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That's Funny, No Easter Bunny

Over the past week, given a bit of time off work due to Easter, I managed three visits to my Newchurch Common Patch, starting with sunshine and warmth and finishing with April showers! A nice bonus was the company of my wife, Carys, on the first visit.

On Big Pool a throwback to winter was the presence of 3(1 drake) Goldeneyes on the second visit, with a female and a pair seen on the other days. On Shemmy Moss it was nice to see 2(1 drake) Gadwall and 6(4 drake) Teal on the mossland pools. Otherwise 38 Tufted Ducks on Gull Pool were the main thing of note regarding duck sightings. A pair of Greylag Geese were on the mosslands, a nice change from the hordes of Canada Geese on the pools. A Common Snipe was seen asleep on a mossland pool and up to 8 Lapwings were in arable fields across my recording area, splitting off into pairs and getting ready to breed.

On Shemmy Moss 2(1m) Kestrels were in display whilst on my first visit a day count of 4 Sparrowhawks was my highest ever total for this species, 3 were over horse paddocks near Dairy Farm and 1 was over the mosslands. A day calling Tawny Owl was near the horse paddocks where I saw one with a thermal camera at the end of March. Several Stock Doves were seen including 2 in residence at one of the new owl boxes off Novia Scotia Lane. These ‘Barn Owl Boxes’ were erected as mitigation for the farmer taking out masses of hedgerows with a JCB and burning them, blatant environmental hooliganism! With no records of Barn Owls on site it was inevitable that the boxes would be used by Stock Doves and that this would be an empty gesture and no compensation for the loss of many hundreds of metres of fantastic hedges. A Collared Dove was near Common Farm as usual. A stronghold for a scarce species on my patch (but common as muck in my garden at home!). A count of 7 Magpies together in the former Leek Field was significant as my largest single group on patch. This very successful species is definitely on the increase here. A Rook flew over the mosslands on visit two, again a patch scarcity.

Another winter species still present was the flock of 34 Fieldfares in the former Leek Field, this flock (numbers vary on each visit) has been present for a few weeks now but is getting smaller with time. I always check my arable fields with extra vigour at this time of year and I got the reward I was hoping for on my third visit, a showery day and perfect for what I was looking for. In a field to the NW of Big Pool, which like others had been recently muck spread, I discovered 2 male Wheatears, so bright and colourful they could well have been of the Greenland Race. These were always distant across a field with no access and so only record digiscoped shots were possible.

As well as these I also found 2 White Wagtails, another ‘passage’ migrants in two of my arable fields. As well as these two species another sign of spring was the number of hirundines now being seen. On all three visits two species only were evident with the highest count being on day two, with 30 Sand Martins and 3 Swallows constituting my highest counts of the year. Two Pied Wagtails on Common Farm roof were watched in display, something I had never seen before, the male cocking his tail up vertically and dancing towards the female with feathers puffed out, looking more tropical than British! On Sandy Lane 3 Starlings were of note, again scarce on patch and common in my garden.

One of the highlights on the first day was a new species for the year anywhere in the UK for me in the shape of 5 Willow Warblers, all on Shemmy Moss. This had increased even further by day three to double-figure numbers of birds across much of my patch. The other warblers that have arrived so far, Chiffchaff and Blackcap, continue to be recorded in large numbers across the whole site. A male Stonechat on Shemmy Moss was nice to see again since it was only the third sighting of this species so far this year. A Yellowhammer and several Linnets were on Shemmy Moss, two species that always brighten up a patch walk, as 2(1m) Bullfinches seen on day one also did.

A total of 50 species was seen on the first day, a morning and afternoon visit helping to swell the total. Over the three visits I recorded 54 species, which was excellent given the dearth of winter species and the lack of arrival of many summer migrants.

Away from the birds a very significant sighting was a Water Shrew on Shemmy Moss, a species that I have recorded before but not one I even see annually. As I held the log up that it was under, my wife managed a quick record shot before it scuttled off into the undergrowth.

On the wettest of the three days I thought it most appropriate to record 4 species of amphibian. The rarest of these was a single Palmate Newt, found in the expected area of Shemmy Moss, a lowland heath/bog area with shallow acid pools.

Also found were 5 Smooth Newts at Gull Pool, a permanent deep water body.

Nearby a Common Toad was found and a mass of Frogspawn, which tentatively counts and my fourth species!

The sun on day one brought out the butterflies in good numbers, all in the mosslands area, with 3m Orange-tips being my first this year. Also seen were an impressive 30 Green Hairstreaks, my patch being a Cheshire stronghold for this relatively scarce species. Other butterflies on the wing were 2m Brimstones, 4 Commas and 3 Peacocks.

Other insects were taking advantage of the spring warmth, most notably at least 8 Green Tiger Beetles on Shemmy Moss which seemed supercharged by the sunshine. Other ground beetles seen were Nebria brevicollis and Pterostichus nigrita, with a couple of large unidentified Carabid larvae also being found.

A 7-Spot Ladybird was seen on Sandy Lane.

A queen White-tailed Bumblebee and a Common Carder Bee were the first of those species seen this year with lots and lots of Buff-tailed Bumblebees about. The hoverfly Eupeodes luniger was seen on Shemmy Moss, making a change from the two species of Dronefly that are dominating hoverfly sightings at the moment.

As Easters go that was a good one, no eggs, no rabbits, no chicks, but a blooming great few days on my local patch, and chocolate definitely was consumed, as well as a few beers!!

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