What lunchbreaks are for #3


Nipped down onto the beach once the deluge had eased at Ainsdale today for a late lunch, mainly because the air around the tower was filled with the calls of Sarnie Terns, and I haven’t really had a chance to look at the roosts yet this summer, despite the fact we’ve launched a survey into numbers here with Lancs Wildlife Trust…
Thought I better have a squint once the rain stopped-ish.
Oh, who am I kidding, I was really hoping to bump into that supersexy young Long Tailed Skua John Tymon photographed north of Shore Road yesterday (don’t pretend you haven’t seen the pix on the interweb).
No sign of the skua, but it was good craic as always to have a chat with Andy Pryce down there, when I wasn’t talking walkers away from the roosts. Most transgressors are simply ignorant of the damage they cause and if you speak to them politely tend to stop flushing everything.
Most, but not all.



As Andy and I chuntered away a cool juvenile Little Gull flew in behind the tern roost and spent a bit of time mooching around in the shallows – best Little Gull plumage phase?
Wonder where it came from?
At least 800 Sandwich Terns in front of us while we watched the gull, with smaller numbers of Commons and stacks of waders to the north in the post rain murk.
Left ’em after 30 mins or so and headed back to the desk, while they continued dozing and batting out over the grey waves on fishing sorties.


After the shipwreck


Following a walk out to the wreck of the Ionic Star off Formby early doors today I got back onto dry land and picked Bazzo and Neill up for a seawatch off the Tobacco Dump from 1135 to 1405 or so.
With a fast developing south westerly last night, a fine high tide and a good scattering of quality seabirds in all the usual places (hell, there was even a Sabs on the shore at Morecambe this afternoon), we felt we should see something.
Formby Point played one of its occasional dirty tricks to present us with a rising tide largely devoid of seabirds, apart from commuting terns and the growing rafts of wintering Common Scoter.
Pleasant enough spot to while the afternoon away though.

Tobacco Dump, 1135-1405:

Common Scoter 450-500
Gannet 4
Arctic Skua 2-4
Sandwich Tern 200+
Common Tern 90+
Arctic Tern 11
Great Crested Grebe 3
LBB 30+

You know it’s quiet when you start pondering the steady southerly movement of LBBs which runs through till October – we’ll be counting Cormorants next…Noooooooo!!!


Wet dry run


I tried to ignore the south easterly and constant drizzle at Ainsdale at lunchtime as no one likes wasting a good high tide, although I might have been better grilling the roosts to the north today.
Plenty of Sandwich Terns, waders and gulls up past Shore Road, but good numbers of terns were still fishing over the tide south of Shore Road too and I was hoping for something out of the ordinary (Sooty, Sweep or Royal would all have been just dandy).
As it was I had to settle for Commons, two Great Crested Grebes and the distant scatter scoter clan – about 200 birds in the murk out there.
On the upside the rain and murk meant the roosting birds were enjoying a bit more peace today than the frequent human disturbance they’ve suffered through this week’s mini-heatwave.
This kind of hammering inevitably results in exhausted and dying birds like this Knot brought in to us earlier in the week.


This ones’ migrating days were well and truly over.
Bring on the wind from the west and the wild Atlantic waves…



With the lure of the point blank Little Grebe chicks and occasional shows by the Cattle Egret at Marshside today, Sandgrounders was inevitably busy – even the young Swallows popped in for awhile.
Blat blat blat.
500+ Blackwits up at Polly’s Creek/Pool, with a few groups of Curlew and a scattering of Snipe and Ruff.
While I checked out the seaward side, Neill and Pete were ironing out the finer points of the very latest birders’ comms app – it’s called “RTA” (don’t ask – let’s just say it doesn’t stand for “Road Traffic Accident”, which is odd as the initial conversations on the thing certainly had the feel of a car crash) from the eastern side of the reserve.
Ain’t cutting edge technology marvellous???


Two Common Sands made me hope for more on the wader front, but I wasn’t getting it.
Small numbers of Swifts appeared to be moving through to the south, there were Whitethroats here and there and on the outer marsh a few Kestrels were hunting half-heartedly – remember the days when more than 20 would gather to gorge on Craneflys in late August??
When I caught myself looking at butterflies I realised I’m not safely into Autumn yet, but there were plenty of Walls, Common Blues and Peacocks on the bank as the day warmed up.
However, once I started playing “sinensis” with distant Cormorants on Polly’s lagoon, I realised it was way past home time.


Out on the sand


Moulty Med Gulls I’d expect on the beach at Crosby this morning – or indeed on most other beaches along the coast, but they’re still great to see, and put me firmly in a generation when those snow wingtips were the sign of a “buzz bird”, before they moved in everywhere (have you been to Dover recently?)
Working down at the Crosby end for the last few days, where a trickle of Mipits and one or two Willow Warblers joined alba wags, linnets and the squadrons of Common Terns from over the wire at Seaforth.
However I was surprised (and pleased) by a Raven calling away on the Seaforth fenceline this morning, before it flapped north over Crosby beach, calling away – these things will always be “buzz birds” to me, no matter how many of ’em I see (or how many times I cock up the point and press flyby shot of them for that matter).


Cronk, cronk.

Blah blah blah…and blubber


It was too nice a westerly to ignore when it stomped in last night, so I picked up Bazzo and Neill and we gave the Tobacco Dump at Formby a few hours over the tide this afternoon.
Lovely sunny day seawatches usually involve large amounts of time staring at the empty sea, while disembodied conversations float over the hiss of the surf as eyes remain jammed to scopes more in hope than expectation.
Today was kinda like that – but we’ve certainly had worse sessions down there.
An initial 15 minutes of Arctic Skuas tag teaming to batter the terns was good value, but then it went quiet, before a pulse of Manxies moved offshore over the tide, albeit distantly.
Best of all was the Bottle Nosed Dolphin which breached smack dab in the middle of my scope – cracking views and only the third time I’ve see the big blubbery salmon regurgitator off the Sefton coast – at 1307 pre-cisely.
A bruising giant compared to our more regular “Puffing Pigs” aka Harbour Porpoise.

Tobacco Dump, 7/8/16, 1230-1445:

Arctic Skua 7
Arctic Tern 12
Common Tern 25
Sandwich Tern 100+
Gannet 120+
Common Scoter 40
Manx Shearwater 68
Bottle Nosed Dolphin 1 south at 1307

A clear passage of terns offshore, but most were too far off to pin down, unlike the Gannets and Manxies that sheared down the horizon.
Small Copper, Graylings, Gatekeepers and Common Blues rising from the dewberry as we trudged back to the wheels in the summer heat.
Cold beers well earned.

Chicken Run.


Given the fact that we’d hared down to Land’s End earlier in the year to wave metaphysical sardines at a pelican, it was surely inevitable that we’d gravitate towards Minsmere for Swampy the big blue chicken at some point this week.
Neill picked me up at a Godless hour today and once I was wedged into his wheels with Trops, Alan Wright and Rob Pocklington, we sped relentlessly south east through the night past blazing lorry fires, exploding lorry tyres and countless English spires resting in countless villages not yet stirring.
We got to Minsmere (RSPB Royale) in Suffolk for 7am (excellent driving Neill – I think you enjoyed being back behind the wheel today).
We quickly walked out through the reedbeds to the South Girder pool, where the Western Purple Swamphen that has been raising eyebrows since last weekend was lurking.
A good crowd was already there, and after a short time, the big blue chicken waded out of the reeds on great big galooty feet feeding in the shallows in strong winds and hard early morning light, while Moorhens and Water Rails hugged the edges with considerably more modesty.



Many people have written many serious words about the vagrancy of this critter this week – personally I think anything that looks like Foghorn Leghorn having a deeply blue “Braveheart” moment is always going to be worth driving a few hundred miles to see, whether anyone ever turns up to claim ownership or its huge splitty splatties make it onto the British list or not.
Best big blue chicken I’ve seen since the last time I clapped eyes on one in southern Yoorp.
A marvellous performance Swamp Thing!
Minsmere had other charms too of course – Cetti’s Warblers, Bearded Tit, Green Woodpeckers, a Turtle Dove I managed to miss, Yellow Wagtails and Stone Curlew with a youngster melting in the heat haze.


Hordes of good quality bugs, with buddleia wilting under the weight of butterflies and Southern Hawkers, and a truly splendiferous Pantaloon Bee (crazy name, crazy troosers), excavating in the sand despite far meaner looking Bee Wolves hovering over it.


Brilliant pantaloons baby.
Out of the reserve and onto Walberswick, where I spectacularly fluffed two Woodlarks, before a Honey Buzzard finally drifted over the distant trees after an hour or so of ‘scoping Marsh Harriers, Common Buzzards, corvids and hirundines.
Job done.
Back on the road north, with just enough time to doff our caps at motorway Red Kites and later the M6 rush hour car park.
It’s always a pleasure gents…

When all else fails…


With that nice fat south westerly blowing this morning it was worth a look from Ainsdale before work – nothing startling, and not the best place to seawatch from on the coast of course, but still 72 Manxies between 0830 and 0900, with more later in the morning.
Birds going north and south, so probably a bit of overcounting going on there.
One Fulmar and 23 Gannets, with at least 800 Common Scoters strung out along the coast in the swell.
Wall and Grayling on the frontal dunes and the tern numbers building up nicely.
Phil Smith had about 800 Sandwich Tern roosting off Albert Road/Cabin Hill last week, which is probably a Sefton coast record, with 300+ Common Terns to boot.
Sarnies and Commons commuting all over the place at Ainsdale at the mo, which bodes well for the survey that’s ongoing between us (Sefton Coast Landscape Partnership) and the Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s Biodiverse Society programme and wader numbers picking up too when they’re not being flushed by all and sundry.


X marks the spot.


They have a tough time on our coast Ringed Plovers these days; too much disturbance in what few nesting territories are left, tidal surges wiping broods out etc etc, so it was a pleasant surprise to come across a family party skittering around one of our car parks early this morning, the adult birds’ strident distraction calls trying to deflect from the obvious position of their offspring.


Standing in the middle of a car park as vehicles began to arrive was hardly the best survival strategy and the “ringed” Ringed Plover (sorry) parents quickly got the three youngsters back onto slightly safer ground nearer the nest site.
Where are they you say? Best leave ’em in peace I say.
But X marks the spot.


The sartorial pitfalls of year ticking


Deep gratitude to the RSPB’s Alex Piggott for her text this morning explaining that yesterday’s Cattle Egret was still at Marshside and on Rainford’s Lagoon, although it presented me with something of a wardrobe dilemma.
I appeared to have mislaid my birding pantaloons and the clock was ticking – Mrs D (the master of Dempsey Towers) is currently en vacance with the outlaws in France, and a chap can’t be expected to memorise where everything is in the house.
Think, think, what would Beau Brummell do???
Luckily I remembered I’d bought a great big waterproof poncho at the birdfair last year for duties in more exotic climes, and as a short*rse it comes right down to my ankles – problem solved, lash on a pair of bilstons and sandals and no-one will be any the wiser – after all no polite person ever asks a Scotsman what’s under his kilt right?
Whizzed up to Marshside in the rain and the little white chicken was still hunched up at the back of the lagoon with a Little Egret for company, looking as miserable as only a Cattle Egret can in bad weather.


Now many readers of the blog around the globe may be perplexed at this juncture as to what the fuss was, but north west England remains one of the few outposts where Cattle Egret is not omnipresent (not counting all points further to the north of course), and this one had plenty of colour on the crown and back, although you’d be hard pressed to see this in the rainsodden pix I took just before the showers shut down my P900.
After a minute or two the egret went for a wander in the rain into lusher vegetation behind the lagoon.
With only a handful of records before I think it maybe a Marshside tick for me too, which more than justifies the “poncho only” approach to year listing.
I was just profoundly grateful that it wasn’t too windy.