Sandbach : A Cheshire Spring

The county of Cheshire is renowned as a county of the countryside, the never ending hedgerows, farmers field teeming with wildlife of the traditional, the smell of cow manure in air, beautiful tucked away cottages on the country lanes & the melodies of love in air, I think we all can all agree that kind of environment is by far and least the most relaxing and stress relieving one there is. So far over the Easter Holidays I’ve been spending the majority of my days inside the house at my desk preparing for yet another set of Mocks soon as I return to College, on top of that I’ve also had the news that my Grandad passed away (thanks to Ben Moyes, Toby Carter & Cian Cardiff for your help), so as you can imagine I did need a day of rest to get my head straight.

Giving myself a day to go birding to what ever place I wanted I was finding it rather hard to decide were to go: Hilbre Island, RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands, Leasowe Lighthouse, Bidston Moss, Woolston Eyes NR & Birkenhead Docks (patch), were all circulating my head but the question that still remained which one ? In the end I prompted to head into the heartland of Cheshire to Sandbach Flash’s on the outskirts of Crewe. Having only visit the site only once before to see the Whiskered Tern’s that were present last May it does seem a little to revisit the site, however it’s in the middle of the countryside, there’s just one quiet country lane that passes through the sites main flash’s, no matter the time of year birdlife is abundant which as we are now in spring the love songs of Common Chiffchaff & Willow Warbler (the most sensational & charming warbler vocals to blessin your ears with), are in just about every bit of vegetation along with hundreds of gulls pouring onto the Elton Hall Flash to cleanse themselves after gorging themselves at the nearby Maw Green Tip.

Waking up to the dawn of April 11th it was a quick 5mins to get everything packed in the bag and heading off to Birkenhead Central for 6:30am to get my train to Chester, from Chester to Crewe & from Crewe to Sandbach were it was (in my head anyway) a simple task of walking along the country lines till I made my way to the flash’s. Taking into account this was only my second visit to the site and first time walking, it wasn’t the best of things when all of a sudden whilst checking maps to see weather I turn left or right that received a message from the folk at EE to say that “Sorry Mr Montieth but you’ve ran out of data”…..as you can guess I wasn’t the happiest Easter bunny, but after 10mins (and 2hrs later), I sure enough found my way.

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Elton Hall Flash – Yes it’s not the best of quality and really doesn’t do justice for what I was experiencing there and then, but hand on heart one the most tranquil site I’ve ever had the good fortune of visiting.

Whilst strolling along the country lanes I soon found what I’d come to witness, the full spring package in heart of my home county of Cheshire: An ocean blue sky sprinkled with Barn Swallows, Sand Martin’s & House Martin, the undergrowth was alive with Buff-tailed, Tree & Red-tailed Bees out and about along with Speckled Wood, Blue sp, Orange-tip, Brimstone & Small Tortishell Butterfly with the odd Grasshopper. The trees were now given a voice with the assistance of returning warblers, tits & thrush’s and even the odd nest could be located (Common Chiffchaff, House Sparrow, Common Blackbird & Western Jackdaw), but what put the icing on the cake was arriving to the sites 2 main flash’s: Pump House & Elton Hall.

Sandbach GCG edit_1
Great crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) – Whilst being “lost” I found myself on the banks of the Warmingham Flash which was were I found myself a very obliging Great crested Grebe complete in summer plumage.

Not wanting to disturb those already watching the ever increasing gull roost on Elton I popped next door over to the Field’s Farm Flash were I had a pleasant surprise of coming along a pair of Little Ringed Plover fairly close in. With never having much success in the past with photographing these fellas I took it upon myself to take advantage of this opportunity whilst it lasted. Commando crawling down along the side of the road that lead into the nearby farm, I edged closer centimetre by centimetre to the fence line were I could use trees behind to break up my outline & the fence post to hide against to maximise my opportunity to of getting a shot I could be happy with. Once I’d got myself into position it was just a case of those who wait shall be rewarded so that’s what I did, it had been over an hour of waiting with the combination of nettles in places they shouldn’t be and being bitten to death by mosquitoes before one of the plovers decided to take a little walk closer and closer to the lens.

After this little buzz I hopped over the road to the Pump House Flash as whilst watching me little didy plover, I heard the familiar call of Black-tailed Godwit so I went to have a little investigation. There was infact several Black-tailed Godwit present however and rather annoyingly none were with photographable range and sure enough dispersed when one of the local Common Buzzards decided to have a go at them. Never the less there was still a decent variety about with another pair of Little Ringed Plover, Gadwall, Common Redshank, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great crested Grebe and my first Eurasian Blackcap of the year with 2 males showing briefly as they were having a “heated debate” over breeding rights. But apart from that there wasn’t much else about so I departed and headed towards the king of the flash’s, Elton Hall.

Sandbach Blackcap_edited-1
Eurasian Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) – Can still recall the day I saw my first ever Eurasian Blackcap in the woods of Bidston Moss, Wirral

Elton Hall Flash is the one we all know & love, as well as being the regular hunt for Iceland, Glaucous, Yellow-legged & Caspian Gulls it’s also held host to a fair share of Sandbach’s rarities over the years with Whiskered Tern, Stilt Sandpiper, Lesser Scaup, Spotted Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs & Upland Sandpiper all recorded and accepted. However on todays walk about’s nothing of the kind was to be found, instead myself and several of the patches sat down and just spent several hours nattering in the sunshine and taking in the atmosphere which was just what the doctor ordered.

As the clocked ticked I was soon left to my own devices with a pretty decent list building up with Goosander, Mandarin & Yellow-headed Wagtail (according to wiki the name of the British race of Western Yellow Wagtail!),  so I decided that with plenty of time left to spend that it should be dedicated to couple of hours doing something which surprisingly not many Birders are into, gulling! Just so happens that Sandbach is also one of the best sites for gulling in the county and with a flock of 150c distant gulls I thought it would be a nice way to see how well Co.Wexford birder Cian Cardiff had trained me up.

Sandbach Flash gull roost_edited-1
What was left of the roost before the local Common Buzzards made several attempts on the surrounding Common Woodpigeons which in turn flushed the gulls.

Rather amazingly after just a few seconds of scanning the flock using my latest bit of kit a 12×50 monocular, I found myself look directly at one hell of a beast, a GLAUCOUS GULL! Despite seeing 2 of these gigantic gulls before this was the first time I was able to successfully collect a series of record shots to company with the experience. With the bird showing obvious signs of moult when it flew past, I was struggling to put an age to the bird, was it a 1st summer or 2nd summer ? With the lighting influencing the over all appearance of the bird I took my record shots and sent them over to Cian to see what his thoughts were based off the overall brown wash in low lighting, no sign of any 3rd cycle feathers, dark eye, majority of bill being pink & a brown tone to the breast + underparts that this was a 1st summer/2nd cycle Glaucous Gull.

1st cycle moulting Glaucous Gull at Sandbach Flashs_edited-1
1st summer/2nd cycle Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus) – Quality was never going to be award winning in the conditions but here you can witness the sheet size difference between it and the surrounding European Herring Gulls & Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

 

1st cycle Glaucous Gull in flight_edited-1
1st winter/2nd cycle Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus) – The best shot I could manage of the bird as it departed on flushing by the Common Buzzards; once again demonstrating the size of the bird in flight.

 

Glaucous Gull in flight at Sandbach_edited-1
1st winter/2nd cycle Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus) – Yet again showing the size but also the degree on which it stands out from the surrounding Lesser Black-backed Gull & “British” Herring Gulls, massively bleached in the extreme lighting that made me originally suggest a 2nd summer/3rd cycle than that of a 1st summer/2nd bird

After the Glaucous had departed that was pretty much the day over and done with as I’d seen and experienced everything I set out for as well as finding some time to get everything out of the system.

Thanks for reading,

E.

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