Just counting

Been a bit worried about the Sandwich Tern counts on this year’s survey at Ainsdale – numbers seem relatively low, with some days even returning a blank, despite the best efforts of the ace volunteers who tally up the birds and record disturbance for the annual Green Sefton survey.
Thanks for all your help so far this year!
Perhaps weather conditions haven’t been right for them, or they’ve found an alternate roosting site (Phil Smith reported about 450 down on the Alt a few weeks ago), but it doesn’t seem like a proper autumn at Ainsdale without a tern roost.

So I was pleased to get out there this afternoon (and back in a Land Rover no less) to carry out the count, and found there were 483 birds between two roosts on the rising tide.
Flighty, although there was no human disturbance and I was generally at least 300m away, they frequently took to the air.

The first gathering of 213 birds had at least 14 youngsters in with them, but I didn’t manage to check for juves in the second group of 270 birds before a young LBB scattered them all.
Some of the youngsters were attempting to feed in the channels, without the elegance of their parents.

Pleasing to see the numbers starting to creep up – hopefully more will be joining us over the next few weeks.
Plenty of metal-ringed birds, just one colour ringed adult though – an orange ring with black lettering, which I believe is from Lady’s Island in County Wexford.
If you do happen to count any terns on the coast between now and the middle of September, please send me details via email to john.dempsey@sefton.gov.uk, or stick the data on a blog comment here.
You can never have too much information.
Muchas gracias.


Haul Road

It occurred to me that it has been about 500 years since I last walked down Rainford’s track for a high tide, and the brisk south westerly and 8.4m tide were the only excuse I needed to put that right today.
The wind certainly had seawatch potential, if a bit sunny (they can see the dunes you know, so stay out in the bay if the sun is out and the sky is blue – that’s my theory anyway), but a cursory glance at Ainsdale at noon revealed a swarm of kite surfers which put me off.
The surfers don’t disturb the birds, apart from the eejits who insist on trying to race north of Shore Road, and into the restricted area, scattering roosting and feeding waders like distressed confetti.
However I always find it messes with my “wild” seawatch vibe when a brightly-coloured kite followed by a middle-aged man with a frankly disturbing prediliction for rubber whizzes through my field of view…so the haul road it was.

Thousands of Dunlin roosting and feeding on the mud between Marshside and Southport Pier over the tide, with smaller numbers of Knot, Ringed Plover, sparkling Grey Plover etc etc.
Always an adrenalin rush when the flocks zoom past at an impressive rate of knot (velocity not species) along the edge of the marsh looking for areas to feed.
Even standing 200m or so back down the track from the tide, the views were breathtaking.
A Peregrine scored while I was out there today, and appeared to make off with its wader snackette before two GBBs could force it down.
Seconds later a Merlin scorched through and zoned in on an unfortunate Dunlin, the two birds twisting and turning north east into the Ribble and out of sight… I wonder who won that one?

Off we go…

The loud insistent whistling call is always a dead giveaway, but the Redstart made itself even more obvious by sitting out on the edge of a hawthorn just down the track.
Best bird by far during a few hours at the end of Range Lane, Formby, this afternoon, where I spent most of my time checking through elderberries and feeding flocks – Willow Warblers and Chiffies joined good numbers of titmice, and a female Blackcap popped up to gorge on blackberries.
Small numbers of Swifts were heading south, fast and low – they may have been birds skirting the latest thunderhead of black clouds rolling in off the Irish Sea, but they could just have easily been migrating, it’s time I suppose.
A cloud of 50-100 hirundines were over the fields of Marsh Farm.

The Redstart gave itself away just as I was walking off the site, and showed well until a group of walkers came through and it darted into denser cover, before flying out to the gorse in the middle of the corner field, big orangey tail flashing in the sun as it went, and I lost it.
Always a reliable site for this species in early autumn, it felt like the game was finally starting again…

Scrag end of summer

Sure, there’s plenty of time for another spell of worryingly hot temperatures, scorchers that break records in a way that TV forecasters present as a cause for celebration/excitement rather than concern (go figure), but it felt like the overblown end of summer out on Plex today.
Yellowhammers were hanging onto overhead wires like grim death in the gusting winds, and the fields were heavy with crops that looked like they were just days away from harvesting.
I was hoping for a few Marsh Harriers on the mosses (this is always a good time to look for ’em), but only managed one youngster that surfed away on the edge of the blustery conditions towards Carr Moss.
Haskayne Cutting was knee-deep in Knapweed and pretty quiet, although a few groups of young hirundines were looking suitably restless, all suggesting things are gonna get moving again soon.. don’t forget to let me know what you’re seeing!

Ruddy wind

I was busy cursing Hornsea and Pacific Swifts as I pulled up at Marshside this afternoon, so seeing three Ruddy Shelducks winging in and dropping onto the Sandplant lagoon in the stiffening warm gale was not expected.
All fully winged with no bling – I think they were elsewhere in the area recently weren’t they?
Can someone (anyone) enlighten me?

Ferals from Holland or closer to home?
The shelducks arrived at about 1.45pm, before settling down for a doze on the back island.
Three Pochard, a Tuftie and a smattering of windswept Teal too.

Blinded by the light

The sun exploded through the viewfinder and ricochetted about inside my eyeball (don’t try this at home kids), but I pressed the shutter anyway.
Answers on a postcard? Hardly.
Apart from the sunblindness, the image wasn’t helped by the fact my camera was still set for low exposure from the weekend – not the best for firing into the afternoon sun. No amount of jiggerypokery on the laptop could bring that one back…
Once the sunspots faded from my vision I was able to get the ringtail Hen Harrier (for that’s what the pic above is – honest) in my bins before it sailed along the breeze in over the waves from the west at Ainsdale at 16.20, then turned into the wind, before disappearing over the dunes at Shore Rd.
I got a marginally better long distance shot of it then – but only marginally.

Strange to see one winging in off the sea here, but I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that researchers tracking Pennine youngsters have found they often range widely from the hills in late summer on a daily basis, slipping down as far as the Dee estuary before heading back up into the Trough in the late afternoon, so maybe that was what this was doing.
After a quiet Sandwich Tern count over the tide (23 adults, two juvs), the harrier was an unexpected buzz.
The summer plumage waders were nice too – Barwits, Knot and Grey Plover etc – but please give ’em a wide berth and let ’em roost.
Right, must just go and submit my harrier images to Bird Photographer of the Year and get my acceptance speech ready….

Dodging rain

The Painted Ladies were still siphoning summer wherever they could find buddleias, ignoring towering thunderheads.
Marshside was quietish, so I gave HOM a go over the high tide today, and keeping a weather eye on blackening skies, checked the west end.
A fine big Great White Egret strode about, and at least six Arctic Terns were still wafting around.
The 9.6m tide covered most of the site, but six Greenshank, a Spot Red, 52 Dunlin and 11 Golden Plover felt autumny.
There were probably more waders hidden in the few areas of vegetation that weren’t submerged.
Three young Marsh Harriers patrolled the distant seawall, and Yellow Wags called as they bombed about the bank.
Thunderous showers largely missed the site, but I didn’t have so much luck last night moth-trapping at home.
It seemed a fine idea with a cold beer in my hand on a balmy afternoon yesterday, not so at 1am today trying to keep a downpour off the electrics with me seawatching brolly as rain sluiced down my back!

All the same I managed two Gold Spots, Copper Underwing and an Old Lady, all fairly scarce in my garden, amongst hordes of Mother of Pearl and yellow underwings.
Peter Knight watched up to five Arctic Skuas hassling Peregrine on the shore between Ainsdale and Birkdale on Thursday as he logged colour-ringed Knot.
I’d hoped to get down, but didn’t get a chance.
Peter told me that some Sandwich Terns ringed at Cemlyn this year now have obvious orange flags attached, which should make it easier on the Sandwich Tern Survey this year.
If anyone wants to take part in the survey, please email me at john.dempsey@sefton.gov.uk
The response has been a bit low so far (huge thanks to those who have volunteered already), so if anyone can spare an hour over the next month or so and fancies counting Sarnies, let me know.
Likewise if anyone is out and counts a Sandwich Tern roost between Ainsdale and Birkdale between now and the middle of September, please pass on numbers to me.


Painted Ladies everywhere on the coast today, with large numbers of Peacocks and Red Admirals drifting through with them.
Reccying a walk there were double figures resting on the hot sand at Hightown beach this morning, some apparently taking salt from the sand, but many more tottered through.
Med Gull, 120+ Curlew, 3 Whimbrel, 2 Little Egret and Common Sand on the Alt too, with Redshanks, Oycs, Dunlin and Turnstone (plus two Shelduck creches) but the Painted Ladies were the striking feature today.
Big numbers of Painted Ladies in Formby and Ainsdale too, with the buddleias at Dempsey Towers groaning under the weight of ’em – okay, there were at least 30 in the early evening, with 13 Peacocks, 8 Red Admirals, 4 Small Tortoiseshell, 2 Large Whites and 10+ Gatekeepers.
They must all have been grateful for the sun after two days of rain.
Shame it’s forecast to tip it down tomorrow too…

Dog days and Sarnies

The Swifts and House Martins seemed to have enjoyed the sultry heat of the last week, and fledged Goldcrests were a diversion in the garden as increasing numbers of waders on the coast begin to ease the summer dog days into memory.
Young Willow Warblers have been calling away as they moved through the dunes for the last fortnight, but in smaller numbers it seems to me than when the “Irish Sea Willow Warbler Movement” was a big thing.
That could just be my powers of recollection playing tricks though.
Plenty of time for more of the sherbet lemons to ripple through I suppose.
At Hightown a Common Seal has been hauling out on the Alt Estuary.
With just a handful of records it is still a rare beastie on our coastline.
Further up the sands, Sandwich Tern numbers are starting to build between Ainsdale and Birkdale.
I’ll be co-ordinating a survey count again this year for Green Sefton – if anyone is interested in taking part, please email me at john.dempsey@sefton.gov.uk
Now in their fourth year the purpose of the counts in August and September is not only to record numbers in this relatively new autumn roost (seven years ago, anything over 200 birds was unusual, now counts frequently top 1,000), but also document the types of disturbance the birds suffer from.
This ranges from dog walkers and horse riders to photographers, drones, joggers and even birders (don’t get me going about fieldcraft again).
It is important to collate this info.
Volunteers also record colour-ringed birds, including the famous leucistic individual ringed as nestling at the Sands of Forvie in 2017.
Birds from Norfolk, Ireland, Holland and even the Po Delta in Italy have all popped up over the years, as have Black and Little Terns (plus Arctics and Commons).
Occasionally Arctic Skuas rip through too, like the pack of four I saw in the pic above on 24/8/17 (I know there’s only two amongst the terns in the picture, but I couldn’t fit ’em all in) and it doesn’t get much more exciting than that!
I’ll be hosting an introductory chat about the survey at Ainsdale Discovery Centre (PR8 2QB) at 6.30pm on Thursday August 1st, for those who want to find out more.
If you’d like to come, please let me know via the email address mentioned earlier.
Counts typically take an hour.
Even if you don’t want to help out, please send me any Sandwich Tern counts you make between now and the end of September between Ainsdale and Birkdale to the email address above, as the more data we get, the more evidence we have to improve protections for the roosts on this stretch of the coastline.
In that vein, many thanks to Phil Smith for already blogging counts of the terns this year – 70 birds and rising.
Now, has it stopped raining yet? It may finally be time for a bit of birding…

Freshening up

The wind was almost brisk enough for a seawatch this morning; shame the tides are so pants at the moment.
A squawking Jay moving through the garden was a precursor of autumn, but with mucho domestico on the horizon, time was tight today, so I raced down to the marsh and had a quick look at the Junction Pool late morning.
Given the quality of the birds, the flaps had a mini-twitch on.
The Glossy Galoot was doing its thing still, with the Cattle Egret, Avocets and in with the roosting Blackwits, a dozing Spotted Redshank and two Knot stood out.

Later after the cows waded into the middle of the pool and those lacking in patience or any semblance of fieldcraft climbed up the bank to spook everything (ffs it’s just a Glossy Ibis, if you stand by the screen you will see it without freaking everything else out), the SpotRed was one of the few birds remaining on the pool and was looking decidedly self-conscious, as they do.

I attempted a shaky video of it, but the bird just looked embarrassed by the whole affair, and to be honest, so was I.
Up the road a Common Sand was doing that funny “pooter” feeding thing, snatching midges on the channel in front of Sandgrounders, and a Lesser Black Back swept in to grab one of the BHGs chicks on the island.
It gulped the snackette down in seconds.
Diverting up to HOM I was completely zapped by the grace and beauty of the Arctic Terns there, before heading back into the machine.