The first few days of 2013 have been, in contrast to the end of 2012, fairly stable weather wise with not as much rain and even a few hours of sun! The 2nd was the only real washout so far so as such I stayed indoors and no knew birds were seen, however luckily the 3rd was dry so I decided to get the bus down to Marton Mere in the morning where the main aim was to see my first Owls of the year. When I first saw the Long Eared Owls at Marton Mere many years ago you could guarantee the bush to find them in and you could see up to 7 or 8 possibly if they were all sat in view. However a couple of years ago they were disturbed by some photographers trespassing into the area they roosted in and as such since then they have become more erratic with choice of roost, sometimes being completely out of view. It was with a slight sense of nostalgia then that I headed round the bridle path towards their old haunt, as just this past week they have once again taken up residence in their previous favourite bush, although as usual are never too easy to spot (as many who have tried to see them recently will surely testify!). That morning they were proving equally difficult and with the sun almost directly behind them I quickly gave up and headed round to the mere, planning to return later for another try. A Water Rail giving it's characteristic squealing call from the reedbed as I came up to the mere was my first of the year, and this was quickly followed by another songster of the reedbed at this time of year, one of the resident Cetti's Warblers. These little warblers have had a quite remarkable increase in recent years, from being barely annual visitors to the Fylde in winter the mere now holds up to 5 singing males in Spring and a similar number remain in full song throughout the winter. Over the next half an hour I did one full circuit of the mere which was packed with over 500 Teal and around 110 Wigeon, a very good count for the site which usually only holds around 10 at any one time, although recent weeks have seen up to 300 present. I had also added a few commoner species to my yearlist that I had missed on new years day, Reed Bunting and Pheasant were both coming to the seed at the feeding station, and 2 single Skylark flew high west calling as they went, quite where their destination was I'm unsure as the only areas to the west are Blackpool town centre and then the sea. At this point I got a text from Ash saying him and his Dad were arriving and going to look for the Owls so I headed round to meet up with them. Joining the path as it tracks away from the mere I noticed a medium sized bird flying towards me at some speed before banking round and heading back towards the scrub, a Woodcock. These birds roost in the undergrowth during the day and are rarely seen except for at dawn and dusk unless flushed from where they have settled for the hours of light, so I suspect a dog may have been let off it's lead and gone crashing around in the undergrowth flushing it in the process. The bird did 3 more fly passes as it looped over the scrub before eventually pitching into a deep patch of Hawthorn and Willow, hopefully to sit in peace till the coming of night. The below picture is I admit poor but is my first picture of the species.
I got to the right spot on the bridle path just as Ash and his Dad arrived from the other direction and together it didn't take us long to locate the 2 Long Eared Owls that have been recently sighted there. They were very difficult to spot with the sun behind them, branches obscuring the view in front of them. Ash managed to set his scope up on one bird which allowed for slightly better viewing, although given they were asleep and facing away from us it wasn't much to look at! The following photos were taken when they were being more co-operative in their choice of roost.
As the morning progressed the sky was reminiscent of a recent popular female book and so I decided to make tracks towards Stanley Park as it was on my way to the bus stop. The lake was fairly quiet with a pair of Great Crested Grebe and a nice flock of 13 Pochard the only things of particular note, so instead it was the woods that I turned my attention to as there was one particular species that was making itself rather conspicuous that day. If you say to most normal people that you have seen a Woodpecker they often sound very surprised as they think of them as rather rare and creatures, however if any of said people had been in the park that day they would most certainly had those ideas quashed as there were at least 6 Great Spotted Woodpeckers being very vocal in defending their territories. There were several disputes taking place including 3 birds at the north end of the lake by the heronry that were constantly calling and chasing each other for the whole hour I was there and didn't show any signs of their actions abating by the time I left. I also saw a couple of Treecreepers quietly going about their business, and a tiny Goldcrest in one of the conifers was the last yeartick of the day, taking me up to 89.
A quick hour in Fleetwood in what was the only spell of rain during the entire day produced another 5 yearticks around the marine lakes, and more shore/sea birds were to be had on the 5th when a short seawatch off Bispham whilst looking for the Purple Sandpipers produced a pair of Red Throated Divers, 4 Common Scoter and a Kittiwake offshore. The tide was too far out for the Sandpipers to be roosting whilst I was there, so instead of waiting for them to appear I headed off Over Wyre instead in the hope of seeing one or two more Owls. Pilling Marsh was looking rather bare as I scanned round from west to east, that was at least until I spotted the large flock of Pink-footed Geese relatively close in to the seawall. I love searching through flocks of these geese in the hope of finding something more unusual so I couldn't resist this chance and after 10 minutes of scanning I managed to draw a single Barnacle Goose from the throng of brown (c4000 geese in all). As it happened it was in the closest group of geese to the car park so allowed pretty decent views and I was able to direct a couple of other birders present onto the bird. A Raven lorded over the marsh from it's position on a fence post, there is often a Peregrine sat up on the same post but it didn't make an appearance today. As the light was beginning to fade I headed inland for the final stop of the day where on Pilling Moss I was treated to a brilliant showing of 4 Short Eared Owls and 3 Barn Owls as they hunted over the rough land between Bradshaw Lane and Lancaster Road. These combined with a few other species brought my yearlist up to 102, 2 days earlier than I manged to reach this milestone last year.
I am back at college tomorrow so unlikely to be getting out birding as much, and with exams coming up on the 11th and the 23rd I may not be posting quite so regularly.