2014 carpet bag curtain call

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Subzero for the third day in a row over on the east coast, yet the new year celebrations at the outlaws are steadily gathering pace, like the juggernaut of excess they invariably are. Broke free for a frosty few hours today to hit Far Ings in the shadow of the Humber Bridge, where Redwings and Fieldfares battered the berries, Bullfinches remained coy and Cetti’s Warblers remained invisible.

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Excellent performance from one of the wintering Bitterns though, Kingfisher zipped through and Marsh Harriers sailed by putting the willies up the wildfowl. Always a great site for the old carpet bag Bitterns in winter, there are 3 or 4 this year…wonder if Mere Sands has any yet?

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Fine winter birding that quite took my mind off the Little Bustard at Brid…tempting certainly, although the memories of the ’96 bird on The Lizard remain vivid. I think that was the first time I’d seen a rare spark spontaneous applause as it flew past the ranks.
Happy days.
Right, time for a wash n brush up before re-engaging with the festive coal-face.
Hogmanay and shiny stuff to all.

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Above the incessant roar

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Surprising how many birds were still around the marsh late this morning, despite the heavy frost – Crossens Inner and Marshside Two had approximately 450 Blackwits, with 100 odd Lapwing and similar numbers of Golden Plover too.
Usually they clear off at the first sign of the icy stuff.

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The Great White Dot (quality shot above) was strutting around Crossens Outer, and the “little white goose” was still fraternising with Mallards.
Tart.
Merlin, Kestrel and Sprawk all hunting the outer marsh, and several Rock Pipits were calling, but it was virtually impossible to pin them down above the incessant roar of traffic.
At least two appeared to be dropping onto Marshside Two, just north of the Sandgrounders Hide.
Best of all, one of the (almost) regular Ravens was being cool out on Crossens Outer, but as ever, flapped off laughing as soon as it saw me watching it – love the way the thing bounced over the turf like a big black Spacehopper.
Superb bird.

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The Raven flew off twice to the south east but returned to probe the grass, ignoring a Carrion Crow that attempted to mob it.
Meanwhile the GBBs had scored further out and were tearing something unfortunate (and well past identification) to ribbons in the taller marsh vegetation and a Common Buzzard was resting up on the fenceline.

Stumbling through the wreckage

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Minke whale washed uo on the shore at Formby, Merseyside

An evening of festive carousing and hospitality courtesy of Dr B McCarthy meant today was only good for a period of quiet reflection (ahem).
A fine time was had by all last night, but on the downside this meant I didn’t get up to Marshside to have a look at the latest drake American Wigeon to grace the site (on Crossens Inner today) – looks a belter from online pics, maybe tomorrow….?
On the upside I was able to complete a piece I’ve been working on about how the Minke Whale washed up at Formby in 2008 met its fate.
You can read all about it on the Sefton Coast Landscape Partnership facebook page here.
Killer Whale picture courtesy and copyright Robert Pitman
Minke Whale at Formby, picture courtesy and copyright Dave McAleavy

Excursion to the dark side

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With confusion still reigning over Phil Smith’s Ainsdale nightmare gull (see previous entry), I felt my work was done locally for the time being, so I decided to take a trip over to the dark side (or the Fylde as it is sometimes called) today.
Fieldfares and Blackbirds were hanging off hedgerows as I drove north west from Preston towards the big skies of Fleetwood and Rossall Point.
The gorgeous Shorelark that has been gracing the seafront there was scurrying around the cropped grass and picnic table beside the Rossall Point car park.
Some may prefer their critters in a more authentic setting, but I say if a birdy wants to make it easy, so much the better.
I’ve never seen a bad Shorelark (in the same way as I have never seen a good clown, with the possible exceptions of Krusty and Mr Jelly), and this one is particularly fearless, feeding too close to focus on through the scope at times.
Wonderful.

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I watched the Shorelark at close quarters for half an hour or so in good sunlight, then left it hanging out with its favourite stone.

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And a short walk south of the Rossall Point observation tower, at Groyne 59, a Snow Bunting was mooching and preening on the pebbly foreshore.
Splintered memories of Desert Wheatear and Kentish Plover here.
The bunting looked seriously eclipsed by its flashier cousin doing the business on the car park, but I was pleased to watch it in a strengthening breeze as they seem to be so scarce on our side of the Ribble this winter so far (the only one I’ve heard about is a bird at Crosby early last month).

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At least 20 Little Egrets hunched on the outer marsh off Fairways, pre-Marine Lake roost as I headed back home along Southport seafront, where Mrs D has succumbed to serious Christmas fever – all radios at the towers are now preset to Smooth Xmas and you can’t move for holly boughs and tangerines.

Big boy gull stuff.

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A morning this wet and unpleasant limits a chap’s options.
The boss has gone out to do the shopping (I did offer, but it was patiently explained to me that this type of thing is way, way, beyond my abilities).
So what to do on a wet Sunday morning left to my own devices?
I’ve counted the Goldfinches ravaging the feeders. Twice. (23 if you’re interested).
I’ve danced on the table to Little Richard (try it, they can’t touch you for it).
I’ve admired the two Tree Sparrows wintering at Dempsey Towers. Nice.
I’ve even played with the kindling hatchet indoors. Risky.
Nothing for it now, with all other options exhausted, we’ve got to do BIG BOY GULL STUFF.
While I was checking the Meds up at Weld Rd yesterday, Phil Smith was down at Ainsdale with a quality larus melon-twister…what do you think of this bird?
Please use the comment section and enter the world of challenge, italics and pain that is gulling…

Phil explains: “Very interesting large gull on Ainsdale beach yesterday afternoon. It’s probably just an argentatus Herring Gull but is certainly not typical.
“A bulky adult, slightly larger than most nearby Herrings. Extremely dark mantle, close to ssp. graellsii of LBB and darker than other ssp. argentatus (three individuals) in the flock of 1000+ gulls.
“Unlike most winter argentatus, reduced head and nape streaking, brightly-coloured bill with large gonys spot, average-sized primary mirrors. I managed to get a couple of shots with typical argentatus nearby.
“Also in this flock at least five very smart intermedius Lesser Black-backed.
“Assuming it isn’t a Vega Gull (!), all I can suggest is an eastern/northern form of argentatus. Olsen & Larsson (2004) state that adults in N. Norway and along White Sea coast differ in having darker bluish-grey upperparts (but also reduced black on wing-tip, which isn’t right). Some of these also have yellowish legs (“omissus“) but the Ainsdale bird has pink legs”.

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What do you think?
Is it a hybrid? A weird argentatus? Surely it couldn’t be the existential Vincent Vega?
That’s the great thing about gulls isn’t it, just when you think you’re in a good place with them, one comes along to chuck you right out of your comfort zone!
Here’s a few of Phil’s shots of his intermedius LBBs too.
Thanks as ever Phil…

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Mediterranean December afternoon

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The air was harsh and cold on the back of my throat and nipped at my fingers, but the Green Beach was as good a place as any to spend a few hours today – Stonechat, Reed Bunting, Chaffinch, Linnet, Song Thrush etc in the buckthorn and enough gulls around to be worth a grilling.
There were more on the coast, especially at Ainsdale, yesterday, but I didn’t really have the time to work through them – a coloured ringed Herring Gull or two was the best I could muster.
Old favourite “A Gull called Arse” (okay, R4RS) was at Weld Rd during the hooley on Wednesday as was an adult Med.

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Today, with the tide way out, the gulls were scattered all over the channels between Birkdale and Ainsdale, gorging on a razor and rayed trough shell wreck, so I concentrated on those washing and roosting around the freshwater run-off from the River Nile and points south.
One or two “traffic-light” primaried argentatus Herrings and two adult winter Med Gulls were the best bits of a blustery few hours.
One of the Meds looked suspiciously like the bird at the top of this entry, which I photographed when it was loitering around the southern end of the Marine Lake earlier this winter.
It headed inland in the direction of Hillside once it had enjoyed a wash and brush up in the run-off.
The other bird had much more heavily marked ear coverts and nape.
The usual interesting range of mantle tones on the Common Gulls, from dark charcoal to pearly grey, with a few birds with particularly dark winter “hoods”.
Twite (approx 30) and Linnet bounding about above the saltmarsh, but never settling.
Little Egrets inevitable.

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Too big to eat.

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Bitterly cold out on the marsh this afternoon, but at least the cruel wind held off the hail, sleet and all manner of poop that had been lashing down in the morning.
A superb female Peregrine was sheltering on the leeward side of one of the large bits of timber on the outer marsh up Crossens way, occasionally eyeing the grazing Pink Feet that passed close by her.
While Peregrines have been recorded taking a surprising variety of prey, from GBBs to Long Eared Owls via Hawfinch and Cuckoo (Ratcliffe, 1980), I think a healthy Pink Foot, no matter how plump and tempting might be a bit too ambitious.
Two Merlins ripping up the outer marsh too, hurtling after Skylark and Snipe without success.
Crossens Outer had two Great White Egrets striding about before they moved further out onto the estuary, and beaucoup de Pinkies grazed close to the road.

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Now two Tree Sparrows at Dempsey Towers in Ainsdale – looking good.

Irish Sea Wild

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Way too choppy for anything meaningful seawatch-wise before work this morning, but it was challenging to scan the deepening winter troughs off Ainsdale as the wind strengthened from the north west and I lost the feeling in my feet.
Too much sea to see if yesterday’s four Harbour Porpoise were still about, which was a shame, ‘cos as blubber goes, they were good value.
As usual the Common Scoter horde was strung out offshore like maritime measles, but although the heavy swell forced them into the air frequently, I couldn’t pick up anything out of the ordinary.
Then the sun came out, and the light started bouncing off their underwings again and it was time to give up.
I know that’s a lousy picture, but if you squint hard you can just make out the black dots of scoter rising out of the waves.
Do scoters suffer from motion sickness?
Is flying preferable to bobbing about in stormy seas?
Do these birds commute in the bay to join the throng at Conway or north to Shell Flats?
Why don’t they ever seem to dive for food off Ainsdale during the day (scope ’em for a while – they just sit there, jostle or do the funny short flight territorial thing, but they don’t dive…mebbe they use this stretch of coast exclusively as a roosting area???)?
So many questions, so many scoters, so many waves…