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WDAA Wildlife and conservation
October – December 2013

The main purpose of producing these reports is to highlight anything of particular interest that
may have been found in and around our club venues. Now that winter is here and at the time
of writing (early January) are in the middle of a particularly stormy patch of weather, it may
be assumed that this is an unproductive period for wildlife. However things are just the
opposite as winter species move in to spend the colder months with us from across the
continent, mainly Scandinavia. This reporting period has been no exception with a
particularly rare bird for Cheshire visiting our waters and spending at least 5-6 weeks with us.
On 31st of October, our club secretary and treasurer Steve Beech reported by text message
that he was sure he had seen a Bittern fly past twice in a short space of time whilst fishing
along the River Weaver. After a short telephone conversation with Steve it certainly sounded
like the description of a Bittern “brown, mottled and about three quarters the size of a heron”,
so I said I’d check it out on the following weekend. Sure enough on the 2nd November after
about an hour or so the bird appeared and flew into the middle of a large reedbed, definitely a
Bittern and a great result for us to have one of these on our waters. Bittern are very scarce
throughout Cheshire and are usually associated with the large reedbeds of southern counties
and the fens that form their main habitat. Locally a small number visit Budworth (Marbury)
Mere to spend the winter which is a ‘well-known’ location for them.
These birds are extremely difficult to spot when inside a reedbed and are generally seen when
they move to the edges to feed, usually taking small fish, frogs etc. even small birds that use
the reeds as roosting places in the evenings can form part of a bittern’s diet. They move with
a stealth similar to a heron, catching food with their long pointed bill. Plumage is
camouflaged to match the reedbed environment and when disturbed will assume an upright
posture remaining motionless with their head pointing upwards to imitate the plant stems, see
the attached image. On two occasions this effective camouflage was demonstrated as the bird
was undetected to within a few metres until it took flight from the waters edge, returning
back to the sanctuary of the phragmites reedbed.  In springtime Bittern can give themselves
away as they make a characteristic loud booming sound.    
Regular sightings were made throughout November as the bird moved around it’s feeding
areas and consequently a greater number of the general public were starting to become aware
of it’s presence. Initially we kept things very quiet between a small number of club members
for fear of broadcasting may have caused an influx of birdwatchers, in reality this didn’t
happen and the area stayed relatively undisturbed. My personal last sighting of it was at the
end of November, but since then haven’t spent much time in that location so it may still be
around. Hopefully this might become a regular winter occurrence and if one has found it’s
way here then others may follow, only time will tell. An important point to make is that these
birds are listed as a Schedule 1 species which means that they are protected at all times and
should not be unduly disturbed especially during the breeding season when it becomes a
criminal offence. If noticed please use common sense and approach with caution otherwise
just watch from a distance and leave it to go about it’s own business.
The weather so far through the autumn and start of winter has been generally mild on the
whole, dragonflies and butterflies were still on the wing through October and a small number
of Hawkers and Darters noticed through November around Newbridge Pool. As mentioned in
previous reports Kingfisher continue to show well throughout our venues and can be seen
anywhere along the Weaver. During a fishing session at the river behind Top Flash on the 5th
October, a pair were noticed in the first 10 minutes plus a juvenile Little Grebe. Whilst on the
Flash itself a Common Sandpiper was calling from the bank along the meadow, later this was
seen flying across the water. A quick walk around New Pool on the 6th October found Raven
opposite at Vale Royal drive and then over at Sandiway Lakes plenty of Wigeon and Gadwall
were present on the big lake.
October is the month when the visiting thrushes start to move in for the winter and on the 10th
Redwing were spotted, possibly a small group was noticed on the 8th but this remains
unconfirmed. By the 12th larger numbers were present flying overhead near to home and the
Ocean Pool at Knights Grange. Since these initial sightings they have become really
numerous and can be picked up almost anywhere at the moment usually in groups which are
often mixed with other thrush species, Fieldfares and Blackbirds for example. Redwing are
the smallest of the 5 thrush species and resemble our resident Song Thrush, but as the name
suggests have a red colouration under the wing which is visible when the bird is at rest. As
explained in previous articles they have an appetite for berries so can be found in places such
as tall hawthorn bushes that form the boundaries of fields, around fruit trees or parkland,
indeed anywhere that holds berries. Most of our club waters attract Redwing and they should
be seen regularly whilst fishing as they move around in search of food, listen for the high
pitched single note which is characteristic of them. Also they tend to sit near to tops of trees
in groups where they can be on the look-out for any approaching danger.

Other notable occurrences were a Chiffchaff still singing on the 12th October and the 19th saw
approximately 30 Snipe and 7 Teal on the mudflats at the Bottom Flash, while 12 Great
Crested Grebe were observed from the walkway linking the Flash to the Marina car-park. A
return visit on the 20th allowed good views of the Snipe as they bathed in shallow pools on
the flats. These are a species which are very difficult to spot, again due to their excellent
camouflage and are usually flushed out from the waters edge or vegetation as they sit tight
until virtually stood on. However, waiting with patience will see them move out from cover
 to feed, probing the ground with their long beaks. Numbers are boosted during the winter by
birds from the continent. Snipe can found further along the river towards the Top Flash and
on the banks of the Flash itself where they feed along the water edge. The bullrush beds at
Kitchen Meadow, previously the Middle Flash provide an ideal habitat for these birds with
plentiful vegetation for cover and soft ground for feeding.

 A bird similar to the Snipe is the Woodcock, again very good camouflage and very difficult
to spot as it is largely nocturnal and spends the daytime tucked away in the undergrowth of
woodland but may be seen out in the evening when flying called ‘roding’. Any of our venues
with woodland will probably hold Woodcock through the winter , typically Rookery Pool,
New Pool and stretches of the Weaver. However an element of luck is required and similar to
the Snipe they are more often flushed out of cover than seen in the open.

Whilst on the subject of secretive species it is worth mentioning the Water Rail again. Earlier
this year back in March I noticed a first sighting at the Bottom Flash, however this autumn
and into winter has proved they are much more numerous than previously expected and may
be found at any venue with plenty of cover but again a large element of luck is needed. The
reedbeds on Newbridge Pool and also those on the rough ground just outside the boundary to
the pool hold these birds plus they have been seen along the river and more recently Fishery
Manager Steve Lawler saw two near to the Red Lion at the bottom of Winsford. Again
reedbeds in the Top Flash area seem to be an ideal area for them, damp ground with plenty of
cover. The evening is a good time to hear their screeching calls, night fishers may be familiar
with this particularly on Newbridge Pool which is fairly popular with night anglers. Whilst on
a fishing session along the upper stretches of the river there were five birds calling
simultaneously split between both sides of the river. A short walk around the area again at the
end of December also had a further two calling which suggests they are resident here for at
least the winter, however this could be a potential breeding ground for the spring which
would be a bit special.
Back to the visiting thrushes and the first Fieldfare were noticed on the 2nd November
opposite the salt mine, a group of 20 birds seen in the wooded area of the rough ground.
These birds are larger and noisier than the Redwing and when seen in good light have shades
of light purple and orange on their plumage. They make a loud chattering noise when on the
move either in flight or when feeding and are regularly seen in large groups again wherever
berries are growing or on farmland grazing across the fields. Another notable sighting on the
same day here was a flock of approximately 30 Pink Footed Geese that flew over in a
northerly direction aligned in typical ‘V’ formation. Another trip to the Top Flash on the 9th
of November added Mandarin and two possible Green Sandpiper for this period.
Winter is a time when lots of smaller birds such as finches flock together and join forces with
other species such as Siskin and Lesser Redpoll, the latter two can often be found gathering
in alders when feeding acrobatically on the seed pods. Goldfinches like feeding on teasels,
the National Length and Pool can be particularly productive for this colourful species.
Bullfinches favour smaller trees with thin spindle-like branches and hawthorn, the males are
very easily identified with bright red chest, blue grey backs and black face / cap, they show a
distinct white rump when flying. The females are a duller brown colour than the males but
they are often seen moving in smaller groups of several pairs. Again these may turn up
anywhere but regular places seem to be along the Weaver Parkway and around the Ocean
In the surrounding farmland other birds that flock together are species such as Meadow Pipit,
Skylark and Yellowhammer. It is not uncommon to see groups of fifty or more Skylark
through the winter, they tend not to travel great distances when flying but circle around their
feeding areas until dropping back down in a safe place. Yellowhammer are very distinctive
when seen close up, especially the males with their bright yellow plumage, these may also
mix in with species such as Reed Bunting. The farmland hedgerows along Grange Lane at the
back of the Ocean tend to be a consistent location to find them. A winter visitor that may be
seen on its own or mixed with Chaffinches is the Brambling, which itself is quite similar in
appearance to the Chaffinch being a similar size and shape however it is more orange on the
chest and the male has a distinctive dark blueish grey head and face. A good place to look is
around beech trees where they feed on beech mast, suitable habitat is in the Whitegate area
through Vale Royal woods and Rookery Pool.
The 24th of November was fairly productive on the Bottom Flash where four species of gull
were identified, Black-headed, Common, Herring and Lesser Black Backed. Two Shelduck
were in the margins off Ways Green while 28 Lapwing and several Teal were on the
mudflats. 300 – 400 Canada Geese formed a massive floating raft which stretched from Ways
Green back to the opening of the marina. The first Goldeneye of the year was seen at Trelfa’s
Hole on 25th November.
Probably our most troublesome water particularly during the warmer months, the Ocean Pool
would not at first thought be an area that you would expect to be productive for wildlife.
However it is just the opposite, habitat surrounding the pool is extremely varied with open
grassland, woodland, scrub and obviously water. Various wildfowl visit the pool, numerous
small birds, jays, woodpeckers, raptors and on a recent visit during the Christmas break over
30 different species were recorded in about an hour and a half.

Finally moving into December and winter seems to be established now with most of the fore-
mentioned becoming regular sightings. A few more worthy of note were a Peregrine hunting
around rough grassland near to Whitegate station and Marton Hole plus a Great Black-
Backed Gull flying over in a similar location. Early one morning at first light a large flock of
several thousand Starlings flew over home at the end of the month travelling from the
Knights Grange direction towards the police headquarters. This is encouraging considering
their numbers have been in serious decline and they are now on the red list of endangered
birds. A visit to the under-fished Tommy’s Hole in the middle of December found 4 pairs of
Wigeon near to the inlet stream, a new sighting for this venue. Little Grebe appear to have
done well on the Bottom Flash this year as several pairs can be seen feeding out in the open
water during late afternoon to dusk, they seem to move from the reedbeds along the walkway
towards the spit area and island.
Anglers, especially those who also have an interest in the wildlife and the environment are in
a very fortunate situation. Once settled in they are generally sat still for lengthy periods,
unless mobile of course, and nature gradually begins to accept their presence, gain confidence
in them and often approach at close distances. Recently while fishing on National Length,
groups of finches were feeding nearby and Moorhens came within a few feet. Birds such as
Robins can almost take maggots from your hand at times and there’s probably plenty of you
had a Kingfisher land on the end of your rod at some point. So it’s good policy to respect our
angling environment, continue to look after it and take litter, line etc. home, how would we
like it if someone dumped their rubbish in our living room?
The next couple of months will be moving through the winter period towards the start of
spring which again will begin to see a change in conditions and species around our waters.
By the next time of writing, probably end of March, there may well be summer visitors here
already even though summer at the moment seems a long way off it will soon come around.

That’s enough for now, so on that last thought as always,
Happy angling, tight lines and good spotting.