About Graham Clarkson

Born & brought up in Marshside, I started birding there in the mid 1970s & made my first birding trip to Martin Mere in 1977. I'm lucky as I've worked at both sites and have a unique insight into how the sites are managed for birds. I've lived & worked in Abu Dhabi, Northern Ireland & Gloucestershire & I've spent time working in Kazakhstan & Madagascar. I enjoy birding my various West Lancashire patches, making frequent visits to the Ribble coastline & other sites in the north-west of England. I stray elsewhere in the UK & enjoy birding abroad from time to time. I'm particularly interested in wildfowl, with an interest in waders & raptors, bird counts & surveys & in habitat & species conservation. I'm trying to get the hang of photography & digiscoping - I'll get there eventually. My degree is in conservation biology & I work for a conservation charity and volunteer for others. I've guided on numerous birding days out & trips & guided birding holidays to Lesvos, Andalucia, Extremedura, Majorca, Camargue, Hungary, Finland & Florida. I enjoy showing people birds & habitats & helping them learn more about birds & enjoy birding. I'm interested in captive breeding & reintroduction projects & zoos, how they're managed & how they contribute to conservation. I'm a proud Lancastrian & love the Lancashire countryside & landscapes. I'm a keen season ticket holding Evertonian & also keep up with what's happening at Southport, PNE & Bristol Rovers. 2014 may bring a second dog & some chickens - watch this space! I hope you find the blog interesting - please feel free to leave a comment.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Beans for dinner

I worked at Slimbridge much of today, setting off at 5.30 a.m. and arriving at 8.15 a.m., very little traffic. The work was taken up with admin and then a long meeting. At dinner time fresh air beckoned and Marshy (Paul Marshall; WWT web manager and top birder/Naturetrek tour guide) and I called Slimbridge reserve warden Martin McGill to get info on a couple of Tundra Bean Geese a visitor had recently found. Martin duly obliged with information on the birds, he'd seen one earlier in the moring, so Marshy and I set off walking along the towpath of the Sharpness canal looking for  geese. A flock of c.30 Eurasian White-fronted Geese didn't seem to have a bean amongst them, however a couple of birders alerted us to the fact that one of the beans was indeed there. So, we checked again and a first winter Tundra Bean Geese was quickly 'in the bag'. The other birders mentioned that some more geese were in fields further up the towpath, so off we trudged. Seeing as I was scopeless Marshy did the scoping honours and quickly picked up the second Tundra Ben Goose, a fine adult. As Marshy commented nothing better that Anser gees in the snow. We reckoned on their being about 150 Eurasian White-fronts, along with several Bewick's Swans, hedgerow birds included Siskins, Redpolls and Redwings. It was great catching up with Marshy we reminisced about birding tours we'd guided to Lesvo, Mallorca and Florida together and discussed the possibility of guiding more trips in the future. I hope so, nothing I like more than good company and good birding (along with an Everton win. Come on blues......).

Dodgyscoped shot of a very distant adult Tundra Bean Goose with Eurasian White-fronted Geese near to WWT Slimbridge. 21/01/13.
 
Falcon's tower with the Forest of Dean in the backgound at WWT Slimbridge. In winter 82/84 I saw a Red-breasted Goose in a flock of c.2000 White-fronts from Falcon's tower (since closed and condemed); those were the days!
 
Marshy showing well

Saturday, 19 January 2013

New year, new group, same great birds

Alan Bedford and I met up with the Edge Hill Birdwatching & Beyond group at Martin Mere in time for opening this morning. Great to start up this group again after having a year off, and great to have so many eager participants; many of whom are returning. Alan and I decided to spilt into two groups, Alan taking the returners and me the newbies.
The newbie group started off in swanlink hide and we quickly went through the large flocks on the mere, dominated by the huge Whooper Swan flock. An adult and juvenile Peregrine and two Buzzards were enjoyed in the distance and 73 Ruff put on a show right in front of the hide. We hung around until after the feed and then headed to Harrier hide to check the gull and duck flocks.

Male Ruff in non-breeding plumage. Martin Mere 19/01/13
 
At Harrier hide close inspection of the Teal flocks failed to reveal the drake Green-winged Teal that's recently been in residence, but inspection of the gull flocks revealed a second winter Mediterranean Gull that the group were pleased to see. All of the seasonally common dabbling ducks were in evidence along with big groups of Shelducks and small groups of Pochards and Tufted Ducks.
 
Second winter Mediterranean Gull with Black-headed Gulls from Harrier hide at
Martin Mere 19/01/13
 
Janet Kear hide beckoned and so we headed there, immediately seeing a fine male Brambling on the feeders, which as expected, hosted flocks of Greenfinches, Chaffinches, Goldfinches and Reed Buntings. Within a couple of minutes one of the Martin Mere regulars had spotted a Woodcock feeding and alterted the group, we all managed decent views and were delighted.
 
Woodcock from Janet Kear hide Martin Mere 19/01/13
 
Outside of the hide a trio of Great Spotted Woodpeckers pursued each other along the catty bank willows and we headed to the Mereside cafe for lunch. After lunch the thought of Barn Owls and Hen Harrier appealed, to be honest it was hard work up there with Teals and Wigeons on show but little else. An adult Peregrine sat on its usual fence post and as we were about to leave the hide a distant Barn Owl ghosted along a distant hedge line. As we headed back toward the visitor centre Goldcrests, Tree Sparrows, a Redwing and a Fieldfare were all seen.
 
We met up with Alan's group at the Sir Peter Scott bust and were happy to hear the news that the Green-winged Teal was on show at Harrier hide, so we headed back up there and were immediately rewarded with decent, if distant views.
 


Drake Green-winged Teal with Eurasian Teal from Harrier hide, Martin Mere 19/01/13
 
As we continued to scan from the hide a Barn Owl drifted past giving great views, much to the delight of all present.
 
Barn Owl from Harrier hide, Martin Mere 19/01/13
 
Another brief stop in Janet Kear hide was cut short due to freezing fingers and toes and some of us headed to to the Raines observatory to enjoy the swan feed commentary, another look at a Redwing was taken in too. The commentary was well delivered by WWT warden Alex Sawyer (good work Alex!) and the bird spectacle very enjoyable. Great to have a new group formed and I'm looking forward to their company over the next year; it should be fun.
 

Alex Sawyer throwing out some facts and figures in front of Raines observatory at
Martin Mere 19/01/13
 
Some of the 2013 Birdwatching and Beyond participants in Raines observatory
 
 
 

 


Sunday, 13 January 2013

Unsettled Waders

WeBS on the estuary today. Frank Whitney joined me to boost his year list and Brian Hopkins, Dave Fletcher and I set about our work on the rather large Birkdale/Ainsdale sector. With a high predicted tide and a nip in the air I set  fast pace to get down to my favoured counting spot. Lots of waders on the beach, unfortunately they were continually disturbed by some frivolous horse riders and dog walkers, who do seem to be genuinely blind to the damage they do charging at the flocks. It'd be so good to see some effective wardening in place to help educate beach users. Perhaps RSPB, the rangers service and Natural England could get together and come down to the beach to see the problems occurring and maybe formulate an action plan to educate beach users and reduce disturbance of the wader roosts; perhaps using volunteer rangers?  I know Dr Phil Smith, the renowned Sefton Coast expert feels the same way. I think something does need to be done. I appreciate this would be difficult to achieve given the current financial climate and the threat of restructuring that maybe hangs over all of the mentioned organisations, but given all the problems our migratory shorebirds are facing it does seem that these special birds need help in the wintering grounds. Education is the key and groups of trained volunteers would surely be able to help? After all the Ribble is the nation's top estuary for waterbirds......

So, back to the birds themselves. The following were the highlights amongst the wheeling flocks; Dunlin 1186, Knot 6700, Sanderling 463, Bar-tailed Godwit 4300 (a high count),  Oystercatcher 2503 and Grey Plover 208. Offshore;12 Common Scoters, six Great Crested Grebes and five Red-throated Divers and a single Grey Seal bobbing around. As the tide rose and waders attempted to settle we left them well alone and headed back toward the car park seeing Jack Snipe and Common Snipe as we went and a Water Rail scurried off into the  club-rush to the side of us. A flock of 117 Pink-footed Geese had been grazing off Weld Road all morning and were floating on the tide as we headed to the car park. Frank and I bumped into Sean and Kim Ashton who joined us and were pleased to see the Jack Snipe and a Merlin as it darted past the flocks of waders. In the distance a flock of finches were constantly disturbed by walkers, we decided to go and check them out and were delighted to discover they were all Twite; 46 in total. Despite all the disturbance it was a good count. Sean, Kim, Frank and I headed up the coast towards Marshside and Crossens to look for the Spoonbill, we didn't see it, but did see several Little Egrets, another Merlin, a Peregrine and flight views of a Great White Egret. Not a bad morning at all.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Misty ducking

Despite the party being over I still have leave to use up, so I was off today. So, I volunteered for work. I was asked if I would help complete some duck surveys. Of course it didn't take long for me to agree. The terms and conditions weren't exactly complicated. I was asked if I'd mind counting ducks at Houghton Green Flash, Pennington Flash, Rostherne Mere and Frodsham. Playful Peter offered to give me a had, so we set off in the mist and arrived at Houghton Green Flash in the mist, not much to see really; a few Wigeon (which I duly aged for Carl Mitchell), some Tufties and Pochards, nowt much else. Second site was Pennington Flash, a big site this so we devoted the bulk of the morning to it. Plenty to see here; Goosanders, Goldeneyes, Shovelers, Teal, Great Crested Grebes, Little Grebes, 410 Lapwings, 21 Snipe and nice non-breeding plumage Med Gull on the flash. The woods and scrub surrounding the scrub provide a welcome sanctuary to a range of species and flocks of Redwings in the hawthorns were interrupted by a couple of Song Thrushes in full song. Two different Willow Tits were singing, with a third bird was seen in the scrub and a fourth at the feeding station where at least 12 Bullfinches, six Stock Doves, c.30 Greenfinches, ten Reed Buntings and two Coal Tits competed with a plague of Grey Squirrels for sunflower seeds and peanuts.

One of 410 Lapwings from Horrock's hide at a misty, cold Pennington Flash
 
From Horrock's hide
 
Lunch break at Pennington gave us an opportunity to look through Mute Swans and Coot to look for darvic rings, we found three of each; should keep Kane Brides happy.
 
Third stop of the day was down the M6 at Rostherne Mere. The Mere held a few Goosanders, Goldeneyes, Shovelers and Tufted Ducks. Two Water Rails squealed from the reedbeds next to the hide (permit only) and a Buzzard and a Peregrine drifted over the observatory as we departed. First time I'd been here since 1983 when Steve Riley and I came looking for a Smew. Great to see Natural England opening up access and providing concessionary footpaths; top marks!
 
Fourth and final stop was a misty and cold Frodsham, lots of ducks on gathered on tank six, primarily Teal but with Wigeon, Pintail, Shoveler, Mallard, Gadwall, Shelduck, Pochard and Tufted Duck all present. At the far end of the tank we spotted a male Hen Harrier quartering along the reedbeds and scrub - always a quick way of cheering up a dull, cold afternoon. Sparrowhawk, Buzzard and Kestrel were all seen here and disturbing large flocks of Lapwings, I counted 1200, joined by c.200 Golden Plovers. Down toward the river at the old sheep farm we counted ten Ravens and then as the mist rolled in from the Mersey the light pretty much went and so we did.
 
Silhouette of a Raven at Frodsham late this afternoon



Monday, 7 January 2013

The party's over

Today was the last day of our holiday and we'd made a gentleman's agreement to help each other out. Jacob stoically agreed to come along on my last BTO winter thrush survey, so we headed to Sollom and set about our work. Thrushes were initially thin on the ground but some other bits and pieces brightened things up; five Yellowhammers, 12 Corn Buntings, three Goosanders, four Whooper Swans, a Peregrine and a hunting Merlin that scattered a mixed flock of Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails. Jacob was distracted by a friendly pony and once I had his attention we recorded a few Redwings, Blackbirds and Mistle Thrushes. Back towards the Croston road we spotted a flock of distant Fieldfares and counted 113, a decent return for our efforts. Back at the car a mixed tit flock contained a single Willow Tit, which I was delighted to see.

Jacob and his new best mate at Sollom
 
Dodgy digi effort of a male Yellowhammer at Sollom
 
After the delights of Sollom Jacob was keen to see a Kingfisher, so we headed for Mere Sands Wood. Despite others seeing one we just couldn't find a Kingfisher, but we were pleased to see a Water Rail, 22 Tree Sparrows and 17 Goosanders. Jacob was made up to spot a Great Spotted Woodpecker and point it out to me and also pleased to point out a Wren - his ID skills are coming on and he's got a good pair of eyes! We watched a couple of Goldcrests hovering in midair having a scrap and one of them  knocked the other into the ditch near to the tower hide, it managed a getaway though; an amazing sight. Our visit was brief as I'd promised to take Jacob for a pizza for his dinner. After our pizza we walked the dog and a text came through regarding a Crane at Martin Mere. Jacob cheerfully agreed to give a Crane twitch a try, so, off we drove, all three minutes down Red Cat Lane. On arrival no current news was avialable so we had a quick look but failed to find the Crane. The consolation prize for Jacob was great views of a hunting Barn Owl at Miller's Bridge. I also picked up hunting Merlin and Sparrowhawk. 57 Ruff were amongst the 1850 Lapwings and numerous Teal were busily displaying. As the light departed herds of Whooper Swans arrived in the twilight quickly followed by huge skiens of Pink-feet rapidly whiffling down to roost on Vinson's marsh. A decent end to a prolonged festive break, made even better by the company of my cheerful buddy.  

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Sunday surveys

Today was set aside for completing some squares for the BTO winter thrush survey. Playful Pete text saying he was on his way to Burscough and did I want to go birding, as far as I was concerned that was a clear offer of help. So, off we trotted to the first square; Warper's Moss, just round the corner from home. It was a tad misty but at least we managed to pick up all five species of winter thrush, a female Sparrowhawk, two Reed Buntings, four Yellowhammers, 39 Whooper Swans and four Mute Swans; slim pickings, but a reasonable start. The second square was up in Mawdesley, again all five thrush species with the addition of six Tree Sparrow, two Bullfinches and some flyover Pink-feet. The final square was between Hoscar Moss and Low Meadows; very few thrushes, the avian highlights being four more Yellowhammers and 121 Pink-feet. I still have a square to do but that'll have to wait until tomorrow; I'm still  off then and so is Jacob, he can come and help me.
Playful and I drove down Meadow Lane looking for Corn Buntings and found a flock of eleven perched on the top of a sycamore at the back of one of the farms. I'm a bit worried about my local Corn Buntings, they just haven't been in the usual flocks this winter; maybe it's because there lots of food available (unharvested cereals) and it's mild? Further down Meadow Lane, on the edge of the Low Meadows flood, a large mixed flock of Lapwings and Black-headed Gulls was busily feeding and drew our attention, 27 Ruff were feeding amongst the flock - the highest count I've had here.
A quick tootle down Curlew Lane revealed a large feeding flock of Whoopers and Pink-feet that we had a quick look through, but we both needed a brew and Playful had a train to catch. After a brew and walking the dog I headed back to Curlew Lane alone and looked through and counted the birds there; 2800 Pink-feet; 315 Whooper Swans; two Bewick's Swans; a Mute Swan and a Black Swan. Three year ticks suddenly appeared out of the mist; John Aitchison; Jason Stannage and finally Frank Whitney, all of whom enjoyed the wildfowl spectacle. Frank and I enjoyed a Barn Owl and Sparrowhawk and noted a flock of Ruff heading towards Martin Mere. Another decent day in the field.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

A tale of survival, Scoters and a Scooter.

A few days back John Bannon (a.k.a. Pappa Bacon or Mad Dog)  invited me to join him, Pete Allen (a.k.a. Playful Pete) and Matt Bannon (a.k.a. Biffa) on a trip to North Wales. Today was the day and Pappa and Playful picked me up at 07.15 and we headed to Warrington to pick up young Biffa. Seeing as Biffa lives so close to Moore Nature Reserve it seemed rude not to pop in for a quick look around. The first thing we heard on the reserve was a brief volley of drumming from a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker; unexpected so early in the year, but then it's ridiculously mild. At the eastern end of the Birchwood pool we picked up ten Waxwings perched atop a birch tree, I took some snaps but they didn't turn out given the early morning gloom. Birds on the pool included the redhead Smew, numerous Shovelers, Gadwall and single Great Crested and Little Grebes. As we strolled to the feeding station a distant Green Woodpecker could be heard yaffling. The feeders produced Nuthatch and Coal Tit and 26 Siskins fed on alder cones. Back towards the car another flock of Siskins (c.60) and a mixed Tit flock drew our attention and c.90 Tufted Duck, 5 Pochard, several Wigeon and Teal were worth looking through on the Lapwing pool. Lots of birders were arriving as we were leaving and I'm sure they were all in for a good day at this cracking reserve.

"Next stop Pappa? The Dee?", "Okay then". So, a bit of detective work and some rum parking (anyone ever had a picnic on the Connah's Quay bridge?) and we managed to pick up 14 Bewick's Swans, 38 Whooper Swans, c.20 Mute Swans and c.600 Pink-footed Geese on the Dee saltmarshes near to Connah's Quay. A couple of Little Egrets were fishing in the river and I picked up a distant Great White Egret in flight. After enjoying the swans we headed up the A55 to Conwy RSPB. The reserve at Conwy seems to me to be particularly well run with cheerful, helpful and informative staff, volunteers and regulars. We missed a Bittern that apparently flew over us and we decided not to devote any time looking for it given that our primary target was the two Firecrests on site. Patience was rewarded and Pappa picked up the Firecrests, we spent about an hour trying to get decent views and were all delighted to get good, albeit brief, views of these midget gems. Lunch was procured from the local Tesco, but getting back onto the A55 was complicated by the fact that Pappa sometimes forgets to look where he is going and sees other road users as an irritation and inconvenience. I do hope the lady shoppers got home without shaking too much; her emergency stop was exemplary and I'm sure she saved my life.

The sea off Llandulas is famous for it's huge Common Scoter flocks and we spent some time looking through the distant, scattered flocks offshore. The other lads all saw a Velvet Scoter in flight and a couple of Fulmars which I managed not to see, although I did see 18 Red-throated Divers, two Guillemots and two Red-breasted Mergansers. Pappa and Biffa also claimed a female Long-tailed Duck that Playful and I managed to avoid. Over at Rhos three Purple Sandpipers and a couple of birders entertained us and groups of Turnstones, Redshanks and Oystercatchers were seen close by. Another near death experience ensued and Biffa, Playful and I all thanked the Lord for watching over us as we survived another near miss. The blindspot was apparently at fault.....

Purple Sandpipers Rhos-on-sea 05/01/13

Hawfinches in the Conwy Valley beckoned and Pappa and I picked one up in flight, but that was the only one seen, although we checked a second site where eleven had been seen this morning. We drew a blank there but did enjoy two Red Kites gliding along the valley and flocks of Redwings in the tree tops. Pappa decided to borrow a scooter off one of the local children in Llanbedr-y-Cennin and proceeded to show us his skills; which frankly were as overrated as his driving; he fell off in spectacular fashion, but as with his driving his pride was perfectly intact. Top work Pappa Bacon! Bad light stopped play and we headed back towards Warrington, praying was involved and I admit I'm suprised we survived to tell the tale.

Pappa Bacon going......
 
going........
 
gone!!

Friday, 4 January 2013

50 shades of larid grey

Pete Kinsella and I spent several hours today scoping bathing and roosting gulls on Richmond Bank in the river Mersey off Penketh near Warrington. The gulls using the river feed on the landfill site at Moore  just across the river. Pete is a dedicated larophile and a Richmond regular, over the past few years he has racked up an impressive species list and contributes very positively to gull ID knowledge and debates in the North-west. It was a real pleasure for me to tap into his site knowledge and enthusiasm, and it was handy having his pal Mark Garner there too. Thousands of gulls were present, Pete and I counted 24,000 during one mid afternoon flush (a Peregrine with an attached transmitter seemed to be the culprit), but they were reluctant to settle making prolonged scrutiny difficult, however we did pick up a couple of adult Yellow-legged Gulls amongst the ranked masses of Herring Gulls. The Herring Gulls made up c.95% of the birds present and were a useful reminder of the variability of this species; all shades of grey, big, medium and small, angry and soft looking and all age classes! After a few hours we headed back towards the car park and Pete checked small groups of gulls as we went and picked up a first winter Caspian Gull bathing on the river bank (see Northwest Birding facebook group page for Pete's photo); so a decent climax to the tense larid teasing.

Part of the huge gull flock at Richmond Bank
 
Adult Yellow-legged Gull with Herring Gulls at Richmond Bank 04/01/13
 
As the tide rose the gulls began to disperse so we headed over to the south side of the Mersey to Moore Nature Reserve. Apparently a Glaucous Gull had been seen a couple of times today, but we failed to find it and I also didn't find the Waxwings that had been feeding on the reserve earlier today, despite staking out the berry laden tree they'd been using. A redhead Smew was a nice bonus amongst the numerous Shoveler and Gadwall on the Birchwood pool. As dusk approached thousands of Jackdaws were heading to roost, as Pete suggested; a Hitchcock moment.
 
Redhead Smew at Moore Nature reserve 04/01/13


Thursday, 3 January 2013

D & G day out delivers

This morning Lancs birders Colin Bushell, Dave Mallett and I headed up to Dumfries & Galloway for a change of birding scenery. Our first port of call was the  Loaningfoot and Mersehead area to look through the numerous Barnacle Geese there. The geese certainly worked us hard, but at least we saw a Short-eared Owl while looking through the flocks. A single leucisitc Barnacle was good to see and eventually our patience was rewarded with views of a distant grazing Red-breasted Goose.

Leucistic Barnacle Goose at Loaningfoot
 
Having enjoyed the Barnacle Geese we had to choose our next destination and despite the distance we picked the wild west and headed to Loch Ryan. Stranraer initially seems like an unlikely birding destination with it's urban, industrial skyline (anyone noticed the cheese chimney?), but looking out onto Loch Ryan it's a different story. With minimal effort (and with the benefit of calm water) we quickly picked up an impressive array of seafowl;  flocks of 249 & 390 Scaup; eight Common Scoters; two Long-tailed Ducks (including a stunning male offshore at the Wigg); c.30 Red-breasted Mergansers; c.25 Goldeneye; c.40 Eiders; one Great Northern Diver; 25 Red-throated Divers; 20 Slavonian Grebes, 12 Great Crested Grebes; two Black Guillemots and two Razorbills. At the Wigg nature reserve we picked up  94 Pale-bellied Brent Geese; a Rock Pipit; c.80 Linnets; c.65 Twite; a Sparrowhawk; a leucistic Oystercatcher; a Little Egret and 1320 Pink-footed Geese that were flushed from a nearby hillside.
 
 Pale-bellied Brent Geese at the Wigg, Loch Ryan
 
Leucisitc Oystercatcher at the Wigg, Loch Ryan
 
Excellent local knowledge by Colin had us head over to West Heugh M.O.D. base to search for Greenland White-fronted Geese and Hen Harriers. We quickly located a dozen White-fronts mixed with a group of Greylags, a change of location to try and get a better look at the the geese brought us close to c.440 Greylags with other geese flying to roost including c.650 Pink-feet and 60 more Greenland White-fronts. Four Whooper Swans flew past and it was interesting to see the number of Roe Deer increase as the light faded, we ended up seeing about 20. The best sight of all was watching Hen Harriers coming to roost. We saw seven come in, four males and three females; really impressive. A good day out in good company, Dave excelled at the driving and Colin did the directions; I really didn't have to do anything!


Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Wet start to a busy year

2013 is going to be a busy year. I can feel it. I'll be busy at work, WWT is moving forward and this adds to our 'to do' lists; new objectives; new problems to solve; new opportunities.  The birdwatching and beyond course that Alan Bedford and I run from Edge Hill University is fully booked and that'll take at least a day per month; that's a day per month out in the field though looking at birds. Hopefully I'll be able to continue to help RSPB with breeding bird surveys on the Ribble, the Ribble WeBS and coordinating the International Grey Goose Census for WWT in Lancashire. My lads are growing too; they need time and patience and my wife is 40 this year and expecting a range of exciting 'events'. Looks like I might have bitten off rather too much..... hopefully the birding won't suffer!
Despite thinking hard about all the of above I managed a couple of hours out and about locally on January 1st. The dog needed walking so we set off down Crabtree Lane and enjoyed a range of common local species; 18 Whooper Swans feeding in a pool alongside the railway line; six Corn Buntings and 32 Skylarks flushed from stubble; numerous skeins of Pink-footed Geese overhead; two Siskins flying high, heading south; Redwings and Fieldfares probing in a muck pile. Commoner garden birds were encountered on the walk home. Shortly afterwards I headed for Curlew Lane; the rural lane that more or less connects Martin Mere and Mere Sands Wood, it's well known to local birders and round the corner from my house. I spied a large flock of finches in a lone alder along the lane and managed to quietly pull up to have a close look, they were Chaffinches, with the exception of a single male Brambling. I then headed to Mere Lane and picked up a male Hen Harrier heading over the lane from the Tarlscough Moss direction, it followed the line of Mere Sands Wood and headed over Curlew Lane and was lost; a mega start to the birding year! Two Buzzards and two Kestrels followed; as did the rain.....that was the end of birding.

This morning I headed out and initially wished I hadn't due to the poor light and torrential rain. Marshside was heaving with birds; thousands of Black-tailed Godwits; Lapwings; Golden Plovers; Teals and Wigeons with a supporting cast of Gadwall; Pintail; Shoveler and Pink-feet. They all flushed when a Peregrine blasted through. Four Little Egrets were nice to see. No sign of the recent Spoonbill or Green-winged Teal, but nevertheless a superb spectacle. If even a hint of sunshine had appeared  it would have been Marshside at it's best. Soaking wet I got back in the car and headed for Mere Sands Wood. I wasn't disappointed, 'the wood' produced some decent birds; 30 Siskins; 11 Redpolls; 2 Bullfinch; 1 Brambling; numerous Tree Sparrows and Reed Buntings;  6 Goldcrest; 2 Water Rails; 560 Teal; 14 Goosander. Not a bad selection for an hour walking in the rain.  A pleasant, if wet and dull start to what promises to be a busy year. At least I've got birding trips planned to the Solway and North Wales before I go back to work next week. Happy days.