A distraction

With the traditional arrival in May of fledgling Starlings to the coast comes this freaky individual, striking in a mob of about 20 birds around Ainsdale Discovery Centre today.

I did wonder if it was related to the wonderful leucistic bird that hung around here in 2020/2021, but whatever its parentage, the Starling is certainly rocking its inner Black Wheatear now.

Many Common Blue Butterflies on the wing today, with Small Heaths, Cinnabar Moths and Four Spotted Chasers out in the dunes, where Southern and Northern Marsh Orchid, Early Marsh and coccinea Early Marsh are blooming away in the mini-heatwave.

Bit of rain would be helpful….


Wibbly wobbly heat haze, strong north westerly wind, hard light, tiny wader at range melting in the shimmer. No chance.

Conditions were not ideal at Lunt this afternoon when I popped down to have a gander at the Temminck’s Stint on the Great White Pool.

The bird was not on view when I first arrived, but at least the air was full of Swifts, feeding birds from nearby urban nesting areas – at least 50-60 birds screaming about.

Fortunately the stint dropped back on to the Great White Pool, but at the top end, so distant in the shimmer.

Even as the Garden Warbler of the wader world goes, this individual was a bland bird, bleached out by the hard sun as it fed in the muddy gloop, attenuated and sneaky.

At first the bird’s legs appeared black, which gave me a bit of a jolt, but then it wandered into the shallows and the mud washed away to reveal pale legs. Good clear breast band though, and when preening a dirty great white tail with dark central bar.

No chance of getting a decent picture, and even video grabs (get me!) were poop…

Don’t laugh – if you think that’s bad, you should see the video on YouTube here.

A Moorhen kept chasing the stint as Jack Taylor and I watched it, until the wader had had enough and took flight, appearing to drop into the next lagoon north and completely out of view.

I waited a while, watching LRPs and pullus, Blackwits and Avocets, but the Temminck’s didn’t return.

Jack had seen a drake Garganey earlier on, but the quacker was out of view as I walked back down to the car park, although a first summer Kittiwake drifting north over the tree line was most unexpected.

Can any Lunt regulars let me know how many records there have been here. If any?

Light, buoyant flight, with the sun streaming through the whitish secondaries, highlighting its black collar and black “W” on the upper wings. A splendid bird, they always look exotic out of pelagic or seawatching context.

I lost the gull as it wafted north over the trees, mercifully superseding the memory of a blurry long range peep.

Bird on a stick.

Been so long, I can’t remember when I last watched a Redpoll, buzzing overhead on its circling territorial display, the finch ranging out over the bog before returning to its perch at Foulshaw.

Awful picture, but they’ve got so scarce in my neck of the woods now (apart from a few passage birds) that any encounter is worth celebrating.

I was up in the South Lakes yesterday, savouring the treasures of Latterbarrow on a humid morning, that only really got going once the sun broke through.

Botanically stunning as ever – I always enjoy a visit to this lovely little reserve…

Fly Orchid was oddly hard to find today (perhaps my eyesight is failing), but at least the one spike I could locate had a fly on it too!

Fly Orchid, Greater Butterfly Orchid, Green Winged Orchid, Early Purple Orchid, Rock Rose, Columbine, Cowslips, Meadowsweet etc etc. A marvellous place.

Once the sun emerged so did a few butterflies – plenty of Brimstones and hard to follow Dingy Skippers.

I noticed a friend recently pointed out how unsuitable the skipper’s name was – they were quite right, this tiny butterfly looks nothing like a small inflatable boat.

Brief video clip on YouTube here.

Orchided and Skippered out I called in to Foulshaw on the way home – Redpolls were buzzing out over the bog, and White Faced Darters were basking on the boardwalk as I wandered round the site,

An incognito Rob Pocklington (not in that fluorescent shirt you’re not buddy) was dragging an ultra long-range Hobby onto his Cumbria list with the aid of his scope, but the falcon was further away than the Osprey nest and that’s saying something.

Intergalatic distances…

On the upside the first Osprey chick hatched out this morning and the best way to view the critters was via the nest cam via a tablet set up in the blind.

Even worse than usual video clip on YouTube here.

Last call

Time moves fast, and Plex was disappearing in a yellow and cream blaze of Rapeseed, Cow Parsley and Hawthorn in warming sun today, hurtling toward summer.

Relaxing as the place is, given changes in modern day agriculture, it feels like another blank Dotterel hunting account looms – I have found them in June before today but that was a long, long time ago (and on Engine Lane, not Plex) and few fields look attractive for them out there now.

Despite that, all the regulars were on show -Yellowhammers singing their lazy sunny day song, Yellow Wags, Grey Partridge (they seem to be doing ok this year), Lapwings, Skylarks and Corn Bunts.

Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Whitethroats singing away in Haskayne Cutting, but things are undeniably sliding towards the botanical…

A busy week at work held few surprises, despite the potential mid-May usually holds – Curlew Sands in summer plumage, Little Stint and Little Ringed Plover amongst the Lapwings and Avocets on Crossens Inner were nice on Sunday, and a few Wheatears were still trickling up the coast.

Surveying down at Crosby was quiet. The future wasn’t looking too bright for this peeky looking Dunlin off the Serpentine on the high tide on Wednesday, although it was in considerably better shape than two dead Harbour Porpoise in the tidal debris.

Plenty to play for yet before the summer lull arrives of course – as Tony Conway’s excellent White Winged Black Tern at Seaforth today amply illustrates.

It ain’t over till the fat lump sings…

On the move

It doesn’t matter how “God bless you, your royal Kingship” you are, May is really all about migration (and later in the month the boss’s birthday of course), so with gentle south easterlies and a reasonably dry forecast, I headed east to Spurn for two days, meeting up with Neill Hunt et al at migration central.

Yesterday morning I nosed the car south through thick mist and Holderness villages bedecked with bunting, pulling up at Sammy’s Point just before 8.30am.

The intense glare of flowering rapeseed seeped into the mist lying above it, turning the air yellow. Weird.

Plenty of singing Sedge Warblers and Whitethroats, creaking Grey Partridge, trilling Whimbrel and a few parties of Swifts pushing through the mist before a Merlin ripped north and I drove over to Kilnsea Wetlands, walking through to Long Bank to rendezvous with Neill.

Although not immediately on show, we finally got great views of the long-staying Shorelark on Beacon Ponds, watched from the Long Bank, yet rising temperatures meant a heat shimmer made it hard to get crisp images or video of the bird as it trundled along a bund rooting through seeds and other debris.

Lovely thing. Blurry YouTube footage here.

A Spoonbill flew south along the point and there seemed to be Yellow Wagtails calling everywhere.

A brief Redstart was on Beacon Lane, and a fine male Whinchat snatched insects from the fenceline at the wetlands.

By mid afternoon Spurn was basking in hot sun, and Little Ringed Plover, Greenshank, Wheatears and stacks of hirundines contributed to the buzz of migration.

Not wishing to risk dehydration in the heat, we called in at the Crown and Anchor for refreshment, where in our defence we watched plenty of butterflies – Brimstone, Speckled Wood, Holly Blues and Red Admirals – and Neill found a sexy male Pied Flycatcher that zipped about the garden sallying over our pints like a good ‘un.

Any excuse. Ahem.

For some reason, it was all a bit sketchy after that. I blame Andy Bunting.

Sometime considerably later than dawn this morning high cloud and a gentle southerly greeted us when we headed out around Sykes Field, the Warren and Beacon Lane again.

Rattling Lesser Whitethroats in the scrub, plenty of Brents still left on the Humber, and another male Redstart passed the time as we stumbled towards the Canal Zone.

Not a major rarity, but also not a species we bump into at home, a Woodlark dropped into the Warren and gave us cracking views as it fed, flying about on distinctive rounded wings and calling occasionally.

A treat.

Dodgy YouTube videos here and here.

Thanks all for another classy escape…


One Tree Pipit quietly feeding on Ainsdale LNR south of Shore Road quickly turned to two as a second bird flitted off the ground to join the first at lunchtime today.

Generally spring encounters are of fly-over birds here, uttering distinctive buzzing calls as they pass through, so I relished the chance to spend 40 minutes or so with this pair as they fed along paths, occasionally flitting up into scrub to pump their tails and call.

As I watched the duo, a third Tree Pipit buzzed through above me without stopping.

Such a crisp, clean bird in spring, more precisely marked than any Meadow Pipit, even those in the freshest of plumages, and I’ve always thought the latin name – Anthus trivialis – is a little unfair.

There’s nothing trivial about the distances this long-range migrant covers each year, some making it as far away as Asia in winter.

A few more Sedge Warblers and nutjob Whitethroats in and singing today, a single female Wheatear in the area and good numbers of Swallows powering through as the Willow Warbler chorus got noticeably more vigorous in the warm conditions.

Like buses

Ain’t it always the way? Months without a sniff of a UK tick, then two come along at once like buses from birding heaven – Steve the scoter up in Fife yesterday, and then the message this morning: “Grey-Headed Lapwing, Low Newton-by-the-sea” KABOOM!!!

Best laid domestic Bank Holiday plans went out of the window in the time it took me to get me boots on, crank up the SatNav and point the wheels towards Northumberland.

Just drive.

Arrived at lovely Low Newton-by-the sea, and scurried past rattling Lesser Whitethroats and Yellowhammers to get to the bird for 2pm.

And what a bird. Pending the wisdom of grown-ups obviously, this potential first for the UK fed in lush grassland beside Newton Scrapes and gave a steadily growing crowd wonderful scope views as it strutted about on daft yellow legs.

I watched the elegant beast for an hour, snatching shaky video (on YouTube here and here), while trying not to think about the Bank Holiday evening drive back home.

It was worth every metre slow crawled back along the A1 before breaking west…

Easy for you to say…

Adrift on oceans of asphalt, Neill steered us north through the night and the dawn, until we ran aground on the shores of Largo Bay in Fife this morning in grey, but perfectly flat calm conditions.

We were hardly marooned, but I’m sure Lower Largo’s most famous son, Alexander Selkirk, would have been proud of our efforts anyway.

Mike Stocker, Neill Hunt, June Watt, Jason Stannage and I ‘scoped the impressive scoter smorgasbord offshore from about 8.30am onwards.

Scoters peppered the waters off The Temple car park and fairly quickly we racked up at least two White-winged Scoter, 2-3 Surf Scoters, an abundance of Velvet Scoter, 20+ Common Scoter and of course, best of all, the Stejneger’s Scoter which has been drawing a good crowd to this corner of the kingdom for the last couple of days.

Initially the Stejneger’s Scoter was visible from The Temple, but drifted west as the morning progressed, finally showing well off the Crusoe Hotel.

Its striking head and bill was obvious whenever it took a break from diving for food.

The morning quickly took on a predictable format – whenever new birders arrived they all asked the same question, albeit in differing forms…

“Is, er, the Stej/Steg/StIneggers/St/Stenegers still about???”

Never has a bird’s name been uttered with so many different pronunciations. You say “Steneggers” and I say “StIneggers”, potato/potaaato.

Let’s just call him Steve ok?

Steve may have been the star, but a generous helping of Velvets (video on YouTube here), at least three Surf Scoters, White-Winged Scoters, Black-Throated and Red-Throated Divers, Eiders, Gannets, Razorbills, RB Mergs, kept us entertained when he drifted down the coast.

He may have been distant compared to the Stejneger’s we were able to watch in Japan earlier this year, but was still very cool, although close Velvets were lovely too.

If you really squint and blow up the image below, you can make out a pair of Surf Scoters second and third left amongst the Velvets, just.

Rain set in later in the morning so we turned south again, Neill driving us home through oceans of motorway spray, making time for a diversion into the South Lakes, where we ‘scoped the drake Hooded Merganser in atrocious conditions at Whinfell Tarn.

Distant, but still a superb looking bird in the rain. Best not to dwell on its provenance too much, after all, the day belonged to Steve…

Nice one Dave

It felt bitterly cold this morning, the LNR at Ainsdale was buffetted by a nippy south easterly and it was quiet, bar a few new Whitethroats, so I was pleasantly surprised when Dave Pennington contacted me later in the day to say he’d seen Ring Ouzel and Hooded Crow south of Weld Road.

An afternoon in a meeting meant I fancied some fresh air, and still needed to find myself a Whinchat for the year, so I drove up for a stroll after work this evening.

Still cold and windy, with Whinchats conspicuous by their absence, but the Hooded Crow flew inland as I walked south and a party of four very confiding Wheatears bounced along the path in front of me on the seaward side of the Green Beach, frequently perching up on scrub.

They had the brightness and feel of Greenlanders – look at the primary projections on those!

As I watched I noticed a male Redstart pop up, quivering in a patch of Sea Buckthorn on the landward side of the marshy area north of the Nile, so tracked back and checked the area out – the Redstart had melted away by the time I got there of course and a pair of local Stonechats laughed at me.

Further down the trail Dave’s Ring Ouzel, a fine male, was still feeding on the deck, before bolting into a big clump of Sea Buckthorn as a dog walker approached – I’m sure it was probably watching me from cover, but I left it in peace and checked the sands again.

Two Whimbrel went through and the Hooded Crow reappeared, and got a fair bit of hassle from Carrion Crows to boot.

Lunging back at them over the foreshore, the Hoodie allowed me to get a distant blurry flight picture, before it drifted south – nice grey waistcoat buddy…

Thorn birds

I prefer listening to my first reeling Gropper of the spring on a warm, calm day, the hypnotic song, like the gentle buzz of Vernal Mining Bees, an evocative soundtrack to the dunes.

Today’s bird sounded great, but there was a sharp edge to the northerly wind as it shuffled about at the base of a tangle of briar and Sea Buckthorn, dispelling any notions of summer just yet.

Four Whitethroats and 11 Willow Warblers gamely tried to get things going despite the chill in the air.

I could get glimpses of the Gropper as it eyed me from deep in cover, but nothing more than that apart from brief snatches of song.

Best thing to do, as is always the case with Grasshopper Warblers, was to give the bird a bit of space and retreat to a neighbouring clump of Sea Buckthorn for cover, from where I could watch without disturbing the warbler as it patrolled its territory.

It disappeared for stretches of a few minutes, before finally clambering up to the top of a favoured clump to give it the beans…

Welcome back.