L.O.S. Fieldtrip to Martin Mere and Lunt – 7th December 2014

This wasn’t the wettest trip we have had and it wasn’t the coldest or the most windy but it was certainly trying it’s best to be because all day we had frequent showers, quite often with hail plus an icy wind. The wind was blowing the rain and hail sideways, luckily we were often in a hide when it was at its hardest but we had to leave the viewing slot windows closed as the wind was blowing the rain into the hides and wetting the seats.

Just outside the visitors centre was a large pool of water which had on it a good selection of our beautiful wildfowl, although I think these were some of the captive birds it did give us the chance to appreciate just how beautiful they are close up. You could clearly see the pale green patches on the back of the heads of some male Eiders and compare these with the duller females; there were Goldeneye, Pintail, Wigeon and a few Bewick and Whooper Swans. At odd times, they would swim together so we could compare the size of the slightly smaller Bewick and the smaller patch of yellow on its black beak.

A little further away is the larger area of water known as “The Mere” where you get more of the wild birds and here we saw a number of Whooper Swans, groups of Canada Geese, Greylag Geese and Pink-footed Geese, a lot of Shelduck plus Pochard, Pintail and Wigeon. A good number of Lapwings were seen but most of the other waders were more of a telescope job to see, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit and the fify Ruff that Pekka counted. Also through his scope he spotted Stonechat and earlier another bird watcher let some of us have a look through his scope at a Buzzard perched on a fence stump.

Not long after a Kestrel was seen hovering in the distance, a Great Black-backed Gull was on a small island and we spotted three Herons just standing in the reeds on some smaller patches of water over to one side. Looking out from a different side of the hide we saw Magpies on a few occasions coming down to feed on a dead rabbit in the grass.

As we walked round to the different hides various smaller birds were seen such as Redwing, Tree Sparrows, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Reed Bunting and everyone’s Christmas favourite, the Robin.

It was time to move onto our second place of call over at Lunt, where in contrast to last year, we didn’t see anything unusual. On the areas of water we saw two Little Egrets and with the Black-headed Gulls were a few Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Coot and a Cormorant was seen and as we were standing watching we had Linnet, Robin, Wren and a Sparrowhawk flew past.

Even in the middle of all this bad weather I still found some White Dead Nettle in flower in contrast to the bright red Rose-hips on some Wild Rose bushes. We walked on a little further and as we stood on a bridge over a river looking out over some fields once again the scopes came in handy to check a large group of birds on the ground. These were mostly Rooks plus some Crows and Jackdaws with a group of Starlings near them.

After this, we decided to call it a day and head for home where we could all thaw out. Thanks to Al for the trip and to Joan and Jim for my lift.
Jeff Hurst

L.O.S. Fieldtrip to Leighton Moss & Sizergh Castle – 9th November 2014

Some of our members started their bird watching at Sizergh Castle in the hope of seeing Hawfinch and were again successful, although I believe only a distant view up in some trees.

The other members went directly to Leighton Moss but a few decided to travel up there while it was still dark so they could be there for first light to try to see the Otters. One member arrived before we did and as he parked his car he saw a Barn Owl fly away. A little later, when we were parking up I heard some Redwings calling as they flew over and as we were walking a few Curlews flew past.

Our patience was finally rewarded by the sight of three otters although again only a distant view but we could make out two of them, possibly young ones play fighting and as they tumbled round in the water. Occasionally we could see their tails flip up into the air.

While we were waiting for the others to arrive we had time to look at the birds that were there. A male Pheasant walked past in front of us, a Grey Heron was feeding, a few Snipe were nearby and a Water Rail briefly came out from the reeds a few times. In the distance on the far side of the water we could just make out a Peregrine Falcon perched in the bare branches of a tree, and out on the water there were Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler, a female Goldeneye, a pair of Mute Swans with six large young that were now as big as their parents and a group of Greylag Geese flew in.

We were told the Bearded Tits had been seen on the grit trays, so our next stop was the public causeway where some of our members were lucky and saw some but although we stopped there for quite a while none showed up while we were there so we eventually walked onto the public hide where the birds were much as had already been seen, except for a Marsh Harrier that flew past and away in the distance.

Not long after we thought it was coming back again as we saw this large birds in the distance over the reeds and flying towards the hide but suddenly the bird turned to one side and we could see it was Bittern now showing up well with the sun shining on it. Flying over the water for a short distance then over the reed beds again where it dropped into and out of sight. While on the causeway some of our members also heard a Cetti’s Warbler.

As we walked between the various hides, I noticed that odd plants still had a few flowers on them. I saw Ragwort, Knapweed, Herb Robert and some of the Blackberry still had some blossom. It was interesting to see some of the old gnarled trees covered in various Lichens, Moss and Polypody ferns growing on them. Joan also identified one fungus we saw as Verdigris Roundhead.

From another hide we had another good view of a female Marsh Harrier, a Kingfisher was perched in a tree for a few minutes and a Buzzard flew over. It was also from this hide that we saw two Red Deer feeding along the edge of the reeds. While walking back from this hide we saw a single Oystercatcher flying over and later saw a Goldcrest and a Marsh Tit from quite close.

Throughout the day various members had seen Nuthatch, Bullfinch, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Greenfinch and Reed Bunting among other more common birds. As we thought there would be difficulty parking near the hides on the coast, we came straight home but some members were lucky to get in and rounded off their day by having good views of both Little Egret and Great White Egret.

We had seen some really good birds and some members even saw the three otters later in the morning from the public hide. We had been out much earlier to have distant views of them, but it was worth it to be out early and then see the sun just showing through and giving a golden glow to the reed beds that only a minute earlier had been dull and in shadow.

I still have not had a good view of an otter, I could make out some details but I suppose this gives me a good reason for trying again sometime.

Thanks to Al for organising this trip and to Joan and Jim for my lift home.
Jeff Hurst

Happy New Year to You All

As the new year begins we resume our indoor meetings on Friday January 16th at 7:30pm in the Derby Room at Leigh Library.  Everyone is welcome.

For our guest sepaker we welcome back Mr Gordon Yates, with his presentation entitled: 
 "Snowy Owl, King of the Arctic"

This landscape is of Svalbard, just one of the places to which Gordon takes us.


A slightly faded, sepia-tinted photograph of the fourteen-strong Committee of 1977 and 1978 is retained in the Society archive. This committed body of men had worked together for a few years to propel the Leigh Ornithological Society forward into being regarded as a reliable and highly-respected regional organization in terms of bird recording, indoor and outdoor meetings, the production of newsletters and annual reports, and wildlife conservation.

A major priority in the 1970s, and subsequently, was to strive to gain protective status for important sites in our recording area – the mosses at Astley and Risley; the flashes at Hindley, Lightshaw, Pennington and Wigan; a cluster of waters near Bolton; and wooded habitats in the Chorley/Rivington area. Prominent among the Committee stalwarts at this time, in both physical stature and in his infectious determination to enhance the Society's range of activities, was Alban Wincott who sadly passed away on September 26th.

Unmistakably referred to as AWHW in ornithological literature, Alban spent just sixteen years in our area, but his impact here was as important and impressive as it had been before, and was to be later, in his beloved Midlands homeland.

Born in Nuneaton in 1934, Alban's family moved to Attleborough on his third birthday, and it was here that his passion for wildlife flourished. As a sixteen-year-old, in 1952, he was a co-founder of the Nuneaton Birdwatchers' Club and served on its committee for seventeen years. During this time he was a prominent member of the group of local conservation activists who were instrumental in getting the former gravel pits at Brandon designated a reserve as Brandon Marshes.

Upon completion of his National Service in the mid-1950s, Alban had joined Courtaulds Limited, and during this employment he moved to the Manchester area where he soon became immersed in all matters relating to local wildlife. As Honorary Secretary of the Lancashire Wildlife Trust for some years, his main commitment was in conserving and developing sites in Greater Manchester, most notably at Doffcocker and Rumworth: further afield, he had the vision to pave the way for the Trust's purchase of Mere Sands Wood.

Alban's reputation as an enthusiastic supporter of moves to safeguard wetland sites at Bolton brought about an invitation to attend a Committee meeting of our fledgling Society in March, 1974, and thereafter the minutes books illustrate the range of his contributions and suggested initiatives. In the next two years alone he became a slide-show presenter at Members' Evenings; served as Master of Ceremonies at the 1975 Public Film Show and instigator of, and toastmaster at, the first Annual Dinner Dance in the same year; chaired Social Committee meetings and participated in the deliberations of the Bird Records Sub-Committee; and, in 1976, organized a memorable short holiday to Speyside for a few of his Committee colleagues.

Those members of the Society from over a quarter of a century ago, even though they haven't seen Alban for many years, will surely be deeply saddened to learn of his passing away, for he was the kindest of men, an enthusiastic motivator who never expected others to do what he could do himself, and a true friend who endeared himself to all who came to know him by his smiling, courteous and gentle demeanour.

Alban returned to his roots thirty years ago, and a notice in the newsletter of the Nuneaton and District Birdwatchers' Club summarizes his renewed involvement when he left us and returned to his homeland: - “On his return to Warwickshire in 1984, he took up where he left off as an avid member of the club he founded and was appointed Club President. He also returned to his tireless work as a conservation volunteer at Brandon, driving forward many of the projects. He was a speaker at many natural history clubs and we have all sat enthralled by his great photographs, profound knowledge and boyish enthusiasm as he has taken us across Europe and around Brandon with equal aplomb”.

As this autumn approached, and fully aware of the severity of his declining health, Alban requested that three of his contemporaries on the old photograph should perhaps wish to visit him, so that we could share mutual recollections of happier days and so that we could bid each other our final farewells, and, at different times, Peter Guy, Roy Rhodes and myself travelled south and spent enjoyable time with him and Jean. Since that last meeting, I have come across Alban's very first comments at his first Committee meeting, and they display a prophetic tendency in the light of the growing success of the recently-formed Young Birders' group. Even though the group's progress hasn't been identical to Alban's suggestions, it would be an appropriate gesture if his advice came to fruition some day:- Extract from the minutes of the Committee meeting in the Eagle and Hawk Inn, Leigh, on 22nd March, 1974: “Mr. A.W.H.Wincott suggested that active conservation work would be more successful if Junior Members were involved …..... He also suggested making contact with local schools with a view to the possible involvement of pupils in work parties.”

And so, as another great name in the history of our Society leaves the stage, it's important to state that many obituaries and messages of appreciation often exaggerate the qualities of those who have passed away. In Alban Wincott's case, exaggeration is unnecessary, for the simple truth is that he was among the finest of men – an inspiration to many; a dear friend to most; and a colleague who holds a very special place in the history of the LOS and in the hearts of those members who were privileged to spend time in his company.

On behalf of the Society, condolences have already been sent to Jean, Alban's dear wife of fifty years, and she, in turn, will no doubt convey to her immediate family our genuine thoughts of affection for our dear friend and our collective grief at his passing.
Dave Wilson

L.O.S. Founder Member Leads Bickershaw Rucks Walk

Dave Wilson, the man who wrote the book on Pennington Flash and founder member of the L.O.S. led a very interesting walk around the brownfield site which used to be Bickershaw Colliery last week in conjunction with Red Rose Forest.

The trip was organised by Jessica Thompson at Red Rose and a party of sixteen people turned up to be educated and informed about this reclaimed industrial landscape. Good weather favoured us as can be seen in the photos below.

We started off on the 'Road to Nowhere' as it has become known locally - this is tarmaced road leads down into the Rucks from Bickershaw Lane and which was originally intended to lead to a number of new community facilities and resources on the site, but these schemes have stalled or perhaps even been abandoned completely now.  Fortunately for us, this now provides excellent access to the Rucks.

Dave was very keen to stress the different grassland areas which are now home to many species of birds and other animals and which, if not carefully managed, will quickly revert to Birch, Willow and Alder woodlands thus destroying this valuable habitat and reducing the biodiversity in the area.

For example Cuckoos breed here most years because of the availability of suitable 'donor' nesting birds such as Meadow Pipits - if the Meadow Pipits can't nest in the area, the Cuckoos won't come anymore.

There are three main flashes in the area, Diggle, Fir Tree, Tinker Joe's and we could see them all although we didn't approach them closely.

Dave informed why the flash named as Nevison's Flash on the map is known locally as Tinker Joe's due to a resident who used to live by it making cans.

The area does have a problem with 4x4 vehicles, quadbikes and motorbikes causing severe erosion and rutting as well as driving at high speeds and being a danger to walkers and animals.

Although we didn't go out intending to record birds in particular more than 30 species were noted, including a pair of Stonechats, a hovering Kestrel, a Buzzard, many Meadow Pipits, Lapwings and Skylarks and a Water Rail which was heard but not seen.

L.O.S. member Bernard McGurrin regularly records the birds seen at Bickershaw and his reports can be viewed on the Manchester Birding Forum (see web link below).

Several species of fungi were also seen including Fly Agaric, Birch Bolete, Common Earth Ball, and three Cortinarius species.
We had a great morning out and we encourage everyone who has never been to Bickershaw Rucks to go and have a look for themselves - it's well worth it.

No doubt Dave Wilson will be leading another similar trip in the spring when there will be a lot more birds about hopefully including Cuckoos.

Our thanks go out to Dave and Jess.

Photographs (C) David Shallcross 2014

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