Between the heavy showers 14 birdwatchers gathered in Sandbach for the visit to Brockholes, just off Junction 31 of the M6 at Preston. The forecast had promised that the rain would finish by 1000, but proved as unreliable as usual, although it did turn cold as promised.
While waiting in the car park at Brockholes for our last arrivals, a small mixed flock of mainly Fieldfare with some Redwing amongst them rose above the scrub lining the river Ribble for what was our only sighting of the day. Half a dozen Linnets were more obliging as they zoomed around the small hawthorns on the berms of the car park.
Having gathered all together we set off to walk clockwise around the main pit and pools. As we approached the main north-south public footpath through the reserve, movement in the tops of trees caused us to pause, while we latched onto another likely winter migrant – Mistle Thrush, with its cousin Song Thrush alongside. We also stopped to watch a Kestrel hunting – a mistake, as the clouds approaching from the west released its untimely precipitation upon us. We faced a long trudge through the rain and brief hail to reach the hide on the east side of No 1 pit. As the water drained off our jackets, the illusion of thawing out commenced, but didn’t last long with the open windows of the hide. We were able to see a variety of waterfowl, Tufted Duck, Teal, Shoveler, Gadwall, Wigeon and a pair of very hungry Goldeneye. Why hungry? – the interval between dives was brief, as if the birds were in a hurry. Short enough intervals to prevent good views of the birds until the watching eyes were synchronised with the Goldeneyes’ rhythms.
Careful scrutiny of the near bank of the island gave up a single Snipe, poking around on the shoreline. And several Great Crested Grebe with well-grown juveniles were also swimming around.
When finally the rain ran eastward, and the sun emerged, we made our way round to the hide on the west side of No 1 pit. As we passed the most southerly point of the pit, we at last encountered some passerines, Great, Blue and Long-tailed Tits, Greenfinch, and our fifth thrush, a humble Blackbird. From the West Side hide we got good views of a small flock of Meadow Pipits feeding on the island, and a single male Pochard half hidden among the Tufted Ducks.
We rambled on, passing Goldfinches stereotypically feeding on thistledown near Ribbleton Lake. Some of our number made a break to double back on themselves, but were caught, turned, and released in the right direction! The wood at the north end of the reserve proved nearly birdless until we reached the corner near the burned out hide overlooking Boilton Marsh. Here we stopped and watched as a feeding flock went past, Goldfinches and more Tits, this time including a Coal Tit. We also heard and saw a Nuthatch, and a Treecreeper was briefly seen.
From there it was a short step back to the car park, where we picked up our sandwiches and headed for the floating visitor centre. Here we invaded the veranda of the restaurant and ate our lunch protected from the wind sitting in sunlight. And we saw a Jay on its perambulations, and a Buzzard mobbed by a flock of 20 Jackdaws. As lethargy started to creep over some in the group, calculations were made around how much time we had left in the car park, and whether it was worth an extra £6 per car for an extra hours’ watching. We headed home a little early, 46 species to the good!