Dr Phil Smith’s Wildlife Notes
January 2010

The Met. Office tells us that December/January was the coldest winter period since 1981/82, when I recollect huge ice-flows were washed up at Formby Point.  There was nothing like that this winter but the weather did have effects on our wildlife.  There were several reports of Woodcock turning up in odd places and Dot Jones sent me a superb photo of one in her Huyton garden, taken through a patio window on a mobile phone!  Flocks of winter thrushes, mainly Fieldfare and  Redwing, were also on the move with 2000+ reported flying south at Fisherman’s Path on 9th.  Dave Hardaker drew my attention to a flock of Skylarks on a field next to Liverpool Road, Formby.  I counted 1200 there on 10th, feeding on a strip of unharvested wheat, while Graham Clarkson recorded 1780 Skylarks at Crossens Marsh the following day.  These are amongst the largest gatherings of this nationally declining species seen in our region for many years.  On 7th, Catherine Highfield spotted two Jack Snipe and two Little Egrets on an unfrozen dyke on the otherwise icy Freshfield Dune Heath.  Much rarer was the Black-necked Grebe that spent several days on Crosby Marine at the beginning of the month.

Woodcock in Garden-(Dot-Jones)

Another apparent weather casualty was a Bittern which delighted watchers during the week or more it spent on the saltmarsh near the coast road at Marshside.  This area also provided good views of Hen Harrier (up to two males and a female), Short-eared Owls (I saw four, but as many as 10 were recorded), Merlins, Sparrowhawks and Peregrines.  Fellow-travellers with the Pinkfooted Geese feeding here included two Greenland Whitefronts, several Barnacle Geese and a Brent.  Elsewhere, I had great views from the car of 4200 Pinkfeet at Downholland Moss on 1st but couldn’t find any other goose species with them.  The same day produced 550 Whooper Swans on Halsall Moss, again close to the road, a high-tide roost of 3000 Oystercatchers on Ainsdale beach and a Short-eared Owl nearby.  Another large flock was the 5500 Wood Pigeons feeding on a rape crop at Altcar Withins on 16th.  I don’t think these would have been popular with the farmer!

Pinkfooted Geese

As usual, Sands Lake at Ainsdale attracted lots of duck, my peak counts being 230 Tufted Ducks on 22nd and 53 Shovelers on 4th, on which date the lake was almost completely frozen.  I was also delighted to beat my all-time record for Coot at Southport Marine Lake, 1428 being present with 108 Mute Swans on 26th.  A female Red-crested Pochard there from 18th attracted some attention, but its tameness strongly suggests an escape from a waterfowl collection rather that a genuine wild bird from southern Europe.

In hard winters, feeding birds in the garden is thought to help their survival.  Local bird-ringer, Ian Wolfenden, tells me that, of a sample of more than 20 birds trapped in his Crosby garden at the height of the freeze, all but one skinny Robin were plump and healthy.  Evidently, they were being well-fed.