Last summer was a special one for me as I was able to fulfil a long held dream of photographing white tailed sea eagles in their native territory, north of the Arctic Circle in Northern Norway. I had first travelled to this region in 1959 as a member of a British Schools Exploring Society Expedition, and had spotted several these magnificent birds, but with my simple camera, an” Ilford Sportsman”, been unable to photograph them. This area of Northern Norway and Sweden that we had explored is now a World Heritage Site, the home of the Sami people, who are nomadic reindeer herders. The particular sector I was working in was the beautiful but remote Sarek National Park, and during our stay I was privileged to witness both the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights, and one of the first Russian Sputnik space capsules crossing the sky towards the nearby Russian Space Centre.
In June 2015 we travelled by “Hurtigruten” the working boats that ply their trade along the Norwegian Coast, and whilst north of the Lofoten Islands, within the Arctic Circle had transferred to a smaller vessel to explore the land of the sea eagle. As we entered the majestic Trollfjord, with high snow covered mountains all around us, we saw our first pair of eagles. The captain and crew had located the pair, and the noise of feeding herring gulls attracted the eagles towards our boat. These huge birds then swooped to within a short distance of us giving us really spectacular views. Their wingspan is over seven feet, the largest of European raptors, and with their brown body plumage and distinctive white tails were just wonderful to watch, as they soared in the clear skies above our head.
Fish were thrown into the fjord in front of the boat, and with their huge talons fully extended, the eagles swept down into the water picking up the fish in one splashing movement, before heading off to eat it in the lofty heights of this magnificent landscape. During the next hour we saw another six pairs at least of these superb creatures, as they circled around on thermals high above us. They continued to circle as we progressed through the fjord, and would after giving a loud scream, plummet into the deep waters ahead of us, and attempt to catch yet another unsuspecting fish. It was a really memorable occasion, and we were able to share this superb experience with new friends, and in the first bright summer sunshine that we had experienced on our 12 day journey. Our fishing boat then sailed on towards the delightful fishing port of Svolvaer in Lofoten, to enable us to meet our tour ship “M.S. Lofoten” the oldest and pride of the present” Hurtigruten fleet”. Here, in the magnificent setting of this historic town surrounded by high snow covered mountains, and a calm sea, we experienced the midnight sun in all its glory, walking around the streets at 11.00pm as if it was mid-day on a warm summers day in Chester.
MS Lofoten in Trollfjord
I’m sure that many of you took part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch for 2016 held at the end of January. Sadly the weather didn’t play its part so numbers of species seen, seem to be down from information I’ve been sent. The star bird in our area seems to have been a redpoll(s), which were seen in several areas of the village. Long tailed tits were really numerous during the last week in January with parties of up to fifty birds flying around. Both blue and great tits are easily recognisable to most people, but the smaller coal tit with its black cap and white stripe over its head is occasionally confused with the male black cap. Male & female black caps were recorded, and I had several reports of goldcrests, a tiny bird even smaller than a wren being seen. We have three active robins who seem quite at home with each other in our garden and good numbers of both house sparrows and dunnock.
Flocks of starlings seemed to be relatively scarce this year, although several individuals appear daily to feed on our variety of fatball /fat feeders. Magpies and moorhens also find the same fat feeders to their taste. The moorhens have even developed a strategy of pivoting on one leg and stretching high with their beak to reach the food.
Goldfinches can be seen and heard in great parties, babbling their calls from the treetops or hedgerows, often competing for a place on the bird table with great & blue tits. I suspect that there are fewer wrens around this year, except at Hockenhull where they are plentiful.
Blackbirds and song thrushes are already staking their territorial claims by singing from 5.00am, as are robins who are quite happy to sing near sodium street lights at any hour.
The main cause for concern for many of us, are the increasing numbers of sparrowhawks being reported seen in local gardens. Their increased appearance must be having a knock on effect on the numbers of the small bird population we see, although I suspect it’s the warmer wetter weather that is keeping the birds feeding much longer in the fields and hedgerows. Redwing and fieldfare have just not appeared in huge numbers this year, although there area small parties about. Owls have been heard and seen recently which is much earlier than we might expect, but the seasons do seem to be changing, and during a recent long journey I saw four young fox cubs, two baby badgers and a pole cat, all lying dead at the side of the road. With spring flowers out in December and early January, and even roses in flower odd things seem to be happening to our seasons.
Goldfinch and Coal Tit
It seems that if you look up in the sky at any time in the Christleton Parish, you are almost certain to see and/or hear birds of prey. Buzzards seem to be very active at present, with sometimes as many as four or five in the air at the same time. This is probably a family from last breeding season, that has not yet dispersed. Twenty five years ago there were no buzzards in the area, but things have changed dramatically, and we can see and hear these birds virtually every day along the canal at Rowton. Their mew-like call, as they circle looking for thermal,s is a clear giveaway, but they can also be heard calling as they perhaps dispute territory. You might also see them being mobbed by crows or jackdaws.
I’m convinced that kestrels are making a real recovery, with more birds being sighted, sitting on telephone wires, telegraph posts, or just hovering above a road on the grass verge. I had one posing for me in a tree from twenty feet or so a week ago. This is quite unusual as they tend to fly when you approach. Sleek sparrowhawks are very common in and around the village, and frequently come into gardens hunting for smaller birds that might be feeding on feeder or bird tables. They slip silently into position, sitting on fences waiting for the unsuspecting smaller birds to start feeding, before they strike. They often catching their small prey in flight, before finding a suitable spot to land, pluck the feathers off their prey and start feeding. Neat piles of feathers remain as the only evidence of their meal.
Red kites are still being reported seen flying over Rowton, Christleton and Vicars Cross, whilst a peregrine was recently (March 3rd) seen in Boughton, and another taking a lapwing from a flock of 400+ flying over Hockenhull Platts.(Feb 10th) The relatively mild winter has seen barn owls flying in January, and tawny and little owls reported regularly since the beginning of the year.
The annual spring migration of our bird species is now well underway in the Parish, with the first arrivals appearing in late March. Sand martins were the first to be seen, feeding over the new lake at Hockenhull, and the trees on either side of the footpath through the reserve were alive with singing chiff chaff. I estimate that at least ten singing males were present that day, but some have now moved on. The green woodpecker heard on April 3rd was possibly a bird passing through, but the three or four greater spotted woodpeckers that are drumming noisily in the poplar plantation at present, are resident. A lone wheatear seen on the big meadow in April is almost certainly a passage bird, following the Gowy as a flyway to moors and mountainous areas further north in the UK. The first swallows have reached us and will soon take up residence in the village, often in nests used in previous years. I find it staggering that these tiny birds can fly thousands of hazardous miles each year across land (including mountains & deserts) and sea, and yet arrive back at their old nest site year after year. House martins normally arrive later and they too have similar nesting preferences, although their habit of depositing large amount of droppings directly onto windowsills and doorways doesn’t make them popular with everyone. Swifts which arrive early in May are much more secretive, and nest in house roofs, getting access into particular eaves almost secretly. These birds are just amazing because every part of their lives apart from laying & incubating eggs takes place in the air. They scream in the skies over the central part of the village as they catch their insect prey, and are easily recognisable with their sickle shaped wings and their dense black colour.
Within the next few days sedge warblers with their white eye stripe and distinctive “zizz” like call will be seen in the reed beds, and will probably be accompanied by several rather dull looking, brown grasshopper warblers, which despite their “dull” appearance have a wonderful fishing reel-like call. They are best heard in early morning or late evening, but can often be heard singing in wet, damp conditions. During the last two years the larger and rarer reed warbler has also been heard near the “bridges”, so it is well worth spending time there listening out for them. Sadly the evocative and elusive cuckoo does seem to have deserted us, and was last seen and heard at Hockenhull four years ago. A friend did hear one at Bickerton Hill last spring, but that is the nearest to the village that I’ve heard of.
I’m pleased to report that spotted flycatchers, also spring migrants, and once very common in the village, which have been absent for a number of years, have now started breeding again in the poplar plantation. These tiny insect feeders can best be seen, darting up into the sky, catching an insect or two, and then landing on the same branch from which they took off, to feed. The spotted flycatchers at Hockenhull are currently using an old damaged nest box, but they can also nest in tree holes. When the late great Les George was Headteacher at Christleton High School, a pair regularly nested in a drainpipe outside his office window. This was always a good talking point when we met!. On another occasion in the 1980’s whilst the annual St James’ Flower Service was taking place, a pair of spotted flycatchers spent time feeding from gravestones near the church porch,
The spring migration is always a good time to see birds, as it occurs before the full canopy of leaves cover the trees. So look up at the trees, or into the sky from time to time, and see and listen to the song of some amazing creatures that fly such vast distances, and yet return year after year, to give so much pleasure.
PS. As I write these notes news has reached me that our village swans are nesting again on a canal side garden and that the first eggs have been laid.
Green Spotted Woodpecker
Swallow Family Pair
The relatively warm winter followed by a cold wet spring, seems to have been the right conditions to bring out the best show of spring flowers. From early April our road verges, canal, river banks and meadows have been full of shining bright yellow flowers, with tens of thousands of celandines, dandelions, and now cowslips. The wet meadows and ditches are ablaze with king cups (marsh marigolds) soon to be followed by the tall stems of yellow flag iris. Lady smock, also know as the cuckoo or May flower has been showing since mid April, and as I write the first stems of pink campion and ragged robin are appearing. The colour of blossom on the trees seems more intense than ever, and hawthorn and cherry blossom are in profusion. One of the best shows of flowers I’ve seen locally, are the blue bells at Burton Mere wetland, just along the Wirral. The colour and depth of bluebells is just amazing and wonderful to see.
Locally our birdlife has more than met expectations, with many more migrant warblers than usual. There are good numbers of chiff chaff, black cap and sedge warblers, even willow warblers have made an appearance, the first for many years. The first sand martins and swallows were seen in mid April, followed by fewer house martins. Four swifts were first seen on May 1st, earlier than usual in the area, but the highlight has been the appearance of a short-eared owl which has been present at Hockenhull for at least two weeks, one of several seen in the Gowy corridor this spring. I had the wonderful experience of seeing three barn owls and the short eared owl flying one evening whilst I was listening to a tawny owl hooting in the poplar plantation.
Butterflies have been scarce in the wet and cold conditions of April, but small tortoishell, comma, peacock, orange tip and brimstone were all seen flying in Quarry Lane, at the bend with Faulkners Lane on a warm Sunday afternoon in mid April.
Our Christleton swans, nesting on a canal bank garden again this spring, are reported to be sitting on 9 eggs, so if all goes well we should have the excitement of a good number of cygnets hatching in mid to late May.
Christleton Swan 2016 Cygnets
Early Purple Orchid
Godwits at Burton Meres
Godwits in Hailstones
Great Crested Grebe
Early Purple Orchid
This month has been a good one to take a camera into the countryside. Our early migrants could be seen easily as they arrived before most hedgerows and trees were in leaf, enabling me to get excellent close up shots as in this example of a chiff chaff.
I had similar good luck in getting shots of the male reed bunting and stone chat. My last visit to Burton Meres on Wirral a few weeks ago was the best ever, as there were large numbers of wading birds in view, perhaps 50 avocets, 400+ black tailed godwits being the most memorable sightings. I was also caught in a sudden hailstorm out near the big scrape had wonderful close up views of a group of bar tailed godwits facing the storm, and when it cleared, really close up views of a dabchick (little grebe) foraging near the hide. I have also had several good close up sightings of the colourful great crested grebe this spring, which together with the kingfisher, must be the most spectacular looking of our fish eating species.
Kingfishers can be seen almost daily along the canal at Christleton, usually between Rowton Bridge and The Ring Road Lock. They are much smaller than you would probably think, but the vivid iridescent colour of their bodies as they flash over the water is wonderful to see. They also have a sharp piping call, and fly very low over the water. The one photographed was seen at several points along the canal, first at Rowton Bridge, and then at Quarry Bridge, where it is seen sitting on a stone mushroom in the garden near the turning circle for narrowboats.
Just beyond this point our Christleton swans, ringed green CB S7/S8 have produced 5cygnets, although as I write there are four eggs still intact in the nest. The first cygnet was born on Wednesday 18th May, a very early date for the Christleton pair, with the others following over the next two days. This is itself unusual as normally all the eggs hatch out within a 24hour period. I now suspect that the other four eggs will be infertile. However I am delighted that we have five healthy cygnets, as the Christleton pair are only one of three known pairs, breeding in the Chester area. Our cob*, is now over twenty five years old, and although his movement is severely restricted by arthritis, he is still just about able to climb up onto a canal side garden, where a local family have kindly helped by loaning out their garden for three months, and assisting the pair with material for nest building.
*CBS7 was first ringed in 1994 at the Groves as a young swan, probably over three years old. He arrived at Christleton Pit in 1997 with mate TOV. He has subsequently also mated with C175 re ringed as CBS8 and his present pen. Together these pairs have produced 119eggs, with 102 cygnets being born. 70 of these have survived to the September of the year in which they were born, when in most cases they begin to leave their parents, and fly to sites all over the UK. Christleton cygnets have been recorded at Fairbourne Ings in Yorkshire, Glasgow, Kensington Palace Gardens, Slimbridge and Plymouth. We have a proud record at Christleton, with one of the best cygnet survival rates in the UK, approx 62%.
Christleton Pit & Canal Pairs since 1990.
Eggs laid 171 Cygnets hatched 142 Cygnets survived until September; 105
Chester swans seen in Ireland 1980's
Swan Ringing Caernarvon
Swans walking through Christleton
The main species of swan that we see in Britain are Mute Swans. Evidence has been found to suggest that they have been around in the UK for thousands of years. Many were kept as birds for the table, in hospital grounds, and at Monasteries such as at Abbotsbury in Dorset where the monks established a colony over 900 years ago. Mute swans were marked on their bills to indicate their ownership. All unmarked swans then became the property of the Queen. The swans at Abbotsbury have one other interesting feature, in that over the years the swans have become non territorial and live together on the water called The Fleet. They also nest side by side with each other on nests provided for them by the “swan herd”. All other swans including those at Christleton are highly territorial and do not allow other swans in on their area.
The Worshipful Companies of Vintners and Dyers also still have the right to mark their swans and this takes place in the famous ceremony of Swan – upping each July on the River Thames. Today metal, and often additional coloured plastic rings are put on swans’ legs to indicate ownership, or place of ringing, such as at Christleton. Swans in Cheshire have green coloured rings with white letters and numbers. Swans from other parts of the UK have coloured leg rings such as yellow for Staffordshire, orange for Warwickshire, and blue for Lancashire. This enables researchers to follow the movement of swans throughout the country and sometimes overseas. Swans from the Chester area have been seen in Northern & Southern Ireland, Scotland, Northern England, Shropshire, Gloucestershire, Devon and recently one was seen at Kensington Palace Gardens in London.
Swans are long lived, our Christleton cob is over 25 years old, and will mate for life if things go right, but as in the human world, it often doesn’t. Although they can be very belligerent, and liable to attack dogs, and man, if they get too close. This is especially so if they are protecting cygnets. They are wonderful parents, and we’ve seen some amazing sights, including the pen having all eight cygnets sitting under her wings on her back, or shepherding the cygnets carefully through our village to get to the canal from the Pit. They are also very intelligent, can identify safe places to feed, and people to trust. Our cob has been unable to walk properly or fly for the last three years, due to an arthritic hip, and instinct has told him to stay on the canal to breed, and not make the hazardous journey through the village. Finding a village family who provide the facilities for a nest site in a corner of their garden, he has even got on famously with their dog, and they seem to get on wonderfully. However any other dog seen to come close to the swan family near the canal will get the “hissing and very angry” treatment.
Swans have long been one of the traditions of the village of Christleton, being seen first as marks in a wax seal, made by villagers purchasing a new church building in 1737. Almost all village organisations have adopted the swan as their emblem, and we are all very proud of this. Although we no longer have swans on “The Pit” they are still very much part of the village being on the canal. This year we have five healthy cygnets, although one did disappear down the sluice near the lock a week or so ago and had to be rescued by the RSPCA. They are still all safely together and can be seen roosting on the bank opposite the Trooper most evenings and moving along the canal between Christeton Lock and Waverton during the day.
Common Spotted Orchids
Great Spotted Woodpeckers
Short Eared Owl
I can report a wonderful year for birds, particularly warblers and owls, at the Hockenhull Platts reserve. Chiff chaff, black cap, whitethroat, sedge and reed warblers have been prolific and there have been at least two nests of rare spotted flycatchers. We have had at least five singing song thrushes again indicating a very good breeding season, and on Sunday 31st July, ten mistle thrushes including juveniles were counted feeding on short grass. There were at least five great spotted woodpeckers giving alarm calls in early spring and we saw evidence of breeding with young being fed from a nest hole close to the reserve footpath. There was also a sighting of a pair of lesser spotted woodpeckers as well as a single sighting of a green woodpecker. Barn, tawny and short eared owls have been seen regularly, the short eared owl being particularly welcome as it stayed for at least four weeks. Buzzards have bred on at least two nest sites, and over flying sparrowhawks and kestrels being joined by both hobby and peregrine. Three kingfishers were seen at the same time recently again indicating a good breeding season. Little grebes (dabchick) have done well, but the great crested grebe pair’s nest was swamped by wave action in May. I also saw a family of 2 female and 27 juvenile tufted ducks on the Gowy in mid July, swimming along together in what appeared to be an organised family crèche. A maximum number of seven common and one jack snipe were present through the winter but sadly didn’t stay to breed.
Our otters seem to have moved away from the artificial holt on the Gowy, but there have been two recent sightings, and a spraint seen near the middle bridge, to indicate they are not too far away. There have also been regular sightings of brown hare, and an occasional one of a weasel.
Wild flowers, rushes and grasses have all benefited from the warm wet summer, and following the grazing of the wet meadow by six delightful redpoll cattle, about sixty common spotted and two early purple orchids were seen. Some meadow flowers such as ragged robin, lady smock and marsh marigold, seem to have lost out to the dramatic growth of reeds, grasses and rushes, which in some cases have reached an unprecedented 2m in height. Dragonflies such as the brown and southern hawkers have been displaying well, together with good numbers of common darters. The beautiful banded agrion damselflies have again been prolific and there have been good numbers of common blue and blue tailed damselflies, and three sightings of large red damselflies which seems to indicate, that they have established a breeding group at The Platts.
Despite the success of all the above, the bad news is that there have been only a handful of butterflies to record. There have been plenty of both large and small whites, but only a few gatekeepers, small tortoishells, meadow browns, speckled woods, comma, and just single sightings of purple hairstreak, small skipper, holly blue, painted lady, peacock and red admiral. I guess that the wet conditions haven’t been conducive to these delicate insects breeding and staying on the site.
Hockenhull is a fascinating reserve with lots to offer. However it is a fairly fragile environment, and this summer has been the wettest season I can remember. I am happy to show people around the reserve, which is best seen in spring and early summer. If you are interested please get in touch with me through the website.
Green Veined White
This question has been asked more and more this summer, as fewer and fewer butterflies have been seen. The Butterfly Conservation movement has even made a national appeal for people to report sightings of any small tortoishell butterflies they see. The small tortoishell was once one of our most common species, and this year has seen numbers in steep decline all over the country. We have had a few sightings in Christleton, particularly in the churchyard and in Quarry Lane, but even buddleia bushes this year have failed to attract butterflies in numbers, apart from large and small whites, which seem to be numerous everywhere. It’s the more colourful species that have been missing, although the warm sunshine of the last few weeks has brought some excellent sightings, of peacock, red admiral and painted ladies.
We started off the season well in the village with orange tip, male and female brimstone being seen. There were fewer orange tips than usual, but the season had only just started so there was promise of more to come. The warm wet conditions however don’t seem to have helped our butterflies, with only the occasional sightings of common and holly blue along the canal.
As we moved into summer, commas were the most plentiful, but it was well into July when species like gatekeeper, meadow brown, small skipper and speckled woods were seen, but again these were well down in numbers. Wall brown were once common at Hockenhull, but haven’t been recorded there for ten years or so, but I was lucky to be able to see and photograph a single specimen at South Stack on Anglesey last week.
It was also on Anglesey at Llandwyn Island off Newborough where we had sightings of the most numerous butterflies this late summer. Common blues, small tortoishell, peacock, red admiral and painted ladies were all present, no doubt enjoying the warm sunshine. Painted ladies are one of the most colourful of our butterflies, and have a migratory journey second only to the Monarch butterflies of North America. Painted ladies can be seen in most years, but on occasions great eruptions take place, when millions arrive in the UK coming across the English Channel from the continent. That, however, tells only part of the story because this species initially breeds in Morocco, and the progeny then cross the straits of Gibraltar. They find a suitable breeding site and after successful emergence, their young fly on across Spain and France to the UK, usually being seen in July/August. This year only small numbers have arrived, but they have helped brighten a very dispiriting year for butterfly watchers. Why are there so few butterflies? No one really has any clear answers, but combined with the fact that there are fewer midges, mosquito’s, wasps, bees and other insects around, maybe something more dramatic is taking place and we have yet to fully see the consequences.
The photographs that illustrate this article were almost all taken locally, in the churchyard, on Quarry Lane, along the canal at Rowton or at Hockenhull Platts. The exceptions are the wall brown (Anglesey) and small copper (Burton Meres).
Swallows and Martins
Swans and Cygnets
This is the month when we finally say goodbye to the swallows and house martins that have been with us in the village since April. These tiny creatures arrive almost as the sign of spring these days, following the demise of the legendary cuckoo. I’ve only had one local report this year, when a cuckoo was heard near Haslin Crecent. Both swallows and martins gathered on telegraph posts much earlier than usual, but good numbers of martins could still be seen at the beginning of October. A single swallow was seen feeding at the Pit, also in October. A heron and cormorant are regular visitors to the Pit indicating that there are plenty of small fish available to feed from. Local birdwatchers have been thrilled to see at least thirteen magnificent spoonbills at Burton Meres RSPB Reserve during the late summer. They have large spoon like bills making them easy to identify, although they can often be seen alongside little egrets which are also white in colour, but are slightly smaller, and have a much narrower pointed, dagger like bill.
A single male teal is one of the first autumn migrants to arrive at Hockenhull Platts, but a passing red kite was also seen there, hovering only just above tree top height in early September. This makes five sightings this year for this elegant bird of prey. The barn owlets have now been ringed and there have been 4 individuals from three boxes, an average year. Our family of swans on the canal are now breaking up, with the four surviving cygnets being encouraged to fly. One early attempt at take off from the canal at Waverton resulted in a cygnet crash landing on the road at Egg Bridge. It was rescued by local people and taken off to Stapeley Grange RSPB Centre for examination. When it recovers, it will be returned to the canal in this area. There are now only two breeding pairs of swans in the Chester area, and we have one of them.
Late butterflies seen in the village, have included a bright yellow male brimstone, which came close to sitting on a wheel barrow being used by a working party of the Pit Group. Newly emerged comma’s and red admiral’s have been a welcome sight, after such a dismal summer for butterflies everywhere. I’m also delighted to report that there have been at least six sightings of hedgehogs in the village, and at Rowton, a good indication that perhaps we have turned the corner and a few more are breeding and surviving locally. Several badgers have been found dead in our lanes, and I spotted a newly dug toilet pit with fresh droppings along the canal side at Rowton a few days ago. There are also some very active moles about, at least one digging its way down from the canal towpath to garden level with about eight foot difference in height, even negotiating under an ancient hawthorn hedgerow and strong garden wall. The pair of otters that have been seen regularly for the last three years have been absent from the Hockenhull Platts Reserve holt since March, but reports suggest that they have taken up residence further upstream on the Gowy nearer to Walk Mill. There have been even fewer sightings of water voles this year in the same area which is very disturbing.
Goldfinch and Coal Tit
Goldfinches and Great Tit
Siskin - female
Siskin - male
The wonderful warm and sunny weather we’ve experienced this autumn, has given us fantastic colours in the countryside, and the fields and hedgerows are still good sources of food for our wild bird population. At the first sign of cold this week however, we’ve seen an influx of good numbers of small birds into the garden, and I’m sure that most people will begin to see this throughout the village in the days ahead. There are so many different types of feeders and foods available these days, that whatever you provide will probably have little difficulty in tempting our feathered friends to visit. You will see a variety of types of feeders in this article, and all seem very successful.
Identifying birds is an art in itself, but patience, a good bird guide and well stationed feeder(s) or bird table will soon help you to get to know your feathered visitors. A pair of binoculars will also help. Most people will probably recognise a blue or great tit, but the smaller coal tit is more difficult. The best clue is to look for a white stripe down the back of its black head. Don’t confuse it with a male black cap, which is a rarer visitor to Christleton.
The finch family will usually be represented in this area by the chaffinch, goldfinch and greenfinch, although highly coloured bullfinches are possible. Greenfinches, which have been missing for some years have now started breeding again in the village, and might just be confused with the much smaller siskin. I hope the photographs with this article help to show the difference. Beautiful goldcrests which are tiny, even smaller than a wren, have had a really good breeding season and can be seen searching the bark of trees for food. They could even be mistaken for a wintering chiff chaff, but look for its tiny, almost round body, and then a bright yellow stripe on its head. Dunnocks (hedge sparrows) have a very whispy call, and are nowhere near as noisy as their house sparrow neighbours. Dunnocks have a very slender bill, as distinct from the stronger characteristic finch like bill of the rest of the finch family.
Robins have been singing loudly since the end of September, and are probably one of the easiest birds to identify. Wrens on the other hand, although extremely loud are very secretive and can be best identified by their size, colour, and short cocked tail. Starlings, highly coloured and streamlined in appearance are also coming back into the village. They are quite noisy and almost seem to bully other birds near bird tables /feeders. The numbers at present are smaller than in previous years, but we might expect to see huge clouds of them in the next few weeks. Two years ago this happened spectacularly in Great Boughton, near Boughton Hall, and also at playing fields in Vicars Cross. The Runcorn Bridge area is also a good place to see this wonderful wildlife spectacle. Next month I’ll identify other rarer visitors to your gardens, including the wintering thrushes which are already starting to appear locally.
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Moorhen on bird feeder
Pink Footed Geese
Pink Footed Goose
The old Christleton Cob
Last month I described some of the smaller birds that were beginning to come back to our gardens and bird tables after partial migration to the countryside during the summer months. Since that article appeared I’ve been told about many interesting sightings in the village, and also witnessed some myself. The sight of 1,500+ pink footed geese from Greenland was probably my favourite, seeing them flying in huge v shaped formations across the skies at first light and landing in fields at Cotton Edmunds. On another very memorable occasion, hearing the gaggling calls and wing beats of hundreds of these superb long distance fliers, as they flew back over the centre of the village travelling through the inky black night sky, to their estuary roost. These local sightings are quite rare, as pink feet usually spend most of the winter foraging and roosting on the coastal marshes and estuaries of Lancashire, and on the inner and outer marshes of the River Dee.
I’ve been told of visits to bird tables by siskin, black cap and even tiny goldcrests, whilst we have had the occasional appearance of two moorhens, which seem quite happy to forage off our garden feeders, but with several balancing issues as they are not really designed to be graceful at the bird table with their huge-web like feet. There have been regular sightings of great spotted woodpeckers, tawny & little owls, fieldfare, redwing and mistle thrushes in village gardens, whilst several noisy nuthatches have filled the air with their loud territorial call near Birch Heath Lodge and in the grounds of the High School.
A kingfisher can be seen most days along the canal, and occasionally two can be seen flying along the Gowy at the “Roman Bridges”. An otter and water vole were both seen swimming along the Gowy at dusk a week or so ago, and several fresh spraints and an otter slide into the river was also recorded. Flocks of 500+ fieldfare and redwing have been seen feeding frantically on any remaining berries along the lanes and hedgerows, and a flight of 2,000+starlings were seen feeding on the wet meadow. Several common and one jack snipe have been seen, and there have been three sightings of the now rare woodcock, another long billed wader, in fields along the road to the bridges.
Villagers will be sad to learn of the recent death of our male swan, nicknamed Sam. He was at least 27years old, very old by mute swan records, and he died at RSPCA Nantwich of a combination of old age and long term injuries. He first appeared at The Pit in Christleton in 1996/7 with his mate TOV, and together with two more partners C175 & CDS9 was responsible for over 116eggs with 101cygnets being hatched. 75% of these cygnets survived to fly, an incredible record, one of the most productive records for a mute swan nest site in the country. During his lifetime he regularly walked his pen and their cygnets through the village, bringing traffic to a halt and causing great amusement to villagers. This happened when the cygnets were from 3days up to three weeks old, and could happen at any time of day. In 2012 and 2013 the pair walked in the reverse direction from the canal up to the Pit, due to the fact that the cob had a longstanding hip injury. By this stage he couldn’t fly and was content for three years to nest on a canal side garden at Rowan Park. Despite the loss of his mate C175 predated by a mink in 2014, he quickly found love with his last mate CDS9 who was just three years old. They produced 17eggs in the last two seasons and 6 cygnets survived to fly. Four of them were still on the canal in October 2016. The mute swan has been the emblem of the Village since at least 1737, so we hope a new pair can be attracted either to The Pit, or the canal in the near future.