Joyous

The Rookery opposite the Morris Dancers at Scarisbrick was in fine voice this week, fizzing with life and fun.

It’s always hard to gauge how many are in there, but I saw at least 60 birds today (I know someone who may be able to give me a more accurate count…. Mike?), bowing, fanning their tails and flapping their jet black wings.

A few more birds were prospecting tall trees elsewhere around the edge of the Scarisbrick Hall estate too.

There can be few things as joyous as a rookery in early spring, and the Scarisbrick one has been steadily growing over the years, so that now post breeding dispersal regularly sees flocks of over 100 birds flapping west to feed on Plex Moss later in the summer.

I assume these birds are from the Morris Dancers anyway, although there are other, smaller rookeries not too far away.

A change in the air

The first ice cream van chimes on the estate, Common Frogs getting seriously frisky in next door’s overgrown pond (get some pants on, this is suburbia) and a perceptible improvement in the light, even given the total cloud cover, were all encouraging today.

It’s been so long since I’ve been birding I’ve forgotten which end of my binolikars to look through, but I gave Plex Moss a bash anyway, and while the old place was hardly jumping, I’ve had considerably worse sessions out there over the years.

Lesser Celandines blooming along sheltered ditch sides and just shy of 300 Lapwings roosting on a tilled field – it won’t be long before they start tumbling (Anyone had any Avocets yet? Anyday now).

At least three Yellowhammers in their usual territories, but they were still keeping a low winter profile, hugging the stunted hawthorn hedgerows as bird scarers coughed in the surrounding rapidly greening crops and Saturday guns rang out.

Corn Bunts were a no-show, although a few Skylarks were chirrupping about – they’ve been singing over the dunes at Ainsdale for the last week at least.

Up to 100 Fieldfares in two large flocks still out there, with a handful of Redwings and commoner finches being dragged along as they foraged and chacked between Barton and Plex Moss Lane.

A day-flying Barn Owl quartering the ditches was heartening to see, and further west, a male Grey Partridge edged out onto the edge of a track to feed, affording me prolonged, if distant views of this often unobtrusive resident.

Despite the early spring vibe, it was still a bit dark to video its near constant tail-flicking as it fed, but that never stops me, and a few seconds of truly crappy YouTube video kinda captures it here.

Bloody geese

After the best part of two weeks confined to barracks, a half hour up at Crossens grabbed at lunchtime was a breath of fresh air.

Even better as a Water Pipit dropped down right in front of me, just a metre or two beneath the pavement by the pull-in.

But before I could get bins on the tail-pumper and start enjoying close views a family party of Pinks flapped in and spooked the pipit, sending it skittering up into the air.

D’oh! Bloody geese.

Luckily it popped up again on the first pool just below the wildfowler’s pull-in, a few minutes later, and although a bit further away I was able to watch the bird feeding undisturbed for ten minutes amongst the Blackwits, Ruff, Snipe, Lapwings etc.

They blend in amongst the splashes of water, cow-poached mud and tussocks so well, but those pale undercrackers always give them away.

A fleeting few moments but after a world restricted to bird-feeder action (nothing wrong with Blackcaps etc but you can have too much of a good thing), fly-over Fieldfares and an errant flock of Whoopers taking a loop out from the mosses, they did the job.

Winter grey

There are plenty of other pale, grey waders on the coast during the shorter days of course, but for some reason none seem as wintry to me as Barwits.

Dunno why – Grey Plover are just as, well, grey, while Dunlin and Sanderling are devoid of colour too, but Bar-Tailed Godwits just look cold.

Elegant, but cold.

I watched this one while I was surveying down at Crosby this morning, as it strode through the icy water at the tide’s edge. Good arctic vibe to it, but I bet the bird wished it had a nice pair of thermal socks.

Fairly unremarkable survey-wise today, although a count of just shy of 500 roosting Lapwings first thing was fun, before the incoming tide pushed them back inland, presumably to the fields around Little Crosby and Sniggery Wood.

On the way in, 11 Little Egrets were feeding in flooded fields just outside of Hightown. I checked them for Cattle Egrets given Pete Gardiner’s recent sighting near here, but no joy.

The wind strengthened and squalls increased as the tide came in, gusting past a force six SWly, and even though the Mersey mouth seemed empty apart from coasting gulls and Cormorants, it must be worth a check tomorrow at Crosby and Southport Marine Lakes – and the Sands Lake at Ainsdale – for storm-blown goodies.

Bath time in the rain

They seem to have been a bit fickle so far this winter, so I was pleased when a 57-strong flock of Twite pitched down in front of me in the rain this morning on the Southport beach entrance slipway.

The finches were washing in the “grip mouldings” in the lower sections of the slipway, using the depressions like tailor made baths, before flying the short distance to the crushed shell upper beach to flap about and dry off, while snarfing the odd tide-born seed.

Way too dark and wet to get reasonable pictures, although a bit of video on YouTube here kinda illustrates the behaviour, and you can just hear their calls over the camera/rain/road white noise.

Despite the poor conditions those yellow bills and curry faces stood out, and occasionally the flash of a colour ring was visible, but they wouldn’t sit still long enough to get a clear combination in the gloom.

Some waited patiently for their turn in the bath, others less so.

The Snow Bunting was still doing its thing further up the beach nearer the pier (but I think there have been enough pictures taken of that for the time being), and five Pied Wags got acrobatic, snatching midges in between the dog-walkers.

Nearby seven Goldeneye at the north end of Southport Marine Lake, Little Grebes, gulls etc.

The Pits

The Ness Pit Hide was rammed at Far Ings today – everyone needs a New Year’s Day Bittern after all (and I’m no exception) – but with loud chatter and clattering shutters it wasn’t that surprising that the Bitterns kept their distance.

One bird did break cover a few times while I was there, stalking across the cleared rides in the reeds, but it spent the majority of its time lurking in cover.

During one appearance I shot a bit of video, which you can watch on YouTube here. Turn the volume down to imagine you have the hide to yourself and all the clicks, whirrs and pops of a digital world have gone. Nice feet.

I alway enjoy a visit to this reserve in the shadow of the Humber Bridge when I’m over east, and apart from the Bitterns (a second bird broke cover to fly along the back of the pit), the birding was suitably reedy with Bearded Tit, Cetti’s Warbler and Water Rail, the wind hissing through the phragmites, and at least three Marsh Harrier floating overhead.

Goldeneye, Tufties, Gadwall, Shoveler, Great Crested and Little Grebes out on the chilly open water.

Thor.

Let’s face it, we’ve all been there – a strange town, a night out with your mates in the middle of the holiday season, one beer leads to another to kebabs and then a nightclub or two.

All you want to do is find a nice sheltered corner of the harbour and get your weary head down in the wee small hours.

Before you know it, you’re waking up the next morning, butt-naked on a slipway, with the whole town and more peering down at you from the prom above.

The stuff of hungover nightmares.

Probably not what Thor the Walrus was expecting when he hauled out at Scarborough Harbour last night, but he seemed happy enough dozing under the watchful eyes of British Divers Marine Life Rescue team and police who kept the crowd a sensible distance away from this marvellous beast.

Excellent work from BDMLR as usual.

After racing up across the Humber (I’m on the east coast for New Year) to catch up with the mighty one, I shot a bit of video which you can watch on YouTube here as Thor delighted children and adults alike.

Believed to be a six-year-old male, his tusks and overall bulk were a sight to behold – an incredible animal.

A wonderful experience, although I do think Rob Pocklington (who had hot-footed it over from Cumbria to score) missed a trick when a charming couple asked him if he could take an in-situ selfie, the husband enquiring: “Are you sure you’ve got the Walrus in?”

It was all I could do not to exclaim “Sir, that is NO way to refer to your wife” before melting back into the crowd.

Ending a two hour audience, I left Thor displaying his superpowers to the adoring hordes – farting, rippling his curves and causing gridlock in a North Yorkshire resort with just the flick of a flipper.

Sometimes sleeping off a hangover is the only cure, even if it might make the boat owners of Scarborough Harbour a tad nervous.

Thanks for the thrill of the chase one last time in 2022 big boy – wishing you a safe onward journey.

Hold the sprouts…

At first glance, the brisk south westerly seemed to have cleared Plex Moss clean as a dinner plate at Christmas, but after the rain and low light of the last few days it was something of a relief.

Closer inspection revealed many of the winter residents were still about, albeit keeping low, but a feeding flock of 50 + Fieldfare and at least 170 Linnets was good value as the wary thrushes stood up stately off Station Road, shining in the sun, while the Linnets crept through the flooded stubble around them.

Just a few skeins of Pinks about, but good numbers of Lapwing, Starling and Stock Dove.

Later I came across this Common Buzzard tucking into a late Christmas present off Plex Moss Lane – it must only have got to the carcass shortly before I did as there was just a single Carrion Crow standing off.

The Buzzard experienced a degree of difficulty balancing on the carcass (Pink Foot?) in the high winds but did well enough for a full five minutes until the Carrion Crow audience swelled to three birds that quickly drove the raptor off the remains.

I’ll spare you the video – “Twixtmas” red in tooth and claw.

Best wishes for 2023 all.

Plastic beach

A dowdy, but plumptious Corn Bunt on the overhead wires on the Hightown Bends spurred me on to Southport beach’s Snow Bunting this afternoon, having completed a chilly survey at Burbo Bank earlier in the day.

The Snow Bunting was feeding on the “shell beach” about 100 metres north of the beach entrance slipway (closed for the winter).

Typically approachable, the bird was clearly hungry, tossing bits of plastic and wrappers around on the tideline in search of seeds like a Blackbird tossing leaves – I’ve not noticed one feeding in such an ostentatious way before, usually they just trundle along the tideline, constantly pecking at the ground.

Shaky video on YouTube here (it had been a bone-chilling survey with occasionally showers and my hands were still all wobbly!) of the bunting as it foraged.

Two Carrion Crows strutted down the beach from the pier end and spooked the Snow Bunting up onto the top of the seawall, where it showed just fine before dropping down onto the shore to feed again.

Lovely thing, presumably it is the same bird that Chris Fyles first discovered a short distance to the south on the Green Beach (as the Snow Bunt flies), during a recent WEBS count on December 11th.

Lights out by lunchtime

By the time the sleet had died back and the rain strengthened to “deeply unpleasant” this morning, it was clearly a day for staying put.

Grim.

Nowt wrong with that as I don’t get to see what’s happening around the feeders at Dempsey Towers much at this time of year, heading out to work before it is light and returning in the dark.

So two male Blackcaps were pleasing to see stuffing their faces with seeds and fat, and slipping into the pecking order somewhere between Chaffinch and Starling.

Seeing off Goldfinch, titmice and even Robin didn’t seem to be a problem for the warblers; Greenfinches were more of a 50:50 ball though.

Eight Fieldfare were a bonus – presumably birds that came in during this week’s freeze up – but typically wary, staying down in the long grass and almost out of range through the rain-streaked windows and gloom, hoovering up the Cotoneaster berries that litter the lawn.