3 Jan 2009

Starting the New Year with a bang!

Staggering out of our New Years Eve celebrations into a warm taxi I paused just long enough to get my first bird of 2009 – a Little Owl calling near the Brook Meadow Hotel at 01.00. Bird number two for the year was a Barn Owl crossing the road in front of us near Capenhurst railway station. The new birding year had begun! Bird number three was a Robin singing on a lamp post outside the house at 02.00.

With plenty of good local birds to catch up with the last few days have been almost non-stop birding. It’s only the 3rd Jan & I’ve already had one UK & one county lifer. I hope this isn’t going to continue like this was the comment from a bemused wife.

A pager message of a probable Glaucous-winged Gull in Teeside didn’t set the pulse racing. It was only a probable and with this species predilection for hybridisation I couldn’t get excited about it. Family commitments on returning from my dawn foray New Years day meant I couldn’t go to Marbury for the superb Hawfinch found by Enid Murphy but never the less enjoyed a cold and brisk walk along the Sandstone Trail. Picking up a few year ticks on the way of course…...

The phones burned hot that evening as we ummmed, aaghhed about the Glaucous-winged Gull. Should we or shouldn’t we? Deciding to go for the Hawfinch with Big Al we had almost arrived when the ‘mega’ alert bleeped on the pager. The gull was no longer a probable but a definite. Within seconds Pod rang; ‘Happy now? I’m going for it’. Deciding to only give the Hawfinch a few minutes Al and I left it & jumped in the Pod mobile and headed up north – much to the chagrin of Mrs W who was informed I’d be a few hours longer than intended cos I was now being kidnapped and forced to go for the GWG!!!

With the bird having last been seen in a ploughed field we started there but soon gave it up and went to look for somewhere with more gulls & eventually ended up at Cowpen Bewley Marsh where a good number of large gulls were roosting and bathing in nearby pools. Time passed and passed again. 2009 was vanishing at an alarming rate and still no sign. After dipping the Kidwelly bird there were a number of people there desperate to grip this one back. Pod had seen the Welsh bird but wanted this one for his English list.

Luckily for us sharp-eyed young Josh Jones got a tantalising glimpse of what could have been the birds head sticking out from a dip in the marsh. Enough to keep our interest. Time ticked away and it looked as if some of the larger gulls were drifting away to roost and Frank Duff and a few others disappeared off to Saltholme Pools to check that area out.

Suddenly someone yelled he’d got it and pandemonium broke loose as we all frantically tried to get on it. It had walked out of a gully exactly where Josh had seen the top of its head! Fair do’s to RBA’s Stu Piner who did the 200 m dash in wellies to let another group of birders know where the bird was only to find out we were already on it. Nice one Stu and much appreciated although no one showed it at the time. Something spooked the gulls and they all flew except the GWG and by now other birders were arriving in droves. Frank got it through my scope as did Archie Archer (shaking so much we couldn’t tell if it was the cold or excitement) and then Paul Hackett. Nice to see the CADOS gull dippers out in force with Dr Wilkinson & Messrs Friswell & King finally connecting with a rare gull and not putting the hex on proceedings! With Bob & Jan Jones arriving late to join the throng it looked as if Cheshire was virtually devoid of birders. Once we’d got Pod off his knees & genuflecting, muttering ‘we are not worthy,’ to Mr Digiscoping himself, we headed home. A great twitch and home by 17.45 for a curry and a few welcome beers.

To my eyes this looks a classic Glaucous-winged Gull and identical to the illustration in the Helmes gull bible. Even the smoky hood and extending dow nthe sides of the breast but leaving a clear white 'finger' between it and the mantle looks spot on. Far better than a dodgy 1st witner bird somewhere on a Welsh estuary or even worse an unidentifiable blob floating on the sea!

Now for the Hawfinch – a county lifer. Deciding the only way was to go and find it myself and not rely on news (as most of the local patch watchers were dispersed around the country) I set off around 09.00 this morning. Taking Molly we met up with Mr Hackett just outside the main gate and low and behold the first bird I clapped my eyes on as we entered the park proper was the Hawfinch showing well but distantly ant the top of a tall tree. A minor twitch ensued as those who’d spent the last hour or so looking for it came running in our direction. With superb organisational skills Paul got everyone on the bird – he should have donned a high vis jacket and held out a jam jar to collect money in…………………

OK boys snap away....Do you like the left or right profile?
Whadda ya mean thats one bl**dy great conk!

With the sun shining on the Wirral it was time for a quick dash to Parkgate for the raptor roost and a quick walk for Molly along the sea wall. Nice to meet Jackie who recognied Molly and then me by a process of elimination. It comes to something when ladies think your mutt is more recognisable than you.......

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