NATURE NOTES - Catching up on the birds

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A TWO-week break has been fantastic in recharging the old batteries ready for a new year and the challenges it brings.

Saying that, it’s been somewhat of a ‘busman’s holiday’ in chasing about birding and working on biodiversity plans etc.

2013 is Wigan’s year of Biodiversity - a very special celebration. More information to follow in the next couple of weeks.

The break did give me a great opportunity to ‘catch up’ with a few birds. Finally we got to see the waxwings we had been waiting for. Nine birds had taken up residence in Howe Bridge Cemetery and very photogenic they were too.

Other highlights included watching a peregrine falcon chase, then stoop and catch a teal mid air, then land not 20 metres from us and slowly pluck and eat it. Peregrines are pretty impressive birds but to see them in action is incredible – although the teal showed some unbelievable escape tactics – not good enough though, unfortunately.

Next we were treated to some close-up views of another of our native falcons, a female Merlin. It’s our smallest bird of prey, very similar to a small kestrel but its relatively long, square-cut tail and rather broad-based pointed wings, shorter than those of other falcons soon give its identity away. Its wingbeat tends to be rapid with occasional glides, wings held close to the body. Its small size enables it to hover and hang in the breeze as it pursues its prey. In winter the UK population increases as most of the Icelandic breeding birds migrate to our warmer climate. Although recovering from a population crash in the late 20th century it is still on the Amber List.

Barn owls are one of my favourite owls and to watch one flying during daylight hours is always a delight. We watched one quartering a field looking for prey for a good half hour. It’s ‘moth’ like flight very obvious as it fluttered low and then hovered for a couple of seconds as it studied something in the low grass.

Now here’s your chance to do something very important for our local wildlife. Mink are becoming a problem in the area and we need to assess exactly where they are throughout the borough. If you see one, or have seen one lately it would be great if you could send the details through using the link to the Leigh Ornithological Societies website. The LOS is collating all the sightings to allow us to build a map of how large the problem is.

Here’s the link http://www.leighos.org.uk/p/committee.html