Crossbills, Crossbills, lots of lovely Crossbills

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Thanks to Tropical Thomason for the call this morning after he bumped into a fine big flock of between 50 and 70 Crossbills in Birkdale Local Nature Reserve – always a highly valued species locally.

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Paul had the heads up after John Kelly picked up a few smaller flocks in the last week or so, and with a free day, heading down to Birkdale seemed sensible.
I saw the remains of the flock up in the treetops in the distance as I neared the first Silver Birch copse – big, blobby bull-necked finches, sitting motionless against the cold, grey sky.
Trops was still watching them, but there were far fewer birds by the time I arrived – perhaps 12 birds – which was hardly surprising after a Sprawk tore into the larger flock and grabbed one right in front of him.
Let’s face it, sitting up on top of bare branches when you’re bright red, green and yellow, is hardly the best defensive strategy against an expert woodland hunter like a Sprawk.
I managed to ‘scope the remaining birds before they began to drift back to the pines on Hillside Golf Course.

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Birds were calling and one was even “singing” as far as the mutterings of Crossbills can be described as “singing”.
Goldcrest, Nuthatch, Siskin, Great Tit, Wren and Dunnock also getting into the spring groove despite the cold.

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Thanks to Paul (and John!) for the Crossbills – mmmm resiny…

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There are upsides to chasing plastic

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The landscape of Corsham Park down in Wiltshire was designed by the wondrous Capability Brown, but we never got as far as Corsham Park to admire his handiwork this morning.
I’d picked up Mr Goose (aka Neill Hunt), Tropical Thomason and Alan Wright just after dawn and hared down the M6 and M5, but long before we reached target, Mr Goose’s pagermaphone was staidly reporting no sign of the Hooded Merganser that has been at Corsham for the last few days.
Ducks are ducks, and despite the size of the question mark over Hooded Mergs like this, one without rings and a full set of wings had to be worth a look for no other reason than insurance.
But the merg, plastic or platinum, had gone, gone, gone.
No point going on to Corsham then, and the work of Incapability Brown (the lesser known brother who planted Ground Elder and Japanese Knotweed all over the place) didn’t seem so attractive, so like several other units this morning, we made the best of a bad job and popped down to the Horsbere Reserve in Gloucestershire, to have a butcher’s at the two Penduline Tits that have wintered there.
Classy little birds, year ticks don’t get much better than this and we had great views of them as they fed in the bulrushes alongside Chiffchaff, Long Tailed Tits and Reed Buntings.

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Redwings, Common Buzzards and Little Egret here too.
From Horsbere I drove on into the Forest of Dean, where a walk under brightening skies was pleasant enough, despite the lack of the Great Grey Shrike we’d hoped for.
Plenty of Siskins and Goldcrests were in the larches and a fine beefy Goshawk rose up over the trees as the sun broke through, with more Common Buzzards and Ravens.

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Great fun with the guys of course, despite the glaring lack of tickage, plastic, pencil or otherwise – thanks all for the company and putting up with my driving for the day…

Grey sky, grey sea, black dots.

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A crispy, clear sunny morning inevitably slid into grey cloud and biting cold as my lunchbreak approached – but I gave a seawatch a go at Ainsdale anyway.
About 1,200 Common Scoter strung out offshore, but of those perhaps 300 were close enough to work, and nothing odd jumped out.
Stumpy the Caspian Gull was riding the icy updraughts around the empty hulk of Toad Hall and a few alba wags (is it too early in the year to stop calling them all Pieds yet?) called overhead.

Ainsdale 1220-1320:

Common Scoter 1,200
Great Crested Grebe 4
Red Throated Diver 2
Eider 2

Disappointingly quiet apart from the Common Scoters, and a chilly hour was enlivened only by a pair of Eiders bombing south.
6 RB Mergs offshore here yesterday, but I couldn’t pick any out today.

To World’s End and back.

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A milestone birthday and the arrival of a superb new addition to the Hunt/Farrell clan meant the weekend saw some pretty heavy celebrations, and there was certainly no call for any sudden movements yesterday.
Wonderful fun, and I have to hand it to young Alice – hitting the pub before you’re two days old hints at a character adventurous far beyond her tender years.
Suitably recovered, but with precious little sleep I was picked up by Duncan “Skip” Rothwell (with Tropical Thomason and Mike Stocker in tow) in the middle of the night this morning (I’d forgotten what 4am smells like), and only really woke up as we dropped the windows to the biting cold wind high above World’s End in North Wales an hour or so before dawn – the dark was already full of the weird, bubbling calls of Black Grouse, and as the light improved we were treated to 27 Blackcock displaying and fighting like crazy – the funkiest chickens this side of the prairie, flashing their Persil-white backsides and strutting like there was no tomorrow.
…exposure settings to maximum, blat blat blat from the car as the Black Grouse entertained us for an hour and a half…

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Just remember to stay in the car at all times up here and you’ll enjoy a marvellous show on the moors above Ruthin.
We had another 12 lekking birds further along the road and could hear more bubbling away hidden on the slopes.

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A grey morning loomed as Duncan drove down off the tops, past Betws-y-coed, and an obligatory stop off for sausage, egg and bacon barms, before a break to clean sausage, egg and bacon off our optics.
Fed and watered, the sun began to break through and Red Kite, Buzzard and loads of Ravens took to the air.

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Crossing the Conwy Valley we arrived at Llanbedr-y-cennin, where after a bit of hunting we managed to catch up with at least three stonking Hawfinches, always shy and wary, including one bird that briefly joined Chaffinches on the deck.
Crazy bird, crazy bill.
Dunno why, but they always remind me of the Soup Dragon.

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Redwings, drumming Greater ‘Pecker, Siskin and more Ravens and Red Kite here as the big orange thing bathed the countryside in (almost) spring sunshine. We pushed on to the coast to catch the tail end of the high tide at Llanfairfechan, but there was a bit of a chop on, and we only managed to score 5+ Red Throated Divers, 7 Great Crested Grebes, 3 Razorbill, 2 Kittiwake and 15+ RB Mergs.
Raising the stakes we barrelled off to a hush-hush slope in another universe, home to a male and female Dartford Warbler that played hide and seek in the heather as Red Kites and Chough passed overhead.

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A day of wonders to be sure, but it wasn’t over yet, although a detour to Rhos-on-sea produced just two Purple Sandpiper with Turnstones etc and no sign of the wintering Black Redstart by the Monkey Puzzle Tree or anywhere else on the front for that matter.

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With time running out, Duncan steered us back onto the A55 east, our trip back home delayed by a call at Kinmel Bay, for a Snow Bunting that gave itself up amongst the pebbles, but only after it had made us walk further than was really necessary.
Reed Bunting, Skylarks and a startlingly beautiful full-on adult summer plumage Med Gull were here too.

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Thoroughly spiffing stuff – thanks to Duncan, Trops and Mike, and to all those exciting birdies.
Quality birding – one day all Mondays will be made this way.

Valentine’s – an ornithological grey area.

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Can be a bit iffy sneaking out birding on Valentine’s Day of course, but the card was delivered, the wine was in the fridge, I’d hung out the laundry, cleaned out the wood-burner and washed up the breakfast stuff.
Besides, Mrs D still had to get the week’s shopping AND finish wallpapering the bedroom today, and it would have been wrong of me to distract her…
Got down to Marshside about lunchtime, where the Scaup were dozing away from Hesketh Road. Bitterly cold.
Two male Pochard on the Sandplant lagoon were as comatose as the Scaup.
Five Whoopers over.
One of the Great White Egrets spent most of the day on Marshside Two and Crossens Inner, but was a whole lot closer than they normally are (ie you didn’t need the Hubble to see it).
Watched it from the Polly’s Creek bench and Sandgrounders for most of the afternoon.
Stately, but I shoulda stuck to digiscoping…

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Mipits and one Rock Pipit on the outer marsh, but apart from Kestrel and Common Buzzard, the place was disappointingly light on raptors.
About 1,000 Pinks on Crossens Outer but a bit too far out to work through accurately.

Seawatch, 11.02.16:

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Ainsdale, 1230-1330:

Common Scoter 500+ (approx)
Great Crested Grebe 10+
Red Throated Diver 8+
Eider 1 adult male

Moody clouds, big flat tide, sunny periods, mellow… and relax.
Stumpy the Caspian Gull dropped in for his bread hit below my position on the dunes, while roosting Sanderling, Dunlin and Turnstones were spooked by the dogs. Again.

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In the inbetween

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Another busy day at work, and sometimes it’s surprising what pops up in the gaps between the serious stuff – especially on that rarest of things this winter – a sunny day.
First stop today was a meeting down at Crosby Coastal Park to discuss a potential new community art project, but before we got down to the nitty-gritty I had a look at the lake, which held at least five Goldeneye and four Great Crested Grebes.
Skylarks were singing strongly enough to put a smile on your face and Mipits were feeding on the cropped, wet turf.

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The gull roost north of the marine lake looked tempting as ever, but I resisted.
Things to do, people to see.
However, back at Ainsdale I couldn’t resist a quick seawatch over the lunchtime high tide – visibility was fine, but it was still choppy and quiet offshore.
About one hundred Common Scoter were bobbing about, but too far off to work through.

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A cursory glance at the gulls on the beach inbetween dog and idiot-inspired flushes of the roost revealed a fine adult Med Gull coming into summer plumage, so I had a closer look.
No sign of Stumpy the Caspian Gull while I was there, but it was probably somewhere else on the beach, given the amount of disturbance the gulls were suffering in the fine weather.
Gulls in the sun was fine, before I had to move on to the NNR at Ainsdale for another meeting.
Minutes at the ready, I paused to listen to the wheezy subdued song of Siskins in the tree-tops above the small car park.

Cheating.

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Nice and bright, but Storm Imogen (or whatever she’s called) was already starting to flex her muscles when I got out this morning and after a quick call in to Marshside I buzzed over to Mere Sands to stake out the feeding stations to try to get to the bottom of this photography mullarkey, with varying degrees of success.
I doubt I’ll ever sort out my ISOs from me f-stops…but it’s fun trying.
Bullfinch on a plate as usual, with singing Goldcrest and dozing Goosanders out on the water.

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From there, and with the wind strengthening, Martin Mere was inevitable – as were Whoopers, the hunting Barn Owls, and the “now you see me, now you don’t” Tawny Owl, Tree Sparrows, Ruff etc.
Groundhog Days on the mosses ain’t so bad.

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