The good sea

I snatched a few glimpses at the sea in the run-up to the lunchtime high tide at Ainsdale today. It made a change from attempting to spin 15 plates on 13 sticks.
Fairly calm conditions and frequent rain showers meant that when the rain stopped, visibility was very crisp and while there was nothing that would start a ‘scopeward scramble at the Bridges, it felt good to see summer visitors returning offshore – and my first Swallows of the year, just squeaking into March, and inevitably heading south.

Ainsdale 30.3.17, 1100-1230:

Little Gull 1 adult south
Swallow 2 south
Sand Martin 2 east
Gannet 2 adults offshore
Common Scoter 500+ all over the place
Sandwich Tern 1 south
Red Breasted Merganser 13 offshore
Red Throated Diver 7 offshore
Great Crested Grebe 5 offshore

A more serious crack tomorrow mebbe, if time allows…

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The one you don’t want to see

Trips to Southport DGH are rarely jolly occasions since maternity moved over to Ormskirk, so encounters with the long-staying Mandarin ain’t particularly auspicious.
Still, the plastic fantastic was looking as glam as ever yesterday and today as it mooched about with the Mallards.
Two Chiffchaffs singing at the site too – but they seemed to be everywhere in the Danish Scurvy Grass sunny today – Dempsey Towers, KBO and the SSSI ditch all had Chiffies tilting away in the warm conditions.

Scanning Marshside One from the Hesketh Road platform a male Wheatear was away over in Wheatear Corner (as it should be) and a Sand Martin scudded north, stalling and swooping in the blue sky.
Pinkies in the air over the outer marsh, but there were thousands off Crossens yesterday, although my heart wasn’t really in working through ’em if I’m honest.
Many were asleep while I was there.
The hot sun was levitating Buzzards all over the place though – five over Crossens Outer, and birds up over Ainsdale and the Coast Road.
Less expected was the appearance of two Stock Doves at Dempsey Towers, which dropped in yesterday morning.

Readers of the old birdblog with very good memories may remember Stock Doves called into the ‘towers about five years ago, indulged in a bit of jiggerypokery on a suitably stable Sycamore branch and then disappeared, never to be seen again.
Will the new ones be more regular?
Who knows?
Meanwhile more visiting hours encounters with you know who loom…

Questionable data

Couldn’t resist a ramble through the dunes at Ainsdale at lunchtime today – bright sun and an oddly comforting buffety north easterly meant plenty of Mipits had been moving through the morning, with smaller numbers of alba wags – all bounding north.
The dunes were looking good too, after a winter of Red Poll coo and Herdwick Sheep grazing, with Tree Bumblebee taking advantage of the first blooming Creeping Willow and stacks of Mipits moving.
Stonechats were singing and at least three of the local Common Buzzards were up and circling with two Kestrels in their wake.

A warm sheltered bank out of the wind was a fine place to try to estimate the number of Mipits passing – I lay back and closed my eyes for a minute and counted the “bleeps” that passed through my consciousness.
25 in the first minute, 13 the next, then Zzzzzz…
Nodding off is clearly not a good technique to gather data, so I decided not to try to guage the albas the same way.
It ain’t the best method of hunting for a hoped for Ring Ouzel either, so I stirred and as I sat up saw a male Wheatear looking down its beak at me from a short distance away.
The bird fed in the sun for ten minutes or so before moving on.
No sign of any Rouzels yet, but it’s early days…

Man cannot live by Med alone.

A Raven was dancing over the outer marsh when I pulled up by the Sandplant this morning, and Goldcrests were calling in the bushes.
Fun as that was, it was cold and grey, with a wild south westerly blowing, so I dropped into Sandgrounders for shelter, meeting up with Pete Allen and Laura (ciao Laura) and Andy Pryce.
Initially quiet apart from BHGs, up to four Med Gulls appeared, swooping over the lagoon and displaying on the deck.
One full adult and three sub-adults showing varying amounts of black in the primaries, one of them had a red colour ring, but I couldn’t get the full sequence – “PR” definitely, possibly followed by a Y, but not sure.
Polish?

Lovely as the Meds are, I decided to take a stroll – some of the Little Egrets batting past looked like they’d been roosting down a particularly dirty chimney, and a few Mipits and Reed Buntings pushed through.

After 30 minutes or so on the Sandplant walls in the company of confused Buff Tailed Bumblebees, Wrens and ‘crests, I scanned the edge of marsh again for the 50th time and this time there he was – a corking male Wheatear looking back at me, before flitting off behind the mounds.
Long time no see! Howya doin’???
To celebrate the sun broke through, so I drove up to Crossens to scan the geese in the ‘scope toppling south westerly (ouch, luckily the ‘scope seems to be as bouncy as my P900, which also took a flying lesson in Sandgrounders earlier – I was really in touch with my inner clumsy today).
About 3,000 gooses out there, but flighty in the strong wind and I was only able to pick out the two Barnies in the distant throng.
Raptors were skinny in the unfavourable conditions today too – just one each of Kestrel, Merlin and Common Buzzard – but my first Wheatear of the year kept me warm.
Earlier this week 94 Tufted Duck were off the platform on Hesketh Road on Thursday and Ringed Plovers were back on one of their few successful territories in the area, but I didn’t get a chance to check either today.

With each passing day…

No one about as I passed Crossens at 1.45pm today, so I pulled in and sneaked up the road to peer around the trees at the Water Pipits around the trough.
Two there at the time, tail pumping and shuffling about for five minutes until they scarpered when a cyclist went past wearing a very bright hi-vis jacket – so it’s not just birders they don’t like!

Usual blurry shots through the branches of these jittery birds though as the rain swept in.
Earlier blues skies revealed Mipits and wagtails including two Greys passing over Dempsey Towers – enough to prompt a morning visit to Marshside anyway.
The Kingfisher was knocking around the ditch beside Marshside Road, and the Goldcrests were still buzzing through the blossom above the old sandplant, alongside Buff-Tailed and Red-Tailed bumblybees, and Mad Dog was enjoying the delights of a substitute WeBs count.

Scoping out to infinity the Pink Foot flock was far, far away out past Crossens Outer, but there were still two Barnacles at least with them.
Nice male Merlin about too.
With each passing day the Wheatear gets closer…

A little drizzle is a wondrous thing.

Big flocks of birds all over Marshside today – and the old place certainly had the zing of spring about it.
At least 56 Avocets around Polly’s Pool, 2,000+ Golden Plover beyond and small groups of Mipits on the move.
Med Gulls were around the Sandgrounders hide again and south of the sandplant, good numbers of Pinkies were on the outer marsh, indistinct in the grey misty conditions.
Met up with Bazzo who’d had a Sand Martin through mid-morning, but things got really interesting when the drizzle kicked in at around 2pm.
Almost immediately eight Goldcrests materialised out of the scrub on the south side of the sandplant flycatching and calling, and there were three Reed Buntings, two Blackbirds, Robins, Wrens, Blue Tits and Dunnocks flitting amongst the blackthorn (?) blossom.
Stonechat on the seaward side too.
The ‘crests were fleeting blurs in the drizzle, but had the spark of passage about them nonetheless, promising more in the days ahead.
It’s imminent, I know, and I for one, can hardly wait…

Hiding

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Pretty much constant rain meant hide hopping was the only option today, so I aqua-planed over to Martin Mere and settled into the Janet Kear hide.
Things started off well enough with the nice bright male Brambling still about, but then Mr Mean swept in, fumbled a snack snatch at the feeders then perched up to glare furiously at his shortcomings.

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It was strangely quiet around the feeders after that for some reason.
A visit to In Focus brought views of more than 70 Snipe in the air after a raptor flush, and two spring Ringed Plovers dropping in amongst the Ruffs and Whoopers.
On to Mere Sands where Redpolls buzzed over the damp canopy, and one of the Nuthatches was giving it the beans above me.

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The Bittern was hunting frogs and fishies in the reeds off to the right of the Rufford Hide, but I didn’t mind – it’s the first time I’ve managed to see it in three attempts.
Reasonable views through the reed stems until it walked up and over the bank and out of sight into the next lagoon.

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Not the best views I’ve had of Bittern – but by no means the worst either.
I stopped off at the Lancaster hide on the way out – at least three Bullfinches were on the seed behind the centre, while from the hide five Mandarins were dozing on the gravel island before steaming out onto the water in the rain.
Three drakes and two ducks, I can’t remember seeing that many here for quite some time, if ever.
I know they’re plastic, but Mandarins are gorgeous in a ridiculous sort of way, especially with those orange sails and whiskers up as they head out about their business, with Little Grebes yikkering away in the background.

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And watching them here was somehow far nicer than taking up a parking space at Southport DGH for 20 minutes…

Provincial pipit politics

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There was quite a crowd after the Water Pipits up at Crossens this afternoon by the time I arrived, which was great – good to see lots of people trying to see ’em, although they seem to be as tricksy as ever this year.
I managed brief views of one Water Pipit in the usual area just past the concrete trough, but could only take blurry pictures through the trees/brambles of the bank as I find if you stand out in the open there, you’re “skylined” and the birds won’t play.

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Shame it was murky and cloudy by the time I arrived, but it was fun to see many of the great and good there, although my head was spinning after 45 minutes or so hearing of the monumentally confusing history of pipit politics, viz-a-viz Water Pipit v littoralis Rock v “normal” Rock Pipit in Lancashire.
Equally confusing was the appearance of a smallish Canada Goose amongst the distant Pinks on Crossens Outer – I don’t think it was the Todds that has been seen recently and was about earlier in the day.
The bird was just a bit bigger than the Pinkies, and was dusky on the flanks, but not dusky enough for me, although it was a long way away as it grazed with Fairhaven Church in the background over the Ribble.

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Closer and infinitely less perplexing, there were three Med Gulls strutting their stuff in front of Sandgrounders – two full adults and a sub-adult bird, and 20 or so Avocets knocking about as the rain set in.

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Velvet range.

scoter

1,500-2,000 Common Scoter off Ainsdale this morning and for once, they were quite close in (in scoter terms that is, but still hard to work while on the water).
As ever they began to drift out as the rising tide threatened to push them closer to the beach.
They are easier to watch at this time of year, as they are more skittish, frequently coming and going so that when they took off for a short flight at noon I was able to pick up a male Velvet Scoter, and shortly after another two males together, big and powerful amongst the blizzard of Commons (the pic is through the salt-stained office window, but you get the idea).
Even though the sun cast a silvery panel onto most scoters wings today, the contrasty black and white Velvets really stood out – as they always do.
I wish I knew more about scoter behaviour – why do small groups go on those short flights, taking to the air for 50 metres or so before crash landing like plummeting black puddings into the waves again?
Why does the entire flock take to the air apparently without motive occasionally?
How do they cope with the constant swell?
Why so shy?
Does moult effect their feeding patterns here?
Will they ever get close enough to pick out a Surfie?
Encouraged by the Velvet hat-trick I tried a seawatch at lunchtime (1230-1330) but the flock had broken up a bit by then and as I said, had drifted further out on the rising tide.
Military manoeuvres down Hightown way meant a great big Chinooky type helicopter was repeatedly sweeping out over the bay, spooking the Ainsdale scoters on several occasions more and at 1310 I was able to pick out a further Velvet Scoter in flight.
This one was browner, a female or juv mebbe.
Otherwise quiet, bar 10 RB Mergs.
Good lunch.