Spring in Shropshire – 20 Apr 2011

Eight birdwatchers set off from Sandbach on a brisk beautiful spring morning, which matured into a warm almost early summers’ day. A first, brief stop was made at Nantwich Lake to meet our ninth participant, and to juggle cars. We were soon speeding past Whitchurch and Ellesmere to Colemere, a fairly regular destination for Cheshire birdwatching groups.

The car park is on a rise overlooking the mere, and a good overview can be made from there. We quickly added Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Great Crested Grebe, Canada Goose and Cormorant to our list. We watched too as one of the Sandbach walking groups coincidentally arrived, having enjoyed a leisurely lie-in! Remarkably one of their number was the other half to one of our number! We of course commented upon the lateness of the walkers’ start and how they had missed the very best of the day! We waited until their much larger group set off, and then picked the opposite direction for ourselves – not, you understand, caused by any disharmony between the groups, but rather a hope that the birdlife would be less disturbed.

Colemere is a circular walk of around a mile through mature woodland with a couple of hay meadows thrown in and plenty of glimpses of the mere en route. Wrens were heard as soon as we entered the wood, and we racked up four Tit species (including Long-tailed) in the trees fringing the mere. The group quickly spread out over 50 metres or so, as members found their own birds among the canopy, and waited for them to show among the leaves. We heard Chiffchaff, and patience was soon rewarded with a glimpse as it sought sustenance in the birches. Another later was more showy on still-bare branches.

A pair of Blackcaps were seen, the first of four spread around the Mere. Jays were spotted feeding on the ground, before Treecreepers (at least three) and Nuthatches (2) fell to the sharp-eyed hunters. Great Spotted Woodpeckers had been drumming since we arrived but it was two thirds of the way round before we spied one in a glade. And yet further on before a Willow Warbler announced its presence with its delightful descending trill. Swallows seen over the mere completed our summer migrant sightings, before we used one of the picnic tables for lunch.

The afternoon venue was Wood Lane gravel pits, just a mile or so away, well known to one member over the years as a prime birdwatching site. Still a working quarry, its vertical sand faces provide nesting sites for Sand Martins, and a cloud of these birds high over the car park greeted us. A pair of Great Crested Grebes had three small black-and-white striped chicks, watched scrambling onto and off their parents’ back. And the scrapes yielded displaying Lapwing, 2 Oystercatchers and a single Greylag Goose.

We had arranged a tour of the whole site, which allowed us to see the process from farmland to nature reserve and fishing lakes, via gravel extraction and landfill, with a massive recycling works and a plant producing electricity from the waste landfill gas. We were able to see the next area, already partially landscaped, destined for conservation and angling. We did not miss the opportunity to view the gull loafing area, and found Herring Gulls among the Lesser Black-backs and Black-headed Gulls. Corvids too enjoy landfills, and the last bird to make its way into our notebooks was a Raven, flighting to the tip among Crows and Jackdaws. A total of 46 species had been noted.

One of our number lived close to the route back to Sandbach, and had invited us for tea, which was very gratefully received. The difference between the hot fetid dusty atmosphere of the recycling plant at Wood Lane and the calm quiet of Arthur’s garden was marked. And so ended a varied and interesting birdwatching day.