Sunday, 31 January 2016

In between the storms... a quick visit to Sutton reservoir

Campbells (front) with Duclairs behind and a regular Mallard
In between the various name storms we're experienced this winter, I paid a brief visit to Sutton reservoir for the first time this year. I was greeted by the usual motley crew of Mallards and their super-sized domesticated-gone-feral  descendants of Duclairs and Campbells which were in their usual spot near the entrance, as well as a handful of Coots. There wasn't the treat of birdsong as I'd had earlier in the month at Quinta (presumably because it was cool, windy and generally unspringlike...) but several common woodland birds were moving through the trees flanking the reservoir - the familiar contact calls of Long-tailed tits, the alarming of a Blackbird, a Robin calling and singing half-heartedly in turn. 

In the centre of the water gulls surfed the unusually choppy (for a reservoir) water - they were nearly all Black-headed gulls, with a handful starting to develop their breeding plumage of deep brown on their heads. As usual, I checked for other types of gull amongst them. With a quick glance any interlopers often stand out because of their considerably larger size - previously at Sutton I have seen Herring and Lesser Black-backed gulls mingling with their considerably smaller comrades, today the giant among them was a single Common gull. Also almost them, and almost indistinguishable amongst all the Black-headeds with its similar size was [what I'm sure is] a Mediterranean gull, just developing the black hood which it has in breeding plumage. This was a first for me locally, but also not a bird I would expect to see here in eastern Cheshire at all, their distribution in the UK generally being restricted to the southern and eastern coasts of England. It was a bit of a 'bad photography day' and I only managed a record shot... 
Mediterranean gull (left) amongst 100+ Black-headed gulls
Coming home to roost - Black-headed gulls
The most numerous birds I saw by far were the Black-headed gulls - they roost on the reservoir and by late afternoon dozens more were flying in from wherever they had spent their day resulting in 150-200 of these birds on the water. 

Sitting on some steps at the western end of the reservoir (where I was nicely sheltered from the wind) I watched as  Great crested grebes fished for Perch - it was impressive both how many dives seemed to result in a successful catch, and also how the birds manage to swallow the unfortunate and comparatively large fish whole! In this relatively small reservoir I saw at least 5 Great crested grebes, all but one starting to develop their striking copper coloured breeding plumage for which they are so renowned. It is heartening to know and see how well they are now faring, having previously been hunted almost to extinction here for the plume trade so that well-to-do women in Victorian times could have hats adorned with their feathers. This unsustainable hunting (do we ever learn?) of native birds led to early legislation being introduced in order to afford birds some degree of protection, such as the Sea Birds Preservation Act of 1869 and the Wild Birds Protection Act of 1880. Despite these, the trend for ever more elaborate and exotic plumage (even, to the extent to whole (stuffed) birds) being used to decorate hats, led to the foundation of the RSPB in 1889 by women who opposed this cruel trade.

All of which leads me neatly into a quick reminder that this weekend is the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch, details for which can be found here. I shall grab a coffee and binoculars and start my hour of watching how many and which species of birds visit the garden this year (hopefully the rain might even stop for some of it....).

Great-Crested grebe

Grebe with Perch


  1. Med Gull is a great bird for Sutton Res Jan. Nice one. I went there a few times -along with Boseley - and saw very little...still I love it up there. Macc Forest, Shuttlingslow, Goyt Valley...fantastic places. I try to get up there at least once a year, in spring

    1. Thanks Phil – I sent the details to the county recorder in case it’s a report of interest. Lots of nice spots to visit close by – as you say, the reservoirs don’t often turn up anything particularly unusual (though there are of course the occasional oddities), but are still great places to visit and for me are only a 10/15 minute drive away. :)