There were some very enjoyable birding days in December. Early in the month, being on leave from work, I was visiting Hesketh Park in Southport almost daily, and the Marine Lake from time to time as well, during the first big freeze. The latter brought regular sightings of a 1st winter drake Scaup and plenty of Goldeneye, as well as the leucistic female Red-Crested Pochard that has been around the area for a while. But it was Hesketh Park that proved quite a revelation, with plenty of sightings of Nuthatch, Treecreeper, GS Woodpecker and Red Squirrel, as well as overflying Little Egrets, Curlews, etc. But when not one but two Firecrests turned up and hung around for several days, with one of the birds hanging on for at least a further week, it was a great payback for hours put in. Even today there was such a sizeable gathering of Goldcrests in the crepuscule that it’s still worth having a further scan to see if the bird is still around.
One Sunday morning watching the Firecrest with Bones, John A et al led to meeting up with Andy Pryce, who was kind enough to give Bones, me and Django a ride afterwards to Hesketh Out Marsh, where the greatest reward was a big flock of Bramblings as well as the usual raptors (and a Little Owl on the roof of one of the nearest barns.) And then once the snow set in for Christmas week, Andy and I went to Mere Brow on Christmas Eve to follow up on reports of the Waxwing seen there. We had no joy with these, but the huge flocks of winter thrushes and some great views of a Barn Own in superb light made for magical midwinter birding.
27th December saw Bones, Django and me jump aboard the first X2 bus of the morning heading to Preston, having already had a Woodpecker in Hesketh Park from the bus stop. An earlier trip up there in November, whilst it turned up plenty of Waxwings, saw us dip on the 1st winter Iceland Gull in the docks and we fancied another go at it as a starting point to a day of, we imagined, birding by bus. The X2 is a great bus, and it was notable that Stagecoach largely kept it running throughout the cold weather at times when the Arriva Southport wimps had long-since downed tools! Only Sefton Council’s competence (in keeping the Formby bypass unsafe!) caused part of the journey to be suspended. Anyway, it was a fine plan: X2 to Preston Railway Station, then 88C from across the road to Pedders Way.
The bird wasn’t immediately visible when we arrived, so I wandered to the nearby bacon butty and tea van, and had barely placed the order when Bones picked up the bird in flight. It settled further down the dock, but shortly after the butties were served it relocated near to where we were stood and, despite the bitter cold, the camera worked well enough for a bit of video although the stills were very disappointing.
Job done: back on the 88C, just four mins to wait at the station and we were hurtling back south exactly 2 hours after we left. We got off at Holmes and spent an hour or so on foot enjoying the winter thrushes and Whooper Swans around Holmes and Mere Brow village, before being tempted into the Legh Arms as we made our way back towards the X2 bus stop at the roundabout there. A phone call from John A enquiring if we were still out, and if so did we fancy heading to Hesketh Out Marsh met with a double affirmative, and we were enraptured by raptors including 2 Marsh Harriers, a ring-tailed Hen Harrier, Common Buzzard, Kestrel, at least 3 Merlin, a Sparrowhawk and a Peregrine, and entranced by the huge flock of Tree Sparrows and Bramblings with Reed Bunting, Corn Bunting and large numbers of Linnet. We had an eye out for Lapland Bunting too but didn’t pick any out. The fading light brought a Barn Owl and another Marsh Harrier. It was another superb day though, and a fine way to whet the appetite for making full use of dawn to dusk on New Year’s Day.