Friday, 19 May 2017

Calling all wildlife explorers- it's time to bioblitz Port Sunlight River Park

Looking over mersey estuary from park

Wildlife experts say Port Sunlight River Park, converted from a landfill site and opened to the public in August 2014, is now ready for its first official biological recording.
The 70-acre park perched on the banks of the Mersey is owned by national land management charity the Land Trust and managed by Wirral charity Autism Together. It boasts panoramic views of the iconic Liverpool skyline, woodlands, wildflower meadows and a lake.
There are several opportunities for community members to be involved with bioblitz activities and learn about the wildlife at the park:
river park pond
  • On Friday 26 May official wildlife recorders will be checking the park for all signs of mammals, birds, bugs and plant life. Community members are welcome to work alongside them. Anyone interested should contact the park ranger.

  • That evening from 9pm the park will host a bat walk. Families will be given hand-held bat detectors which capture the calls made by different species of bats swooping around their heads and convert them into sounds humans can hear. This event costs £3 and must be booked in advance.

  • On Saturday 27 May wildlife walks will take place as part of May's month-long Wirral Walking Festival. A bird-themed walk at 9.30am will be followed by a wildflower walk at 10.30am, then a family fun nature walk from 1.30pm to 3pm. Wildlife experts will be on hand all day to teach community members about the species now living at the site and there will be family wildlife-themed activities from 10am to 4pm.
  • All staff and volunteers are all trained in autism awareness.

Autism Together park ranger, Anne Litherland, said, "In the early days of the park, when it was still finding its feet, it was hard to believe it could ever be an environmental success. But these days we regularly spot foxes, voles, shrews and rabbits living here amongst the lovely oxeye daisies and deciduous woods, dozens of species of birds around the lake and many different butterflies, moths and mini-beasts.
"Our bioblitz weekend will be a big step forward for us. We want to prove that, given care, even an old rubbish tip can become a beautiful wildlife haven. RECORD (Cheshire's biological recording service) will be collecting all the biological data and we look forward to sharing the results with the community. Our thanks Merseyside Environmental Trust for helping to fund the weekend's activities."
View of Liverpool's cathedrals from top of river park hill
Autism Together's bioblitz partners also include Wirral Wildlife, Cheshire Wildlife Trust, Chester Zoo and Friends of Ness Gardens.

Community members wanting to book places on the bat walk or find out more about the weekend's events should contact Anne on 07587 550060 or 

A little poem - a birding holiday with Heatherlea by Carole Lacey

Carole went bird-watching up in Aviemore
The scenery was lovely she couldn’t ask for more
Although it did seem chilly the sun it tried to shine
The hotel was warm and cosy and well stocked with wine
There was about 8 of us and much to our surprise
It included a man of 90 who was quite small in size
Although he was barely mobile he tried his very best
He knew a lot about the birds and kept up with the rest
One day we saw an eagle and little crested tits
And a flock of waxwings made us thrilled to bits
We saw a velvet scoter bobbing on the sea
And a lovely Crossbill high up in a tree
The days were quite intensive from 8 o’clock till seven
So when we sat down to supper we felt we were in heaven
But all in all the guides did well and taught us all they knew
So nice to be out bird watching and see a lovely view.

Aber Fab

Beautiful Aber

Another sunny Sunday and the group were back at Aber falls. Meeting in the lower car park we were met by dozens of house martins flying around the Aber falls cafe.
Peering over the bridge we found Mr.  Bobbity, bob, a dipper, back and forth to over the rocks, no doubt has a nest nearby.

Moving onto the higher car park we set off alongside the path that runs along the river, the Afon Rhaedr Fawr. Woodland, shrubs and grassy glades either side. We were aiming for the Aber waterfall; here the River Afon Goch plunges about 120 feet over a sill of rock, a view worth the trip alone. Once again we were reminded at how beautiful this place; is on a sunny day, stunning; bluebells carpeted the glades, hawthorn blossom gleaming white and intoxicating. No wonder the area attracts lots of day trippers and dog walkers. 

Birdsong hung in the air, blackcap and song thrush particularly lusty. Scanning through the shrubs and trees that line the river we also observed ,blackbird, dunnock, chaffinch, robin, great, blue and long tailed tit, to name a few. But some of us had come for finer prizes and we were rewarded when we caught sight of a popular spring migrant the spotted flycatchers.  
Redstart tree
Further along the path, an old tree with broken boughs held a secret, a sudden streak of red as the bird flew up into an adjacent tree, revealed a striking redstart a pleasure to watch. But we were not done as this tree held another, a treecreeper appeared, intent on finding some insect morsel.

Onwards. Arriving at the plunge pool, the recent rain had given the falls a boost, and the waters flowed a little faster over the rocky bottom; here a crafty grey wagtail plundered the riverbed. Here, we scoured the high ground and tops for raptors and cuckoos. Several buzzard and raven were espied but raptors seemed scarce, perhaps they knew what was coming, as from the heaven's a deluge ensued, well that was a bit of surprise especially for those without a coat!
Twenty minutes later rain clouds had passed and as stomachs rumbled, we strolled back to the car park picnic tables, checking for wood warblers along the way, sadly not found although we did see a great spotted woodpecker probing the trees were our redstart had been seen earlier...
As we ate, we were serenaded by a blackcap a rich, fluted warble whilst a sweet twittering siskin circled over head, lovely.

After lunch we had hoped to move to the car park that serves an open hilly area in the valley of the Afon Anafo.  Here we had observed ring ouzel and cuckoo in 2014. However the car park was jammed full, and we had to retreat.
Ah well plan B, a drive to RSPB Conwy for cake, coffee and for some a lot of plants. The reserve was holding a local plant fair event outside the visitor centre, lots of wildlife friendly plants of course. 
A little saunter around the back path of the reserve saw us still looking for wood warblers again... just not to be. However a magnificent punk haired red breasted merganser and a lesser whitethroat proved to be worthy compensation 

A long day started well and promised more but the weather and day trippers got the better of us.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Seaforth Nature Reserve, a hidden Gem

Lagoons, Seaforth Nature Reserve  L Bmson

It's been many years since our group visited the Seaforth nature reserve. Covering an area of 30ha the reserve is situated within the north end of the Bootle docks system, at the mouth of the Mersey. Comprising of two lagoons, one freshwater and the other saltwater, surrounded by land formed by tipped infill now rabbit-grazed grassland, and a small reed bed. Three hides are located by the freshwater lagoon.

A magnet for many species the reserve is a major roosting site for waders and seabirds and ducks in winter; and nationally important for spring passage Little Gulls. Wader roosts form 2-3 hours before high tide, so we coincided or trip with the tides approach. 
Swift J Binks
Arriving at the car park at Crosby marine lake (our meet up point) our first sighting was a swift flying in over the lake, a welcome harbinger of spring, newly arrived from its long migration. This was the first of our migrants for the day and a very good omen it turned out to be.
The reserve itself is a tadge difficult to locate, nestled in the dock complex and its maze of units. Entrance to the reserve is by yearly permit £20 from Peel ports,  if you have a permit you just arrive at the docks, show your pass at the gate and go into the reserve. As this reserve is leased and maintained by the Lancashire wildlife trust you should really be a member of the trust (Join your local Wildlife Trust | The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside) and you may be asked to present your membership card when applying for the permit. Reserve manager Fiona Whitfield 0151 9203769

The first thing you notice as you drive through the complex is it’s a dump! Industrial waste littered about, fortunately the reserve is better looked after. The second thing you should notice as you enter the reserve is the recently completed tern rafts by the trust offices, ready to be placed on the lagoons for the returning common terns. The reserve has a breeding colony of between 150-180 pairs of common terns and is one of the largest in the north of England. 
What a racket, we are greeted by a cacophony of calling gulls, intermingled with wader peeps and duck whistles and babbles. What a fabulous place this is, sensory heaven. 
We situated ourselves in the main hide, and by the wooden screens either side. Our group was comprised of new birders and experienced birding stalwarts, it wasn't long before bird species seen were being reeled off, complete with informative identifying factors and other bird insights. 
Oystercatchers, geese and gulls on grassy banks  N Prendergast
Shelduck, godwit,canada goose,wagtail   L Bimson
On the lagoons we found ducks such as tufted, teal, goldeneye, shelduck and mallard. On the grassy banks, two flighty, twittering linnets foraged for small seeds. Large numbers of oystercatchers huddled and gulls squabbled - black-headed, common, herring, lesser and great black-backed. On the shoreline a large group of cormorants, which roost on the reserve daily, sun bathed, whilst a   mute swan snoozed the morning away. Other guests, Canadian geese, lapwings, redshank, godwits and a flamboyant ruff re-fueled or just took time out.

Little ringed plover   N Prendergast
Little ringed plover nest  N Prendergast

Knot and turnstone buddies   L Bimson
To the left of the hide on a narrow spit, we were delighted to find a diminutive pair of little ringed plovers raking through the shingle. Turned out these little clockwork dynamos had a nest a little further back on the shore. Wonder what their chances are with all those predatory gulls about...mmh. 

Moving to the right of the hide another spit had a knot hanging out with a turnstone, or so it seemed, as they stayed close for all the time we were there. They were visited briefly by a common sandpiper and a white wagtail. 

White wagtail  N Prendergast

The arrival of two whimbrel landing on the causeway spit, created a stir and a discussion ensued on the differences between them and their larger cousin’s curlew.  (Excellent BTO video -    BTO Bird ID - Curlew and Whimbrel ) Easily spooked they didn't stay long, calling as the fled, a loud, rolling twitter. (XC301139 Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) ) Wonderful.
Whimbrel   N Prendergast

Another call of note alerted us to another surprise rare visitor to the reserve, a spotted redshank   (

Black and bar tailed godwits  L Bimson

Several black tailed godwits were already on the reserve on our arrival, another chance for an id lesson came when 3 bar tailed godwits arrived, smaller with their upturned bill, splendid in their stunning summer plumage (

A little flock of wheeling dunlin came in as with the tide, making 'shapes' as they circled the lagoon before landing on the shoreline, their summer plumage little black bellies obvious.

Perhaps not one we expect to see here was a raven, spotted high flying over the northern end of the reserve. 

Without a shadow of a doubt the terns that dropped into the reserve during our visit made our day. It appears we were fortunate that on the day of our visit the wind direction had changed to a south easterly and this meteorological shift brought in a large fall of terns to our shores.
Black tern  N Prendergast
When the first black tern turned up at 11.10am a commotion erupted, twenty one birders dashing out the hide for a better view. Little did we know that by the end of the day an astonishing twenty four will have arrived, taking a break from their migration from Africa to their European breeding grounds such as Finland. What fantastic birds these little terns are, with their distinctive black head, swooping over the lagoons, dipping the surface for insects.  

Terns in flight  J Binks
Seventeen sandwich terns gracefully winged in along with the Common terns, some alighted on the shore and gave us yet another id lesson, larger with their distinctive black head crest 

Sandwich and common terns  J Binks

Last but not least worthy of a mention was the little gull, a popular spring migrant to the reserve. This feisty endearing gull thoroughly entertained us with his antics; little but full of character, hyper-active, tern imitator and not afraid to take on bigger birds, at one point our bird appeared to be having a flying face off with an oystercatcher!

Little gull  N Prendergast
Little Gull and Common Tern   L Bimson

Bird list
Swift, house martin, sand martin, swallow, starling, magpie, wheatear, linnet, reed bunting, house sparrow, yellow wagtail, pied wagtail, white wagtail, cormorant, little ringed plover, mute swan, Canada goose , greylag goose, heron, whimbrel,  knot, turnstone, dunlin, redshank, spotted redshank, oystercatcher, ruff, black tailed, bar tailed godwit, teal, tufted duck, goldeneye, mallard,  shelduck, g.c grebe, herring, little, black headed, lesser black backed, gtr black backed gulls, sandwich tern, common tern, black tern, crow, raven.

Have your say……

“I too loved the Black terns not least because we had seen so many in Romania and it was amazing to see the same species on home ground.  Another 'ooh' moment for me was when the 2 whimbrel took flight and called with their lovely 7 syllable 'pee'.”   Dr Jenny Jones

Great idea to get various perspectives on the day.
Day started off with an almost military operation in a choreographed convoy through the security checkpoint. Our leader, Chris, negotiated any visa issues with pin point precision. So we were all in safely without any losses. 
Once settled by the reserve, the day just got better and better.  Being a complete novice I was in awe of the many experts in the group. They made me feel very welcome and taught me so much. I had never heard of half of the birds present so that was a fantastic bonus. 
Can't wait for the next time. Thanks to everyone for a great day.”   Paul Cunningham

“It was a great day! I learned a lot from the group, much more than I could ever do alone. I can now spot the difference between sandwich and common terns and black and bar-tailed godwits. I got to see the similar species next to each other, and hear from the experts what the key id points were in flight and on the ground. Seeing the increasing numbers of amazing black terns was a big highlight!”  Jennie Geddes

Black Terns  L Bimson