Every cloud…

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Yet another afternoon of night today with a mizzling seafront developing into torrential rain with depressing predictability.
Nowt to do but shelter in Sandgrounders Hide at Marshside, as the black backs lumbered past trying to flush out weak wildfowl without success.
A Merlin hunting the outer marsh also zoomed off without a catch.
After an hour or so I nipped down to Hesketh Road in near dark (headlights on full), but there was no sign of the calling Chiffchaff seen there earlier in the day.
This was hardly surprising in the awful conditions.
At least one of the young male Scaup was awake and diving about, but blurry “record shots” were the best I could manage in the heavy rain and low light… I wonder just how water resistant a P900 really is?

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The male Pochard flew in to join the Scaup and they tootled around together for a few minutes before melting into the reeds.
If there is an upside to the continuing deluge, it’s that water levels have zoomed back up in the slacks since October, so fingers crossed, this might be a reasonable year for Natterjack Toads in the dunes after the pants season caused by 2015’s drought conditions (try remembering that as your sodden wellies and waterproofs steam next to the fire baby).

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Phil Smith has been measuring the water levels in the Devil’s Hole (no tittering at the back there) down at Ravenmeols this winter, and has produced this ace graph, which he kindly allowed me to post.

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Phil’s graph shows how low the water levels were last October (almost 50 cms below the normal water table) – and how much they have risen since then.
This was compiled a week or so ago, so I guess the water level will be higher still now.
Could mean a bumper spring for the “Birkdale Nightingales” or “Bootle Organs” depending on your geographical loyalties… although conditions can change of course before the Natterjacks start emerging in March.
Thanks as ever Phil.

Purple Sand shove ha’penny

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I had an appointment over in New Brighton late morning today, so once that was done, I decided to spend my lunch at New Brighton Marine Lake, with a fine high tide already battering Fort Perch Rock when I arrived.
Down at the other end of the lake, the pontoons were flush with waders well before high tide, with 11 Purple Sandpipers, the birds I was hoping to have a good look at, hunched up and snoozing away on the edge of a tightly packed roost of Turnstones (about 60 birds) and about 100 Redshank.

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It was all very relaxed until the Turnstones started pushing and shoving – while the sleeping Purple Sands and Redshanks staggered, swayed and braced themselves against the strengthening gusts of wind without lifting their heads from under their wings, the Turnstones frequently squabbled and barged about the roost.
As more Turnstones arrived, more chuntering squabbles broke out as spaces in the safety of the roost were more and more hotly contested.
On the upside, whenever this happened, the Purple Sandpipers woke up so I could briefly try to digi-scope these fleeting moments of consciousness.
Not bad as lunch breaks go, and as I walked back to the car, a Red Fox seemed to be stranded in the rocks of the sea defences as the waves crashed in, much to the consternation of bystanders, but it soon broke cover and loped off towards the arcades of New Brighton behind the backs of human promenaders.
From the frying pan into the fire?

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‘Scopes don’t bounce.

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I don’t know many people who can still beam widely after their scope has sheared off the tripod head and clattered onto one of the few hard stretches of path not carpetted in cushioning sheep shit and mud at HoM…but Andy Pryce can!
Klunk. Tinkle.
Hey presto – a scope in three pieces!!!
Hardly fair after Andy, Trops and I had spent a good hour hunkered down amongst said sheep shit and mud ‘scoping the Wigeon horde for another glimpse of the American Wigeon without success this morning.
Ah well, it’s still an impressive sight to see the reserve flooding on a high tide.

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Earlier Marshside had the Great White Egret, two Common Buzzard, Merlin and Marsh Harrier.
Few Whoopers on the way to HoM, but it was pretty quiet, so we headed over to Martin Mere.
Even more Whoopers there obviously.

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We wandered down to the Ronnie Barker after a quick chat with Andy Bunting at In Focus.
The Tawny Owl was showing well as usual on the path down….

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Ample birdage to play with from the hide – wildfowl, Ruff, raptors (Buzzards, Marsh Harrier and Kestrels) and one of the much photographed Barn Owls was still quartering the fields there.
I am a birder, not a photographer, which should be obvious from this blog.

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Lapwings everywhere – much the same as Marshside yesterday (two Peregrines, an adult and a juv on the murk) and Lunt on Saturday and Sunday, when I popped down to see the snappers, sorry, Short Eared Owls (I had up to three over the weekend there – SEOs not snappers – I’m sure there were more) at dusk.
Perhaps if I stand next to snappers often enough some photographification may rub off on me and my images will be in focus… Perhaps.

American on ice

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Sliding through the slush and sheep poop along the top of the bank at HoM this morning I could see the birders hunched and ‘scoping the distant Wigeon flock past the big tree trunk.
It was bitterly cold with a dusting of snow on the fields, large sections of the lagoons still frozen over and a bitingly cruel wind.
You could see the collective psycho-bubble hovering over birders silently questioning the very notion of global warming as I approached…
Fun to see lots of folk feeling the cold as much as me for views of the drake American Wigeon found by Stuart Darbyshire yesterday (very well done Stuart – but next time you find a rare, could you see your way to doing it in warmer conditions?).
The bird was always distant and I just couldn’t get a decent photo of it, whether digiscoping or giving it full blattage with the P900, although in conditions this grim it wasn’t surprising.
Reasonable ‘scope views as it tootled about, yet it was quite hard to keep tabs on as it bustled about amongst the Eurasian Wigeon, often disappearing in the flock.
It hauled out of the icy water for a preen once in a while (it’s the left hand blur on the bank in this shot).

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After admiring the Yankee for an hour or so (it has been a few years since I’ve seen one I think), and having lost all feeling in my extremities, I wandered on down the bank, but the place was quiet – about 30 Whoopers in the fields at the bottom end, flocks of Linnet, Reed Bunting and Skylark, and a party of Golden Plover over.
Best of all were two Ravens drifting over heading south west-ish.
I called in at Marshside on the way home, finally managing to catch up with the young Scaup with the Tufties off Hesketh Road, but it was fast asleep on the water (left hand blobby blur in the group below).

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It was the Siskin’s fault.

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Raw day, which brought in two Redwings and two fine male Siskins into the garden at Dempsey Towers – enough to encourage me to get out and have a spin on the Withins and Plex, but by the time I was out there the rain/sleet mucky stuff had set in to create a classic dank mossland winter afternoon.
Not much to be seen apart from wet and miserable Kestrels, wet and miserable Peregrines and Buzzards and a large flock of Linnet, made up of about 80 birds, which although a bit distant, were undoubtedly wet and miserable too.

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Everything was grounded and drenched, with the exception of a few groups of Pink Feet.
Called into Sands Lake at Ainsdale on the way back, which was still partially frozen and playing host to a very wet and miserable young Grey Heron.

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Like a wet mirror…

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I resisted the temptation to check through the gulls at the north end of Ainsdale beach at lunchtime and tried a seawatch on the falling tide from the dunes instead – it was flat calm and visibility wasn’t too bad until a bank of mist came rolling in.
Still mighty pleasant ‘scoping with almost warmth from the sun on my back.
Not too much out there today, which wasn’t entirely surprising given the high winds of late, but fun just to be able to scan the water again.

Ainsdale, 1215-1315:
Red Breasted Merg 7
Great Crested Grebe 5
Red Throated Diver 4
Common Scoter 51
Teal 2

The scoter horde is still scattered after the gales, but I hope they’ll build up again – or will they all head down to the North Wirral shore like last year???
Interesting to see one or two scoters actually diving today – usually they just doze on the swell off Ainsdale.

Fast water

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The flow of water down the Crossens Channel was so impressive this afternoon that as I watched Teal and Wigeon whizzing down on the current, I couldn’t get the “Hawaii Five-0” theme tune out of my head – an awful lot of water is going down there…
In the cold wind one of the Great White Egrets was wandering about, but it was a long way off the road. Small groups of Pinks were far closer.

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Few Mipits, and many Lapwings (with an especially large winter flock on the outer marsh off HoM later on), while Marshside itself is obviously heavily flooded.
The waders (mainly Blackwits and Redshanks) were crowded onto the few remaining dry banks on Marshside One and a Pochard was feeding with the Tufties from Hesketh Road.
Out of the wind, a Common Buzzard was perched up under the willows – don’t usually see them stationary on M1, or at least I don’t.
You can just make it out on the fenceline in this pic.

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Weld Road was busy with dogwalkers as I went past, but it was reassuring to see that a “Gull Called Arse” (R4RS) was still present after all these years – it’s nothing if not reliable as far as Herring Gulls go.

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Merlin and Peregrine spooking everything on Marshside Two despite the bitter wind (I fear “the winter that never was” will soon be a distant, fond memory if these conditions continue) but it was tough to get inspired today.
Whoopers from the road out by Marsh Farm, and at HoM, Fieldfare and the resident Barn Owl to end the day.

There’s never a hat around when you need one…

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As the pot-bellied Woodcock came flapping over my head in the blue, blue sky above the car park at Sands Lake at Ainsdale today, before wheeling around and disappearing back into the landward section of the LNR, my mind raced back to a strange evening long ago and far, far away.
Back then and up in the wilds of northern Finland, “Mad Dog” Bannon had insisted that the best way to get good views of Woodcock was to throw your hat in the air as the bird passed and allegedly it would land where the hat fell (Mad Dog is full of suitably bizarre country lore like this – he’d always have a white hankie out and be waving it about before you could say Caprimulgus europaeus like a demented Morris Dancer).
In the Land of the Midnight Sun and in a sleep-deprived state having birded through 24-hour daylight for nearly three days straight I decided to give the hat trick a go beside a lovely lake in downtown Kuusamo, where several Woodcock were wheeling about, and hurled my baseball cap up into the air.
I can still hear their sniggering and the guffaws of Red Necked Grebes further out on the lake today, as my hat sat neglected on the bank.
Bewildered Kuusamonians walked nervously by as I kept chucking my hat about without success (although they probably see a lot stranger behaviour during Reindeer wee season)
No cap available this lunchtime, and I was way too slow with the camera to get an image of the Woodcock as it went over me, but they are always great birds to come across, hat trick or not.

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Three drake Pochards fishing on the calm water today, with Shoveler, Tufted Ducks, Mallards and Cormorants as usual, and Great Tits singing in the scrub around the boardwalk (Tawny Owls were calling around Dempsey Towers last night).
Sands Lake might not be the hottest birding spot going, but it’s handy for a lunchtime stroll, can be good for Water Rail – and is a great place to practice with the camera.

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Hoopoe road trip hoodoo

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Nope, do not adjust your screens – these really are the best pictures I could manage of the world’s most miserable looking Hoopoe as it rooted around in the rainsodden West Midlands turf at Wall Heath this morning – poor thing seemed to be catching stuff, but it was actually hard to say whether it was waving or drowning in the downpour.
After about five minutes it flapped off on ridiculous wings into a stand of trees and we left it to its business.
I’d been picked up by Trops before he collected Neill and Pete Allen at an ungodly hour this morning – the plan appeared to be year listing despite the weather, which only eased down from torrential at about 3.30pm.
Who was I to argue?
After we’d got the early spring overshoot out of the way we turned back north through Wolverhampton and the M6, whizzing past Jodrell Bank and down Cheshire country lanes that were rapidly disappearing under floods.
SSSPPPPPLASHHH!!!
Next stop was Lapwing Hill Pool, where a Black Necked Grebe was diving away alongside Goldeneye, Goosander and dabblers in the gloom.

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By now we were very wet, but another year tick buoyed spirits until we spectacularly failed to find the long-staying Smew in another part of the Cheshire, which was far more mere-y and it must be said, particularly Farmer Palmery – you can’t park here y’know.
Drenched and Smewless we pushed on north and into Wirral as the rain got heavy enough to put the willies up Noah himself.
Surely the Pallas’s Warbler wouldn’t be showing on Target Lane in Heswall by mid-afternoon would it?

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Well yes, actually, it could!
In spite of the torrential rain we joined a small group of birders peering through the fence of the sewage works there, and after a few minutes a feeding wave swept through the bare branches of the trees and scrub beyond.
There were Chiffchaffs, Goldcrests and suddenly a fine Pallas’s Warbler – tiny, stripey and yellow-arsed enough to put a smile on anyone’s face – bird of the day without a doubt, especially as it has been a year or two since I’ve seen one.
However our inner photographers were telling us we needed to get some half decent images of something today – so Paul pushed on to West Kirkby Marine Lake, where after a bit of sneaky behaviour using the shadow of the seaward bank for cover, we finally managed to locate the Great Northern Diver, and miracle of miracles, the rain stopped as we walked round to watch it diving away 20 feet off the footpath in the late afternoon sun.

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Excellent driving by Tropical Thomason (although I think we know the collected works of James and Kings of Leon well enough now thank you Trops), leap of faith navigation by Neill Hunt to get us to all the birdies and the usual perennially optimistic “ain’t rain brilliant” approach from Mr Allen.
Thanks for a great start to the year boys…