WINSFORD and DISTRICT ANGLING ASSOCIATION
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WDAA Wildlife and conservation
May to December 2014


This article is well overdue and I have actually started putting the next one together for the
first part of 2015 at the same time as writing this. It’s been eight months since I posted the
last article dating back to April 2014, the time seems to have flown by. Already we are in
mid-winter and now looking towards spring and the lengthening days leading into summer.
Currently at the time of writing, late January, the warmer temperatures still seem a long way
off but within a few more weeks significant changes will be noticeable in daylight hours and
the wildlife that can be seen. When writing, these articles tend to be in a retrospective fashion
and inform the reader on events that have already happened but hopefully the content can be
used for future reference as changes in seasons occur throughout the coming year.
 
The yearly cycle of spring, summer, autumn and winter means that nature must adapt to meet
the variation in climate, therefore as this happens year after year the same patterns become
familiar through each season and it becomes possible to predict exactly what will be
happening at any time of the year. In certain cases this can almost be to the exact day. With
similar patterns occurring the same key activities tend to happen at similar times so it
becomes more difficult to find new topics to write about. That said, there are always things to
learn so reporting on new findings should be an on-going process, at least for the near future.
 Out of a matter of interest I sometimes meet non-anglers who have found our website and
read the environmental articles, feedback seems to be positive which gives an incentive to
continue writing even if only a handful of people take an interest.

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Continuing from the last article and moving into May more summer birds arrived, butterflies
and dragonflies emerged and some local badger cubs were making their early ventures away
from the sanctuary of the sett. Every year brings more opportunities to learn about the local
area and our venues. This time it was surprising to find a large variety of dragonflies and
damselflies locally, a total of 21 different species were recorded and when you consider that
only 31 species are present in Cheshire that is quite impressive. These begin to appear
towards the end of April and are on the wing until October or maybe November if the
weather remains mild, although numbers by this time have diminished greatly. Butterfly
species were quite varied with a total of 16 different types noted and a few new bird species
were recorded again for the third year running. This latest article will summarise the key
events at or close to our waters that happened from the start of May onwards.

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This was the month when the year started to gain momentum in the natural world with
summer visitors arriving in greater numbers, butterflies showing well with the flowering
plants and the first of the damselfly / dragonfly species emerging. Mid May saw the first
Lesser Whitethroat arriving, giving themselves away by their juddering call which resembles
the first part of the yellowhammers song mixed with a lower warbling sound. These birds are
very difficult to spot out in the open but the best chance is when they first arrive back in the
country and may be seen perched briefly on top of a hedge or bramble patch until disturbed.

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If you are fortunate enough to find a nesting pair feeding young birds the parents will make
themselves more visible as they actively bring food to the nest. Typical nest sites are deep
inside a dense bramble patch of hawthorn hedge. A popular spot seems to be the lanes
between the Ocean Pool and Tommy’s Hole. The regular cuckoo also returned to Marton this
month and could often be seen flying around its territory calling or perched on a tree or post.
The Sand Martins returned to their nesting sites of the last two years in the salt piles by the
River Weaver, but again breeding success was limited due to slides on the face of the nest
sites.
The first of the new species was recorded on the Bottom Flash in May when an Egyptian
Goose was spotted which stayed around for a couple of months, mixed in with the resident
Canada Geese. However it appeared to keep a slight distance from the main flock when
resting due to harassment from the other geese. Most of its time was spent on or around the
shallows in the far corner of our fishing limit and took a preference to sitting on the old log
stranded on the mudflats. June saw the return of a pair of Common Terns to the Bottom Flash
 which were actively fishing along the spit and using the marker buoys as resting stations.
The pair appeared to leave the water in early evening and return each day to resume feeding,
spending most of their time in the top half of the flash between the end of the spit across to
the caravan park. On a controversial note, they were more successful at catching fish than the
regular cormorants, so does this mean they too are classed as predators? A few record photo’s
were taken but the birds remained too distant for decent images. During a recent conversation
another birder I met on the Bottom Flash informed me that he had seen a Black Tern on there
in September, one to look out for in the future.

The Bottom Flash also saw a pair of Little Ringed Plover make an appearance on the
mudflats during the summer. The first of the years Hobby was also seen from here, which are
often spotted hunting along the Weaver valley from the upper reaches through the Bottom
Flash and down the river towards Newbridge.

Further up river next to Top Flash, Trelfas Hole is used as nesting site for Sedge Warblers
which can be seen in the reed beds surrounding the pool and on the scrub land in between the
two pools. They were active and vocal from mid may showing well but binoculars would be
an advantage for best views. Across to Kitchen Meadow and the marshland that is now
covered with large reedbeds, another site for warblers and this time confirmed the presence of
the elusive Water Rail in summer, which suggest that they use this area as a breeding site
although finding any would be a near impossible task. Nevertheless this is a good result for
the conservation minded. The Weaver valley and both Flashes occasionally hold Common
Sandpipers through late spring and summer. A smallish wading bird they can be seen along
the waters edge probing into the mud for food whilst moving with a characteristic bobbing
movement. A whitish belly with a light brown coloured back and light eye stripe are the
identification markings. Kingfishers are still doing well throughout our stretches of the
weaver, which suggests successful breeding and good survival rates through the winter
months. These will soon be pairing up for the breeding season with the male offering his
mate a succession of fish to prepare for nesting.

Deviating over to Marton Hole and an unusual bird took up residence here throughout the
summer. First mentioned in a previous article a ‘Redhead’ Smew was present here until at
least the end of September at which time it may have moved across to Sandiway Big Lake.
Marton Hole is a tricky water to get good access to the water’s edge having only six available
fishing pegs on it. With steep banks around three quarters of the pool it is difficult to get
close to any subject for photography purposes. Using the peg known as ‘Suicides’ due to the
steep access, I managed to make a hide under some camo netting which allowed some
relatively close views of the Smew without it being unduly bothered. Normally as soon as
any movement is noticed the water birds move away to the other side. The water in front of
this swim is deep within a few meters from the bank and proved to be a favoured feeding spot
for the bird and the Tufted Ducks that also occupy the water.

Smew are typically a winter visitor to the UK and particularly rare in Cheshire with one or
two turning up, however to have one stay throughout the summer months is very strange and
has caused some debate between myself and other birders. Whatever the reason, it was
certainly there and another good result for us. Some photos are included but distance and
direct sunlight made photography quite difficult.

Moving away from birds and onto butterflies, this year a variety were noted around our
venues. In addition to those mentioned in the previous article other species include Small
White, Large White, Common Blue, Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Orange Tip, Red Admiral,
Ringlet, Small Copper and Small Skipper.  These showed from May onwards through the
summer and were distributed well around the Winsford area. The Ocean Pool is a venue often
recognised as being our most troublesome place especially in the summer, which may be true,
but the surrounding environment is really good for wildlife with a variety of habitats that are
maintained by the golf club. The rough grassland meadow area is particularly good for
butterflies and several species can be found here including Common Blue and Small Skipper,
 the latter in very large numbers through July. The skippers are small and can be mistaken for
moths flitting through the long grass in search of clover. Recognisable by their small size,
orange/brown colouration and almost triangular folded wing pattern with short flight
distances. Both Small and Large Whites (cabbage whites) can be found here also with a
number of other species.

Gatekeeper were very numerous this year being found at lots of different sites. Characteristic
wing closing and opening whilst settled are good identification points showing the orange
wing markings with the eye spot surrounded by dark brown. Common Blue were also found
at the Upper Weaver, Bottom Flash, Tommy’s Hole plus other rough grassland areas around
the town. Ringlet another predominantly brown butterfly was noted in the Marton area with
Small Copper which was also recorded at the Upper Weaver. Orange-tip showed well and as
summer progressed the Red Admiral a familiar butterfly became more numerous.

As previously mentioned a large variation in damselfly and dragon fly species have been
recorded from May throughout the summer. Damselfly species noted were Azure, Blue-
tailed, Common Blue, Emerald, Large Red, Red-eyed, Banded Demoiselle and Beautiful
Demoiselle. Most of our waters will hold damselflies of some description and they can be
found around both still and moving water. Again the Ocean Pool is a good venue plus
Newbridge and Rookery Pools both hold significant numbers. The feeder streams running
between New Pool and Tommy’s Hole down to the River Weaver are hotspots for the
colourful Banded Demoiselle recognisable by the large dark patch on the wings and looking
almost like a butterfly when in flight. They appear to perform a dance over the water surface
when chasing each other in the air. The Weaver itself is a good place to find these especially
where there is tall bankside vegetation particularly on the upper stretches from the top end of
the Bottom Flash through to the Hunting Bridge stretches. A small number of Beautiful
Demoiselle occur on one section of a stream and can be distinguished from the Banded
species by the entirely black wings. The females of both species are particularly difficult to
tell apart but the wings of the Beautiful are more bronze coloured and slightly wider than
those of the Banded variety.

Dragonflies also have been distributed widely at and around our waters, the complete list is
Black Darter, Common Darter, Ruddy Darter, Brown Hawker, Common Hawker, Migrant
Hawker, Southern Hawker, Hairy Dragonfly, Broad Bodied Chaser, Four Spot Chaser, Black
Tailed Skimmer, Emperor and Downy Emerald. The latter being particularly rare for this area
and only recorded breeding at one place not far from Marton Hole.

In terms of flight period the Hairy Dragonfly is the earliest of the ‘Hawkers’ to emerge and
can be seen as early as April, but like all dragonflies needs the sun to get them out and flying.
As its name suggests the thorax is covered by fine hairs giving it a furry appearance. Try
looking around Rookery Pool on warm sunny days in May or June when they may be seen
hawking around the reedbeds and the newly emerged lily pads. The Southern Hawker has
proved to be very widespread this year and prefers flying in shaded pathways or on rides
through woodlands although it has also been noted at various pool sides throughout the
summer. Typical sites are Rookery Pool, Ocean Pool, Marton, Newbridge Pool and the
Weaver Valley. This is a very colourful dragonfly with a bright green appearance and will fly
in close to an observer often hovering while it checks you out, at rest there are two
characteristic bright green stripes on the thorax behind the eyes and the abdomen has paired
green spots that fuse into blue near the tip on the male.   
 
The Common Hawker is not as it’s name suggests ‘common’ in this area but prefers a
moorland habitat, however a small number are present and a single dragonfly was recorded
off  Whitegate Way not far from Marton Hole, probably originating from one of the few
patches of heathland nearby. Brown Hawkers are fairly common and well distributed, as their
name suggest they are predominantly brown on bodies and wings. The last and smallest of
the hawkers to appear is the Migrant Hawker and can be found on most pools and along the
Weaver, these tend to appear from late July onwards to autumn.

Another species which has been fairly numerous this time is the Emperor our largest
dragonfly with a green thorax and bluish abdomen. Locations include New Pool, Newbridge
Pool, Rookery Pool and Tommy’s Hole outlet stream. On one occasion whilst watching an
Emperor hunting over the stream a bright blue flash appeared across the water, another
dragonfly a male Broad-Bodied Chaser flew into its airspace which resulted in a mid-air
battle but was promptly seen off by the Emperor. One species that did surprise me was
finding Black-Tailed Skimmer on the Ocean, they tend to land on the bare ground of the
fishing pegs and when disturbed will return to a similar place to rest again. The three darter
species are also well distributed locally especially the Common and Ruddy Darter, the Black
is more confined to the Marton area. A distinguishing feature is that they tend to land with the
wings facing at a forward angle and will also return to the same resting place.

So as a summary for dragonfly sites they may appear anywhere around the waters we manage
but good weather is needed to see them consistently,  however trying to photograph them at
close quarters is another problem. A collection of pictures have been included for reference.

In the last article I mentioned the possibility of photographing some badgers in early summer,
just for the record I managed to find a sett locally with cubs and get some half decent images.
Located down by the Weaver within half a mile from the roundabout was a well used sett that
contained at least 3 cubs and 2 adults, however it was quite difficult to gain their confidence
to come to baited areas. Badgers have a really sweet tooth and a liking for peanuts which I
left out on numerous occasions in order for them to accept the food without fear of my
presence. Upon emerging from the sett they would immediately move off up the embankment
into the cover of brambles and search for food, earthworms etc. in the safety of the cover
before slowly coming back out into the open and moving onto the free food. Using a camera
mounted on a tripod fitted with a remote trigger I could control the shutter while sitting at a
safe distance up a tree. One point of note is that badgers can’t see red light therefore any light
was from a red LED head torch.

Over the course of about 2 months I managed to get some quite close views but they did seem
very sensitive to scent and disturbance which is unlike others that I’ve come across before
including one at about 1 metre away. Photos of both the cubs and an adult are included here.
 The cubs in particular were very playful and would play fight when feeding on the peanuts.
considering these images were taken in darkness they have worked out quite well.

The Ocean Pool is only about 5 minutes from where I live therefore it is place I tend to walk
around fairly often and as already mentioned is a good place to see wildlife throughout the
year. A bird sometimes encountered here in the early evening is the Little Owl which breeds
around the pool. These birds spend a fair amount of time on the ground and use the short
grass of the golf course when searching for food. The trees on the golf course make ideal
resting and viewing places for these birds that may be seen perched on one of the branches.
     A relatively small owl compared to our other british species with large eyes when seen up
close that will give itself away by a characteristic squeaky call. 

While on the subject of owls, the Tawny is probably the most frequently heard especially by
night anglers fishing near to wooded areas as they give a loud almost screeching call mixed
with the familiar hooting sound. These birds are common enough but not seen that often for
obvious reasons, they come out at night. Any wooded places should hold a Tawny Owl and
typical places are around the Top Flash, Rookery Pool, New Pool, River Weaver and
Tommy’s Hole. However they may also be found in urban places and I’ve seen them flying
near to the town centre late at night. The Top Flash and Kitchen Meadow areas actually hold
three of species of owl, the Little, Tawny and Barn Owl although the latter is probably the
most scarce, however it may be seen hunting on long summer evenings over open rough
ground or along hedgerows in search of mice, voles etc. Easily distinguished from the other
two by its white appearance and almost ghostly silent flight these birds can at times be very
curious and approach fairly closely. On one occasion whilst fishing for carp along the canal I
had a Barn Owl hovering over the rods while it checked out the glowing indicators just as the
light was fading. Little Owls use the fence posts and telegraph poles along the Top Flash
farm drive and can be seen sitting on these during the lighter evenings.

Gradually the summer days began to shorten and the nights lengthened again as the year
moved on towards autumn and winter again. But with this came the changes associated with
the latter half of the year and wildlife that can be seen at this time. Well documented in these
articles now is the arrival of winter thrushes Redwing and Fieldfare from Scandinavia, arrival
dates locally this year were 14th October for Redwing and 1st November for Fieldfare. They
mix in with other thrushes, quite often Mistle Thrush and move around the countryside in
large flocks feeding on farmland and it is possible to see all five thrushes including Song
Thrush and Blackbird together. One point to mention here is that there is quite a large
movement of birds through the year so birds classed as residents, Blackbird, Robin for
example, seen in the summer months may not be those that you are seeing in the winter.

Another farmland bird that has been quite numerous this winter is the Yellowhammer being
seen in groups of up to ten birds and often mixed in with other species such as Reed Bunting.
Hotspots for these have been around Marton and the bottom end of Grange Lane at the back
of Tommy’s Hole, they tend to gather where there is a good source of seed food. A smallish
bird about the size of a Chaffinch, the Yellowhammer has a distinctive song through the
spring and summer as it perches on top of a tree or bush which sounds like ‘A little bit of
bread and no cheeeese’. Skylarks too have been flocking together and groups of 20-30 birds
have been noticed.
The wildfowl moved back in with the regular Pochard and Goldeneye on the Bottom Flash
along with the odd Wigeon and Greylag Goose. Although not under our control Sandiway
Big Lake is good in the winter for wildfowl and maybe a dozen species can be spotted. From
October onwards there was also a Smew resident on there, another redhead, which may be
the same bird that was on Marton Hole through the summer months. Although rare,
especially for the Winsford area, it is no secret and since being posted on the internet has
attracted a lot of attention. It will be interesting to see if one is around this summer.

Another regular winter visitor which didn’t make an appearance before the year end is the
Brambling which favours areas with beech trees due to it’s liking for beech mast. Usually
these birds can start to show from the end of November and referring back to the last article
were first spotted in early January during 2014. It is worth looking around Church Wood near
to New Pool, they tend to flock in the tall trees there with other finches especially the
Chaffinches.
The winter is a good time to see flocks of smaller birds as they move around the countryside
in search of food. Mixed groups of Blue, Great, Coal and Long-tailed tits can be seen
regularly moving along the hedgerows or through trees often accompanied by our smallest
bird the Goldcrest. Look around any of our waters for this kind of activity, maybe it will
throw up something different like the odd Marsh Tit. If you are sat fishing and have a few
maggots spare scatter some around they usually attract birds such as Robins to come and
feed, especially if the ground is frozen and food is hard to come by. Places such as the
National Pool and along the Weaver Parkway with teasels are very attractive to Goldfinches
and can often be seen flocking around the National Pool car park.

Because we are used to seeing things in the environment above water it is easy to forget that
life is still going on beneath it. The larvae of the damselflies and dragonflies that will be
emerging this spring and summer are currently living under the water surface and some may
live there for two or more years before leaving the water for a short life span. A host of
aquatic life is around and that of course includes fish which like all other living things must
find food to survive. Fish will tend shoal up at this time of year for example at places like the
Red lion or between the bridges and predatory fish higher up the food chain will follow the
food source. Shoals of smaller fish such as Roach and Bream will attract predators such as
larger Perch or Pike, these in turn will attract us the anglers especially the specialist anglers.

Now onto our own project at New Pool with the small conservation pond. This has started to
progress and in mid December a digger was organised to dig out the basic pond shape, a big
thank you should be mentioned to Alan Speed for organising this. A separate web page will
be constructed to show developments here but briefly the next step is to line the pond and fill
it with water, then add pathways around and plant it out. Conservation is not the top priority
of anglers and everyone has a right to their own opinion but we do have a committed team of
people who are keen to look after the environment and do give up their spare time to attend
working parties. Without this commitment from a regular group of individuals it would be
difficult for the club to pursue its aims in managing our waters. As an organisation we rely on
our voluntary workers and this is important for developing projects in the future.

On a final note, please help us to look after the environment by respecting it yourselves
whether anglers or not. Take litter home, don’t leave it on the bankside and encourage others
to do the same. The image of our association is in our own hands so we need to keep it clean
and demonstrate that we are responsible in what we are doing. So enjoy your angling but
share a thought for the surroundings that you are in and leave them clean, let nature look after
itself without our interference.

Thank you.

Graham