It’s been a while since we’ve had an update from Woolston Eyes, so here’s a 2019 round-up from me (Dan Gornall):


Breeding season round-up:

All in all it was a great breeding season for the Eyes. Perhaps the highlight was the reserve's first ever breeding record of garganey and the first confirmed breeding in Cheshire since 1975! Black-necked grebes had a good year, with 10 fully fledged young being the final count of the season. Black-headed gulls had much more success than last year, with plenty of nests in the Phragmites, on the rafts and also on the scrape (thanks to the new predator fence!).  Willow tit seemingly had a great breeding season, with 17 territories being logged across the reserve, 10 of which were on No.4 bed. This further highlights the importance of this stronghold for willow tit, that is also part of a larger corridor interlinking several other key breeding sites. Breeding wildfowl were aplenty too, with around 10 broods of pochard on No.3 bed, including a female with a massive 16 young (presumably a creche), an increasingly rare sight in the UK these days.

Pair of black-necked grebes (Photo – David Bowman)

Pair of garganey (Pic – Dan Owen)

Willow tit nest (Pic – Dan Gornall)


Reserve management round-up:

A few of the main habitat management events…..

Balsam bashing….. of course dominates the volunteer work party agenda during the summer months. Here’s the team getting a head start on our winter seed crop area:

Everyone getting stuck into the Balsam (Pic – Dan Gornall)

Reed cutting – each year in August/September we drop the water levels and spend a few weeks working hard in the reedbed, armed with brushcutters and a team of volunteers. We cut new channels, bays and islands in the reedbed, creating/opening up channels for birds to feed in, aiding visitor viewing, encouraging new reed growth and breaking up the hard edge of the reedbed. All essential management for black-necked grebes!

The team reed raking (Pic – David Bowman)

Coppicing – This year’s area of willow/birch woodland has been coppiced. An annual task, targeting areas of mature woodland with little understory on No.3 bed, in order to improve the habitat for willow tit. Some examples below:

Area before coppicing (Pic – Alistar Grubb)

Area after coppicing (Pic – Dan Gornall)

Area coppiced 3 years ago and it now has breeding willow tit (Pic – Dan Gornall)


Birding highlights:

It’s been an exceptional year for birding on the reserve, and as I am writing (with only a couple of weeks remaining), the reserves year list currently stands at 154 species. One of the highest totals in recent times, and with this comes a number of great birds…..

Some highlights below:

Little bunting - second record, first since 1994 (Pic – David Spencer)

Overflying Iceland gull, of the sub-species kumlieni, first reserve record (Pic – Dan Owen)

Can’t beat a May black tern day! (Pic – Dan Owen)

Siberian chiffchaff (Pic – Dan Gornall)

Little gull that graced the reserve in spring (Pic – Dan Gornall)

Common scoter (Pic – David Spencer)

There has been four records of kittiwake this year (Pic – Dan Owen)

Other highlights include - bearded tits (First since 2007), hawfinch, firecrest, bittern, Arctic tern, bar-tailed godwit (First since 2011), wood sandpiper, scaup, osprey and hen harrier.

All in all, 2019 was a fantastic first year in the job for me, and there's plenty of exciting developments planned for 2020 - look out for my next blog in a couple of months for another update.