Bridges of Ross 2016 and the tern that ate carrots


I’ve never really been a big fan of paying homage to the pomp and privilege of royalty, but sometimes you’ve got to make an exception.
So last Friday, once Neill “Shangri-La” Hunt, Duncan “Skipper” Rothwell, Paul “Tropical” Thomason and I had deboated in Dublin, I floored it west across Ireland’s deserted motorway complex, waving at the Barack Obama Moneygall signs, Hooded Crows and Rooks of the Emerald Isle as we went.
Steered by top info updates courtesy of Messrs Niall and Noel Keogh, we were at Littor Strand in County Kerry by 9am and watching the gorgeous Royal Tern at a small roost on the sands in fine morning sunshine.
A cracker – we had it for about an hour while it roosted and occasionally set off on fishing forays, only to return and dwarf the Sarnie Terns beside it.
Like a daft gull eating a carrot, but not bad as royalty goes.
Look at the size of it!



Black Tern and Med Gulls in the roost too, but the great big carrot gob was the undeniable main draw – a superb start to the latest of our annual seawatching trips to the Bridges of Ross in Co Clare, and only a minor detour, corrected with a ferry across the Shannon.
We got to the Bridges in warm sun and a light south westerly by lunchtime and we put in an afternoon sesh in pleasant conditions.
It felt good to be back…

Bridges of Ross, 26.8.16. 1250-1900:

Bonxie 3
Arctic Skua 8
Pomarine Skua 2
Long Tailed Skua 1
Manx Shearwater 2,800
Grey Phalarope 1
Storm Petrel 34
Sooty Shearwater 2
Balearic Shearwater 1
Arctic Tern 12
Kittiwake 22
Black Headed Gull 1
Whimbrel 12
plus Razorbill, Gannet, Fulmar, Rock Pipit, Shag, Wheatear, Turnstone, Oycs, Bottle Nosed Dolphins, Sunfish etc




With the legendary Lighthouse Inn now tragically shut (the grief is still too raw to discuss this any further), Des Higgins had secured a brilliant cottage near enough to stagger to the Bridges, and not too far outta Kilbaha for an evening constitutional or twenty in Keatings.
Great work from the Irish massive to secure near perfect digs – just look at the Fridges of Ross (sorry).


And that was the start of it – with Niall, Noel, Brian, Des, Vittorio, Neal, Joao and Gerard we gave the Bridges our best shot for four days.
Unfortunately the winds were not in our favour, but even the worse day offshore would rival and exceed most sessions from our patch of the Irish Sea.
We knew things were bad when we realised the beastie list (Otter, Mink, Minke Whale, Common and Bottle Nosed Dolphin, Brown Hare, Rabbit, Fox, Grey and Common Seal, Moo-cows, Sheep, Sunfish and huge Bluefin Tuna leaping from the water like deranged giant Sticklebacks crossbred with Exocets) was slowly equalling the bird tally…




Bridges of Ross, 27.8.16. 0700-1100/1400-1900:
N’Ely f 2, cloud.

Arctic Skua 2
Storm Petrel 8
Leach’s Petrel 1
Sandwich Tern 11
Med Gull 1
Manx Shearwater 650
Balearic Shearwater 1
plus Gannets, Fulmar etc, and up on Loop Head, Chough, Mipits, Hooded Crow, Raven and Stonechat.

Tough work, and this was before the now notorious citrus wars broke out between the Higgins Peach Cartel and the Southsider Faction, and our Neill began to dress rather strangely (perceptive readers may be able to guess why he’s called “Shangri La Hunt” now…)



Despite the high bar set by the Bridges (when this place is good and the wind is right, it is a seawatching world-beater) we carried on ‘scoping, laughing and generally having a blast, all the while willing the winds into the west.
It didn’t work – but then neither did ritual chanting, meditation or prolonged cursing.

Bridges of Ross, 28.8.16, 0830-1830:
Flat calm, then a light N/NWly, sunny…

Manx Shearwater 950
Sooty Shearwater 28
Balearic Shearwater 1
Pomarine Skua 2
Arctic Skua 3
Bonxie 2
Storm Petrel 2
Great Northern Diver (a stonking flypast in full summer plumage) 1
Sandwich Tern 21
Black Tailed Godwit 8
plus Peregrine, Sprawk, Wheatear, Hooded Crow, Gannets, Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Rock Pipits etc.

But there are worse ways of spending your days than watching the birds flyby and the dolphins leap, all the while feeling the wind and sun gently burning your bonce.
There was even time for a bit of camera practice with the commoner residents.





You know the place isn’t at its best when you have time to photograph Rock Pipits.
Never ones to give up, we kept on grilling the waves till our retinas fried, and Trops finally snapped, hopping on a plane out of Shannon in the ridiculously early hours of Monday morning.
He was last heard of in Turkey and may never return.
It was a bit of an extreme response to adverse weather conditions, but each to his own.

Bridges of Ross, 29.8.16. 0650-1900:
E’ly, then SWly which died away in the afternoon…

Sandwich Tern 7
Common Tern 1
Arctic Tern 6
Arctic Skua 9
Bonxie 7
Great Shearwater 1
Sooty Shearwater 18
Manx Shearwater 2,000
Storm Petrel 9
Puffin 2
Grey Phalarope 1
Common Scoter 11
plus the usual Gannets, Fulmar, Razorbills, Guillemots, Chough, Whimbrels and Shags.


With the business end of the trip done all that was left to do was tackle a fine helping of Guinness and attempt beer-goggled stargazing, looking up into a Milky Way untroubled by light pollution, before we were back on the road again yesterday morning and over to Dublin for the boat home to Liverpool.
Sitting up front in the seats overlooking the pointy end of the ship, the P&O 1500 sailing was surprisingly good, with breathtakingly close views of Manxies and plenty of other stuff out in the Irish Sea.
The action continued long after we’d sailed past the Roseate Terns of Dublin Bay.

P&O ferry, Dublin-Liverpool, 30.8.16. 1500-2300:
S’ly, sunny periods…

Roseate Tern 3
Common Tern 54
Guiilemot 130
Razorbill 70
Storm Petrel 4
Manx Shearwater 1500
Gannet 85
Fulmar 60
Common Scoter 3
Kittiwake 65
Arctic Tern 6
Med Gull 50
Common Dolphin 4
Harbour Porpoise 2

This certainly beat trying to get some shut-eye in the bar of the Holyhead boat while the demented witterings of “Curious George” incessantly and mercilessly ear-worm into your brain.
That sodding crocodile is the children’s entertainer from hell.
Ahem, just had to get that off my chest.
So, thanks to all of our Irish friends for all the laughs, companionship, peaches and encouragement despite the pants wind direction – see you all at the Bridges next year if not sooner.
It was fantastic spending time with you again.
As long as the Sand Spurrey keeps on flowering we’ll be back.



It’s time.


It’s time to head west for a bit of that, and a bit of this….


And if we’re very, very lucky, a bit of THIS.
Stay tuned folks and don’t forget to let me know what you’re seeing on this side of the water on the comments thingy.

What lunchbreaks are for #3


Nipped down onto the beach once the deluge had eased at Ainsdale today for a late lunch, mainly because the air around the tower was filled with the calls of Sarnie Terns, and I haven’t really had a chance to look at the roosts yet this summer, despite the fact we’ve launched a survey into numbers here with Lancs Wildlife Trust…
Thought I better have a squint once the rain stopped-ish.
Oh, who am I kidding, I was really hoping to bump into that supersexy young Long Tailed Skua John Tymon photographed north of Shore Road yesterday (don’t pretend you haven’t seen the pix on the interweb).
No sign of the skua, but it was good craic as always to have a chat with Andy Pryce down there, when I wasn’t talking walkers away from the roosts. Most transgressors are simply ignorant of the damage they cause and if you speak to them politely tend to stop flushing everything.
Most, but not all.



As Andy and I chuntered away a cool juvenile Little Gull flew in behind the tern roost and spent a bit of time mooching around in the shallows – best Little Gull plumage phase?
Wonder where it came from?
At least 800 Sandwich Terns in front of us while we watched the gull, with smaller numbers of Commons and stacks of waders to the north in the post rain murk.
Left ’em after 30 mins or so and headed back to the desk, while they continued dozing and batting out over the grey waves on fishing sorties.


After the shipwreck


Following a walk out to the wreck of the Ionic Star off Formby early doors today I got back onto dry land and picked Bazzo and Neill up for a seawatch off the Tobacco Dump from 1135 to 1405 or so.
With a fast developing south westerly last night, a fine high tide and a good scattering of quality seabirds in all the usual places (hell, there was even a Sabs on the shore at Morecambe this afternoon), we felt we should see something.
Formby Point played one of its occasional dirty tricks to present us with a rising tide largely devoid of seabirds, apart from commuting terns and the growing rafts of wintering Common Scoter.
Pleasant enough spot to while the afternoon away though.

Tobacco Dump, 1135-1405:

Common Scoter 450-500
Gannet 4
Arctic Skua 2-4
Sandwich Tern 200+
Common Tern 90+
Arctic Tern 11
Great Crested Grebe 3
LBB 30+

You know it’s quiet when you start pondering the steady southerly movement of LBBs which runs through till October – we’ll be counting Cormorants next…Noooooooo!!!


Wet dry run


I tried to ignore the south easterly and constant drizzle at Ainsdale at lunchtime as no one likes wasting a good high tide, although I might have been better grilling the roosts to the north today.
Plenty of Sandwich Terns, waders and gulls up past Shore Road, but good numbers of terns were still fishing over the tide south of Shore Road too and I was hoping for something out of the ordinary (Sooty, Sweep or Royal would all have been just dandy).
As it was I had to settle for Commons, two Great Crested Grebes and the distant scatter scoter clan – about 200 birds in the murk out there.
On the upside the rain and murk meant the roosting birds were enjoying a bit more peace today than the frequent human disturbance they’ve suffered through this week’s mini-heatwave.
This kind of hammering inevitably results in exhausted and dying birds like this Knot brought in to us earlier in the week.


This ones’ migrating days were well and truly over.
Bring on the wind from the west and the wild Atlantic waves…



With the lure of the point blank Little Grebe chicks and occasional shows by the Cattle Egret at Marshside today, Sandgrounders was inevitably busy – even the young Swallows popped in for awhile.
Blat blat blat.
500+ Blackwits up at Polly’s Creek/Pool, with a few groups of Curlew and a scattering of Snipe and Ruff.
While I checked out the seaward side, Neill and Pete were ironing out the finer points of the very latest birders’ comms app – it’s called “RTA” (don’t ask – let’s just say it doesn’t stand for “Road Traffic Accident”, which is odd as the initial conversations on the thing certainly had the feel of a car crash) from the eastern side of the reserve.
Ain’t cutting edge technology marvellous???


Two Common Sands made me hope for more on the wader front, but I wasn’t getting it.
Small numbers of Swifts appeared to be moving through to the south, there were Whitethroats here and there and on the outer marsh a few Kestrels were hunting half-heartedly – remember the days when more than 20 would gather to gorge on Craneflys in late August??
When I caught myself looking at butterflies I realised I’m not safely into Autumn yet, but there were plenty of Walls, Common Blues and Peacocks on the bank as the day warmed up.
However, once I started playing “sinensis” with distant Cormorants on Polly’s lagoon, I realised it was way past home time.


Out on the sand


Moulty Med Gulls I’d expect on the beach at Crosby this morning – or indeed on most other beaches along the coast, but they’re still great to see, and put me firmly in a generation when those snow wingtips were the sign of a “buzz bird”, before they moved in everywhere (have you been to Dover recently?)
Working down at the Crosby end for the last few days, where a trickle of Mipits and one or two Willow Warblers joined alba wags, linnets and the squadrons of Common Terns from over the wire at Seaforth.
However I was surprised (and pleased) by a Raven calling away on the Seaforth fenceline this morning, before it flapped north over Crosby beach, calling away – these things will always be “buzz birds” to me, no matter how many of ’em I see (or how many times I cock up the point and press flyby shot of them for that matter).


Cronk, cronk.

Blah blah blah…and blubber


It was too nice a westerly to ignore when it stomped in last night, so I picked up Bazzo and Neill and we gave the Tobacco Dump at Formby a few hours over the tide this afternoon.
Lovely sunny day seawatches usually involve large amounts of time staring at the empty sea, while disembodied conversations float over the hiss of the surf as eyes remain jammed to scopes more in hope than expectation.
Today was kinda like that – but we’ve certainly had worse sessions down there.
An initial 15 minutes of Arctic Skuas tag teaming to batter the terns was good value, but then it went quiet, before a pulse of Manxies moved offshore over the tide, albeit distantly.
Best of all was the Bottle Nosed Dolphin which breached smack dab in the middle of my scope – cracking views and only the third time I’ve see the big blubbery salmon regurgitator off the Sefton coast – at 1307 pre-cisely.
A bruising giant compared to our more regular “Puffing Pigs” aka Harbour Porpoise.

Tobacco Dump, 7/8/16, 1230-1445:

Arctic Skua 7
Arctic Tern 12
Common Tern 25
Sandwich Tern 100+
Gannet 120+
Common Scoter 40
Manx Shearwater 68
Bottle Nosed Dolphin 1 south at 1307

A clear passage of terns offshore, but most were too far off to pin down, unlike the Gannets and Manxies that sheared down the horizon.
Small Copper, Graylings, Gatekeepers and Common Blues rising from the dewberry as we trudged back to the wheels in the summer heat.
Cold beers well earned.

Chicken Run.


Given the fact that we’d hared down to Land’s End earlier in the year to wave metaphysical sardines at a pelican, it was surely inevitable that we’d gravitate towards Minsmere for Swampy the big blue chicken at some point this week.
Neill picked me up at a Godless hour today and once I was wedged into his wheels with Trops, Alan Wright and Rob Pocklington, we sped relentlessly south east through the night past blazing lorry fires, exploding lorry tyres and countless English spires resting in countless villages not yet stirring.
We got to Minsmere (RSPB Royale) in Suffolk for 7am (excellent driving Neill – I think you enjoyed being back behind the wheel today).
We quickly walked out through the reedbeds to the South Girder pool, where the Western Purple Swamphen that has been raising eyebrows since last weekend was lurking.
A good crowd was already there, and after a short time, the big blue chicken waded out of the reeds on great big galooty feet feeding in the shallows in strong winds and hard early morning light, while Moorhens and Water Rails hugged the edges with considerably more modesty.



Many people have written many serious words about the vagrancy of this critter this week – personally I think anything that looks like Foghorn Leghorn having a deeply blue “Braveheart” moment is always going to be worth driving a few hundred miles to see, whether anyone ever turns up to claim ownership or its huge splitty splatties make it onto the British list or not.
Best big blue chicken I’ve seen since the last time I clapped eyes on one in southern Yoorp.
A marvellous performance Swamp Thing!
Minsmere had other charms too of course – Cetti’s Warblers, Bearded Tit, Green Woodpeckers, a Turtle Dove I managed to miss, Yellow Wagtails and Stone Curlew with a youngster melting in the heat haze.


Hordes of good quality bugs, with buddleia wilting under the weight of butterflies and Southern Hawkers, and a truly splendiferous Pantaloon Bee (crazy name, crazy troosers), excavating in the sand despite far meaner looking Bee Wolves hovering over it.


Brilliant pantaloons baby.
Out of the reserve and onto Walberswick, where I spectacularly fluffed two Woodlarks, before a Honey Buzzard finally drifted over the distant trees after an hour or so of ‘scoping Marsh Harriers, Common Buzzards, corvids and hirundines.
Job done.
Back on the road north, with just enough time to doff our caps at motorway Red Kites and later the M6 rush hour car park.
It’s always a pleasure gents…

When all else fails…


With that nice fat south westerly blowing this morning it was worth a look from Ainsdale before work – nothing startling, and not the best place to seawatch from on the coast of course, but still 72 Manxies between 0830 and 0900, with more later in the morning.
Birds going north and south, so probably a bit of overcounting going on there.
One Fulmar and 23 Gannets, with at least 800 Common Scoters strung out along the coast in the swell.
Wall and Grayling on the frontal dunes and the tern numbers building up nicely.
Phil Smith had about 800 Sandwich Tern roosting off Albert Road/Cabin Hill last week, which is probably a Sefton coast record, with 300+ Common Terns to boot.
Sarnies and Commons commuting all over the place at Ainsdale at the mo, which bodes well for the survey that’s ongoing between us (Sefton Coast Landscape Partnership) and the Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s Biodiverse Society programme and wader numbers picking up too when they’re not being flushed by all and sundry.