L.O.S. Fieldtrip to Marshside RSPB and Lunt Meadows - Sunday 12th January 2020

Our first fieldtrip of 2020 took us firstly to Marshside RSPB and then on to Lunt Meadows. 14 members met up at 9am on the car park at Marshside. The weather was inclement at first but improving as the morning moved on. 
Our first bird of the day was a Marsh Harrier as we gathered our thoughts and belongings. We decided to head off to Sandgrounder's Hide until the rain moved on. Here a distant Peregrine perched along the fence line before moving on. A distant Kestrel was recorded, along with two Great Black-Backed Gulls, Teal, Pintail, Moorhen and the obligatory Mallard. 
From Sandgrounder's we crossed the road and stood by the sand works looking out across Crossen's Outer Marsh. Here Little Egret and Great White Egret were observed at distance. At even more distance, a male Hen Harrier hawked the tideline before coming to rest on a prominence, giving the scope men time to confirm its ID. There was also a solitary Raven. 
By this time the rain had ceased to be, which made for a great birding day to come, so the next port of call was Nel's Hide. Here a flotilla of Tufted Duck, happily mixed with a few Pochard, Pintails, Gadwall and a stunning female Scaup giving good views. On leaving the hide two Goldcrest gave us some real close up viewing. 
Returning to the car park, we headed out towards the incoming tide and out onto the saltmarsh. Here hundreds of Dunlin took to flight forced from their feeding grounds by the incoming tide, also good flocks of Redshank, Oystercatcher mixed with Grey Plover. A single Snipe crossed over head also to note Pink-footed Geese and good numbers of Skylarks disturbed by the incoming tide trying to find dryer ground. Then along the tideline moving from right to left a small raptor, which came to rest on a small dead shrub. With the aid of binoculars and scopes a female Merlin made for some marvellous birdwatching. Eventually after some 20 minutes it moved on at speed along the tideline taking a Dunlin before going to ground. 
Returning to the cars for a spot of lunch, we decided to head over to Crossen's Inner Marsh to look for the recently reported Long-billed Dowitcher. We were not to be disappointed. Some 25 meters away, it gave great views and an opportunity for the odd photograph. Also on the inner marsh, there were good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits, Wigeon, and Golden Plover. 
Next a quick reccy to Gravel Lane for the Cattle Egrets that had been reported and a chance to see the Little Owl - but this time we came up short. 
Lastly we headed off to Lunt Meadows. On arrival we made our way to the wooden footbridge which crosses the River Alt. A single female Stonechat and many a Linnet flitted to and fro. As the sun started to set, two Barn Owls gave reasonable views for a short period. 
On a sad note three men appeared in the distance, crossing the middle of the vast arable fields with Lurchers. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought Hare Coursing was illegal. Inevitably it wasn't long before a Brown Hare was flushed and the dogs were unleashed. We watched in full view, the dogs running the Hare down. The chase went on for some 10 minutes. Unfortunately, two Short-eared Owl were flushed in the process. This would be our only view at distance of the birds we had come especially to see. 
Meanwhile the Hare was heading our way, still with the dogs hot on its tail, only a metre or so behind. Then the Hare made its last throw of the dice - it headed straight in the a large patch of dense reeds and brambles by the river bank. Fortunately here it completely lost the dogs in the dense undergrowth, eventually heading out the other side, and up the embankment. It then headed straight towards us at full tilt, before shooting back down the embankment and across the vast fields to safety. One nil for the Hare, and a very happy ending to the day, but sadly it may not be so fortunate next time.
Thank you all who attended and your great company, another fantastic trip, with some fantastic birding. 
On a final note: If your binoculars steam up, keep them close to your chest, and be careful what you wish to see through your scope. 
Until next time.
Paul Pennington
L.O.S. Fieldtrips Officer

L.O.S. Fieldtrip to St. Aidan's RSPB - Sunday 8th December 2019


A difficult 'Decide on the Day' event for our December fieldtrip. The group met as usual on Doctors Nook and the weather would eventually make our final decision. The western side of the country would be ruled out as the forecast was very poor, so it was decided to head over the border, eastward bound, to the destination of St Aidan's RSPB.

On arrival, our group of gutsy birders gathered, only to be confronted by a rather nasty looking incoming heavy shower. As we collected our belongings, the first real spot of the day. A Green Woodpecker flew across the car park only just above our heads.

At St. Aidan's there is a huge old Walking Dragline Excavator, called the Bucyrus Erie BE 1150, but more affectionately known as 'Oddball'. Little Owls roost and nest nearby but we had no luck in finding them.  However the Kestrels that nest in the machinery were seen many times throughout the day.

Kestrel (c) Martyn Jones
We all headed for the comfort of the reception to take shelter from the incoming weather. Here we would gather some information for the site, have a coffee, and wait some 20 minutes for the heavy shower to pass over.

Male Pochard (c) Keith Williams
Eventually we headed out onto the reserve. From the top by the coal dragline the whole site is visible, and for those whom have never been, I can only describe it as an caldera of wetland. The site has a great population of Kestrels. We watched as the birds hovered on the wind hawking the grassy embankment before taking a well earned rest on the massive excavator. Further on, good numbers Curlew and Wigeon, gave great views.

Male Stonechat (c) Martyn Jones
Now in the depth of this once opencast mine, we followed a pair of Stonechat and a number of Meadow Pipit flitted across the path. Above us, just above the steep hillside a single Buzzard was harassed by two Carrion Crows, then the Crow decided to have a pop at one of the Kestrel. Further along the path a Red Kite soared above the hillside and yet again the Crow took a dislike.

Meadow Pipit (c) John Preston
We headed towards the causeway, via a path that dissects the whole site. Huge numbers of Moorhen to our left on the boggy wetland. The lagoons to our right Pochards, Goldeneye, Shovelers, Teal, Gadwalls, with a handful of Tufted Ducks, and a single Snipe over. Also a Cetti's Warbler burst into that unmistakable song undercover of the reedbed, accompanied by the squealing of a Water Rail.

Female Goldeneye (c) Keith Williams
On reaching the causeway, a Peregrine Falcon sped its way across the water, lifting hundreds of panicked Lapwing into the air. Also Herring Gulls, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, great numbers of Black-headed Gulls and what can be only described as a cover of Coot as far as the eye could see.

Grey Heron (c) Martyn Jones
Crossing the Causeway we would follow the Aire and Calder Navigation, a brief stop by the weir on the River Aire would only pick up some of our more common birds; Grey Heron, Blue and Great Tit.

Lapwings (c) Martyn Jones
Eventually we arrive at Astley Lake, here a single Linnet amongst the couple of hundred Lapwing and Black Headed Gull. A couple of Common Gull and as we wound our way back for some lunch, a Volery of Long-tailed Tits meandered its way by A charm of Goldfinch also passed as we retraced our steps back to the comfort and warmth of the RSPB Reception, anticipating a welcome brew and lunch.

Brown Hare (c) John Preston
After a spot of lunch, some information had come in of a large flock of Geese on the Owl Wood side of the reserve. So to kill some time before 3pm we set off. This turned out to be a rather muddy trek, circumnavigating a hill of arable set aside. Alas, not a goose in sight. But on reaching the furthest point, good numbers of Redwing a handful of Fieldfare and a single female Yellowhammer.

Redwing (c) John Preston
It was now Owl 'o'clock, about 3.30pm. Short-eared Owls to be precise. We made our way back down into the reserve. The coal dredge high above us and adjacent to the grassy slopes were we hoped to see our goal. Four Owls had been seen the night before, but as the light faded and the wind blew, it was not to be.

Waxing Gibbous Moon (c) Martyn Jones
Eventually we called it a day. We had been lucky with the weather really. But on the other hand not so lucky Owl wise I'm afraid. All in all 51 species recorded, not a bad return.

Thank you to all for your company as always . Wishing all our members a Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year.
Paul Pennington
Fieldtrips Officer

Whipping the Flash into Shape

A group of fourteen volunteers from the Pennington Flash Volunteer Group planted over 100 assorted berry tree whips on the edge of the kidney pond at Pennington Flash this week.

Led by L.O.S. Chairman David Shallcross and Wigan Biodiversity Officer Kieran Sayer, the whips were soon dug in to fill in the gap left where the previous trees had been felled to give access for the heavy machinery to enter the area for groundworks.

The group also did some litter picking and work on installing a new wooden floor in the storage container we have recently acquired.

All photos courtesy of PFVG member Chris Saunders.

Starling Murmurations

The Open University are asking for any photos or reports of starling murmurations between 1st November 2019 and 1st March 2020 to be submitted to their nQuire website:


'Please share your photos of starling murmurations and your experiences of observing them so that we can explore this great winter spectacle together.'

You could also record them in the comments underneath this post to inform L.O.S. members where to see them locally.

Here's a thing!

The area that has been known as "Bickershaw Rucks" or just "Bickershaw" now has its official signboard at the Smith's Lane entrance: Bickershaw Country Park! The board shows the northern circuit footpath very clearly, and on a walk round it today (admittedly with a lot of detours to snoop around copses and ponds!) I counted 234 Redwing, 1 Fieldfare (I'm sure there were more!) 64 Goldfinch, 2 Kestrels and 2 Buzzard, as well as hearing a Cetti's Warbler and a variety of our common species - 26 in 2 hours.

There are even some new benches around the site, once the concrete sets, though you may want to take along a bum-warmer as they are metal!! We need more observers there - it's an area where you work for your sightings, but let's use it so we don't lose it.