First find your geese

Back from autumn gallivanting round the country for the last fortnight, I went for a bit of goosing on the mosses today.

Plex was Pink Foot free, but at least the stubble was bubbling with groups of Skylarks.

No geeses on the Withins or Altcar Moss either, but the first flock of about 500 Pinks I came to off the New Causeway behind Formby at 1pm held the white morph Snow Goose which Stuart Darbyshire first picked up on 8/10/21 at Banks Marsh.

Since then the bird has wandered around the area down as far as Little Crosby and Hightown, so I was happy to find it – although let’s face it they are not hard to spot, white blobs standing out as they do amongst herds of grey geese.

Although the goose spent most of the time dozing or just sitting nibbling at the vegetation within the reach of its chubby neck stretches, it did get up and attempt some proper grazing for a few minutes and so I shot a bit of long range video (on YouTube here) through the field boundary vegetation…

Wonder how much longer it’ll stick around for?

Snow Bunts and whale bones

Two days at Spurn were somewhat stymied by a raging north westerly which put the blocks on autumn passage, and there were lean pickings offshore too.

But with the wind dropping this morning conditions improved and Neill Hunt and I headed out on a Snow Bunt hunt on the beach off Beacon Ponds.

As we walked down the sands the waves were stunning, their crests whipped back by the westerly and birds were starting to move again.

I was surprised to come across a whale vertebrae washed up by the surf and another a short time later – cetacean jigsaw pieces!!!!

Neill discovered the less appetising remains of a whale which presumably the vertebrae had come from.

Could they be the long decomposing remains of one of the ten Sperm Whales that beached just up the coast in December 2020? (that was the theory on site from some Spurn regulars anyway).

Rather less grisly were three Snow Buntings which flew in to feed at the top of the beach about half a mile from the end of Beacon Lane – we found another two a short time later, and with 13 having been seen coming in off the North Sea earlier in the morning it was a good day for snowflakes.

I grabbed a bit of windswept video in the morning – great birds, dodgy video on YouTube here.

A morning seawatch yesterday provided 7 Bonxies, auks (but none of the hoped for Little Auks), Red Throated Divers, Eider, Harbour Porpoise and a few Common Scoter, but the wind kept most other areas hard to work.

One of the local Barn Owls was gamely trying to hunt around Kilnsea as I arrived at 0830.

In the shelter of the Kew Villa Garden were Blackcaps, Chiffchaff and Goldcrests and a few Brambling were in there today.

More Redwings and Fieldfares were beginning to arrive and although Hawfinch, Little and Lapland Buntings were dug out by the regulars and it felt autumn was starting up again after a good wind-blasting, I had to head home through the M62 Friday pm can jam.

Muchas gracias to Neill for putting me up as usual….

Taking the long way home…

The road south from Aberdeen was a spin-cycle of spray yesterday, but I still took the long way home from Shetland, dropping Neill off on the M6 for collection by the Hunt family taxi service before looping east to Spurn with Duncan Rothwell for the Two-Barred (Greenish) Warbler.

By the time we got to Spurn at 2.45pm the crowds were falling away, so it was easy to park up by the Canal Zone and walk toward the visitor centre, where I was watching the mega-warbler within a few seconds as it perched out in a lone apple tree!

If only all twitches were that easy.

The bird quickly flicked into the hawthorn and willow scrub where it became a bit harder to keep track of, although it called occasionally (a bit like a sparrow’s chirrup to my ears).

By standing in one spot instead of threading through the narrow trails in the rain-soaked scrub, I got a few great views of the bird and even managed some vaguely in-focus pictures as it circled the area.

Ya beauty!!!!

Ain’t it grand when it all works out?

North

The windsock at Sumburgh Airport was so rigid you could hang your coat off it as a relentless westerly airstream battered our visit to magnificent Shetland.

I drove north from the Long-toed Stint on Saturday, 9/10/21, with Neill Hunt and Duncan Rothwell aboard, meeting up with the Thomason Twins (Paul and John) at Aberdeen for the ferry to Lerwick.

Conditions were challenging, with the wind and rain barely letting up for seven days as we checked gardens and greenery for migrants from dawn to dusk.

It was great fun, with plenty of scarce thrown in, although the Shetland flag at the Sumburgh Hotel where we stayed, continually reminded us who was in control – the westerlies just kept coming.

We stamped out each morning at 0730 to split up and check the dry-stone walls, fields, gardens and outbuildings around Sumburgh and Grutness, and even if our hoped for self-found rares didn’t materialise it was never less than exciting scouring the headland as small numbers of autumn migrant arrived in varying numbers depending on the severity of the weather.

Barking Barnacle Geese, Greylags, Redwings, Fieldfare, Snipe, Jack Snipe, Brambling, Blackcap and Wheatear kept spirits up alongside the resident House Sparrows, Shetland Wren, Starling, Twite and Ravens.

After the morning patrol a quick conflab at 1030 would see us trying to work out the more sheltered parts of the archipelago to check further, while calling in on anything unusual on the way.

South Nesting Bay had a superb White-Billed Diver, which took us two attempts to locate, alongside numerous Great Northern Diver (seven plus), Black Guillemot, Harbour Porpoise and Kittiwakes.

The excellent long range shot of the Banana-bill below is by Neill Hunt.

Likewise it took us two cracks at the Eider flock at Trondra by Wester Quarff to find the moulty male King Eider amongst the distant raft.

On my long range blur shot it is the bird with the greyish head behind the nearest white blob Eider male in the centre – easy to pick out right? Now try it in a force seven westerly with spicy squalls… great fun!

Other birds were marginally more obliging including a young Woodchat Shrike at Aith on 10/10/21 (wind-blasted YouTube clip here) and a similarly meteorologically challenged Bluethroat at Kergord on the same day.

The Bluethroat hopped out of cover occasionally when the squalls eased, but it was hard work following it…

Neill managed to get a bit more colour on the breast with this effort below…

Religiously we checked the gardens, shelter belts and burns of Quendale, Hoswick, Levenwick and even the green hell of Geosetter, but largely these hotspots were deader than the feral Polecats that litter the island’s north-south main drag…

The best we managed apart from a few Chiffchaffs, Blackcap and Redpolls was a Red Breasted Flycatcher found by Neill at Hoswick.

Ridiculously hyperactive, it did at least sit still long enough to rule out Taiga – nice find Neill.

Lovely Gulberwick had a young Yellow Wagtail feeding amongst the sheep whose buttery tones on the vent and a call that was audible after we left put a stop to any Eastern Yellow Wag claims. Unlucky Trops.

Although my experience with these critters is very limited, it was tricky working against the wind and rain as the bird scurried about the herd, disappearing behind livestock and flying short distances.

A frankly parky vigil just before midnight revealed the mirrie dancers trying to peak out beneath the cloud base behind the lights of Sumburgh Airport, on 11/10/21, but they were better when we last spent a week up here five odd years back.

You can just make out the glow in my rubbish shot behind the glare of the airfield…

Rubbish Northern Lights are better than no Northern Lights at all though.

Loch of Spiggie had an elusive and scruffy Ring Necked Duck lurking amongst the Tufties, Scaup, Slav Grebes and Long-Tailed Ducks, while Purple Sandpipers fed on the rocks of the magnificent wind tunnel that is Spiggie Bay.

A young Bonxie there appeared to have ideas above its station as it decided to attack a family party of five Whoopers on the water.

It was quickly encircled by the swans, and had to make good its escape. Nowt wrong with thinking big though…

An American Golden Plover kept hopes alive as it joined a flock of a few hundred European Golden Plover in the fields at Fleck close to Boddam and we caught up with it on 14/10/21, although it was distant across the fields… Hugh Harrop eat your heart out (!!!!)

If you think that’s bad check out the long range video hand-held video clip on YouTube here.

There’s more to the northern isles than birds though (even in autumn) and we were treated to a pod of 20 odd White Beaked Dolphins, with two nearby Risso’s Dolphins, leaping about beneath Sumburgh Head on the evening of 12/10/21.

As a subsitute, the mini Orca lookalikes weren’t bad, but the real thing remained cruising around Unst far to the north during our visit.

Neill managed this long-range shot of a youngster trying to keep up with the rest of the powerful blubber…

The wind and rain were no respecters of even the righteous – check out the wonderfully weathered old sign on the gospel hall at Hoswick – but it did make for some brooding landscapes.

Suitably inspired, we tried listening to a bit of Wagner’s Ring Cycle in car as we criss-crossed the island’s road network. It is important to broaden one’s horizons whenever the opportunity arises.

It was all quite confusing, but fortunately Duncan was able to shed some light on proceedings, and as I understand it now the cycle is all about some ladies who live under a river, some screechy shouty people, stolen goods, giants and a baseball player called Babe Ruth.

We all agreed that the bit from “Apocalypse Now” was best.

It was hardly a surprise to learn my assessment from the Shetland Board of Education, although accurate, was not encouraging.

Or maybe this was just a reflection on the absence of autumn birding action. Typically on our final morning the wind dropped and the sun broke through – it was warm enough for Red Admirals to totter across the road at Quarff and promised new birds for those still enjoying these wonderful islands.

Thanks for the companionship and laughs fellas, and thanks to the hospitality of the Shetland Islanders.

I can’t wait to get back again…

Are you sure this is Aberdeen Neill?

The best laid plans of mice and men and all that, but when you’re presented by a peep sporting straw-coloured legs there’s only three ways things can go.

With bags packed at 10pm for a holiday the next morning, fate will always dictate the peep will become a Long-toed Stint, and the most flexibility you can get out of elastic old Father Time is 90 mins on a site the size of a small continent but mercifully only 2 hours away.

So I picked up Neill and Duncan at 2.30am on Saturday, and headed east around wayward Ferrari’s and the never to be forgotten sight of a black Merc screaming past with its bonnet up in the fast lane, illuminated only by its hazards and the luck of a thousand stars.

By 4.45am we were the first car pulling up in St Aidan’s RSPB car park at Swillington Ings on Saturday. Time for a doze then a big yomp into the big country.

Stomping into the mist at 7am we had little time at our disposal as Snipe squelched overhead and the ferals, Water Rails and Cetti’s woke up.

Mercifully with five minutes left of a self-imposed 0840 deadline the Long-toed Stint was relocated and along with a hyperventilating crowd we enjoyed great views of the wee mega.

Thank you yet again Sweet Baby J and all the saints.

A midget gem, dark cap, split super, remarkably ordered scallops on the mantle, stupid feet and bags of charisma.

Loved it when the mega decided to compare splitting-splatteys with a passing Moorhen, king of the geeks.

Magnificent.

Still can’t believe we managed to see it, and certainly can’t work out how to upload the video of this wonderful wader on an island set in northern seas, where sea frets are stronger than WiFi.

Will post it later if anyone shows an interest.

Zero interest as usual, but here’s the shaky video on YouTube anyway.

Route marched back to the wheels by 9.10am.

Then all I had to do was deliver us to Aberdeen by 3.30pm to catch the ferry to Lerwick, aided only by the odd Red Kite, Fox’s glacier mint and the encouragement of my companions…..

Seems the loonball Merc driver wasn’t the only one relying on the luck of a thousand stars…

Buckle up.

Balmy

Nectaring Red Admirals on the asters and the gauge reading 23 degrees – balmy conditions indeed for October.

An hour ‘scoping Crossens Outer was fun with about 1,000 Pink feet, 200 Golden Plover, 50+ Grey Plover, Blackwits, Ruffs, Lapwings, Dunlin and Curlew over the tide.

At least two Marsh Harriers were quartering the outer marsh and a Merlin occasionally spooked everything.

Scanning on full zoom to the north revealed large concentrations of birds on Banks Marsh – waders and geese, but it was too far away to get too much detail in the heat haze generated by the unseasonal temperatures.

Stuart Darbyshire’s Snow Goose and Todd’s Canada will have to wait for another day.

Suitably balmy/barmy the long-staying Swan Goose was grazing with the Canada horde just under the road.

Grey Wagtails overhead and earlier in the day, Chaffinches, Pied Wagtail and Skylarks on the move.

Nah…

Some of those squalls were positively indecent today, and not surprisingly most sensible critters were taking cover as the rain ricocheted off the water, driven by a brisk south westerly.

There’s always the odd wash-out, but just think how many incredible migrants will have been grounded by the stormy conditions – just gotta find ’em, it’s what autumn is all about.

That said Marshside was fairly quiet today, apart from the huge numbers of Canadas – a breathtaking carpet of feral that almost covered Polly’s Pool.

A Common Buzzard flapped through but barely got above three feet off the ground in the tough conditions.

Swallows hawked amongst the cattle on Crossens Outer and more were in the lee of the trees on Dib Road.

A bracing stroll up at Hesketh Out Marsh blew the cobwebs away, with at least 8 Avocet still, 33 Golden Plover with the Lapwings, a Grey Plover, Great White Egret, Wheatear and about 20 Dunlin, but most sensible waders were tucked in under the banks.

A couple of thousand Pinks dropped onto Banks Marsh.

A seawatch from the dunes on Friday afternoon was uneventful and difficult, but a snoozing male Grey Seal on the beach at Ainsdale needed a check-up courtesy of British Divers (thanks for the prompt response Chris).

Underweight and tired after a breeding season of scrapping with other males, once he had a clean bill of health we left him snoring on the tideline (the seal that is, not Chris).

The fate of storm-battered Razorbills and Common Scoter in the surf and on the sands was more certain – especially with GBBs in close attendance… everyone’s gotta eat.

Saltation blues.

The rain flattened things out today, but frustratingly the wind dropped back too, so that the wild south westerly of yesterday had disappeared, even if the tide was still a constant white noise rumble at Ainsdale.

Wind great for Leach’s yesterday, but the whole beach was running in the dry conditions, and the coast was bleached white with racing sand.

While Leach’s are tough customers, I’ve never seen them tracking over the shore when the sand is running like this – they just don’t like it up ’em, and stay out in the swell.

On the upside this is precisely what the coast needs to create embryo dunes, and keep the habitat suitable for any range of rare and protected species – and it looks great too.

Salty saltation YouTube vid here. Can you not hear your inner Viking call?

Wetter today, which stopped the sand running and allowed waders to forage in the exciting new embryos beside the beach car park at Ainsdale*.

20+ Ringed Plovers, 4-5 Dunlin and one Little Stint.

The wind was still strong enough to blow the Little Stint sideways, but to its credit, even while other waders sheltered behind what little cover there was in the wind and rain, it kept scampering about.

So small it looked like a mere speck in the eye of the growing numbers of BHGs and Common Gulls.

Skylarks on the move now too, with birds “chirrupping” overhead this morning at Queen’s Jubilee Nature Trail and later over Ainsdale beach, and a few Wheatears still trickling through, including this camera-obliging critter in the Blitz Beach rubble on the Alt earlier in the week.

Click click click.

*The car parking area on Ainsdale beach closed for the season this evening and will open again next spring – time to give the SSSI shoreline a rest.

All the birds of the air

Sutton’s Marsh and Crossens Inner was rammed with Pink Feet yesterday, with more skeins arriving, dropping in from the north west all the time.

Many new arrivals immediately pitched down around Rainford’s lagoon for a drink – flying down from Iceland is thirsty work – yet as Chris Kehoe pointed out, there are probably more pleasant patches of water to sip from other than one that has been brim full with dusty, pooping Pink Feet for the last few days.

They don’t wash their feet first you know, although bizarrely many form an orderly line to walk down to the water.

There were thousands upon thousands of them there yesterday.

How many? – have a count on the flypast video I grabbed on YouTube here.

Don’t know who or what spooked ’em up at Crossens.

Merlin watching it all from the fenceposts, three Barnacle Geese and a manky hybrid thing, hordes of Canadas with smaller numbers of Greylags, Migrant Hawkers and two Cattle Egrets at the back of the pool.

Didn’t get out today (creosoting the shed and anything else that didn’t move fast enough), but three Goldcrests and a Chiffchaff at Dempsey Towers, a few Jays and Grey Wags over, and commuting Pinks getting more frequent.

Leach’s

Delightful to see a Leach’s Petrel cruising south about 100m behind the surf over the tide at Ainsdale at 1.50pm today.

The Stormbat (copywrite Rich Steel) was a beaut – moving into the wind with a confidence and elegance that made even the very best of the kitesurfers closer in look like pissed-up elephants on roller skates.

I knew there was an outside chance of a Leach’s today, with a few going past Wirral yesterday, but the wind was stronger and more westerly then, and today’s warm, force 3-4 south westerly didn’t promise much until the petrel winged by late into the seawatch, stalling and sailing into the slightest change of air currents over the brown and grey swell.

It more than justified the one hour lunchtime scan from the dunes behind the office, and although it was otherwise fairly quiet, there was always something to look at from the thousands of Common Scoter off shore to distant Gannets and a few mergs and grebes.

Ainsdale, 24.9.21, 1300-1400, SWly f4, sunny spells and cloud, warm:

Leach’s Petrel 1

Gannet 47

Razorbill/auk sp 7

Sandwich Tern 8

Red Breasted Merg 4

Common Scoter approx 2,000+

Great Crested Grebe 2

The SWly meant the scoters frequently took to the air in small groups, meaning it was easy to check those that were reasonably close in, and while the sun gave an eye-catching silvery impression to many of their underwings, there were only Commons out there that I could see.

Impossible to accurately gauge numbers as they were scattered right across the bay.

Apologies to everyone around the globe for the relative silence on the blog for the last week or so (thanks for continuing to look in) it has been a busy old time with guided walks and community projects from Netherton to Ainsdale filling my days.

It’s time to reboot the autumn account…

Seriously peeky Knot, migrant Wheatears and the leucistic Starling now feeding on Ainsdale beach meant it hasn’t entirely been a bird desert though, and thousands of Pinks are now dropping in at Marshside.

Ravens and Med Gulls at Crosby.