Below is my Christmad Bird Race diary – it’s bloody long so if you’re reading from the main page then click on the link below to read on!
Thanks to the Quicksilver Birds blog for hosting this – it’s been a lot of fun and made me get up on my days off and get hunting for birds, resisting the temptation for lie-ins and the lure of Guitar Hero 4… It’s also driven me to get two lifers out of it, which can’t be sniffed at!
I woke up reasonably early and got the first bird very quickly – fittingly it was a robin singing outside the bedroom window! I sat for an hour or so watching the garden, and picked up the usual suspects in and overhead – magpie, jackdaw, carrion crow, woodpigeon, blue tit, great tit, starling, blackbird and black-headed gull. Less expected was a flock of 6 lesser redpoll – both a garden and patch tick!
Leaving the house I saw a flock of long-tailed tits, and I managed to spy house sparrow, collared dove and dunnock from the window at my parents’ house, although present-unwrapping, turkey-munching and the usual Christmas shenanigans prevented any more birding for the rest of the day.
Running total – 15
Christmas number two, at Laura’s parents’ in Bollington, Cheshire, but not before I’d picked up a wren from the kitchen window. Like a fool I’d volunteered to whack on the L-plates and drive, meaning I had to keep my eyes on the road during the journey, but still managed to get a grey heron over Ladybower and a pied wagtail in the road at Castleton.
From Laura’s parents’ windows I managed to get feral pigeon, coal tit and chaffinch, and a bracing, pre-dinner walk was very welcome and brought up greenfinch, lesser black-backed gull, kestrel, sparrowhawk, buzzard, rook, nuthatch, mallard and mistle thrush. There was a large crow at one point that was suspiciously raven-like, but for the sake of fairness I won’t try and string it!
Running total – 30
Sat 27th Dec
Still in Bollington, an early tick in the morning with a goldfinch was a good start, but I didn’t manage to find anything else for much of the day. Even a walk down the nearby canal proved annoyingly birdless, so much so I got excited by a passing moorhen. Suddenly I heard a familiar, high-pitched trill above our heads. No it couldn’t be…?! 20 waxwings were flitting about a few feet away! They stayed in the area for a while, and were even visible from the living room window! Quality over quantity today.
The journey back yielded nothing bar a burst tyre while driving over the hills, which had to be changed in what was probably the coldest location in Cheshire. I wasn’t driving this time so at least can’t get the blame!
Running total – 33
Sun 28th Dec
Another good start, with a pair of bullfinches in the garden. I followed this with walk in the Loxley Valley, starting at Damflask Reservoir. A cheaty one in the form of one of the feral greylag geese that frequent the dam wall, and a couple of grey wagtails were also flitting about.
A dipper was at Stacey Bank, and a treecreeper was among a tit flock at the Fisheries. Old Wheel Dam turned up a few easy ones – Canada goose, coot and tufted duck – and the black-headed gull flock on Rowell Lane yielded a couple of herring gulls. A jay and goldcrest were to be found along the walk, and a detour up Black Lane was predictably thrushtastic, with a song thrush and a small flock of redwing. The walk was completed with a heard-only great spotted woodpecker.
But… no pheasant?! What’s going on?! I suppose some easy ones have to be saved for later…
Running total – 47
Mon 29th Dec
OK time to get serious… I’d already shanghaied my dad into agreeing to a post-Xmas trip to Potteric Carr, and this was the perfect opportunity to get some good numbers down for this challenge.
Things started off well with gadwall and mute swan from the first hides, and a flock of siskin outside the cafe. The Willow Pool hide proved something of a goldmine, with pheasant (at last!), willow tit and reed bunting making use of the feeding station, but best of all a water rail feeding beneath, constituting not only a bird race tick, but a lifer!
Walking to Piper Marsh we spotted a kingfisher, and the hide itself yielding a pair of pintail, two shelduck and a good number of shoveler. A walk to Huxter Well didn’t rack up too many species – only lapwing, golden plover and teal – but a return visit to Piper Marsh gave us what we were hoping for – great views of a bittern!
Having most targets under our belts, I utlilised the BirdGuides subscription Santa very kindly gave me for Christmas, and we cut the trip slightly short to get to Old Moor before dusk – to twitch a drake green-winged teal! We quickly found it (thanks to a man with a much better scope than me that was able to find it in the incoming gloom), but sadly dipped the female garganey that was also present and would have made a great addition. But still, one duck lifer would do me for the day, and we also picked up a couple more bird race ticks in the shape of wigeon, pochard, goosander and cormorant. I tried to get tree sparrow, but couldn’t find any! Bah!
So 20 ticks in all, bringing me to…
Running total – 67
Tue 30th Dec
I didn’t fancy a haul on public transport today, so decided to pick off a few local species. An early trip to Wadsley Common proved pretty fruitless, and didn’t turn up the yellowhammers and linnets I was hoping for. A walk down Myers Lane was more successful, and turned up my target of fieldfare – in fact I saw several large flocks during the course of the day.
A quick peek at Old Wheel Farm didn’t turn up the stock doves and meadow pipits I was hoping for, but the female goldeneye was back on Old Wheel Dam, and was another tick. Sadly the Loxley Valley tree sparrows weren’t playing either.
Agden Side was a risky place to go next, as it’s largely devoid of birds this time of year, but could have turned up such goodies as raven, stonechat and merlin, as well as meadow pipits. Well guess what… I dipped all of those, but at least got some heard-only red grouse cackling away in the distance.
I popped back to Old Wheel Farm on the way back, in the hope of catching sight of a little owl in the fading light, failing miserably but at least finally catching up with some meadow pipits which were flitting around in the fields.
A fifth tick of the day came with a tawny owl calling up the garden at about 8.30pm.
Running total – 72
New Year’s Eve
Thinking about the relatively easy birds I had left to get, I realised the best place for at least a chance of most of them was a return visit to Old Moor. The trip started well with a yaffling green woodpecker heard from the car park, and an instant tree sparrow on the birdfeeders. It took a while to get any more, but luck was on my side when a mixed party of gulls landed briefly near the Wader Scrape, including a good number of great black-backed gulls and a single common gull.
After trudging around in the freezing cold and mist for a few hours without any new birds, I was starting to feel a bit despondent. But one final walk round the ponds turned up a pair of stock dove on one of the pylons. Still dipped on all grebes, redshank, snipe, dunlin, linnet and little owl though! Bah!
The big question is will I be able to fight my way past the potential hangover and woeful Bank Holiday bus services to find any more tomorrow?
Running total – 77
New Years Day
Hangover? Yep. Any new birds? Nope. Tried hard to find little owl, but as much as I tried to string some dry stone walling at Old Wheel Farm into one I couldn’t quite manage it. So…
Grand Total – 77.
Highlights – Green-winged Teal, Water Rail (both lifers), Bittern (first decent views), Waxwing (first self-found!)
Biggest dips – Redshank, little owl, yellowhammer, linnet, raven, both partridges, peregrine,