Wildlife at Pickerings Pasture ~ Spring 15
March to May Click on photo to enlarge
On 4th Mar 2015 there were 13 cormorants, 200 shelducks, 106 lapwings, 3 redshanks and 60 dunlins on Hale Marsh although the scrape pool was very quiet. Some of the 100 plus black-headed gulls were showing their black heads ready for the breeding season. Two pied wagtails were also noted. The feeders were busy with a small group of long-tailed tits and goldfinches flew overhead. A chiffchaff, possibly of the race “tristis”, was seen along the sewage works path.
During early march the cormorant numbers on the marsh were high with around 25 being regular on the high tides. These included several of the race 'sinensis'. The oystercatcher numbers also started to rise on the marsh. Two stonechats, a male and a female were seen on the posts opposite the hide at Pickerings Pasture on the 8th and a grey wagtail was also on the scrape. On the arable field at the back of Pickerings Pasture over thirty redwings, four mistle thrushes and seven song thrushes were seen on most visits, although the numbers fluctuated slightly. On 12th March the redwing numbers had risen to a hundred and twenty: the return migration was well under way.
On the evening of the 8th, towards the white bridge, a first winter Iceland gull was found and two Mediterranean gulls were reported by another observer. Paul Long also reported an immature glaucous gull in the river channel below the car par at Pickerings Pasture on 10th. Continuing the gull theme an adult Yellow-legged gull was on the river on the 19th: Pickerings Pasture is proving to be an excellent place to see the rarer gulls as they make their way down-river to roost in the evenings.
At the beginning of March '15 The Friends of Pickerings Pasture undertook a major clean-up along the two paths to the white bridge. A local recycling plant had allowed polythene bags and other rubbish to blow on to our site causing a hazard to the wildlife. Over twenty large bags of rubbish were collected and the council removed them all the same day. The following day a group from TCV (The Conservation Volunteers) continued the clean-up and created habitat piles within the woodland area. (Click here >> for a fuller version of events)
A male stonechat was in the reeds to the right of the hide on 16th and twelve bullfinches gathered in the trees behind visitor centre. The bullfinches were seen for over a week in the same area feeding on the new shoots. A buzzard pair was displaying regularly over the trees at the back of Pickerings and we were hopeful that they would stay to breed. This was not to be: it was probably just that bit too busy with people.
Thirty redwings were in the arable fields on 18th March. The mistle thrush pair was nest building and lots of birds were singing around the pastures. From the hide the Canada Geese were taking up territory on the small island on the pond. A little egret was also there and the black-headed gulls were very active with courtship displays and much noise! Robins were very conspicuous in many areas of the Pastures. Twelve oystercatchers, 60 lapwings, 25 redshanks and 10 dunlins were out on Hale Marsh. Seven white wagtails, twenty pied wagtails and a grey wagtail were also noted out there. A very worn small tortoiseshell was seen in front of the hide – our first butterfly of the season at Pickerings Pasture.
On 2nd April at Pickerings Pasture there were two chiffchaffs singing. A common sandpiper was on the scrape with a little egret. Three gadwalls were seen on river just below the scrape pool and these became a regular feature over the next few weeks. Three pink-footed geese were found grazing on the marsh on 3rd and 37 oystercatchers were in the wader roost. A male peregrine falcon was noted carrying prey towards the white bridge. Two peacocks and two male brimstones were seen on the meadows.
On April 13th, at Pickerings Pasture, another litter pick took place over the site, several seats and tables were painted with preservative. A small number of berry-bearing shrubs and trees were planted in a woodland area with a couple also by the Visitors Centre. The species had been specially selected for encouraging insects.
On 15th April 3 brimstones were noted, 2 males and a female, a female was laying on an alder buckthorn, 5 peacocks, 3 orange tips, a small tortoiseshell and a speckled wood completed the line-up of butterflies. A whitethroat was singing near the control meadow and a little egret and 2 gadwalls were on the scrape.
Two visits were made to Pickering’s hide: after the tide on 17th and before the higher tide on 18th. The scrape pool was pretty much the same both days with a pair of mallards, a pair of teal sleeping on the right-hand island and the female Canada goose on her nest. A single redshank was on the pool for a short period and a common sandpiper that arrived just before high tide was later joined by a second bird. There was much more happening before the tide on the second day: 19 cormorants, 10 lesser and 2 greater black-backs, 135 Canada geese, 36 shelducks, 81 oystercatchers, 10 redshanks, 2 curlews and a little-ringed plover. A moorhen on the marsh up towards the end of United Utilities was a surprise; they tend to avoid saline areas.
In front of the hide a pair of blackcap was displaying and another male was in dispute with them. Chiffchaffs continue to sing around the site. The female mistle thrush was on the field looking for food: it must be really hard for them to find worms for themselves and their four youngsters while the ground is so hard. Robins seem to be everywhere; there is a good breeding population at Pickerings Pastures. Jays must be nesting locally: although usually very shy birds they were recorded frequently at the car-park feeder
The following day we went down for the WeBS high-tide count: it was a 10m tide and we expected it to cover Hale Marsh, which it did, but as there was no wind it came in slowly: rising imperceptibly. The numbers of birds were slightly higher than the previous day as the tide came in and 3 dunlins and whimbrels were added to the wader list. A large Greenland wheatear and a yellow wagtail were seen out on the marsh amongst the meadow pipits, white and pied wagtails; sixteen swallows fed over the water on the tide.
We were very sad when the tide completely submerged our Canada goose nest. She spent a few minutes with her head under the water before finally swimming away. The male came over and they both swam around the pool. The following day she was back sitting on her nest and was seen turning her eggs although the nest was in a slightly different position.
Click here >> for a fuller version of events.
Click here >> for a fuller version of events.
Over the next couple of days several visits were made: the highlights included twenty four whimbrels flying north over the meadows – calling, with a further seven remaining at the roost. 130 oystercatchers were also in the roost and three common sandpipers were seen – one on the scrape, another on the pool beyond the fence whilst the third flew passed down-river.
At the beginning of May we were surprised to see a pair of moorhens on the scrape although one had been seen occasionally in the previous weeks. One bird remained around the scrape until the end of the month so we presume the pair is nesting somewhere nearby. Even more interesting was a pair of mute swans who spent a morning on the pools. A pair of oystercatchers also seemed to take a territory near the shingle bank but our hopes of them nesting has faded, although there are still up to nine birds on the marsh. The passage of whimbrels continued well into May. A pair of little-ringed plovers was seen on the marsh, seemingly taking up territory but again they got no further. A tree pipit was reported near the hide and a male redstart was seen up the United Utilities path. On 9 th May nine goslings hatched on the island: several day's later eight were finally taken onto the marsh.
The first green-veined white was first seen on 7th May with three flying on the meadows. Brimstones and orange tips remained until at least 13th May. Peacocks and large whites were also seen. The early spring has not been a good time for butterflies with extremely cold weather, lots of rain and very little sunshine. On a more positive note the mistle thrushes managed to fledge four young although the nest was completely destroyed only a day after they fledged, possibly by the grey squirrel. A common tern was reported on 19th May.
Our final work party of the quarter, on 18th May, was unfortunately plagued by heavy rain. Even so the six members present managed to repair some fencing in the car park area, whilst others cleaned the centre and completed the task of sorting out the new shelving area in the Visitors Centre.
Two visits were made towards the end of the month and although the passage of migrants had slowed considerably a ringed plover and four sanderlings on the 24th was a lovely surprise. Over thirty lapwings on 28th were upsetting as these would be on their return passage, probably as failed breeders. Four male blackcaps and three chiffchaffs were singing along the woodland edges and a garden warbler sang in the control meadow. Many of our resident birds will now have young and some will be starting with their second broods.
The only dragonflies seen during this period were two female broad-bodied chasers on the 28th. The wild flowers are really doing well: the profuse cowslips are nearly over and the first orchids are about to burst forth. The hawthorns in the control meadow are worth a visit with their subtle shades of cream and pink. It will only get better!