Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Highfield Moss, Lowton

Highfield Moss, Lowton

After following a thread on the Manchester Birding Forum for Highfield Moss in Lowton, I decided to ask Nick Isherwood, the main contributor to this topic, if he would show me round the area.  Nick very kindly agreed and we met at 3pm today on Heath Lane, just across the main road from the Moss.

My main aim was to see the two or three Short-eared Owls which Nick had been reporting regularly over the last couple of weeks, and I wasn't to be disappointed.  But even before we got to the Moss, there were birds to be seen in the fields on either side of the public footpath which leads first to the railway line, and then onto Highfield Moss.

The first birds of note were a group of eighteen Golden Plover which flew over us, with some more in the field to the left of the footpath amongst some Lapwing and Gulls also on the ground.  Nick said that he'd never really seen this number of birds in that field before. A Buzzard was also sitting on a fence post on the far side of this field before it took off for the trees.

As we made our way to the railway line (which is part of the famous route over Chat Moss along which Robert Stevenson drove the Rocket in the Rainhill Trials), we saw a group of 20-ish Linnet sitting in a low tree on the field border, followed by a very tame Song Thrush in a shrub on the bank.  Nick mentioned that he'd regularly seen a Corn Bunting singing loudly in the main field last year.

Then down the steps to the railway line and up into a wooded area which eventually opened out onto Highfield Moss.  It was a beautiful late afternoon and the Moss looked fantastic in the golden sunshine.  We decided to walk along the embankment which runs parallel to the railway line and which gives a good viewpoint over the area, and soon we came across Pete Astles (another Manchester Birding Forum member) who was set up with a tripod and waiting for the Owls to reappear. He'd already seen them this evening but they weren't about just then.

Our first view of the Short-eared Owl

Whilst chatting to Pete, Nick got the first glimpse of an Owl sitting in a distant tree on the far side of the Moss.  I took a quick photo in case that was all I was going to see, but as you can see, just about everything was wrong with it!  In fact all my shots here today are no more than record shorts as will later become apparent.

Banking left

Before long we were treated to a flypast by the bird and for the next fifteen minutes or so I stood mesmerised as it quartered the Moss for food.  It would disappear for a while and then come back into view and at times came quite close to us.  I was so taken by this display that I just shot my camera off without paying proper attention to the settings - therefore, most of my pictures are blurred or overexposed.  Nevermind, I'll be back many more times to get a good shot.

Quartering the Moss

Nick then continued to show me round the Moss and on the way we saw the bird several more times. And then a second Owl appeared and the two birds briefly engaged in a bit of aerial 'rough and tumble'.  I'm not sure if it was a serious confrontation  or just being playful, but it didn't last long.

A bit of 'rough and tumble'

After this we carried on around the Moss, with Nick pointing out various places to go.  We did have a distant view of a bird which seemed to be an Owl sitting on a post in a hedge along a field border and this could have been the third bird that's been reported here. And later an Owl flew out of the woods right in front of us before disappearing - this was probably the closest we got to it today, but we didn't have a great view.

On the way back to the car a couple of Pheasants made us jump as they squawked loudly and flew awkwardly away and the Song Thrush we'd seen previously was still in the same place and still as tame.

Sunset over Highfield Moss

A great little place and a fantastic experience to see the Short-eared Owls in flight across the Moss.  Thanks Nick, I owe you one and 'yes', I do think you should write a site guide for the Manchester Birding website - I'm sure many people, like me, will appreciate your efforts.

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