Time for an update…?

Been away for a week or so (more on that later), so it’s time for the usual appeal to readers – what’s about?
What have I missed?
Please let me know via the comments thingy – many thanks.

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Shameless.

Shameless use of a press release while I am otherwise engaged… over to Kate Jones of the RSPB:

“Thousands of people across Merseyside are expected to watch and count their garden birds for the upcoming RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2018.
The world’s largest garden wildlife survey, now in its 39th year, takes place on 27, 28 and 29 January 2018. The public are asked to spend just one hour watching and recording the birds in their garden or local green space, then send their results to the RSPB.
Close to half-a-million people joined in the world’s largest garden wildlife survey in 2017, including almost 6000 in Merseyside, counting more than eight million birds and providing valuable information about the wildlife using our gardens in winter. The house sparrow remained top of the Big Garden Birdwatch rankings in the county, with blackbird and starling rounding off the top three.
To help prepare for Big Garden Birdwatch 2018, there are events on offer around Liverpool this January – from discovering how to attract more wildlife into your garden to gaining tips on how to identify the creatures that live on your doorstep.
Meet the RSPB Liverpool Local Group in the Palm House at Sefton Park, Liverpool on Sunday 21 January. Volunteers will be on hand from 12-4pm with information about taking part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, assisting with bird identification and advising on how to attract garden wildlife.
The RSPB will be at Otterspool Park in Liverpool on Sunday 28 January to provide information on Big Garden Birdwatch as well as advice on helping garden wildlife and identifying birds. Drop-in from 10am-3pm.
Daniel Hayhow, RSPB Conservation Scientist said: “The birds we see in our garden are often the first experience we have with nature – whether it’s a flock of starlings at the feeder, a robin perched on the fence or some house sparrows splashing in the bird bath. But it may come as a surprise to know that some of our most-loved species are in desperate need of our help as their numbers have dropped dramatically.
Species such as starlings and greenfinches have seen their numbers visiting gardens decline by 79 and 59 per cent retrospectively since the first Birdwatch in 1979.
Daniel added: “The Big Garden Birdwatch is a great opportunity to get involved with helping our garden wildlife. By counting the birds that visit your outdoor space, you’ll be joining a team of over half-a-million people across the UK who are making a difference for nature. It only takes an hour so grab a cuppa, sit back and see who makes a flying visit to your garden.”
As well as counting birds, the RSPB is once again asking participants to log some of the other wildlife they have seen throughout the year. This year, people are being asked to look out for badger, fox, grey squirrel, red squirrel, muntjac deer, roe deer, frog and toad.
To take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch 2018, participants should watch the birds in the garden or local park for one hour at some point over the three days. Only the birds that land in the garden or local park should be counted, not those flying over. The highest number of each type of bird seen at any one time then needs to be sent to the RSPB.
The parallel event, Big Schools’ Birdwatch takes place during the first half of spring term next year, 2 January-23 February 2018. Further information can be found at rspb.org.uk/schoolswatch
For a free Big Garden Birdwatch pack, which includes a bird identification chart, plus RSPB shop voucher and advice to help attract garden wildlife, text BIRD to 70030 or visit rspb.org.uk/birdwatch ”

Happy as a pig in muck

The wintering male Snow Bunting was in his element down at Crosby beach today as rangers carried on clearing the tonnes of debris dumped by Storm Eleanor – she didn’t half leave a mess!
Luckily for the Snow Bunt, this means large piles of tidal rubbish are being moved by the team with tractors, so revealing loads of seeds for it to scoff, and it happily scurried about often just a few feet from the tractor as the clean-up continued.

Once it got into a good pile of debris, the Snow Bunting could be quite hard to pick out, blending in perfectly with the seaweed, timber and depressing sea of plastics, but as ever, if you sat still the bird came very close.
It reminded me of one of those poor souls eking a living from the mega-tips of Kenya or Sierra Leone, except the bunting is probably considerably happier.

The bunting was with the Skylark flock for most of the time I was there as usual, with several of the 24 larks bearing colour rings from Ian Wolfenden’s monitoring project.
I shudda spent more time getting the colour ring data, but the light was awful this morning, making it hard to discern the ring colours, and anyway, who can resist a showy Snow Bunt?

Noise and numbers

A few degrees of frost and the high tide cycle falling away, meant bird numbers were inevitably down at Marshside today, but in gin-clear blue sky conditions, the old place was still impressive – and rammed with birds.
Merlin, several Marsh Harriers, Kestrels, Sprawk and two Common Buzzards took advantage.
The latter appeared to be “tailgating” opportunist GBBs way out on the outer marsh, in the same way that Merlins track Hen Harriers, but what do I know?

The Little Egrets looked a tad non-plussed by the freeze-up, but a Great White was still striding about at interstellar range as Bazzo and I ‘scoped the outer marsh, and for all the never-ending annoyance of traffic-drone, the spectacle of at least 2,000 Golden Plover and at least 300 Dunlin swirling about amongst the Blackwits, geeses and ducks justified the carbon monoxide flavoured Sandplant-Crossens and back stroll.

Crossens Outer had 11 dozing Whoopers with more out on the Ribble as the tide ebbed and mudflats emerged, and Stonechats were still hopping from decaying fencepost to fencepost as the frost melted away and the cars got slower, more intrusive and frequent.

New Year diet

No need for any dietary revisionism when you’re as svelte as a drake Goosander – just a shame I only got to it as the light was fading at Sands Lake this afternoon.
I know you can easily catch up with them at Mere Sands in winter, but they are scarce birds in the dunes and on the coast – the days when small flocks used to fish deeply flooded dune slacks in wet winters are a distant memory now.
Slow out of the blocks for 2018, it was fun watching this bird at Ainsdale, blasted in by Storm Eleanor presumably as it sailed low in the water like a frigate amongst the dumpier Pochard, Gadwall, Shoveler and Mallards here.
The Blackcaps that are hanging about Dempsey Towers may have more of a weight issue if they continue to scoff fatballs at their current rate.

Two, possibly three, birds are ripping into the feeders continually at the moment – I really must try to take some pictures when the sun is out and the window is open, rather than these grainy things, but there’s a month or two of fat-scoffing to sort that out yet.

A break in the reeds.

Drifting about in the inbetween week I managed to sneak away from the hospitality of the outlaws for an hour or two down to a bitterly cold Far Ings, the spiffing reedbed, hawthorn and lagoon reserve in the shadow of the Humber Bridge deep in the eastern badlands.
Not sure what day it was, Boxing Day possibly, who knows – when you’ve had one turkey sarnie, you’ve had them all.
Surprisingly I was accompanied by Mrs D – the last time she came birding was to watch Griffons and (find) Cyprus Warblers on Kensington Cliffs in 2002, so the change in temperature and habitat may have come as a bit of a shock.

(look – the boss even took a habo shot with her mobile).
Despite the low temperatures and poor light, the reserve was on tiptop reedbed form, with Bittern sloping across the thoughtfully created breaks in the cover almost as soon as we sat down, tubby Kingfishers whirring past, Water Rail foraging beneath us and Bearded Tits calling from the reeds.
Common Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, Fieldfares and Redwings too – all top notch festive fare.
Right, back to the vaccuum.

Countdown

With the clock tick tocking down to “Jason and the Argonauts” and all that, it was still impressive to watch feverish consumerism accelerating beyond the bounds of decency today in direct proportion to rapidly diminishing levels of goodwill.
Is this what it’s really about?
You can almost hear the celestial laughter.
Best keep out of it, so I headed out over the mosses, just as the sun broke through three days of mist and gloom.
Up to 70 Skylarks chirrupping about in the stubble on the Withins, where two Common Buzzards were ratting around the big muckheap.
About 100 Redwings at Great Altcar, but none on Plex – just two Fieldfare, Common Gulls, more Skylarks and Starlings and a flock of about 120 Linnets.
Back home at Dempsey Towers, the Redwings continue to rudely open the Waxwings’ Christmas presents early (will they ever come here?), stuffing themselves with cotoneaster berries alongside Woodpigeons and Blackbirds.
Good numbers of Common Scoter off Ainsdale at the moment too, with a few thousand occasionally taking to the air – but no white bits in ’em yet.
Thanks to everyone all over the world who has read the blog this year, and thanks to those who continue to add their sightings and comments, hope you all have a wonderful Christmas…
See you when all the mince pies have gone.

Shipwreckin’ bonus

Superb bonus Snow Bunting as I struggled back over the dunes at Ainsdale in a hooley-driven squall this afternoon.
I’d been out checking our shipwrecks – the Star of Hope and the Atlantic are now showing well again shipwreck fans, it was like meeting old friends again for the first time in years – this constitutes MAJOR piratin’ score as both have been hidden under the sands for quite some time.

I’ll be leading a shipwreck walk tomorrow – see www.facebook.com/seftoncoast shortly for details.
I was walking back from the wrecks when I noticed the bunting watching me from a dune ridge directly in front of Ainsdale Discovery Centre.
As I trudged off the beach it flitted down onto the sands, presumably to check out the prodigious tideline…hope it hangs about.

Winter Hill was.

All clear skies and icy everywhere, with Winter Hill blue/white on the inland horizon this morning as I went to Lunt Meadows for an hour or two.
Several Grey Herons were hunting mices in the frozen fields, with Teal, Wigeon, Mallard and Shoveler clamouring about on the patches of unfrozen water.
37+ Blackwits around the edges.
At least four Water Rails were calling from the ditches (or maybe just one hidden squealer following me as I completed a circuit of the reserve???).
A Cetti’s Warbler spluttered in the south east corner of the reserve, but was as invisible as the Water Rails.
The frozen water and soil seriously discomknockerated the Snipe on the site – hard work to probe with those bills in these conditions – and small groups frequently took off to circle the area.
I was watching three burst from the grasses when a plumptious Woodcock (sorry, I’ve come over all Doddy for some reason) flew up behind them and pot-belly paddled through the air towards the Forestry Commission woodland, where Siskins and Fieldfares called above the bare branches.
Elsewhere quite a few “owl-arazzi” were set up anticipating a performance from the wintering Short Eared Owls, in the north east corner, but I left the big lenses to it and kept on birding.

Just three Redwings breakfasting on cotoneaster berries at Dempsey Towers earlier this morning, but they were joined by seven Fieldfare and five Blackbirds stripping the shady branches as the sun rose behind them.
Should any Waxwings ever arrive they’ll go bananas when they discover all the berries have gone.
I suppose I could always put a few bananas out for them if it comes to it….

White hell

I really wouldn’t like to be in the Met Office’s shoes after the snowmageddon predicted for Dempsey Towers failed to materialise today.
The “poorcast” coincided with the precise time that Mrs D’s festive vibe was starting to kick in, and the holly and ivy was growing nervous.
Despite hourly checks through the night, not a flake fluttered down, and Santa’s little helper was not happy.
Any nearby weatherman or woman that stuck their head above the isobar parapet would have faced a blizzard of a snow-deprived tirade this morning.
Heading out seemed the smart move, and I got my kit together while Redwings continued to scoff the cotoneaster berries I hope will one day lure a Waxwing or two into the garden (that’s if the thrushes and Woodpigeons don’t eat ’em first).

I was going to check the tideline between Ainsdale and Birkdale, but it looked a bit grim, and I’ve been up to my oxsters in beached cetacean corpse there for the last two days anyway.
Funny how a slight change in position, when a carcass in advanced decomposition is moved by the tide, can radically alter our perception – I took the first pic on Friday evening, when head shape appeared to indicate a beaked whale.
Some beaker folk were even muttering “Sowerby’s” on social media…

Then yesterday morning the body had shifted in the tide and my next pic shows an altogether different impression of head-shape, pointing to an ex-Bottle Nosed Dolphin, albeit a seriously bloated one.

I still had to measure it all up and count the toothy-pegs once we’d got it off the beach though for recording purposes – never the sweetest smelling of jobs.
So today I decided to motor inland, clear the tubes and check the Withins.
Small flocks of Common Gulls, Lapwings and Starlings were spooked by a hunting Merlin, ripping about in the raw cold air, and one of the pale local Buzzards kept an eye on a tasty-looking muckheap from the vantage point of a rotting hay bale.

As I trundled slowly down the lane, I was delighted to see the back end of a Red Kite disappearing up into a distant hawthorn – presumably the bird that has been seen at Martin Mere and at Lunt already this winter.
No wing-tags visible, but it was a considerable distance away and stayed largely hidden in the branches as any lazy raptor would while the temperature plummeted and the first flakes of snow began to fall.

Typically the kite only stirred as the light really began to fail and snow filled the air after 2pm.

The raptor set off on a series of languid circling flights, drifting off into the snow showers towards Lydiate Station (pic at the top of this post), before I lost it behind the long bank.
I drove back towards Ainsdale as the snow got heavier – all very festive.
Inevitably just half a mile of home, the sky lightened and the flurries stopped.
Not a flake had fallen at the Towers.
Don’t think I’ll tell the boss…