Closing this circle

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Having managed to miss a Black Brant with my usual incompetence down at Donna Nook while I was seeing 2015 in with the outlaws on the east coast, it seemed sensible to try to redress the balance as I visited for Xmas with a wee trip to Spurn (any excuse).
True, it took me twelve months to tie up this particular loose end for the year, but Black Brants are always striking birds and worth a detour, especially as Spurn was bathed in warming bright sun yesterday, and only an hour away from the festivities.
I got to Spurn mid-morning and called in a Kilnsea Wetlands where the Brent flock were all out on the water with Wigeon and Mute Swans.
I picked up the dark back, belly and bright white flanks of a Brant fairly quickly, before all the birds took to the air chuntering overhead then dropping into the roadside fields for a graze near a few Whoopers and Mutes.
A bit of crawling along the verge and slithering down a bank and I was able to watch the bustling little geese from a hundred metres or so without disturbing them.
The Black Brant was still there, but kept disappearing into the confusing melee of light bellied and dark bellied Brents – I don’t get to watch Brent flocks that often, but it was fun trying to age and assign the birds to races.
Occasionally the great big neck collar of the Brant was obvious too – but not always. It seemed to depend on the stance of the bird.
I got good ‘scope views of the yankee, but continued incompetence (at least I’m consistent) meant I never managed a clear picture of it, and I left the Brents and Brant nibbling away in the sun once they’d twisted my melon for an hour or so.

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The peninsula was pretty quiet otherwise, as were other favoured haunts during the wet and generally windy break and more typical winter grey.
Mild, but wet, Far Ings had winter thrushes, feeding flocks of titmice and calling Cetti’s Warbler and Bearded Tit, but high winds when I called ensured I was always onto a loser there.

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Owl break

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Just before the inevitable satsuma and snorker tsunami that will engulf the more fortunate residents of this planet over the coming days builds, crests and topples down on me, I thought I’d grab an hour or so quality owl time at Lunt Meadows while the sun shone this afternoon.
The place was rammed with photographers – but I think this is a good thing…the owls’ huge feeding areas are fenced off, so the birds are untroubled and it brings the owls to a wider audience, which has got to be great news – these days we should be shouting about any cool conservation stuff as loud as possible.
The more the merrier I say – and Lunt’s popularity keeps other hunting areas that are more susceptible to disturbance well out of the limelight.

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There were two, possibly three Short Eared Owls up and hunting while I was there today, hovering like great big moths over the rank vegetation.
I didn’t see any with prey, but they pounced plenty of times, when they weren’t chasing off the local Kestrels.

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It was superb to bump into photographer Richard Steel there, although he was quite hard to spot in all that camouflage gear.
Readers of the old, and infinitely mightier Birdblog, that bestrode the interweb like a wobbly colossus of Quality Street wrappers, will remember the stunning images Richard used to regularly send me of all manner of birds.
Although we were in contact frequently via email, we’d never met before today, so that was pretty cool.
And Pete Wheeler was there, and catching up with him was great too.
I imagine their images turned out a bit better than mine….as well they should given the size of the lenses the guys were toting – the hardware on show was bigger than two of those giant Toblerones that tend to turn up in a day or so.
Happy Xmas all.

The Merecrest Bunting Trials

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Zipped over to Martin Mere on a fruitless quest for a new lens for me poor old ‘scope, and came across Andy Bunting panting his way back to the In Focus shop having failed to connect with the Firecrest that’s been knocking around in collection area for the last few days.
He explained how low down and sneaky this particular ‘crest was – travelling alone, covering a large area and keeping low, and how important it was for his Patchwork Challenge glory bid that he connect with it.
Then he kindly directed me towards the Crane pens and he was on his way.
I wandered through the pens and just past the Crane enclosure to a flooded area of willows and reed where Long Tailed Tits, Goldcrest and finches were flitting about and on whim, tried my old Audubon “squeaker” – a twisty gizmo that draws in passerines in seconds in the States, but has never worked for me over here.
A few squeaks and twists and up popped the Firecrest – all stripey-faced and bronze shouldered – a stunner!
I only had my bins on it for a few seconds then it dropped down and out of sight – so I rang Andy and he came running over across the reserve to miss it again.
A cautionary tale of Patchwork Challenge trauma.
I’m sure he’ll catch up with it in the next day or two.

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Then I went for a stroll to play with my new camera, but it was all a bit tricky – too many buttons still, things will improve with practice (I hope), but it was a blurry day today.
Hordes of wildfowl and Marsh Harrier as usual.
Wishing you all a merry xmas and a spiffing new year.

Gull nightmare incoming

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Watched the GBBs marauding the Wigeon and Teal at Marshside for awhile at Sandgrounders this lunchtime…great lumbering brutes that sweep lazily in, spooking the fit in the hope of locating the sick ducks below.
Usually these monsters just drop onto a victim, whacking ’em with their big mean bill, but one bird today appeared to be striking out at prey in the air with it’s big galooty feet, in the same way a stooping Peregrine “punches” prey, where the bone-shattering impact is sufficient to secure din dins.
Didn’t work for the gull – perhaps it’s spindly legs don’t absorb and transfer power the same way the stocky legs and talons of a Peregrine do.
Whatever, at least the gull was learning (and that’s what life is about after all), if going hungry, and I”m sure this was okay with the Wigeon.
Otherwise it was ducks, ducks, ducks from Sandgrounders today.

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Pleasant in the ridiculously mild conditions – I was half expecting Sand Martins to start pushing north (!), especially after watching a Red Admiral fluttering around the roof of the RSPB office at the Churchtown end of Marshside Road.
Daft.
Warm enough to try seawatching from Ainsdale over the last two days with none of the usual winter discomfort, and, it has to be said, with none of the winter good stuff either, apart from the Common Scoter scarf, RB Mergs and Great Crested Grebes.

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Target practice.

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New toys to play with and try to master at the moment, which is just as well, as weather and the birding gods seem to be conspiring against us.
Managed a nice colour-ringed Grey Wagtail at Lunt Meadows on Friday, when Trops and I tried to work out which end of a bridge camera to look through.
At least Stonechats were easy, but we also had Kingfisher, Buzzard, Kestrel etc – and more photographers than birders as we wandered around the reserve, but that was okay too.

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Yesterday was a rained off yule shopping diversion, but this morning Neill, Pete Allen and I nipped down to Hightown, where the rain came in earlier than forecast and the male Snow Bunting remained hidden south of the sailing club.
Nice drake Red Breasted Merganser on the rising tide though, and a few Redwings and Fieldfares along the approach road to the village.
Fresh (well, not that fresh) corpse of a Shag on the tideline north of the outflow pipe.
Too dark to try more camera lessons this afternoon, but Plex still had 112 Whooper Swans, a few Pinkies and 40-50 Fieldfares.
A ringtail Hen Harrier was hunting over the Withins despite the rain, and Merlin was zipping around out there too, while a small flock of 8 Golden Plovers wandered over the flooded fields.

Sometimes a little is all you need…

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Coming back from a job, I found myself on Plex Moss this afternoon and paused to admire this fine herd of Whoopers as the sun began to slide away…there were 102 of ’em rooting around in the rich black soil, and calling in the chilled and still air.
Very peaceful.
The swans were accompanied by 27 Pink Feet.
As I watched them a Barn Owl went by, hunting in one of the narrow ditches that bisects the fields, often disappearing below the banks, only to rise up and hover again a few metres away.
Plex also had a few Redwings, hunting Sprawk and Corn Bunting.
Not a lot I know, but sometimes a little is all you need…
Earlier in the day I’d scanned the waves before starting work at Ainsdale – the grey light of December can be quite good for working through the scoters when it’s not too windy, but I couldn’t find anything amongst them today, and the scoter scarf has yet to pull itself back together again after the recent gales – birds are still scattered about in small groups.
GBBs were prowling over the swell too this morning – up to five of ’em, and I wondered if they were looking to pick off exhausted scoters in the same way as they predate the wildfowl at Marshside.
If they were, the tactic didn’t seem to be working and the scoters resolutely refused to flush.

Now as warm as toast

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Remarkably mild for December, with Mallards and Coot getting frisky when I called into Sands Lake at Ainsdale this morning.
The Great Crested Grebe (by no means a regular bird here) was still present at the north end of the lake, where it has been hanging around for at least a week now.
Best way to recalibrate my sense of season on such a warm day was to head up to HoM (it’s always cold there) for a stroll along the bank, especially as Neill and Trops had Hen Harrier, Peregrine and Barn Owl there yesterday.
Herd of about 100 Whooper Swans on the approach road, including a nice peat-stained bird, possibly the one Neill, Trops and I saw on Guide Road last week.
Peregrine perched up in between occasional forays to terrify the Teal and Redshank, usually just after two GBBs had taken a break from scaring the pants off ’em.

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Mipits and Skylark overhead and a few Fieldfares in the hawthorns before I drove back towards Marshside, past another herd of Whoopers on Shore Road (couldn’t stop).
At the marsh a Grey Wag was flitting around the bath/trough on Crossens Inner just down from the water treatment works and a young Marsh Harrier was circling over Marshside Two and Crossens Inner, even managing to spook the “Ross’s Goose” into flight.
Two Ravens drifted over the outer marsh at the Sandplant, croaking, tumbling and laughing in the blue sky – looked like they were having fun.
A Merlin sped south.
Later in the day a Mistle Thrush was in loud, full song by the Asda car park in the middle of Southport at 1630.

Dark days

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Visibility was so bad today I wasn’t surprised to see the first Carrion Crows heading down the dune frontals towards their roost in Ainsdale NNR at 2.15pm.
Normally they’re out foraging till 3.30pm at least before the waves of corvids – Jackdaws and Carrion Crows – come sailing past the tower heading into the pines, but I can’t really blame ’em for an early dart on a day like this.
A brief sunburst at 9am yesterday (pic above) as I headed to a job in the dunes at Hightown lifted the spirits – as did a hunting Barn Owl on North End Lane, and a Grey Wagtail overhead, but there was no sign of any of the Short Eared Owls while I was down there.
Met Dave Hardaker, who’d had 15 Twite on the beach at Hightown shortly beforehand.
Stonechats emerging from cover after the storms with birds on the beach at the end of Albert Road, Formby, and at least two back round Ainsdale Discovery Centre (I’ve not seen the Black Redstart there for at least a week now – maybe it’s still lurking in Pontins, maybe not).
The buckthorn by the centre continues to hold Reed Buntings, Robins, Wrens and Dunnocks too.
Too murky to try a seawatch, but conditions have got to improve at some point….haven’t they?