Windy app addicts

Two days at Spurn were just the ticket to get into the autumn mood, and while strong West/North Westerlies are not the best recipe for success there, it was still great fun birding with Neill and Trops again.

Arriving just before lunch yesterday we walked round to admire a stealthy Wryneck in one of the splendid wild gardens on the banks of the Humber – good views although it did keep shuffling off into the long grass in its pursuit of ants.

The westerly strengthened throughout the day, but the shelter of Kew Villa’s tall trees and hedges meant a Yellow Browed Warbler was calling intermittently and even showed itself briefly there once or twice – after 2021’s poor showing it was good to get my first of the year under the belt.

A party of Redwings dropped in at the Triangle, despite the adverse winds.

An inevitable evening in the Crown and Anchor last night (who knew we all understood so little about blancmange?) saw a growing autumn obsession with wind direction and speeds, and by last orders we were all full-blown Windy app addicts again.

It will rule our lives and the direction they take for the next few weeks.

Rain and the Westerly’s attempt to achieve hooley status greeted us this morning so the usual circuit was fairly quiet, bar a few more Redwings and the odd calling Chiffy.

Ignoring the wind direction and falling tide I tried a two hour seawatch this afternoon just north of the Blue Bell – predictably quiet, but still rewarding enough to see a few Arctic Skuas giving Common Gulls and Arctic Terns plenty to think about.

Spurn seawatch 26.9.22 , 1445-1630, WNWly f4, cloud, sunny spells and showers: Arctic Skua 6; Red Throated Diver 19; Gannet 63; Common Scoter 1; Common Tern 5; Arctic Tern 13; Guillemot 5 (plus GBBs, Common Gull, Grey Seal etc).

I’m back on the west side of the Pennines now, lured home by the persistent westerlies which promise Leach’s Petrel action tomorrow. Tide’s high at noon.

Appetising

The remnants of the Forest of Bale surfaced from the dawn mist in the most alluring way above the Sandplant at Marshside this morning.

Mmmm autumnal.

I gave it a good look after completing my daily dawn survey for the roadworks just down the coast to the south of Hesketh Road, but for all the “migrant trap” feel I could only rustle up a Goldcrest and a few early-rising Migrant Hawkers, taking advantage of the first sunbeams as they hit the uppermost branches.

Finches, Meadow Pipits, Blackcap and Skylarks were on the move in modest numbers, but the big blue skies above told the real story.

Big blue sky – most birds way too high!

Chiffchaffs occasionally broke into feeble autumn song along the bank during the week, and there’s always the chance of a surprise or two.

The surveys are great fun of course – if only to watch the first forays of the day by Merlins and Marsh Harriers, as thousands of roosting Pink Feet take flight from the sands out past the saltmarsh and head inland before it gets really light.

Blackpool Tower looked good this morning too….

Surveying further down the coast south of the Alt Navigation Wall earlier in the week revealed thousands of waders feeding at low tide, with good counts of Knot, Barwits, Sanderling and big numbers of returning Shelduck.

A trawl around the Sands Lake boardwalk at Ainsdale in the afternoon sun could only yield a singing Chiffy, Common Darters and more Migrant Hawkers, but the place always looks so damn tasty at this time of year it’s hard to resist.

With Crane and Purple Heron locally over the last few days, it’s all to play for – why not let me know what you’re seeing?

Buttonweed birding

The two young Curlew Sands were feeding right in front of Sandgrounders Hide when I called into Marshside this afternoon – mighty obliging of them.

They scampered about the muddy edges and up into the buttonweed, usually staying very close together.

Ropey video on YouTube here and here.

Plenty of them around this autumn of course, but they are still charming waders, although a nearby Snipe didn’t see it that way…

Two Cattle Egrets strutted about amongst the Canada Geese close in, looking as mad as ever, and right at the back of the marsh a carpet of Pink Feet were grazing like there was no tomorrow.

I was tempted to give the Pinks a good grilling but wanted to visit Hesketh Out Marsh in case the squally showers brought in a wader or two and anyway I’m not ready to get in touch with my inner winter goose spotter just yet.

HOM East was disappointingly quiet at first (not counting Greenshanks and a local Kingfisher), but then the lingering Osprey came in from the north and got its angler on, hovering high above the lagoons despite the strengthening NWly and heavy showers.

The bank is exposed at the best of times at HOM, but in the squalls and breeze it was hard keeping my P900 steady as rain clouded the lens – didn’t stop me shooting some VERY shaky vid though – on YouTube here.

If you watch the video at quarter speed it is marginally less awful and the sound goes all trippy.

The Osprey took seven dives from height and made seven big splashes before the bird emerged from the grey water with a fish, ignoring the yelping Greenshanks and Redshanks as it flew off to the fenceline to the north to scoff dinner in a tangle of tide dumped branches.

Three local Carrion Crows flew in to check things out, but didn’t hassle the distant Osprey.

Marsh Harrier, Merlin, Great White Egret, Golden Plovers and a few more regular waders on HOM West, but I decided the “sheep-poo” roulette stroll further down the bank wasn’t for me today and headed back home.

Monday

The Cattle Egret was a good start to the week in grey and drizzly dawn light as another week of surveys began between Fairways and Hesketh Road, 7-8am.

The bird was feeding with 23 Little Egrets, drawn to the area of marsh flooded by the rains and last night’s tide. Presumably it dropped in with the Littles for breakfast having left the Marine Lake roost in the gloom.

A light, but steady passage of Mipits and Swallows, with the Peregrine early morning preening at 0650 on its fave tide-stranded branches, and a calling Greenshank.

The rain largely held off for a guided “Give Birds A Break” walk north from Ainsdale as the 9.5m tide edged in at 11am.

At least 5 Wheatears along the tideline as we headed north, and despite the grey, murky light, a young Little Stint looked fresh as it scampered along the tideline, dwarfed by Sanderlings.

No more than 80 Sandwich Tern, with Oycs, Barwits, Dunlin, Sanderling and Ringed Plovers.

Best of all, a young Little Gull dropped into the roost, hooking up briefly with the terns at the water’s edge.

A bit distant, but it’s always a treat seeing one on this stretch of the coast in autumn, although it didn’t hang about…

Grey Plumber

A pleasant enough morning at Burbo Bank for the first “Give Birds A Break” guided walks on the coast, giving visitors the opportunity to see what Green Sefton et al are asking folk to respect.

At least six Wheatears south of the Alt navigation wall, with roosting waders watched from a discreet distance and the usual Stonechats and Mipits.

My favourite description from one of the guests on the walk was of the spectacular summer plumaged “Grey Plumber” we watched through the scope, one of several adult birds in the usual roost.

Sanderlings, Sandwich Tern, Turnstone, Wigeon, Peregrine, Ringed Plovers, Dunlin, and before the tide swept in, about 70 Pink Feet on the sandbanks of the outer Alt.

A Kingfisher that treated us to three flypasts and a few brief perched up views was too fast for me, but a drake Common Scoter was oddly accommodating, flying in low across the bay to pitch down amongst the more usual local Mallards that hang out around the navigation wall.

Made a change from the ribbon of distant black blobs off Ainsdale.

Up there a few brief seawatches this week have revealed small numbers of Razorbills and Guillemots starting to appear for the winter, but scoter notwithstanding, not a great deal else in the unsuitable easterlies, apart from pulses of Gannets and Sarnie Terns.

A return to dawn survey work between Hesketh Road and Fairways this week revealed plenty of Merlin and Peregrine action, a light passage of Swallows and Mipits, juv Marsh Harriers and four Goosander heading north on Wednesday.

A bit further up the road the young Starlings continue to gorge on Blackberries around the Sandplant lagoon.

This evening started well with my sixth Hummingbird Hawkmoth of the year buzzing about the last Valerian flowers at Dempsey Towers.

Nothing to sea here.

When the wind comes from the north east it tends to have a flattening effect on the sea off Ainsdale, which can be good for looking out for smaller cetaceans, so I gave it a crack on the rising tide for 45 minutes at lunchtime.

With cloudy periods taking out the shimmer, conditions were good and I was hoping for a repeat of last week’s three Bottle-Nosed Dolphins which breached and moved past me just offshore on Monday last (one of the adults pictured below).

No repeat of last week’s blubber, although the ribbon of Common Scoter was impressive – dozing black blobs in a broad band from halfway up the Green Beach to the north down to the bend of the coast above Fisherman’s Path (and probably beyond) in the south.

I’d estimate 3,000+ birds out there today.

Not much else though – one Red Throated Diver north, six Great Crested Grebes and 12 Gannets between 1230 and 1315.

Only small numbers of Sandwich Terns fishing offshore too – I suspect the majority are still north of the Alt and roosting off Albert Road in Formby.

A few Wheatears through in the last week, with pulses of southward bound hirundines and growing numbers of finches and alba wags around the office.

Had my last Swift locally over Formby last Friday (26.8.22).

Bug hunters

The young Cuckoo was performing rather well around Sandgrounders this afternoon – snatching caterpillars off the path down to the hide before it saw me and zipped over the bushes to perch on the fenceline beside the lagoon.

Good views of the Cuckoo from Sandgrounders Hide too, before it dropped back into cover again. Been around for awhile now, I suppose it must have found a reliable food source.

I’d done a bit of bug hunting myself earlier, calling in to admire a nearby colony of Small Red-Eyed Damselflies (it’s the little things don’t cha know), with Migrant Hawker, Emperor and Brown Hawker dragonflies and Blue-Tailed Damselflies sharing their shrinking pond in the hot afternoon sun.

Back on the marsh, Buzzards and Kestrels were circling over the Ribble, but the heat shimmer was wicked.

A young Merlin was on the fenceline behind Polly’s Pool, which held good numbers of Blackwits, while the sandplant lagoon was infested with feral geese, obscuring roosting gulls, Ruff, Pied Wags and Lapwings.

The Spoonbills were away off on a jaunt somewhere.

Out on Plex the Common Buzzards and Kestrels were joined by two young Marsh Harriers, quartering and circling over the stubble, but reasonable numbers of hirundines failed to draw in a Hobby.

Mmmm, good cuckoo though.

Club Med

Many thanks to Andreas Zours in Germany and Sean Kingston in the UK for sorting me the ringing details of this nine-year-old female Med Gull I watched on Crosby beach on Wednesday this week.

No shortage of colour-ringed Med Gulls these days, but this bird was close enough to clearly read the green “ALHJ” colour ring as it fed on the incoming tide between Mariners Road and the Burbo Bank car park.

Here’s a nice big blurry leg crop…

And here’s a spot of blurry YouTube video of it feeding here.

I’ve attached a full PDF below (courtesy of Andreas) of its travels in western Europe, from the day it was ringed as a pullus in Stade, Germany on July 13th, 2013, through travels in France, Germany, a visit to the Hayle in Cornwall last year and Crosby this week.

Thanks Andreas. Thanks Sean. A fine bird.

Great to see the wanderings of a true European.

http://medgull.free.fr/pages/coordinators.php

Tortoiseshell

41 fine Turnstones in the high tide roost during today’s count at the Alt, with good numbers of other waders on the sandbanks until they were pushed off by the rising water.

Brick red Knot and Bar-Tailed Godwit jostled with crisp Grey Plover, Oycs, Dunlin, Sanderling and Curlew.

At least four Whimbrel were about, before moving off to the south, while the modest Sandwich Tern gathering was peppered with Med Gulls (all adults today), before they drifted off north up the Alt estuary.

The Turnstones were a tortoiseshell treat.

Belligerent little birds, the adults often put their heads down, lowered their tails and barged into others to get a better spot in the roost, “chirricking” away all the time.

The younger birds wisely kept their heads down, superbly camouflaged in the rubble of the Blitz Beach.

If they were rare, folk would go mad for ’em.

Rising tide

With a group in tow, the Alt estuary was still a beguiling place to be as the tide seeped over the sandbanks in the drizzle today.

Less oppressive heat than the last few days certainly, which made trips to the marsh shimmery difficult, if full of autumn promise, with Golden Plover, Snipe etc arriving amongst the moulting hordes and hunting Marsh Harriers.

None the worse for the lower temperatures at Hightown today though, and the sandbanks were carpetted in Curlew, Knot, Oycs and Barwits.

Closer in the gull roost was peppered with smaller waders and Med Gulls, but no more than 200 Sandwich Terns. Numbers seem to have dropped in recent days – perhaps they had moved over the Alt to roost off Albert Road?

Three Arctic Terns were a good opportunity to go through Arctic-Antarctic migration schtick and share ‘scope views of these world travellers.

Into the dunes the damp weather meant butterflies were a tad on the sluggish side, but Red Admiral, Common Blue and a well-worn, but well-received Wall Brown went down just fine.

Flocks of Swallows hawking over the water, families of Stonechats and Ringed Plover and a few Swifts brought down by the cloudbase to zoom through low over the boatyard.

As Monday shifts go, it was just the ticket.