APEM’s Chester office sits among aircraft hangers, warehouses, small offices, an airstrip and a railway line. But look a little closer and you can see that it is surrounded by several organic mixed-use farms and is no more than 700 m from a tidal stretch of the River Dee, the estuary of which is amongst the most significant areas for non-breeding waterbirds in the UK.
Throughout the year we are graced with a variety of residents such as little egrets in the surrounding fields and dykes, common buzzards soaring overhead and oystercatchers calling near the River Dee.
To my delight, locally scarce grey partridge, stock doves and tree sparrows also still hang on in the local organic farmland, whilst skylarks can be heard singing beautifully from height throughout the year, adding a sparkle to a lunchtime stroll. This year ravens also bred locally, adding their deep guttural tones to the air.
In truth anything can turn up and to my surprise I have had encounters with a kingfisher flying up the railway line, a green woodpecker yaffling from the patchily wooded fields and both treecreeper and goldcrest in the trees opposite the office.
Cycling to work one morning I even had to rescue a lesser whitethroat that had been stunned by a passing car and which, despite looking a little worse for wear, did recover once I had warmed it up a little in my hands.
Throughout the year the changing seasons bring a revolving cast of birds that always includes a few star species. In winter I have spotted merlin chasing meadow pipits, woodcock on the grassy approach to the office, brambling feeding in the surrounding stubble fields and a short-eared owl hunting the ditches.
In spring, wheatears flash their white rumps on the airfield from between fighting brown hares, whilst greenshank occupy the river banks and curlew fly north overhead.
In summer, kestrels, swallows, blackcaps and pied wagtails breed on the site, to name a few. The pied wagtails nest so close to the office that this year I had to politely ask Keith, our managing director, to move a fledgling bird from behind his car wheel before he drove off.
So the seasons have brought us to autumn, a time beloved by birders because it brings with it the opportunity to spot birds that have strayed far from their usual residences or migration paths.
During the autumn I always try to arrive at the office earlier than usual to potter about before work. This has paid off with sightings of hundreds of swallows and house martins, as well as meadow pipits and finches (including siskin and lesser redpoll) migrating south overhead. To my amazement scarcer birds such as whinchat and yellow wagtail have also dropped onto the airfield, whilst bar-tailed godwits and snipe have flown over.
The highlight of the early autumn though is always the geese. Thousands of pink-footed geese can fill the morning skies as they move east towards Norfolk, cackling to each other overhead in their V-shape formations.
Some geese drop onto surrounding fields and to my surprise, whilst counting Canada geese in a recently harvested cereal field I saw a lone barnacle goose – the one hundredth bird species I have identified in the vicinity of the office in the last three years.
However, as much as a hundred species feels like a milestone, I have already added to my tally with the addition of a cattle egret this week taking the list to 101 and rising. It just goes to show that interesting birds can turn up anywhere if you keep your eagle eye out.
If you have any queries, please contact Sean Sweeney, ornithology technical specialist.
Alternatively you can email us here. Or call 01244 520 460.