Saturday, January 08, 2011

Dawn Flight, Martin Mere WWT

Driving to Leeds in heavy snow, for a client meeting, morphed into the first leg of a journey that took me to a Premier Inn in Ormskirk, then to collect Helen from Wigan Station and back to said Inn for dinner and an early night, because...

We'd wanted to go back to Martin Mere WWT (last visit blogged in March 2007) and attend one of their dawn flight events. Having watched the weather forecast, we called the centre mid-week and were delighted they could accommodate us, so we duly made all the bookings.

Saturday morning was, thankfully, dry as forecast, the torrential rain of the night before having subsided, but a lot of heavy cloud cover remained. The warden of the centre told us this meant a longer than usual wait for birds to disperse from the Mere as dawn would be slower.

It was therefore properly dark when we got to the hide, but by around 7:20am you could, using binoculars, make out a number of the species. As it was bitterly cold and with the wind blowing off the mostly frozen water straight into your eyes, at around 7:45am the warden decided on a slightly early feed for the birds. Prior to this, a number of swans had started moving over to the heap of frost damaged potatoes that had been donated by a local farmer (there are some genuinely awesomely good farmers, however the morning was witness to the worst types too with a chicken shoot and duck and goose shooting going on all around the reserve - cynical evil scumbags).

As the warden started sorting out the grain, the Whooper Swans gathered in the emerging light:

The warden had earlier explained that this year a record 2,100 Whooper Swans have been recorded on the reserve, up from a few drop-ins in the mid-1970s when the safe haven was first created. The WWT really are a beacon in the global conservation movement, more power to them!

As well as the Swans, Geese and Ducks, a flock of 20-ish Ruff were interspersed along the shore of the Mere and on various islands:

One of the my favourite Ducks is the Pintail:

Seeing these birds reminded us of our visit in May to Alaska... can't wait for our next big trip :)
Before the feeding started there remained a good deal of surface ice:

Though the birds broke through a lot of it in their enthusiasm for the feed. Having watched the feed it was time for us to enjoy our breakfast in the new cafe, again a really good development of the site and a very good veggie breakfast, before heading back out on to the reserve.
One of the real highlights of Martin Mere is feeding the birds. We were the first out so proved very 'popular', first with the Red-crested Pochards, then the various Ducks and Geese (about 30% captive the rest taking advantage of the conditions) around the reserve. You just cannot help but smile, especially with Bar-headed and Lesser White-fronted Geese eating out of your hand at the same time :)

We visited some of the hides overlooking reserve land and got to see and better hear the movement of a few thousand Pink-footed Geese:

From the United Utilities hide you get really good views of Whooper Swans flying close-by:

We topped up on sweets (expensive but hey the profit goes to the Charity so we bought more than we should!) and then headed-up to RSPB Marshside, where we watched some of the Pink-footed Geese that had departed Martin Mere earlier:

A bit of a mad trip, but we have resolved to get out and about more and to walk and exercise more, this proving a great start. It also means we get to enjoy the positive side of winter, that of our visiting migrants. Tomorrow more digging beckons...

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