Can’t get enough of a good thing

Serendipity-doo-dah put me on Southport seafront with 45 minutes between meetings at lunchtime today.

Time then for yet another squint over the seawall immediately south of the Marine Lake sluice gates, where six of the wintering Snow Buntings were heads down for a further round of seed bingo, including the very bright male, which appears to have been about since November.

Just how many seeds do Snow Buntings eat in a day?? You never see a skinny one.

Snow Bunts are not a bird to take for granted and regular wintering flocks are by no means guaranteed here. Birds to savour right through to spring hopefully.

In other news, a spot of surveying work across the fields between Little Crosby and Sniggery Farm on Tuesday revealed the adult Med Gull still hanging around with the Black headed and Common Gulls.

Who’s laughing now?

The Richardson’s Cackling Goose/Canada Goose/Cackler (take your pick, depending on your age and shoe size) finally gave itself up properly today at Marshside RSPB, grazing south of the Sandplant, sometimes barely 100m from the seawall.

It made a change from the goose laughing at everyone from interstellar range on Banks Marsh before Christmas.

Great ‘scope views, even if the bird did show a predilection for waddling through the longer vegetation with the Pinks, disappearing for a few minutes at a time before emerging in the afternoon sun.

Shot a bit of video of it, which you can watch on YouTube here complete with the unmistakable Marshside soundtrack of buffetting wind and the constant drone of combustion engines…

I had planned to go elsewhere this afternoon, but the marsh held me – lots of familiar birding faces, and the male Hen Harrier was doing its grey ghost thing too.

Marsh Harrier fighting with a Peregrine, Merlins, Common Buzzard, up to four Great White Egrets way out from Crossens Outer, and at least six, probably more, distant Barnacle Geese.

Ruff, Dunlin, Lapwing, Golden Plover etc, but although I checked I couldn’t get onto the Water Pipits at Crossens, where a Grey Wag did at least drop in with a splash of colour.

The Water Pipits can wait for another day.

Hamilton Mattress

It’d probably have been easier to teach an aardvark to play the bongoes than it was wrestling the mattress out of the boot and into the containers at the dump – the thing had a life of its own.

Not everybody loves a Hamilton Mattress.

But once it was consigned to oblivion I was able to take a spin over the mosses, so called in at New Causeway behind Formby, where a large flock of winter thrushes have been feeding for the last week at least on a flooded bare field at the Alt end.

With Mistle Thrushes, Song Thrushes and Blackbirds last week, there were more than 200 birds there.

Today by staying behind the trees and hawthorns the thrushes – ever alert – tolerated me as long as I didn’t move too fast or break cover. So wary.

Fewer thrushes there today and it was a bit gloomy, that said there were well north of 70 Fieldfare with smaller numbers of Redwing on show, joined by Starlings and Goldfinches.

The Fieldfares seemed more adept at teasing worms out of the waterlogged earth, and took advantage of the flooded furrows to bathe and preen.

20 Redwings with them.

By comparison Engine Lane and Plex Moss were much quieter, with a few flocks of Pink Feet grazing, but many more starting to drift towards coastal roosting sites by the time I got round to them.

Brand new year, same old chickens.

The Cattle Egrets were doing their thing as usual in the fields north of Moss Road in Southport this afternoon.

Really standing out in the hard winter sun, the flock of nine were grubbing about in the field as they usually do, crazy white chickens that seem happy enough.

Nothing like shooting ducks in a barrel, so I called round to have yet another look at the Snow Buntings on the seafront, feeding at the top of the beach entrance slipway. Conditions were a bit better today compared to the deluge yesterday.


The unscheduled monsoon put something of a dampener on the order of play at lunchtime today, pushing me off the seawall at Southport after only the most cursory of glances at the wintering Snow Buntings.

They were feeding in the tidal debris just below the beach entrance slipway when I watched them, oblivious to the downpour and Sunday promenaders. Twite were shamelessly absent, wisely keeping a low profile in the awful conditions.

Marshside appeared to be sinking beneath a rapidly expanding mere as I drove up the coast and quickly changed plans to look only for the biggest, brightest birds in the low light of the deluge. Headlights on at 12.15pm? Behave.

Next stop Hundred End then, where two adult Bewick’s Swans were feeding with the large Whooper herd off Boundary Lane.

Mercifully the Bewick’s stayed apart from the Whoopers for most of the time, and away from the mud and rotting potato gloop that is drawing the swans in again this year.

Bill and structural comparisons are straightforward as long as the birds steer clear of the mud.

Bewick’s smaller and a bit snooty, Whoopers big and bustling.

I grabbed a quick clip of one of the Bewick’s when the car windows stopped steaming up (on YouTube here) just before a single Whooper flew in to bully them, bugling and wing-flapping. The Bewick’s ignored it for a time, then strolled away from the area and into the morass of the muddy main Whooper flock.

As I squinted at the swans through rain-spattered windows a cracking male Hen Harrier ghosted through behind them – way past my photographic abilities in the rain and dark, but it didn’t stop me from trying…

Decisions, decisions

North East Lincs was as dreary as only this county can be on a cold, wet December day, so the Ness Hide at Far Ings seemed as good a place as any to sit out a few hours.

Totally Rain Dogs.

The reedbeds held Bearded Tit, Cetti’s Warbler, Reed Buntings and Water Rails, largely calls only in the gloom, and Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Gadwall, Cormorant and Mute Swan were on the water.

Bullfinch and spadgers were in the hawthorns behind and the whole place was stowed out with Blackbirds.

Plenty of fish in the lagoon though with Cormorant grabbing a Pike and even Moorhen snarfing down a smaller, unidentifiable species.

It still took an hour or so for one of the site’s reliable Bitterns to wander out of the reeds mind, and it was wary, only staying in the cleared roads between the patches of reeds for a few minutes before it melted away again.

Too gloomy to get sharp shots of it – will post some video at a later date.

There we go…out of the Google security black hole – a few seconds of carpet bag vid on YouTube here.

Hard to use that sensitive bill in the shallows when it’s raining I guess.

Ah decisions, decisions – did I stay for another few hours testing out the heat-retaining qualities of my new super deluxe welly socks to the limit and practise with a new phone adapter on the ‘scope (still perfecting that one)?

Or should I head back to the warmth indoors to trial the brilliant robotic red T-Rex (with fully operational rocket launcher) that Father Christmas brought me?

No contest – small things for small minds.

Now, where are those AAA batteries?????

Gold and grey.

Low cloud and cold, although it was a peaceful pleasure counting along the coast north of Hall Road this morning over the tide, with barely a breath of wind.

Nothing out of the ordinary (there are often one or two Golden Plover lurking in the Blitz Beach debris during winter), but by carefully staying out of sight and off the rubble beach itself the waders were easy enough to check through.

The big numbers started to appear as the tide fell back of course, and the birds began to feed on exposed banks north towards Hightown.

Peak counts included 307 Oystercatcher, 284 Curlew, 199 Lapwing, 128 Dunlin, 50 Sanderling, 42 Ringed Plover, 26 Redshank, 16 Turnstone, 14 Grey Plover and single Bar-Tailed Godwit, Black-Tailed Godwit, Snipe and Golden Plover.

The calls of Pink Feet were audible from inland most of the morning, and a few modest skeins numbering between 116 and 30 tracked south offshore from my vantage point.

Given my steadfast refusal to post seasonal pictures of festive Robins I should take this opportunity to wish all the readers and contributors to the blog from all over the world a splendid Christmas and happy, prosperous New Year.

Seasonal flashy

With the pre-decimal end of Southport Pier hidden in fog and the calls of invisible but disorientated Pink Feet lost in murk, it was clearly not a day for ‘scope action.

Luckily we currently have Snow Buntings to keep us warm at several places along the coast this winter, and as five were still feeding at the base of the seawall opposite West Lancs Yacht Club on the right side of the fog bank, I spent an hour with them today.

Nice and close and completely oblivious to me on the sea wall just above – engrossing to watch as they squabbled and fed, stripping the dessicated winter vegetation of seeds before scurrying off on short range surging runs searching for more food.

Snow Bunts always seem so pre-occupied (we all gotta eat I guess) – one nearly got his head stuck in an upturned whelk shell as he scoured the tidal debris!

Shame about the constant drone of Sunday afternoon traffic, as cars doubtless filled to the gunnels with Christmas, slid by behind me.

Shallow soul that I am I concentrated on the brightest, whitest male in the pack – he was easiest to follow in the gloom, and frankly showing off quite a bit this afternoon…

YouTube video dross available here. if you’re gonna watch it, hit mute to avoid the traffic.

The bouncing Twite cloud loomed in and out of the fog a few times, about 60 birds that I could see.

Conditions couldn’t have been more different on a sparkling blue sky Friday, with a pot-bellied Woodcock lumbering out of Sniggery Wood behind Little Crosby in the morning, and five Corn Bunts, Skylark, Siskin, Linnets, Grey Wags, Buzzards, Lapwing, Curlew and 1,000 Pinks nearby.

Old school agricultural.

Up at Ainsdale the tideline was busy enough with folk to have sent the Snow Bunts there incognito (presumably lurking in the frontal dunes – that’s where they usually run when disturbed), but the wintering Skylarks were good value – look at the hind claw on this critter!

And the Reed Buntings were still busy stripping seeds off the Marram heads.

Two Cacklers.

There were two Cacklers out on Banks Marsh today – the first was Stuart Darbyshire’s fine Richardson’s Cackling Goose, showing occasionally in a galaxy far, far away from the bank.

The difference between small and far away is entirely superfluous at that range.

Mercifully Stuart sent me his superb image of it above, which he got when the bird was feeding with the Pinks on the other side of the seawall nearer Crossens a few days back. Thanks as ever Stuart.

See how small it is? And look at that tiny bill!

Today, although we were treated to gorgeous winter sun and mild conditions, the most I could aspire to image-wise was a single pixel of the bird it was so distant – but if you squint really hard you should be able to make it out in my images below… almost…

Setting ‘scope to full zoom.

Six Barnacles amongst the Pinks out there too, and as we chatted Stuart picked up a Pale Bellied Brent Goose, which despite a “Brant” quality huge neck collar otherwise fitted all the PB criteria.

Male and ringtail Hen Harriers sailed by and Great White Egrets were strutting about.

The second Cackler of the day was Rob Pocklington’s son Rudi, who understandably was somewhat underwhelmed by his dad’s efforts to ‘scope the Richardson’s as it melted into the vegetation for long periods.

Dancing in front of his dad’s scope and giving Pocklington senior the “L” for loser hand signal down his lens was far more entertaining for the youngster, and I could only sympathise.

I wasn’t much older than Rudi when I was taken to see what was the first “Richardson’s Canada Goose” on Downholland Moss back in 1976, and that one was considerably closer.

Nice work Rudi, good to see you both on the marsh and let’s face it – how often do you get to see a dead cow travelling by tractor?

Leaving Banks I had a quick look at Marshside from Hesketh Road – Cetti’s and Goldcrest in the corner with the usuals on the floods and edges.

After that I had just enough time to call in on the Snow Buntings from the seawall north of Southport Pier in the failing light while nasally Twite bounced about.

I could see two Snow Bunts blending into the tidal debris, but the other one couldn’t have been far away.

The light wasn’t much better and it was drizzling yesterday afternoon when I scanned Southport Marine Lake, where the male Common Scoter was commuting between the islands.

Last of the light

Banks’ chubbiest resident was enjoying the last of the light this afternoon up on the apex of its fave barn.

Ignoring the attentions of local Magpies, the Little Owl watched the sun slip down the sky.

Just up the road at Crossens Outer a small crowd at the pull-in was enjoying another performance from the three Short Eared Owls that are currently favouring the rank vegetation around Crossens Channel, although at least two of the birds took to circling high over the marsh as I watched them.

A late arrival on the estuary for me today, after too much navel gazing (sigh, another high tide missed), but at least my first male Blackcap of the winter was bathing under the feeders at home – in the short winter days I don’t get many opportunities to see what comes into the garden.

Not enough time before heading to work and dark when I come home.

Out on the marsh one of the male Hen Harriers cut north, but it was a bit too far away to make out whether it was the pale or dark mantled one.

Three Common Buzzards were perched up, a Marsh Harrier drifted down the estuary and at least six Barnacle Geese were with the distant Pinks.

An immobile white blob far away out at the back of Banks Marsh in the decaying afternoon light may just have been the Snow Goose – but it could also have been a white shopping bag or plastic bucket.

Sometimes they’re just too far away.