Sunday, 7 February 2010

The Woodcock Parade and a Dip in the Surf

Saturday 6th February.

You know, sometimes birdwatching can be dead easy. Take this morning for example. I opened my front door and loading the car, I could hear the call of geese getting nearer. Knowing the high-pitched squeaks in there among more conventional goose-like calls, straight away I knew they were Pink-Feet.

So binoculars at the ready, here they come. Right over my house, they just kept coming, more and more of them! When they all eventually passed over, I opened the gate at the side of my house and into my garden to and try and count them. At least 300 were there, just one of many large skeins that passed over North Staffordshire this morning.

When studying the map at christmas time, I discovered a stretch of water by the River Dove, east of Ellastone next to Calwich Abbey. I was going to go the Albion's game against Port Vale, but seeing as we had some decent weather for once, I decided to finally check the place out, just to see if the lake is accessible.

Looking on Google Earth, it looked like there may be a path down to the lake, where there is a bridge. However, this is what Google Earth picked up on:

It's not really a path is it? And with a very large gate in front of the bridge, and an unwelcoming chain attached to it, this isn't going to work. Not without asking the landowner's permission anyway. Still, the reccy mission was done. On the footpath, heading towards the abbey itself was this wonderful carpet of Snowdrops.

As for Calwich Abbey, it's not in the best of nick. Obviously Griff Rhys Jones didn't discover it for "Restoration" a few years ago, unlike Bethesda Chapel.

Onto more familar places. The female Scaup still at Brookleys Lake, and some really good counts at Uttoxeter Quarry. Including 6 Pink-footed Geese with the Greylags and Canadas, 3 Oystercatcher, 23 Goosander, 148 Wigeon, 16 Pochard, 87 Tufted Duck.

I eventually bumped into Andy (he of "Birds, Beer and Rock n Roll" fame) with Mad Malc, and told me of the Woodcocks he found flying over Woodhead Pool, just outside Cheadle, the previous evening and were trying again this evening. That sounds interesting I thought, so I joined them.

On arrival at Woodhead Pool, a Kingfisher fished and a pair of Goosander flew over. Then 5pm arrived, Sports Report (da da, da da, da da, da da, da da da da da, da daahhh), time to get my little digital radio out.

I bought it last year so I could listen to The Ashes at work, but it has it's uses out in the field. Such as listening to the dulcite tones of James Alexander Gordon reading the football results. "Burton Albion 1, Port Vale 0". Oh yes, happy days!

Then just as it almost dark, a Woodcock flew over our heads, leaving the woodland and out into the nearby fields to feed during the night. Then another one flew over, and another! We had three Woodcocks in the end, "The Woodcock Parade" (similar to Harry Hill's Badger Parade) if ever I saw one!

Sunday 7th February.

There are quite a few gaps to fill in the old British list, Surf Scoter is one such bird. So the news of three drakes seen off Colwyn Bay the previous day was too tempting. They were seen from by the Rainbow Bridge. Sounds rather colourful, but in reality:

I worked out when high tide would be, during the afternoon, and made my way there in time to arrive for the rising tide. When scanning the sea with the scope, it didn't take long to realise that there were, quite literally, thousands upon thousands of Common Scoters out there. A really impressive spectacle, I've never seen so many!

Which then begs the question, where on earth do you start? Is it best to look through those on the water, or try and find some patches of white on the duck in flight? Not an easy task, especially as most of the duck were rather distant.

I gave it all afternoon. Eventually some of the Scoters did get closer with the incoming tide, but the vast majority stayed put out there. In addition to the Common Scoters were Red-Breasted Mergansers, Great Crested Grebes and 3 Red-throated Divers. But alas no Surf Scoters, or Velvet Scoters either.

Never mind, Surf Scoter will just have to wait for another day. As a wise man from Radio Derby used to say, if you don't buy a ticket, you can't win the raffle.

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