Paul is a very well-respected local birder who helps run the well-known FocalPoint Optics shop in Cheshire. I have met him on several occasions previously, with our first encounter being at a summer fayre event at Pennington Flash where FocalPoint had a stall. Following this event the L.O.S. Young Birders' Club eventually bought six pairs of binoculars from FocalPoint and we have been in contact ever since. The first time I met him out in the field was at Binn Green near Dovestones, when we were searching for a Two-barred Crossbill.
Smew Photo to go here ....
My two main target species for today were the resident female Smew and the huge flocks of Bramblings that have been reported here since before Christmas. We started at Beach Peg where the day got off to a big surprise, much to Paul's delight when we came across a herd of 37 Whooper Swans which had landed on the Big Pool. They had probably been grounded by the very cold weather and might even have been starting to make their way back north. The Whoopers were a 'patch life tick' for Paul and he quickly hurried back to get his camera and scope to get some shots. I stayed put and took some shots for him, just in case the birds decided to fly before he got back.
It took a while for this excitement to die down, but shortly after we were looking for the resident female Smew. A recent sighting of a female Smew not too far from here at Astbury Mere had raised the question of whether it was the same bird as the one at Newchurch. We looked around but couldn't see her here, so it was still a possibility. There were however, at least nine Shoveler feeding in their characteristic circular motion on the far side of the pool, and quite a few Great Crested Grebes.
Soon we were off on a clockwise walk around the lake, with Paul pointing out all the watchpoints, which tended to be named after the fishing pegs. After a short walk through a wooded area, we came across the Smew making its way in to Willow Arm Bay, and after that we wouldn't see it again today. And later in the day, a report of the same same time period from Astbury proved that there are in fact two Smews in Cheshire at the moment. We also caught sight of a Redhead Goosander flying low over the lake.
From here we walked to what was actually the highlight of the day for me - at least 300 Bramblings feeding in a newly-cut set-aside field, with almost as many Chaffinches. I had never seen so many of this stunning little bird, with 30-40 birds at Woolston Eyes being my biggest previous count. It was an awesome spectacle and very difficult to capture in a photograph.
To finish off we retraced our steps back around Big Pool to try to get a better view of the Whoopers. Paul pointed out Finch Hedge and good spots for Green Woodpeckers which breed here in the spring and summer. We ended up at another fishing peg where the Whoopers seemed to drift towards us instead of moving away, as if they were expecting to be fed. I suggested that they seemed a little tame and that it raised the question of whether they were from somewhere that feeds them such as Martin Mere WWT.
I thanked Paul for a great tour of his patch and told him I'd definitely be back and possibly quite soon to try and get some better shots of the Brambling.
On my way home I called in at Marbury Country Park to have a look for the Bitterns and Hawfinches that had been seen quite a few times recently. I had no luck with either of these but I did have eight Bullfinches feeding on buds in the trees around the car park, as well a few close up shots of common birds on a feeding table. It was too cold to stay long but I had a pretty good day on the whole.