WINSFORD and DISTRICT ANGLING ASSOCIATION
established 1908

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WDAA Wildlife and conservation
August – September 2013

It is now the end of September, officially autumn. Already the seasonal changes can be
noticed, trees are starting to shed their leaves with the first signs of autumnal colours
developing and the daylight hours gradually becoming shorter. This annual change has also
shown its apparent effect on the local wildlife, particularly the species of birds that can be
seen and heard.

The summer visitors have all but disappeared with a small number of swallows and martins
remaining before they leave for warmer climates. Swifts left back in August, the last one
recorded locally was on the 13th August over the Ocean Pool at Knights Grange. A few
chiffchaffs are still singing due to the recent warm spell of weather, a small number may
remain over the winter months along with the odd Blackcap but most will now start to move
back to their wintering grounds.

This years breeding season has been one of mixed fortunes, some good and some bad. On the
downside, the Sand Martins that began to nest in the salt piles along the weaver opposite
National Pool, suffered a slide on the face of the salt resulting in the nest sites becoming
exposed. This affected the majority of nest holes, but a few birds were still seen around  
remaining entrances, so maybe some managed to breed successfully. The Little Grebes on
Tommy’s Hole were noticed to have bred again but only one adult and one juvenile were
seen. It is possible that the other adult / juveniles may have been killed by predators or even
shot by the air-rifle shooters who frequent the pool. A different pair were seen near to the Top
Flash on Trelfa’s Hole on 24th September, which probably means they also breed here, a site
to be watched next year.

hobby3hobby2hobby

On a more positive note I can confirm that a bird I have mentioned previously, the Hobby,
has bred successfully on the Hunting Bridge stretches of the Weaver, but due to the
sensitivity of the issue the exact location remains undisclosed. It has been fascinating to sit
out of sight and watch their behaviour at relatively close quarters. Four birds at least one
adult and three juveniles were regularly observed over a period of 2-3 weeks. Approaching
the location caused the juveniles to make their presence known by flying out into the open,
calling loudly and circling round before returning to the shelter of the tree canopy. When first
noticed it soon became apparent that the juveniles were still largely reliant upon the parents
when feeding. They would spend a significant amount of time waiting for food to be brought
to them with only short spells of flying before perching up again in a tree.

The flight path of a returning parent bird after successful hunting was from an open field on
the opposite side of the river, where calling would start several hundred yards away to alert
the young birds. Upon hearing this, they would fly out to greet the incoming bird producing
some spectacular mid-air passes of food from parent to lucky juvenile which would then be
chased and harassed by the others. Gradually over the observation period, the youngsters
ventured further away from the sanctuary of the woods and moved out into open air getting
used to their wings and learning to chase insects with swift, agile movements. During a recent
trip one bird was heard calling from across the river, generally they move off at the end of
September to follow their prey, swallows, martins etc. back across the continent. It was
difficult to get any decent photo’s due to the location and light etc. so apologies for the
quality of pictures.
dragonfly 
Another food source of the Hobby are dragonflies which have been very abundant this
summer particularly the last few weeks with the warmer temperatures and longer spells of
sun. They have been showing well on most of our waters in particular Newbridge Pool and
the Ocean Pool but also on less visited places such as the upper stretches of the Weaver and
Tommy’s Hole. Damselflies also have been plentiful but apart from a very small number
have now all but disappeared.

dragon2

Hawker dragonflies have been patrolling our waters in search of prey that they catch in flight
before finding a resting place or consuming the catch on the wing. Migrant hawkers, the
smallest of the hawkers, (although it is not easy to distinguish size unless there are others to
compare them with) appear to have been the most numerous. These are the hawkers that will
come in close and hover for short spells often around reed beds and other vegetation. The
males appear to have a yellowish body and blue abdomen, they are probably the most
approachable, especially when landed as they seem to tolerate some relatively close
movement. The two main identification points to look for if you can get close enough are a
‘golf-tee’ shaped mark just below the wings and two short yellow stripes just behind the head
on the thorax, these may even be missing. Males have blue markings running down a dark
 abdomen while the females are more of an orange brown colour, see attached photos for the
differences.

dragon3

A similar looking dragonfly, the Common Hawker which can easily be confused with the
Migrant Hawker but is slightly larger has also been noted. These tend to hunt alone rather
than sociably like the Migrants. The markings are very similar but Common Hawkers lack
the ‘tee’ shape and the yellow ante-humeral stripes on the thorax behind the head are
complete. The abdomen appears almost black with blue markings and the front edges of the
wings have a thin yellow edge or ‘costa’ which can be seen when they are at rest but difficult
to spot in flight. A diagnostic feature when flying is that they tend to hold their abdomen
straight whereas the Migrant Hawkers have it slightly drooped. Another distinguishing factor
is the narrow waist at the start of the abdomen, just below the wings.

dragon4

Brown Hawkers, probably the easiest to identify have been noted in smaller numbers than the
Migrants, these are a large hawkers which appear mostly brown in flight and can be identified
by their red/brown wings which seem quite apparent. They tend not to hover but patrol in
straighter lines when hunting, also it requires a bit of stealth to get close to one at rest,
particularly on a warm day when they are active. Often they are difficult to see when resting
on the undergrowth or the trunk of tree and are only noticed when disturbed by a passer-by.

dragon7

While watching some recently on Newbridge Pool I was fortunate to have one catch a
cranefly in front of me then come in to rest close by, this gave some good photo opportunities
until I got too close and it flew off. Patience was rewarded on the Top Flash by the Weaver,
one eventually landed on a birch tree and was very tolerant even at close quarters which
produced some close up shots.

The final hawker to be seen is the Southern Hawker, which again is large and flies close to
humans to investigate, it appears greenish in flight and the green markings are noticeable at
rest. These were seen away from the club waters can but can still be seen locally. Common
Darters have been plentiful around Newbridge and Rookery Pools, these are identified by
their orange / red appearance in the males and greenish colouration in the females. Often
these are seen in tandem as they are mating.

dragon8dragon5

The Banded Demoiselle damselfly was not as abundant this year as last especially on the
Upper Weaver, a few were recorded here and at Tommy’s Hole. This is a large damselfly
with a metallic appearance and large dark spot on the wings. Finally the last week in
September saw a few late blue-tailed damselfly around Newbridge Pool.

dragon9damsel

Canada Geese are numerous around Winsford and large numbers have been resident on the
Bottom Flash using the mudflats at the far end of Rilshaw Lane section. Often mixed in with
these are few Greylag Geese and the odd white farmyard goose. Gulls are plentiful here,
mostly Black Headed and Common with a few Lesser Black-Backs and the odd Herring Gull.
Similar to some other species, gulls change their plumage through the winter months. The
Black Headed Gull loses its dark head, which is actually dark brown and shows just a dark
spot on the side of the head, Common Gulls and Herring Gulls lose their clean white head to
be replaced by one of a more dirty appearance. Juveniles are identified by their brown
mottled plumage and some can take four or five years to develop their full adult colours.

A bird more often heard than seen is the Green Woodpecker, recognisable by its loud call
similar to a high pitched laughing sound. These can found at a few of our venues, notably
along the Weaver Valley on the hills opposite the salt mine, Newbridge Pool in the woods
and around Rookery Pool. Despite being our largest woodpecker it spends a lot of its time on
the ground searching for ants in the grass where it may be seen hopping around if you can get
close enough. Green Woodpeckers have the habit of hiding on the opposite side of a tree
trunk to the observer, remaining motionless with the odd head movement to check their
whereabouts and quite often they can be seen clinging to telegraph poles that are positioned
near to their feeding grounds. Several have been noted through September in the above
mentioned areas.

damsel2damsel2

Now that summer has turned to autumn the first of the winter wildfowl have started to move
in. On the 24th September two female Wigeon and a single female Teal were recorded at the
Top Flash. These will slowly begin to increase in numbers over the next couple of months
with Teal especially using our waters, particularly those with overhanging bushes and trees
where they can hide away from intruders. A good place to see them in the open is on the
Bottom Flash where they seem to gain confidence in people, probably due to the amount of
movement on there with members of the public. The last two winters have seen a group of
about a dozen Pochard here aswell, which tend to float around as a group in the open water,
hopefully they will return this time. Thrushes are beginning to flock together now and a
group of about twenty Mistle Thrush were seen on the Upper Weaver feeding on the recently
fertilised farmland. Finally of note, a late single Yellow Wagtail flew over Newbridge on 21st
September.

At the next time of writing the winter visitors should be well established with plenty of
wildfowl returning accompanied by Redwing and Fieldfare that usually appear around mid
October. These two thrush species patrol our local area in search of berries and fruit on which
 they feed. Redwing can be heard moving in overhead on still, dark evenings when their high
pitched single note call gives them away.   

Conservation issues are progressing nicely and the club is keen to project an environmentally
conscious attitude. As mentioned in the last report (March – July) it was hoped that a visit
from the RSPB would occur, this happened on 24th September when Jeremy Sutton the
Officer for Northern England came to look around our waters. He was very impressed with
the habitat that we have and gave us ideas for future development, a separate short report will
be posted giving details of suggestions. Water Voles have been found on the Shropshire
Union Canal behind the Top Flash so it is intended to arrange some habitat management
training in the near future, there is a strong possibility that they may move onto our venues.
 
An environmental policy has been written and approved which will also be displayed on our
club website along with job descriptions of our Fisheries and Conservation Managers.
That’s about it for now, so as always,
Happy angling, tight lines and good spotting.
Graham