfinch, Chaffinch & Siskin, plus Great Tit, Blue Tit & Coal Tit. A Nuthatch joined the fun along with a Grey Squirrel. In the background a Woodpecker was heard drumming. On the flooded field below the car park, Mallard, Teal, Shoveller & Mute Swan were present along with 3 Pintail. So a good start.

With high tide at 12ish , it was decided to go straight to go the Breakwater Hide, so after a walk through the woods, very bare at this time of year, the group came to fields just before the hide. Here we saw Curlew, Lapwing, Redshank, Little Egret plus the usual dabbling ducks. We carried onto the hide, where we set up for quite a time to watch the tide come in. There were lots of Canada Geese, Curlew, Redshank, Shelduck, Wigeon & a Reed Bunting. The weather was gradually closing in though with the temperature dropping and clouds gathering off shore. Disappointingly there were no Godwits although a Black-tailed & Bar-tailed had been reported. Once the tide had come fully in, it was decided to move on.

We walked the trail to the Marion Mawr Hide, overlooking the pools. We encountered some locals who let us know what had been about which included White-fronted & Barnacle Geese, but unfortunately we did not see either. Once at the hide the pools only showed a pair of Mute Swans, but then a Goldeneye was briefly seen. Then one of our group suddenly shouted Harrier as a bird shot by the hide. A couple saw the white rump and realised it was a Hen Harrier. As nothing else was around and the weather looked as if it was turning we moved on to the last hide, seeing a Buzzard flying past as we went. (The Saltings Hide was not available due to flooding of the path).

At the Domen Las Hide, overlooking the bend of the river, the first that was seen was a pair of Goldeneye and a Little Grebe, diving at regular intervals. Unfortunately there were no Goosander or Red-breasted Merganser, but then a Sparrowhawk was spotted, flocks of Jackdaw flew past, and then a Red Kite flew around showing off magnificently, flying right across the marshes. Then a small raptor was seen and thought to be a Kestrel initially, but it sat briefly on a couple of perches, it was confirmed to be a female Merlin, after getting a scope on it. This proved to the icing on the cake for the visit.

On leaving the hide, the rain started to come on as a strong drizzle, so it was decided to end the end at this point. The day proved to be really enjoyable, and it was nice to have 9 members taking the trouble to gather with the weather forecast not being the best. A large Thank You to Martin George for his leadership and knowledge.

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