Settling in at South Walney

After weeks of anticipation, an arduous journey involving a sleeper train and a welcome couple of nights at home in Manchester, I finally arrived at my field site, South Walney NR where I’ll spend the next three months researching the breeding Lesser Black-backed Gulls both on the reserve and in urban Barrow-in-Furness. South Walney NR, despite being on the “wrong” coast for rare birds, has an active bird observatory (which I can see from my bedroom window) and has produced some decent birds in recent years including Red-eyed Vireo and Isabelline Shrike. After bidding farewell to my parents and setting up my room, I decided to explore the reserve and search for any new migrants. I decided to visit the central marsh hide where a flock of 39 Black-tailed Godwit and a Greenshank demonstrated the potential of the central pools to produce a decent wader whilst my first Sedge Warbler of the year chuntered away intermittently from the reed bed. I then had a brief look at the sea from the sea hide where the awful heat shimmer ruled out the possibility of an evening seawatch. I think completed a quick circuit of the pools to the west of the cottages where another, showier Sedge Warbler, a Gadwall and three pairs of Shoveler provided some intrigue. Whilst walking back to the cottage for the evening a Whimbrel powering north overhead into the wind was yet another reminder that after a long winter, spring migration is now finally in full force.

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A showy Sedge Warbler.

With strong northwesterly winds forecast the next morning, I set an early alarm and was in the sea hide where I spent a productive hour seawatching. Of particular note was a northward passage of 25 Red-throated Divers whilst my first Little Tern of the year and 2 Manx Shearwaters also heading north into the wind added some quality. No seawatch is complete without an ID conundrum and the requisite frustration was provided by a distant pale phase small skua sp. which I picked up a couple of times as it battled north. The bird looked relatively bulky with relatively deep, powerful wingbeats but unfortunately it kept low to the sea and was mostly heading away from me, preventing me from nailing it. After this we headed out in the truck to check the moth trap which we’d left out overnight below central marsh hide. Unfortunately cold weather overnight meant that there was only one moth in the trap, a Common Wave, which was actually a new species for me! The rest of the day mostly involved working at my desk on various things with a trip to the National Trust reserve at Sandscale Haws NNR with a couple of members of Cumbria Wildlife Trust staff providing some variety to the day.

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Common Wave – the only moth in the trap.
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Blustery but beautiful – Sandscale Haws NNR.

This morning, I had a quick wander round the ponds, getting Little Grebe and Wren for my reserve list before beginning the daunting seven mile cycle up to Barrow to hand in some security forms at my urban study site. The bike kindly lent to me by the warden Sarah Dalrymple was unfortunately too small for my slightly oversized frame and this, combined with the bitter northerly wind in my face, made the journey a traumatic ordeal. Thankfully, the pain was lightened somewhat by a singing Whitethroat at Snab Point and a singing Lesser Whitethroat north of Biggar village, both of which were new for the year. The cycle back was slightly easier with the wind behind me and I was treated to distant views of the wintering Brent Goose flock and good numbers of waders being moved around by the tide. Late afternoon I made my first attempt to relocate colour-ringed LBBGs on gull meadow but there were relatively few birds loafing about on this much-diminished colony. I did manage to pick up a couple of colour-ringed birds but sadly they were too distant to get the combinations. Any further efforts were stymied by a hail shower followed by a massive rain/sleet squall which saw me sprinting to the central marsh hide to take shelter! I’m planning to spend the next few days looking for colour-rings at both gull meadow and on the spit so hopefully the notoriously fickle April weather has something more pleasant in store.

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The vagaries of spring weather.
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Author: liamsbirding

I'm a 23 year old PhD candidate at the University of Exeter Penryn Campus and a keen birder. Originally from Stockport. All views my own.

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