You should always find time for a Raven

I couldn’t believe my luck when I saw the great big black shape halting in the strong westerly past the office window this morning, especially when the Raven dropped down onto the roof apex just beneath my desk!
I hardly dared breathe as I tried to get a few pics of it through the window before it climbed back into the air again – just a magnificent thing.
For all its massive size it showed the typical lightness of movement of the species that was as entrancing as ever, gently lifting into the air for a few seconds only to drop down onto the roof again and bounce along the apex with an acrobat’s grace.
One of the Magpies that bred next to the office at Ainsdale squawked in to mob it, but the Raven merely batted its eyelids and smiled, before the midget beside it became an annoyance.
The Raven fluffed up to form an even bigger shape and the Magpie cleared off.
Pronto.

For all its agility it found the westerly a bit of a challenge as it perched on the roof, and soon lifted off, an absolute master once in the air again.

Then it was gone and the wall to wall events, meetings and reports came rushing back in.
I know they’re regular on the coast now, but Raven is still my favourite bird – what a beast.
A privilege to be so close to a critter that just exudes “wild”.
May you keep on “cronking” for years to come…

Locked out.

Nels Hide was still locked up way past 1pm today and with it access barred to one of the few interesting bits of water on the reserve at the moment – it summed up a midday visit to Marshside.
Sigh.
At least the two juve Greenshanks dropped in briefly in front of Sandgrounders Hide to feed with a small group of Blackwits before calling and heading off to the south, presumably back to the lagoon in front of the access verboten Nels.
Under broiling brightening skies, there was little else to get excited about.
Out over the wibbly wobbly heat haze of the Ribble, Lancaster, Typhoon and Spitfire shimmered above Blackpool for the airshow there.

Sprawk, Kestrel and Peregrine were hunting over the saltmarsh.
I called into the Sandplant where a flock of about 40 House Martins and a few Swallows and Sand Martins were basking on the new “berms” or collecting grit/sand, presumably to shore up nest sites on the housing estate.

On the upside, I spent a fine minute or two up close and personal with a Ruddy Darter on the Green Beach north of Ainsdale during a guided walk yesterday.
The beast let me get to within a few centimetres and there wasn’t a locked hide in sight.

And there was me thinking bug-time was over…

My quest for the white whale

I’ll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition’s flames before I give him up.

Okay, my dark desire is not quite as driven as crazy old Ahab’s, but I really want to see the leucistic “white” Sarnie Tern that’s been popping up in the roost between Ainsdale and Birkdale this past week.
I couldn’t get away from a job to see it yesterday, it wasn’t there on Tuesday, and I couldn’t find the damn thing today.
Odd how the obsession can get you – it’s not like it’s a tick or anything, but I need to see this critter!!!

Plenty of other terns in the roost today, with over 300 Sarnies, including a colour-ringed bird (blue with white lettering anyone?), Common Terns and just the one young Little Tern still hanging out with it’s bigger cousins.
As I counted the terns, more and more swept in and Sanderlings scurried about just a few feet from my position.

Ainsdale Sandwich Tern roost count 11.8.17:
1340-1430:

Sandwich Tern 359
(juves = 29; 6 ringed birds, and one with a blue colour ring with white lettering)
Common Tern 24
Little Tern 1 juve

Only minor disturbance today – one jogger and one walker, otherwise the birds were left in peace before heading out to fish and bathe after the tide began to fall back.

Don’t forget if you make a count of Sandwich Terns on Ainsdale beach this autumn, please submit it to my work email at john.dempsey@sefton.gov.uk – for the second year we are surveying the tern roost and establishing the level of disturbance it suffers, so all data will be gratefully received – many thanks (and thanks to the Friends of the Sefton Coast volunteers who are helping out with the survey this year).

Sandwiches before lunch

With an army of volunteers enlisted from the splendid “Friends of the Sefton Coast” for the second Sandwich Tern roost survey at Ainsdale this year, it was beginning to appear that I wouldn’t get a look-in.
Fortunately for me, unforseens meant I got a chance deputise and nip down for the count today recording the terns, looking for rings and monitoring the amount of disturbance.
With an afternoon job in Southport I couldn’t stay long, but it was worth it for the sound of the terns and the sight of ’em winging in against an inky horizon.

Count as follows:

Ainsdale beach, 1055-1210:

Sandwich Tern 337
(adults 307, juves 30; one colour ringed subadult, orange on left leg, metal ring on right)
Common Tern 36
Arctic Tern 4
Little Tern 3
(adult 1, juves 2)

Roost disturbance – dog walkers x4; jogger 1.

The dog disturbance was unfortunately far more predictable than the Little Terns – I was made up to see three of the midget gems dwarfed by the Sarnies and Commons, and even attempted an ill-advised zoom digi-scope record shot…. you can just make two of ’em out can’t you?

Many thanks to all the volunteers who are helping with this project this year – but if anyone else wants to submit any Sandwich Tern counts to me from the beach between Ainsdale and Birkdale, they can do so by emailing them to my work email at: john.dempsey@sefton.gov.uk
I’ll be collating a report on this second annual survey, any ringing returns and the amount of disturbance once the counts are completed in September.
Hopefully this will highlight the importance of this roost (over 2,700 birds at its peak last year) and the significance of disturbance on these birds.
Muchas gracias.

Snorkelling on the mosses

I had to drop off a snorkel and face mask for my godson Spud (so named because of the uncanny resemblance he bore to a potato at birth – he’s much older now, but still has the look of a King Edward about him), so I detoured via Plex to have a butcher’s at the stubble fields.
Best not dwell too much on what a teenager needs a snorkel and face mask for in the late summer dry West Lancs farmlands, but at least the stubble fields were interesting, being hunted over by Kestrel, Common Buzzard and a fine young Marsh Harrier.

The Marsh Harrier repeatedly pitched into the stubble, presumably after invertebrates, when it wasn’t scattering Woodpigeons and Stock Doves on lazy forays into the stiffening westerly.
I was always the wrong side of the wind to get particularly close to the harrier, but it was fun watching it for half an hour or so before the raptors melted away and the heavy rain swept in.
Ahh, so that’s what he wanted the snorkel for….

Between cake and Guadelupe Plata

Finding a birding space between birthday cake and music is always a bit tricky, but I managed to force a gap in my diary for an hour or two at Marshside this afternoon.
I’d probably have been better off staying home and eating even more cake.
Pretty quiet, although a perky Common Sandpiper dropped in on the island off Sandgrounders and a few Mipits were mooching about.
Six Avocets still at the back of M2 and young Willow Warblers calling in the hawthorns outside the hide.

A Snipe dropped in from high, plummeting into the vegetation behind the grazing cattle, while down at Hesketh Road a colour ringed Little Egret was hanging out.
Black “U” on orange on the right leg, number “6” on the left leg’s pink (?) ring.
Anyone know where that one comes from?

I’d check meself, but more cake beckons….

Runnel Stoned

As points of reference go, the buoy marking the position of the treacherous Runnel Stone off Porthgwarra/Gwennap Head isn’t a bad one to lock your ‘scope on for a day or two of top drawer seawatching.
With Neill at the wheel, and Jase Stannage, Bazzo and I stuffed into his Alfa as it stuck to the tarmac like a magnet for the long hours down into west Cornwall, we motored down on Wednesday night.
Finally familiar place names flashed by in the grey first light, on road signs engulfed in the lush vegetation of high summer hedgerows – Marazion, Mousehole, Lamorna, Rosketal….
We struggled up onto Gwennap Head loaded down with chairs, brollies, scopes, cameras, scoff etc early on Thursday morning (I’m sure that hill has got steeper since I was last here) and scanned the waves from 0630 to 1345.
A gentle westerly brought cloud and mist, before brightening later.
As ever, Cornwall did not disappoint, and a constant westerly procession of Manxies and Gannets, bore quality shear action cruising along with the local traffic.

Porthgwarra/Gwennap Head, 27.7.17, 0630-1345:

Sooty Shearwater 13
Manx Shearwater approx 4,000
Cory’s Shearwater 4
Balearic Shearwater 3
Great Shearwater 3
Gannet loads
Fulmar loads
Storm Petrel 18
Guillemot 4
Kittiwake loads
Razorbill 2
Bonxie 1
plus Chough (9), Shag, GBB, Herring Gull, Rock Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Stonechat, Bottle Nosed Dolphin (3), Harbour Porpoise (1), Common Dolphin (7).

With the weather calming down and getting almost too nice we called it a day and headed back towards Penzance, carefully checking behind the settee and under the carpet at St Buryan to see if the Amur Falcon was still about – it wasn’t.
Neill had booked us into the Lugger Inn, which certainly had more beer than we needed, but that didn’t stop us trying to test the fact beyond endurance, before we wobbled off into the tender embrace of a Thursday night in Penzance.
What goes on tour stays on tour – but thanks to Dan Pointon for making sure we all got back to our pit in one piece.
Friday morning was a bit, ahem, tricky after that, and remained so even after a restorative full English.
Still we got back up the cliffs and were settled with 15 or so other birders up on Gwennap Head for round two by 0845.
Greyer today, with a stronger westerly and frequent rain.
Conditions were promising and birds came in much closer, with more big shears and better views of them – and a stunning surprise Wilson’s Petrel, dancing, gliding and pattering over the waves.
The star bird came past at 0910, heralded by the call “interesting petrel” coming from a birder just below me (thank you, thank you).
After a stressful few seconds I had it in my ‘scope – big white rump, straight back edge to the wing and square tail (although this was hard to see).
It didn’t fly like a frantic Stormy, which always look to me like they are running late as they scuttle over the waves – “wind-blown Mars Bar wrapper” remains one of the best birding descriptions I have heard.
At the same time the Wilson’s Petrel lacked the sharp, pointed wing shape of a Leach’s, appearing more compact.
It danced along on dangling legs, pattering before stalling in the wind and sweeping into controlled glides low over the waves. Marvellous.
First one I have seen in British waters (happy, happy, happy).
I lost the Wilson’s as it drifted off west behind the headland, one of many that are off the south west as part of a mini-invasion at the moment.

Porthgwarra/Gwennap Head, 28.7.17, 0845-1130:

Cory’s Shearwater 23
Sooty Shearwater 5
Great Shearwater 3
Manx Shearwater 2,000+
Gannet loads
Fulmar loads
WILSON’S PETREL 1
Storm Petrel 11
Bonxie 3
Sandwich Tern 1
Razorbill 1
Med Gull 1
plus Chough (2), Shag, Herring Gull etc.

Some of the Cory’s and Greats were reasonably close in, giving stunning views – the big Cory’s aimlessly wandering along, looking like they had no particular place to go, while any Great Shear close enough to clearly show plumage detail always prompts a big big smile.
We pulled out to head back north just before midday, joining the rain-swept car park otherwise known as Britain’s motorway system to grind up the road with all the other lost souls in bumper-to-bumper tin cans.
Despite a tremendous driving effort from Neill, it took about five years to get back to Merseyside.
Luckily the cliffs and seabird passage were still burnt into our mind’s eye…

Failing to out-lazy a Cattle Egret

With Herculean effort the Cattle Egret grabbed at the air, rising above the Sandplant lagoon, then suddenly it got tired and dropped down onto the Junction Pool.
It was a quiet, hot sunny day at Marshside, so what else was I gonna watch?
I strolled down to the flaps and ‘scoped the beast for awhile.
Commendably inactive in the heat, the egret sat motionless on one of the islands for 30 minutes before strolling into the water, where it sat for another 20 minutes, the wheels in its head moving even slower than those in mine.
Then it strolled back to the island for more deep thought/inactivity.
No fishing/water-snail hunting for me, no-sirree-Bob.

After two hours of this high octane entertainment it flapped off a short distance into the long grass and coos and the lazy stand-off was over.
Earlier a check of Polly’s revealed a few Dunlin in with the Blackwits (approx 150 there) and a Brown Hawker, with two Ruff amongst the flocking young Lapwing on the Sandplant Pool.
Three Buzzards and Peregrine overhead, but what’s left of the Sandplant was quiet, apart from Gatekeepers, Linnets and Goldfinches.
Back at Dempsey Towers, Fly Agaric is starting to sprout up under the birches, so the exciting stuff can’t be too far away now.
At precisely the second I finished mowing the grass, the rain started – it was almost as if Big Baby J was horticultural director at the towers, which is vaguely, if hypocritically, reassuring ‘cos I ain’t got a clue what I’m doing out there.

Sharing a sea fret or two

Penetrating drizzle for most of the morning, but Reed and Willow Warblers still ferrying food to broods around the Hesketh Road platform, and a Grey Wagtail over.
Golf course quiet-ish, or rather, busy with most of the Pringle Tribe inspired no doubt by The Open, to spoil a good walk.
I left Marshside and popped up to HOM (this type of weather should have been good for a wader or two), where the adult Arctic Terns were occasionally displaying high above, drifting in slow, graceful formation circles, calling away.

Occasionally they fell to earth.
A few Dunlin, Curlew, Avocet, Oycs, Lapwing and Redshanks, with the Yellow Wagtails too. A Greenshank was calling and feeding in the rain just a bit too far away to try for a pic.

A young Peregrine spooked everything, tried for a Redshank and gave up to move away north, while three Ravens went cronking south.

Ravens, Greenshank, Peregrine, Arctic Tern – Donald Watson or Nethersole-Thompson would have felt right at home.

A scolding

South of Ainsdale yesterday planning out a guided walk* when I heard a loud, high pitched “tik…tik..tik” call.
It threw me for a moment or two, then I saw the sun bouncing off the undercrackers of a Grasshopper Warbler nearby – clearly I was too near its territory, so after a quick digi-bin (the eye cups are held on by Sellotape on my standard issue bins now, so the pics were inevitably ropier than usual) I moved on.

Dark Green Frits, Graylings and Dune Helleborines, and a family of Kestrels learning to hunt over the dune ridges.
Good news for the falcons, bad news for the Sand Lizards.
A lunchtime seawatch on Tuesday yielded 5 distant Manx Shearwaters, 7 Gannets, 80 odd Common Scoter (numbers picking up again now) and 15 Great Crested Grebes. Plus the local tern traffic.
Must do better.
*Guided walk booking details, should you want to attend at:
facebook.com/seftoncoast