Ramblings

October 1996


Tuesday 1st October – Musselburgh – Next morning it is, of course, high tide. Nothing around Musselburgh at all, so I head along the coast road. At Prestonpans there is more on the sea, Eider, Gulls and Guillemot. A little further along is a group of Red-breasted Merganser and Grey Plover, Shelduck, Curlew and overhead a skein of over 80 Pink-footed Geese. At Aberlady there is a similar selection but far more Shelduck (coming up the beach to drink from a fresh water spring coming out of the stones), Dunlin and huge flocks of Pink-footed Geese are moving around.

North Bewick – At North Bewick there are huge rock outcrops, one like a massive cone another at sea with a lighthouse perched on the edge. I presume these are volcanic plugs that have not eroded like the softer, surrounding rock. Cormorants stand on rocky reefs drying their wings. Pied Wagtails chase over the beach.

Torness – At Skateraw, beside Torness Nuclear Power Station, I stand next to old lime kilns. The old harbour has now gone although a new one has been built for the power station. Huge numbers of Gannet are heading north out to sea, but little else can be discerned. It is now clear I am not going to be able to carry on, when I get out of the warmth of the car, my head, cheeks and teeth all ache. My nose is like a tap and I feel dreadful. I reluctantly decide to head straight down the A1 home.

Friday 4th October – Wombwell Ings – A flock of 90 plus Golden Plover glitters over Wombwell Ings – a prescience of winter. There are waders on the Ings but they are spooked as soon as I get the scope on them by a Kestrel that flashes past close to the hide with a pair of Magpies on its tail. I find the waders again, Little Stints, Dunlins and Greenshanks. Nearly 100 Teal are sleeping or preening on the mud, with Lapwings just standing and watching and another 17 Golden Plover preening and stretching. On the Ings are a few Wigeon – again the majority are asleep on the mud – and half a dozen Shoveler. Seven Red-legged Partridge are sheltering against the strong wind under a hedge beside a newly ploughed field.

Sunday 6th October – Pennington Flash, Wigan – Over the rain-soaked and mist shrouded Pennines and dropped down into a wet Lancashire. Heading for Pennington Flash – a low-lying area which began to seriously flood at the turn of the century, forming a lake in 1905. Shortly afterwards a major subsidence at nearby Bickershawe Colliery resulted in the current large lake and many smaller lakes. The Liverpool-Leeds Canal lies to the north of the site and there is a large slag heap to the west. It is now managed as a very popular Country Park by Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council. My interest is a long-staying Blue-winged Teal, reportedly a male in eclipse. Past the car parks where hundreds of Mallard, Coot, Mute Swans and Canada Geese sand around waiting for hand-outs, and another birder helpfully guides me to the Visitors’ Centre and a map. He tells me the Blue-winged Teal is at the very far end of the main flat. I stop off at Horrock’s Hide where there is a long spit out into an area called Ramsdale’s Ruck, the large slag heap. There is a large flock of Meadow Pipits twittering around the top. I find a small crowd of birders who are intently watching the far side of the Flash. I look but cannot find anything unusual. Then some birders pass and tell us the Blue-winged Teal is further down the Flash. ( I had assumed the others were on it and it was me that could not find it!) We move down and look at the very end of the Flash and there is a small dull brown duck passing a much larger female Mallard. It had a clear area of white around the bill and upper throat. Although there was no sign of the blue wing flash, it is the Blue-winged Teal – and to my mind a female. I watch it feed and preen for a while until it starts moving into the reeds and becomes difficult to see.

Dill the Dog is completely barmy today and finds it almost impossible to sit still while I look at this lifer. She has already had the joy of charging at top speed through the grimy puddles on the slag heaps and looks a dreadful mess! I head back over the heap where there is a good number of Mistle Thrushes rasping. Then check the smaller ponds which have good numbers of Teal, Shoveler and Mallard. From one hide I make rather a lot of noise banging my tripod against the seat on entering. I just glimpse a small dark coot-like bird disappear into the reeds. A few minutes late a pair of Moorhen come round feeding and I am about to leave when the small bird appears – a Water Rail. It flits back and forth across the gap in the reeds feeding but is very wary. A group of birders come and I tell them where it is, although it had now gone back into the reeds. Just as it looks like I am going to look like a stringer it pops out again.

Saturday 12th October – Home – A partial eclipse of the sun this afternoon. At lunch time the clouds start to pile up and it looks like another failure to observe an astronomical event. However, the clouds are actually a boon as the eclipse can be observed by the naked eye or using sunglasses as it is heavily filtered by the cloud layer. About 14:00 the moon, like a grey ghost, starts eating into the top right-hand side of the sun. By 15:15 it has covered about half the solar disk. The cloud continues to thicken and there are few more views.

Sunday 13th October – Wombwell Ings – A twitch that I can legitimately claim isn’t! There is an early morning report on the Net of a Yellow-browed Warbler at Broomhill Park, by Wombwell Ings. Given this is my usual Sunday morning run I can set off to see it without going on a twitch. Of course, the plan goes wrong as none of us there can find the little bugger! I search the hedge of Hawthorns all around the park. I find my first winter thrush of the season, a flighty Redwing. Lots of Great Tits and Blue Tits (which is the flock the Yellow-browed Warbler is supposed to be in) and the odd Wren giving frissons of excitement – well, they are small like a Yellow-browed Warbler – but no joy.

Thorne – I have to put in some time at the office in Sheffield and so after doing what was necessary I check the RBA again. This time it confirms a sighting of a Cattle Egret which had been reported on Saturday near Thorne – out east of Doncaster. Decide I will twitch this one! Find the site easily, but it consists of looking through a hole in a hedgerow bordering a field. In the field a herd of Charolais cattle laze around chewing the cud beside a large blue mobile hopper. The Cattle Egret seems to delight in keeping behind either the hopper or a cow, giving only the briefest glimpses of white. Eventually, it decided to wander out into the open for a while. It really is an attractive bird – pure white with a flesh-yellow bill and muddy yellow legs. Its lack of coloured plume means it is either a juvenile or already in winter plumage.

Saturday 19th October – Edderthorpe – The flash is still dry, despite the recent rainfalls – indeed, Yorkshire Water have lifted their drought orders. A Jay flies over the fields towards the Grimethorpe spoil heap. Above the huge heap there is a large flock of Rooks, calling, soaring, diving and twirling in the air. Must be a good updraft off the stack face. At Wombwell Ings large flocks of Golden Plover, Lapwings, Starlings, Wigeon, Teal and Canada Geese are feeding around the Ings. On the water itself Black-headed Gulls are squabbling and a few Mallard and Shoveler upend to feed. Over the common land a pair of Sky Larks are chasing and singing. On Broomhill Flash fifteen Mute Swans are feeding, preening or sleeping. Over one hundred Mallard have flocked up. One group is heading purposefully over the meadow but something spooks them and they rush back to the safety of the water.

Sunday 20th October – Anglers Country Park – The Anglers lake is quiet. Nothing stirs on the Pol. Whilst there are large numbers of wildfowl on the lake – Tufted Duck, Pochard, Wigeon, hundreds of Coot and a couple of Cormorants, somehow the scene seems desolate. Across the fields a Carrion Crow chases a squawking Grey Heron, which scares up a small flock of Canada Geese and Wood Pigeons. Overhead there is a whoosh as a small flock of Tufted Duck arrow in from the other lakes. They are twisting and turning in the air, tipping air out from under their wings so to lose height but not speed.

Tuesday 22nd October – Willowbank – The Redwings are in! Small flocks of up to thirty are all over Willowbank. Greenfinches have also flocked up and are feeding on the last of the Blackberries. Some Blackbirds are vigorously defending their territory against invading winter thrushes. Some Blackbirds are flying higher over the area - continental birds without territories? Mistle Thrushes are rasping in all directions. Occasionally a Fieldfare passes over but very few so far. The leaden skies and all embracing dampness combined with the winter thrushes seems to sound the death knell of summer and is a clarion of impending winter.

Wednesday 23rd October – Sheffield – According to Bishop Usher’s calculations, the world was created on 23rd October 4004 BC and should end today. But here we are so... Flocks of Redwings and Fieldfares were crossing high above Sheffield, mainly heading west this morning. In the woods near the M1 motorway, the Ivy that climbs many of the trees is about to bloom with club like green flower heads projecting from the dark green mass. Also looking like mediaeval maces, but bright white are the fruiting heads of the Common Puffball fungus. Although edible, I have given up collecting them because their flavour is frankly nothing much to write home about!

Saturday 26th October – Wombwell Ings – The ings are very busy, for some reason the Wigeon, Lapwing, Golden Plover and Canada Goose flocks have all moved off of Broomhill Flash and alighted on the Ings. The Golden Plover are very flighty and sweep up into the air, glittering gold and head over towards the new Wath Ings wildfowl area but soon swing back around and return to the Ings. Across the newly sown grain field seventeen Red-legged Partridge are feeding. Check through the flocks and find a couple of Greylags in with the Canada Geese, but little else. Check Broomhill on the way back but it is virtually empty. It then occurs to me that there are no Coots on either site - where have they gone?

Sunday 27th October – Anglers Country Park – The annual charade of putting the clocks back, so whilst the mornings will be lighter for a few more weeks, the evenings will darken much earlier. I awake at the usual time – or at least Dill the Dog decides it is the usual time regardless of clocks! A gale is blowing outside and I can hear the splashing of rain. When I finally emerge from the house, it has stopped raining at least! As I drive up to Anglers, the views across towards the Pennines to the west and Ferrybridge to the east are crystal clear. The sky has rolling grey clouds scooting around. Anglers is pretty quiet, a couple of Snipe cower in the grass on the Pol, trying to keep out of the buffeting wind. The main lake is covered with wildfowl, all bobbing up and down in the wind-driven surf. Some Gadwall are feeding close to the edge of lake. Cormorants are feeding and then flying around. There is constant movement with Wigeon flying across the lake in small flocks, incoming Tufted Duck and arguing Coot. Find some Mosaic Puffballs and quite a few small Field Mushrooms. One classic moment is when Dill the Dog finds a two foot length of fence post and is carrying it proudly along – until she gets to the stile which has a dog gap of about one foot. She attempts to go straight through and is stopped dead by the piece of fence post. A loud yelp and a look of complete bewilderment!