7th January 2012 - Anglers CP/Pugneys CP

An American At Anglers

Still being early in the year and having the next couple of weekends booked up it was decided to ask around to see what was about on the bird front and hopefully set about a day out with some decent places visited (preferably a few new locations) and pick up on some of the rarer species on show. A chat the night before with my brother revealed that the Wakefield area may be productive with several decent dickie birds within close proximity. The question was asked as to where these birds were at (I refuse to twitch birds on industrial estates and in peoples gardens etc. as I really don't feel that contributes to what I deem a wildlifing day excursion) and when it was revealed that Anglers Country Park (already visited and a very choice location) and Pugney’s Country Park (somewhere new) were the sites involved the OS maps were pulled out and a sketchy itinery for the day was drawn up.

Leaving home next morning at 7.35am prompt and arriving at Anglers Country Park at 9.10am exactly wasn't a bad trip at all and although the crazed roadways through the North Yorkshire towns tested my navigation skills only one wrong turning was had. We were more than happy with the travelling time and lack of errors as our escapades over the years into built up areas such as Dewsbury, Bradford, Hoyland, Leeds, Barnsley etc. (usually whilst trying to find a venue for a punk rock gig) has really educated us as to what a downright one-way maze these places can be.

First birds seen were on approaching the car park with a flock of fleeing Fieldfares (Turdus pilaris) flashing their blue-grey rumps and giving away their identification. Once parked up time was taken to view the feeding station which gave good shows of a nice flock of Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) - don't you just love those chocolate brown crowns, a healthy flock of tinkling Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis), Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) and the odd Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus), Great Tit (Parus major) and Blackbird (Turdus merula) thrown in. At this time of year it is always worth checking these seed eating gatherings for the odd Brambling or two but no such luck was granted on this occasion. Gear sorted we left the warm confines of the car and stepped into a slight chilly breeze that would test our constitution throughout the day. A toilet break was taken (the first of many for me but the only one that involved a public convenience - I do apologise but when the kidneys gotta evacuate the liquids they just gotta be relieved – it’s the stones tha' knows) and to the main body of water we went with the first hide not too far away and hopefully presenting us with views of the first big bird of the day. Just outside the hide though we were treated to some solid views of a perched Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) and I did wonder, yet again, if there is indeed a finer looking British raptor. What a beautiful creature the Kestrel is with the male being the ultimate well groomed chap sporting his pinkish buff coloured chest, superb black-spotted chestnut brown upperparts and that oh so regal looking blue-grey head.  The bill is distinctly hooked, bluish in colour with an often overlooked yellow cere.  The cere is a waxy structure that covers the base of the bill and in raptors, amongst others, the cere is a sexualised signal that indicates the physical condition of the bird.  The colour of the cere can also indicate the gender of the bird with the chirpy Budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus) a prime example (blue in the male, pink in the female).

Once settled inside the hide the task began of browsing the birdage (cool talk hey - get down with the kids dude) and hopefully coming across the first sought prize (I'll keep you guessing no matter what). Initial impressions were of the good numbers of birds out on the water with Wigeon (Anas penelope), being the predominant species (now that could be a niggle). The usual characters were on show with Pochard (Aythya ferina), Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula), Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) and Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) obvious but within the mix were a few Great Crested Grebes (Podiceps cristatus) and one particular Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) whom looked quite out of place within the feeding melee of the bigger species. I do adore little grebes and again love their alternative name of Dabchick although this name does apply to any of the various small grebes of the genus Podiceps. Even though I am viewed as a rough and ready hardened punker from 'ooop North' you'll never convince me otherwise that a Dabchicks fluffy rear end ain't cute!

Scanning on and back to that flock of Wigeon. Within the gathering, if information and instinct are indeed correct, should be the much sought after American variety. The last time we saw one of these quaint quackers was at Wyre Estuary Country Park over near Cleveleys in Lancashire. Unbelievably so, that vivid memory was from 8 years ago and time was due to catch up with another. It ain't only the ducks that fly as it seems time gives them a good flight for their money - how can we possibly keep up? Close scrutiny was taken with each Wigeon checked until...oh until...the male winter US version (Anas americana) was had through the ever reliable scope. My lasses were called immediately whereupon I accidentally kicked the tripod the scope was on and lost the darn bird (not the first time). Amazingly it took me well over 20 minutes to locate this little tinker again and this time my long awkward legs were taken away with care and views were duly had by my wife and daughter. The cream coloured cap running from the top of the head to the base of the bill (which accounts for the birds alternate name of Baldpate - insulting or what), the worn out winter plumage of the greenish facemask, the pinkish brown body, the white wing patch and the black and white rear end all confirmed the identification and several decent viewings were achieved. This bird is a rare but regular vagrant to Western Europe and, with time allowing and a willingness to get up and go, can be easily included on most annual lists but should still be enjoyed for the beast that it is. Point here must be made of another bird picked out by my wife which may, in the next few seasons, be even harder to see than our American friend. The Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) is under attack from the RSPB and is being culled by the thousands in order to stop it interfering with the breeding of the White Headed Duck (Oxyura leucocephala) in Spain. The eradication process is quite costly and so divides opinion as does the fact that these smart ducks are being so sadly wiped out in this emerald isle. The two sides of the debate hold vehement and convincing arguments with one camp stating that the thuggish and amorous behaviour of the Ruddy Duck will eventually wipe-out the White Headed Duck species in Spain due to constant cross-breeding that is producing a hybrid bird that eventually threatens to destroy the purity of the White Headed race. Add to this the Ruddy species having a call similar to a belch, a penis the length of half its body and the fact that after mating the male completely ignores its partner and the condemned quacker is really up against it. On the other hand many claim that our Ruddy Ducks don't migrate to Spain and it is only French birds that cross into the Spanish territories with the French not carrying out any culling procedures and so making our efforts pointless. The debate rages on. Besides all this I think the duck in the firing line (literally) is a beauty with the female spotted today well and truly enjoyed even though less showy than the blue billed, black headed, white cheeked, chestnut bodied, stiff tailed male (with the big pecker of course). What would we do?  Well live and let live is a strong motto and remember it is human interference that starts most of these problems in the first place – think on!

Time to move on and a scan of a healthy looking flock of Greylag Geese (Anser anser) produced a head twitching Greenland White Front (Anser albifrons flavirostris) that, from a rear view, would take some spotting but from head on is unmistakable with its big white facial patch around the bill. Another pause was had, in a building wind, to briefly take in the delicacies of a female Goldeneye. I strongly advise any birder to take more time to study this lady as she really is an understated pip. With her white flanks, breast and belly, the slate grey body and tail and chocolate brown head studded with that wonderful golden eye I really do prefer this to the stark two-tone of the more glamorous male. I do feel the more subdued birds are so often passed by and not appreciated for the genuine subtle and natural artistry within the plumage so here is my first call for attention for the overlooked understated.

Due to the cold and my wife and daughter having tear-filled eyes I was persuaded to take the woodland walk route back to the car rather than complete the exposed circular walk. Sometimes you just know when you are beat so through the immature woods we walked. A Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) was found skipping along the hedgerow and one couldn't help marvel at such a tiny creature defying the obvious inclement conditions. The UK's smallest bird this 9cm wonder weighs in at a meagre 6 grams and yet can lay up to 12 eggs in one clutch which represents one and a half times her body weight - and to think our good lady’s think they have it hard! With trees around it was a time to have a look for a few fungi and after disturbing a Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) 6 common species were seen for this time of year which were Hairy Curtain Crust (Hairy Stereum), Razor Strop Fungus (Piptoporus betulinus), Tar Spot (Rhytisma acerinum), Birch Woodwort (Hypoxylon multiforme), Candlesnuff Fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon) and Blushing Bracket (Daedaleopsis confragosa). Always worth a look I feel!

Back at the car and another scan of the feeders with nothing new on show so, to finish the visit, a short wander down to the beginning of Haw Wood was had. Plenty of potential was on show but the only birds added to the days tally were a flock of regimented Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus), a brace of punked up Rooks (Corvus frugilegus), a lone rasping Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus) and one or two feisty Starling (Sturnus vulgaris). Back to the car and Dunnock (Prunella modularis), House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) and Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) completed a list of 47 species that I feel was more than a little satisfying. Anglers Country Park is obviously growing as a birding location and with a variety of special habitats is one to visit on an annual basis at different times of the year. A swift pack up and on to the next location it was with the potential of 2 good species and a chance to check out a new venue.

2 Prizes at Pugney’s

Pugney's Country Park was found with little fuss and after a well earned coffee and sandwich break we went out into what was an absolute chiller of a wind. The route taken was a circular right to left with the northern half of the water reached in no time and lo and behold a cracking view of a blasted Great Northern Diver (Gavia immer), lapped up. For company were numerous Great Crested Grebes (Podiceps cristatus) and the odd Goosander (Mergus merganser) but all eyes were nailed to the off route fishing machine with its pale ashy grey to white plumage and strong powerful upturned bill. Moving around the edge of the lake achieved better views but the wind was a real untamed devil today and no matter what clothing one wore it snuck through with spiteful intent. Having had good views of the Diver the lasses made off to the distant hide whereas I trailed behind and had several more viewings. Impressed, you bet but imagine my surprise at seeing a second Great Northern slightly closer in and displaying the slightly chequered back and intriguing composed eye. Even though the conditions were harsh this bird exhibited a complete disregard and the fascination was all mine. I really didn’t want to move on but even I was getting a bit windswept and so made the decision join my wise comrades in the comfort of the hide. Out of the wilds it was remarkable to actually feel the temperatures without the wind which were nothing less than mild. A quick mooch, nothing within range so the next hide was sought and found. Locked - bugger! Luckily the trees are bare of vegetation at this time of year so a natural peephole was found and through it we voyeuristically viewed the secreted wildfowl. The target was a Red Crested Pochard (Netta rufina) and within the first ten or so birds a stunning male was found. I always have my doubts about these birds as many escapees are on the loose but it really doesn't bother me as regards listing as it is a bird, out in the wild and, one we always enjoy seeing.

The final stretch back to the car brought little for the list with Redwings (Turdus iliacus) flitting in the hedgerows and a Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba) skirting the edge of the water. Overall a lowly count of 22 species but with plenty of potential shown for future visits. I do reckon though this can be a very busy place in the summer season so may well be best avoided and if birds are what you are coming for beware the sailing club who are liable to disturb anything of interest.

Another day done and whilst heading back a quick potter into Denby Dale was had to check out a bookshop (no money spent which was a surprise) and a quick shuftie over the moors to pick up Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus scotia) was a complete failure. Some quality stuff seen again though and keeps things ticking along nicely – it’s good to get out there!