40 minutes of fun

Did a quick circuit down to the sheep enclosures and back from the office at Ainsdale at lunchtime today – the cold, grey morning didn’t bode well, but it wasn’t bad at all.
A fairly showy Grasshopper Warbler was reeling away within earshot of the office – one of three I heard as I strolled about, trying to photograph miniscule spring annuals for an article I’m writing.
Tiny, fiddly things, especially in a cold breeze, and while Rue Leaved Saxifrage, Early Forget Me Nots and Spring Vetch are all undeniably beautiful, I’ll take the Gropper every time.

A short distance down the path a superb male Whinchat was perched up looking miserable in the cold, but I was delighted to see it.
Great birds – you can never have too many Whinchats.

A few Swallows pushed through and Willow Warblers were singing away from the birch scrub.
At least five Whitethroats were singing on site too, but only two were bothering with display flights as the sun tried to break through and the temperatures rose a little.
A whistling Whimbrel moving north overhead was the icing on the cake – I’ll take that as a lunchbreak!!!

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A moth to a flame

Couldn’t help it – I had to check Plex Moss early doors this morning (just in case).
Wrap-round blue skies unsurprisingly meant there was little in the way of passage, but Swallows were back at a number of breeding sites, up to seven Corn Buntings were jangling, and pleasingly at least four male Yellowhammers were at three different places.

Haskayne Cutting was early morning peaceful, with Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler (stacks singing in Ainsdale LNR yesterday morning – see pic above) , Blackcap and a fine male Lesser Whitethroat which was easy to follow through the scrub as leaves are only starting to open out again – its gleaming white underparts and bandit mask really stood out, but it didn’t hang around.
It didn’t even treat me to a rattle.
Then again neither would I with one of the locals looking on hungrily…

Small White and Peacock butterflies on the wing there, and the annual Cowslip conundrum blooming again…how did they get here?
A relic of the old railway line or a more recent arrival?

A check of North Moss Lane on the way home revealed a distant feeding flock of at least 36 Whimbrel keeping their heads down right at the back of the field with the big black Moss Angus coos in.

…and another thing

This hot weather finally saw reasonable numbers of Wheatears starting to move along the Sefton coast over the last two days.
It’s a strange year when “normal” passage numbers don’t start appearing until the middle of April.
But a close encounter with these things is always a treat – worth the wait.
I came across this lot yesterday at Ainsdale LNR – an approachable group of five scurrying around the fixed dunes and actively feeding, when they weren’t perching up on the vegetation (all very Greenland behaviour).

Hoopoe jam

Kate Martin, Formby area ranger with the National Trust sounded a tad bemused when she rang at lunchtime….
“I think I’ve just seen a Hoopoe in the asparagus fields”, she explained. “We were driving through and it flew up and into the woods”.
Given that a Hoopoe showed briefly at Hightown this morning (thanks to Pete Gardiner for the gen – see previous posting) before melting away as spring migrants often do, I thought Kate was right.
It was lunchtime so I whizzed down to Freshfield, narrowly avoiding the lengthening car park queues which are a feature of the coast on hot sunny days.
A scan of the asparagus fields south of the Victoria Road beach car park revealed the Hoopoe feeding along a track in the hot sun.
Very Mediterranean.

I didn’t get too close to the bird as it kept flying into the pine belt east and west of the asparagus fields, but always flapped back in to feed.
Apparently some muck has been spread on the fields in the last day or two – vital for healthy asparagus growth later in the season – so I guess it’s just about Hoopoe heaven.
Thanks to Kate and the National Trust team – top find…
See below for a Hoopoe-happy Kate!

If you go looking for the Hoopoe, please stay out of the fields – there is no public access to them.
The best place to look from is the footpath that runs south from the Victoria Road beach car park and skirts the asparagus fields.
The bird was favouring the southern fields at lunchtime.
Spiffing.
Two Sandwich Terns past Ainsdale earlier, Wheatears and hirundine numbers finally starting to pick up.

Can’t say as I blame it…

A S/SWly picked up, but it was a bitterly cold one this morning at Marshside and saw the Spoonbill clearing off to the south and gaining height, after it had dropped down briefly in the wind-chilled waters of Marshside One.
Black tips to the primaries noticeable as it passed over us.
A Common Tern was being chased by gulls inbetween picking items off the surface like an Arctic.
Confusing.
Earlier a walk down the public footpath through the golf course between Hesketh Rd and Marshside Rd revealed no new arrivals, but the Ring Necked Parakeet was still squawking about, and Blackcaps, Chiffies, Goldcrest and Willow Warblers were singing.
A single Tree Pipit went north and small numbers of Redpoll and Siskin were on the move.
Meeting up with Neill, Bazzo and Andy Pryce, we checked the Sandplant (Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, White Wag) and popped into Sandgrounders for minimal Med Gull action.

Up at Crossens Outer, two Barnacle Geese were with the Pinks still, but the lion’s share of the geeses were further up on Banks Marsh and so well out of range.

The wrong Mallards.

Distance is of course entirely relative; Australia is quite a long way away, and it seems to take ages to get to Cornwall (personally I think it gets further away each year), while the walk down to Nels has always been a killer.
But this morning I encountered genuine interplanetary distance, after picking up Neill, Tony Owen and Skipper Rothwell and whizzing up the M6 to Leighton Moss for the Black Headed Wagtail.
The bird was “showing” as soon as I pulled up by the Eric Morecambe Hide car park at about 8am – but it was miles away as we ‘scoped it.
I think the White Tailed Plover at Caerlaverock may even have been closer on that marvellous Tower of Babel evening years back…
The situation was made worse by the fact that the bird looked absolutely stonking through the ‘scope – jet black head, canary yellow throat and underparts and lovely olivey uppers.
Best. Wagtail. Ever.

It was raw cold and the Cetti’s Warblers were laughing at us from the ditches as we tried everything from prayer to ESP to get it to fly closer, but to no avail.
I’ve seen one on muckheaps in Israel back when, but I wanted better views than this.
Once the chill had us shaking uncontrollably and we’d filled 20 SIM cards with blurry pics of vast savannahs of spring grass with the occasional yellow dot (using dozing Mallards a mile away as a focus point was okay – assuming you were on the right dozing Mallards), we decided enough was enough.
We drove round to the railway crossing – luckily the pipits and wagtails in the field were getting flighty and the Black Headed Wagtail dropped in pretty close, affording us gorgeous ‘scope views as it scampered about, but it was way beyond my photographic abilities as these images ably attest.

If anyone wants to order prints for above the fireplace – you know who to call…
After the close encounter of the extreme range kind, we motored back south, calling in for a brief but delightful audience with the Wood Warbler that was found by Andy Pryce this morning at Marshside.
Small parties of Siskins were moving overhead and Blackcaps, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs were doing the business as we watched the sherbet-throated stunner as it zipped about the mercifully bare branches.
They are usually a lot harder to watch than this, melting into the green leaves of spring that are so late unfurling this year.

Biggest whitest undercrackers of any of our warblers.
Magnificent.
It only trilled the once while we were there, but it was a class act all the same.

Next round

The day wasn’t quite as good as I’d hoped, but it wasn’t without highlights.
Got down to Marshside for just after 9am, and met up with Bazzo to watch two Common Sandpipers from the Hesketh Rd platform, before walking the public footpath through Hesketh Golf Course.
A bit cooler than I’d expected, but Blackcaps were still carrying nesting material and the lurid green squawking machine was screeching around the treetops.

Otherwise, just a few Siskin over, a single Sand Martin and the same phylloscs that were in place a week ago.
Two Small Tortoiseshells on the bank hinted at spring. But it wasn’t a big hint.
The sandplant was quiet, bar a few White Wags and mipitry, with more through in front of the Sandgrounders Hide where we met up with Mad Dog Bannon.

About 3,000 Pinks were on the outer marsh, with the Common Buzzards, Kestrel, Sprawk etc.
I left the hide only to see the silvery grey wings of what looked like a Ring Ouzel powering out of the hawthorns beside the path and away from me, but my views weren’t great, and although we checked in case it had dropped into the remains of the Forest of Bale, there was no sign of it.
I let it go – I think you have to see birds as classy as Rouzels well to count ’em.
I left as I had to get down to Ainsdale where the Gems In The Dunes project were staging an open day, and by the time I arrived at 1230 the afternoon was finally starting to warm up.
Walking into the dunes, a few Willow Warblers were in full song, Emperor Moth, Peacock butterfly and Green Veined White were on the wing and there were stacks of Vernal Mining Bees out.

Andy Pryce had two Rouzels in the morning at Ainsdale so I decided to amble south through the grazing enclosures, as small groups of Redpolls buzzed through.
My first Yellow Wagtail of the year flew over my head calling, as yellow as the flowering gorse that my only Wheatear of the session found so attractive.

Down near the sheep pens I heard a Rouzel, before seeing a male perched low in the birch scrub, wary as ever.
Try as I might I couldn’t get near it, until it flew out of a hollow towards more open ground, and was promptly joined by a second male – obviously Andy’s birds from the morning were still about!

Great thrushes, I watched them for two hours as they foraged amongst the Creeping Willow or disappeared into cover, calling occasionally.
They have favoured this area of the LNR for the last few springs now – the conservation grazing regime clearly has fringe benefits.

When the rain eased

Annual as they maybe around the office at Ainsdale, I was acutely aware that yet again I’d taken a series of blurry grey blob pictures with my battered point and press of the Black Redstart when I found it this morning before heading out to lead a guided walk.
Black Reds deserve a bit more effort.
So later in the day I nipped home and picked up the P900 so I could take still more blurry grey blob pictures of it once the rain eased after work, except with a big boy camera.

There, that’s better.
At one point I wondered if it might be a young male, as it had quite a pale wing panel at certain angles, but the buffy wash to the face and eye-ring marked it out as a female.
It was calling a fair bit by 5pm, perching back up on the office roof, when it wasn’t flycatching from the Sea Buckthorn, and this seemed to make the singing male Stonechat, which has been on territory here for a few weeks now, pretty angry, and it chased after the Black Red a few times, when it wasn’t showing off in the grey evening light.

Still a few Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers in the buckthorn too this evening – could be good out there first thing tomorrow…

Black Red

Female Black Redstart around the office (Ainsdale Discovery Centre) now.
Apologies for god-awful point and press record shots in the drizzle, presumably a passage bird, but more fodder for the Pontins enigma for yet another year…

UPDATE: Got a chance to have another look at the bird at lunchtime – it was still feeding behind the skipyard, flycatching from Sea Buckthorn stems in the rain at 1.30pm.
Willow Warbler, Goldcrests, Goldfinches and Mipits also joining the Stonechats in the rain – quite the little fall… and a Swallow south earlier.

Spring rebooted.

I was late outta the traps at Marshside this morning, but in my defence I was leading a guided walk to hear the splendid Natterjack Chorus last night till all hours.
Nice and misty grey calm this morning though, with up to eight sweet-voiced Willow Warblers singing (Aloe vera for the sunburnt soul baby!) as I walked down the public footpath through Hesketh Golf Course between Hesketh Road and Marshside Road at 10am.
Three Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests singing too, and a reasonable stream of Swallows and Sand Martins sweeping north overhead, but not many Mipits – too late in the day perhaps?
Two male Blackcaps in the willows by the path, and several Siskin and Redpoll calling above.
One of the local Sprawks eyed all the migration hungrily.

A few Blackbirds were chinking about near the edges of the fairways, when the tell-tale pale wing panels of one bird gave away a superb male Ring Ouzel as it flew away from me, only to drop down on the edge of the rough.

Wild and wary as ever, the Rouzel occasionally bounded out onto the wet grass, but generally kept a low profile.
I left it in peace at about 1045 and walked back toward Hesketh Road. Any morning featuring one of these beauties is a good one.
I should at this point apologise for my appalling ineptitude with mobile technology – posting the Rouzel on Birdguides without checking the prescriptive text mullarkey meant my message of “male from public footpath near the 12th tee” became “nale from public footpath near the 12th tree”.
I confess I worried, albeit briefly, about confused folk counting trees or looking for carpenters, then moved on.
Carpenters and tree counters of the world unite!
My work here was done.
Drove up to the Sandplant, where two Merlins were out over the marsh, including the funny young male (?) with the two-tone uppers, and from Sandgrounders hide, the Spoonbill was visible (just), distantly over by the School Pool at the back of the marsh amongst squadrons of Avocets.
Full zoom white blob.

Two adult Med Gulls dropped for a wash amid the BHG clamour and later, from the remains of the Forest of Bale, I watched as a Great White Egret flew high and south towards Southport and beyond.
Two Chiffchaffs singing up there too.
Now that’s more like it.