It had been a long while but I was back in bird race mode and Yvonne was up for a long haul day to try and better our NYD 2010 tally of 70 species? Big day lists don’t happen by chance of course and during the Christmas period I’d been checking things out here and there – I knew that with a bit of luck on the day, there was every chance of beating it! You need to keep moving on and stick to the plan too and despite drifting ‘eta’s here and there, we made every planned destination.
A Tawny Owl at Venus Pool got the 7.30 start off with a bang and it was a welcome sight to see four of the Cound Whooper Swans on the pool itself. A drake Pintail was new in, plus a few Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Wigeon and of course Mallard. Considering we also saw Mandarin, Gadwall and Goldeneye elsewhere, it was a duck clean up on the day! There was just one Green Sandpiper present from the Memorial hide but one is all you need! A pair of Little Grebe were on the fishing pool and the top field held plenty of finches (mostly Goldfinch) Fieldfare and Redwing. With Marsh Tit taking us over the 40 mark, we checked out one of the nearby woods where Siskin, Treecreeper and Nuthatch made this a worthwhile venture and by 9.15 we were on the road with the tally on 47.
Shirlett conveniently produced Crossbill on arrival – a dozen or so at the top of a roadside oak tree, Goldcrest were had in the nearby conifers. Chelmarsh reservoir came next and took a while to produce it’s most important current resident but we eventually got the Red-throated Diver from the causeway. The first Great-crested Grebe, Goosander, Reed Buntings and Yellowhammer of the day were added here whilst we waited! At Astbury Falls, we duly dipped Dipper (never an easy one) but a welcome pair of Bullfinch kept the list going (now on 58!)
A drake Mandarin was picked up on the Severn but no Kingfisher. A cruise around the back roads North of Bridgnorth gave us a flock of Linnet, a group of 8 Red-legged Partridge and Little Owl. We were nearing the halfway mark but there would be quite a bit of travel time involved during the afternoon as we headed to Priorslee lake. Pied Wagtail, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull and Yellow-legged Gull were added here before, as forecast, the rain started hammering down. Well over an hour were to pass now without anything new. We tried for the Bean Goose on the Flash which steadfastly remained zzzzzing in the middle of the island (it had been seen a couple of hours before). The banker site I’d earmarked for Corn Buntings let us down - completely replaced by Greenfinch!
Redshank and Gadwall were nice surprises in the Allscot area and in the space of 10 minutes we had first a male and then a female Sparrowhawk flying down the road in front of the car – lucky encounters indeed on a bird race! The drive North didn’t produce a needed flyover but on arrival at Colemere we added Common Gull and Goldeneye (71)! Wood Lane added another five birds: Lapwing (100+), Common Snipe (9) plus Coal Tit, Raven before, after briefly seeing it in flight, a Green Woodpecker feeding not far from the top hide took us to 76!
We suddenly realised, Herons had done a Shropshire disappearing act! A quick dash to The Mere corrected that, although we only saw one in flight before heading to Whixall Moss, our final destination. A brief altercation with the 'Deepdale’ car park warden who thought all normal people should be going home at that time and NOT walking out onto the Moss, (it was nearly 4.00!) We weren’t acting entirely like normal people, I’ll admit that but eventually we pacified him! The walk in stage was birdless for the final act! We had to wait until 4.30 when I spotted the male Hen Harrier gliding in and shortly after it dropped down to roost. With little sign of normality returning (we were still stood there in near darkness at 4.55) then Yvonne picked up the final bird of the day flying out from the South West corner – Short-eared Owl!
We’d managed 70+ with ease, just one short of the 80 mark on 79. There was to be no Barn Owl finale from the car and the usual bird race jinx species (Jay) went unseen. You have to do a bird race to appreciate the ‘buzz’ of the day in addition to putting your local bird knowledge to the test. Organisational skills are needed to maximise the count and then you need the final ingredient – a bit of luck! We can go one better, into the 80’s next year?