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Wednesday, 4 January 2012

2011's northern finale

I usually visit my family up in Manchester with my mum and dad each New Year - apart from last year we've done it each and every New Year that I can remember. Anyway, I spent some time birding up there this time - as usual - including a couple of trips with Liam Langley whom I met on Scilly.

On Friday 30th, the day after arriving I met Liam at Pennington Flash. I am a true fan of this site, even though I've never seen anything particularly fantastic there. As an inland birder it really appeals to me as a site that presents a unique, and I'm sure productive in spring and autumn, environment to find birds in. The weather was pretty naff but we only saw a couple of Willow Tits, a Goosander, lots of Goldeneyes and a few Common Snipe. Sounds like a bit of an anticlimax but I very rarely see Willow Tit and the other two birds are waterbirds so are great rarities for me.

The next day my parents kindly took us to Martin Mere and Marshside RSPB. We failed to see the Green-winged Teal at Martin Mere but were treated to the sight of numerous wildfowl including Whooper Swans and Pink-footed Geese. While we were having a last check of the teals a first-winter Hen Harrier gave a brilliant performance over the wetland, with a couple of Marsh Harriers and Ravens not far away. I was impressed by the area of wilderness at Marshside and the number of birds present; flocks of Golden Plovers and Black-tailed Godwits enlivened the rolling, heavy sky along with swarms of Starlings. Wildfowl numbers were pretty good here, too - a flock of about a dozen White-fronted Geese being the pick of the mix. A female Merlin saw the year out.

Raven and Marsh Harrier at Martin Mere

New Year's Day, Sunday, and I was ready to head to Chorlton Water Park, Liam's patch, but he was snookered after a New Year do, and my family was running late so I took a leisurely trip to Pennington Flash. Finally connecting with the drake Scaup was the highlight and I saw Willow Tits and a Goosander again. I moved on to another site (secret) after lunch - I'd never been there before, quite a nice gaff - where I was pleased to see a "top secret duck" amongst other common wildfowl.

Scaup at Pennington Flash
***** duck in hiding

Monday I slept in, I was exhausted from being forced to try to be sociable with relatives and had more to come later in the day before a longish journey home. When I awoke I debated whether to have a brief trip to Pennington, or a look at the water body I spotted on Google Maps a five minute walk from my gran's. Being experimental and groundbreaking, I drove (yes, I did) to the site and was amazed at the inland birding wonderland that lay before me. Blackleach Country Park, containing Blackleach Reservoir. There were lots of people and lots of dogs but they would make any local patcher's finds there even more rewarding when they came about. It had great habitat, was a pretty big lake and fringed with reeds, shrubs and woodland. I was so glad I went there, I'll certainly be taking it up as a Manchester patch. In that one isolated trip I found what I have researched to be site notables, including a pair of Ravens, a pair of Gadwall and a winter Chiffchaff. There is a guy who watches it quite a bit and he's had things like Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Green Sandpiper, Red-crested Pochard, Little Ringed Plover, Whooper Swan, Whinchat, Wheatear, Willow Tit and Pink-footed Goose there.

Blackleach Reservoir, in Blackleach Country Park
Raven at Blackleach
I've got some shots of Willow Tits and things that I'll add later