Sunday, 6 May 2012

The Race

Last year, I helped out with a bird race.  That's where you try to see and hear as many bird species as possible, in a chosen county, in a day.  I suppose strictly speaking, it's in a 24-hour period, but from dawn till dusk was enough.  Last time, in the county of Stafford, we got to 105.

A few weeks ago, Mr P Shenton Esq. (Birding For Fun) asked me if I wanted to try another Staffordshire Bird Race for this year.  We had to try of course, but with the cold and wet spring so far, would we get anywhere near 105, never mind beat it?  But Saturday 5th May was the day of choice.

Cannock Chase was once again the day's starting point.  A Tawny Owl flew across the road en route to the first stop.  Then checking various parts of the Chase gave us a good selection of woodland and heathland birds to start the list off.  Highlights included Cuckoo, Redstart, Tree Pipit, Stonechat, Wood Warbler, Common Whitethroat (at last!), a couple of Grey Wagtails and a flock of around 20 Redpolls.

Next was a quick check of Radford Meadows in Stafford, just in case the Crane was still around but just not being reported since the previous weekend.  It wasn't there so no more time was wasted, time to move to Aqualate Mere.  Some useful additions at Aqualate included a particular nut-nibbler sp., Willow Tit, Yellowhammer, R.L. Partridge and this Common Sandpiper on a tree stump in front of the hide.

Returning to Stafford, and to Doxey Marshes.  Singing Sedge Warblers were everywhere, along with a singing Lesser Whitethroat and a pair of Bullfinch (they all count!). 

Last year's race was in the middle of a raging easterly wind.  As a result we did rather well with migrant waders (Greenshank, Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel), but struggled a bit with some of the passerines.  So far this time, we'd done really well on the passerine front.  But with high water levels at pretty much all reservoirs and gravel pits, passage waders were going to be a struggle.  We also had news of the two Black-necked Grebes and a Grey Plover at Drayton Bassett.  For where we're based, further north, that's the one site in the county which is really out of the way to get to.  In reality it's impossible to get to everywhere that you would want to, so the plan was to move no further south than Whitemoor Haye, then work our way north.

Whitemoor Haye was the first of two Trent Valley sites that were checked.  Here we added Common Tern, Redshank, Yellow Wagtail, Tree Sparrow and Corn Bunting.  Onto Branston Gravel Pits, more useful additions included the only Shovelers of the day, plus Gadwall, Little Grebe and a dashing Hobby.

Three more were added to the list at Blithfield.  Which were a Black Tern off the causeway, 3 Common Scoters in St. Stephens Bay and 5 Goldeneye in Tad Bay. After being informed of a Whinchat by the angling club at the dam, it was a pity that it didn't show for us.  By now, with the addition of Goldeneye, we had a list total of 97.

With the evening tour of the north end of the county to come (the moors and Tittesworth), getting to the century shouldn't be a problem, but it still remained to be seen whether 105 could be beaten.  The century bird was a Curlew along Morridge, bats were raised and a round of applause was given.  Other birds also seen included Red Grouse, Wheatear and a wonderful hunting Short-eared Owl.

One of Paul's "guarantee" spots for Dipper and Pied Flycatcher were next.  Which, and sod's law of course, were not playing ball.  Thankfully though, both were found eventually, and on the right side of the Cheshire border!  I think I was being had on all along, trying different areas for these two was just adding to the suspense.

A scan of Tittesworth Reservoir from the causeway, and zooming my scope right up to 60x, a drake Goosander could be seen towards the dam end.  That got our total to 105, equalling last year!  Our "106" bird was Peregrine, not so pesky up here, and our final species of the day was Long-eared Owl.

So that's it, we finished with 107, and not a Sparrowhawk all day!  I would be cracking open the champagne, except with stiff and aching muscles everywhere I've been taking pain killers all day!  I'm getting too old for this.  Well, until next year.  But once again, thanks to Paul for a grand adventure.  And thanks to everyone we met at Blithers and Whitemoor Haye for their help, cheers!

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