Bridges of Ross 2017: We’re gonna need a bigger bucket…

Just back from a superb few days of quantum birding/reverse listing/occasional seawatching at the Bridges of Ross, making the journey over to the wild west coast of Ireland with Duncan Rothwell and Andy Pryce on the Liverpool-Dublin ferry late on Thursday night (24.8.17).
It was my seventh annual visit and as ever, the hospitality of our brilliant Irish friends was overwhelming.
The tear-arsing westerly I’d hoped for failed to materialise, but the tally from the Bridges is better than most other seawatching sites in the world even when it’s quiet and each of the five days we scanned the waves was a joy.

The (almost) ever-present Manx Shearwaters, Gannets and Fulmars brought some classic autumn seabirds along, with Sooty and Great Shearwaters, Sabine’s Gulls, Storm, Leach’s and Wilson’s Petrels and three species of skua ensuring our ‘scopes were kept busy.

Thanks to Andy Pryce for letting me use his pic of an adult Sab’s Gull that paraded past us on Monday afternoon (I was too busy drooling to get a pic) and to Vittorio Caschera for supplying me with some fine images reflecting the crucial social side of our activities in Kilbaha and the Bridges.
It is after all, a criminal offence not to have fun in County Clare.
There’s Vic attempting a selfie with the characteristically sombre father and son seawatching phenomena that is Noel and Niall Keogh.
This was taken shortly after they bagged the Bridges’ Barolo a week or so back, so it’s hardly surprising it looks like you could scrape ’em off the ceiling…

The seawatching took the usual Bridges approach – a session from 7am to 10am each day before heading back to the cottage for brekkie, then a “big boy” stretch from 11am to 7pm, with occasional detours to check Loop Head and the gardens of Kilbaha for migrants, and visits to the now world-famous “lovely girls shop” for proper coffee.
With the legendary Lighthouse Inn in Kilbaha still closed, all sustenance (liquid and otherwise) was provided by Keatings – thanks for looking after us so well, and most importantly continuing to supply us with buckets of PINTS every evening, possibly the world’s greatest approach to a carry-out.
I am pleased to announce I have now graduated from the beginner’s cattle feed bucket of 2016 to being entrusted with the all-new super deluxe 2017 curry bucket delivery system, which needs greater care in handling as the designated driver heads slowly back to base to avoid traumatic spillage disasters.
Clink, clink, clink…

The bucket method guarantees everyone – even the Antler Moths – have a good time long after the pub has shut…

Right, on with the birds…

1115-1900, SWly 3-4, cloud, light showers, sunny periods.

Manx Shearwater 2,500
Sooty Shearwater 16
Great Shearwater 1
Gannets loads
Fulmar loads
Arctic Skua 10
Sandwich Tern 3
Kittiwake 2
Red Throated Diver 1
Leach’s Petrel 1
Storm Petrel 6
Bonxie 5
Pomarine Skua 1 (full spoonage – lousy record shot!)
Whimbrel 18

Drizzle, flat calm, brightening later.
Loop Head 0700-noon:
Grasshopper Warbler, Chough, Raven, Song Thrush, Hooded Crow, Mipits, Wheatear, Ravens. Minke Whale and Common Dolphin offshore.

Bridges of Ross, Noon-1900:
Hot, sunny, calm…

Manx Shearwater 750
Gannet loads
Fulmar loads
Sooty Shearwater 23
Sandwich Tern 37
Common Gull 1
Arctic Skua 4
Bonxie 1
Kittiwake 2
Black Tern 1
Wilson’s Petrel 1 (so distant it was barely tickable on the Irish list!)
Razorbill 16
Teal 1 female

Cetaceans were good in the flat calm conditions with a Humpback Whale, Minke Whale, many Common Dolphins and a visit by the Shannon Bottle Nosed Dolphins with a calf.
Grey and Common Seal too.

0830-1200, 1330-1900, SSWly2-3, rain then sunny periods.

Black Tern 3
Arctic Skua 9
Manx Shearwater 332
Gannet loads
Fulmar loads
Razorbill loads
Whimbrel 4
Curlew Sandpiper 1
Sandwich Tern 106
Storm Petrel sp 1
Wilson’s Petrel 1 (much closer in – fine views)
Common Scoter 29
Great Crested Grebe 1
Black Guillemot 1 juv
Bonxie 5
Kittiwake 4
Sooty Shearwater 4
Dunlin 40
Guillemot 16
Med Gull 1
Sanderling 5
Knot 1
Arctic Tern 5
Grey Heron 2
Puffin 3

*counting waders is never a good sign at the Bridges, but a good species mix and a closer Wilson’s can’t be bad!

One of today’s passing Bonxies had MAJOR white wing flashes – possibly the most striking moultiness I’ve seen, while the Black Guillemot youngster was just beneath the cliff.

0700-1050, 1345-1900, SWly 3-4, turning Wly later, cloud, drizzle.

Common Scoter 15
Manx Shearwater 509
Bonxie 13
Sandwich Tern 7
Sooty Shearwater 21
Arctic Skua 7
Pomarine Skua 1
Storm Petrel 2
Arctic Tern 4
Black Tern 2
Sabine’s Gull 2 (1 adult, 1 juv)
Kittiwake 3
Razorbill loads
Fulmar loads
Gannet loads

Lovely views of the very close adult Sab’s – and a great shot of it from Andy Pryce (ta Andy). Compare it with my crappy juv Kittiwake pic…

Leaping Tuna and Common Dolphin offshore today and the wind trying to get into the west. Finally.

0700-0930, Wly 4-5, cloudy, mild, showers.

Sooty Shearwater 59
Great Shearwater 1 (distant)
Arctic Skua 4
Fulmar loads
Gannet loads
Manxies 270
Razorbill loads
Kittiwake 3
Guillemot 9
Common Scoter 17
Bonxie 6
Pomarine Skua 1
Arctic Tern 2
Red Throated Diver 1
Great Northern Diver 1

A truncated sesh as we had to head back east to catch the 3pm sailing to Liverpool, but solid Sooty Shear action and a very close full summer Great Northern Diver, with a Pom Skua bonus wasn’t a bad way to bring things to a close.
Shame the second Great Shear of the trip that I managed to lock onto stayed so resolutely distant.
Leaving Dublin Bay yesterday afternoon we managed Arctic Skua, two rafts of Manxies, auks, Kittiwakes and distant terns including one Black Tern, Arctics and what appeared to be a few Roseates, but they were a long way off.

A Kittiwake hitched a lift on the prow of the ferry from about halfway out to the waters of North Wales and was a lot easier to pap.

Thanks Duncan, Andy, Noel, Niall, Vic, Des, Joao, Jimmy, Ger, Neal, Colin and Jim – as ever a stunning few days.
Buckets willing, I look forward to seeing you all again when the west wind blows.

A problem with skuas…

609…610…611..6…What the hell!???
The lunchtime Sandwich Tern roost erupted in a screeching white blizzard, rising up off the beach at Ainsdale today.
I was already practising my “don’t disturb the roosts” speech to the whichever dog walker/horse-rider/birder/photographer/jogger/hiker was responsible before my eye left the ‘scope.
But when I turned around there was no one there.
The terns were still freaking out though and as I lifted my bins I saw four Arctic Skuas approaching from the north, low to the water and looking like they meant business.
They battered the roost for 20 minutes – three dark phases and one pale phase bird, before heading out to sea again.
Merciless, but stunning as they swept in to hit the terns again and again.

Wonderful beasts – a thrill to watch as the pirates tagged teamed over the waves.
Not so much fun if you’re a Sandwich Tern though I suppose.

The terns never really settled after that, and an accurate count was impossible.
At least 600 in one group though, with two smaller roosts north of them, but once the skuas had bullied everything in sight, the roost broke up and the terns headed out into the bay.
Still ain’t seen the albino/leucistic Sarnie – but four hunting skuas was more than ample compensation.

An odd sort of day

Whizzed down to the Bird Fair at Rutland today with Neill, Tony Owen and Jase – howdy Killian, how did I get all these leaflets? that ‘scope is lovely, where oh where is the beer tent?
No scope, no big boy camera, no problem.
Plenty of faces, tempting books and travel deals on offer to every nook and cranny on the planet.
A Great White Egret played hide and seek behind a post out on the lagoon and I “digi-poached” it thro’ the latest super smooth Kowa kit in the optics tent with my old point and press (ta Paul Hackett), when I wasn’t stuffing as many free Zeiss lens cloths as I could into my baggy pants.

After the plastic cup beer had warmed beyond tolerance, we headed back home, calling in at Wanlip Meadows Nature Reserve for long distance views of a Pectoral Sandpiper and a Spotted Crake there from the Plover Hide.
The Pec was straightforward enough amongst the Lapwing flock (even if I could only get the lousiest of record shots with my poor old TZ).

Kingfisher, Green Sand and Green Woodpecker made an overly complicated hunt/stake-out for the Spot Crake bearable and eventually we all had good ‘scope views, thanks to a kind-hearted regular, as it emerged from reeds about 150m away from the hide.
Interesting reserve, with plenty of Brown Hawkers and helpful locals.
Ta to Neill for the driving – it was great to bump into so many folk today, you know who you are…

You should always find time for a Raven

I couldn’t believe my luck when I saw the great big black shape halting in the strong westerly past the office window this morning, especially when the Raven dropped down onto the roof apex just beneath my desk!
I hardly dared breathe as I tried to get a few pics of it through the window before it climbed back into the air again – just a magnificent thing.
For all its massive size it showed the typical lightness of movement of the species that was as entrancing as ever, gently lifting into the air for a few seconds only to drop down onto the roof again and bounce along the apex with an acrobat’s grace.
One of the Magpies that bred next to the office at Ainsdale squawked in to mob it, but the Raven merely batted its eyelids and smiled, before the midget beside it became an annoyance.
The Raven fluffed up to form an even bigger shape and the Magpie cleared off.

For all its agility it found the westerly a bit of a challenge as it perched on the roof, and soon lifted off, an absolute master once in the air again.

Then it was gone and the wall to wall events, meetings and reports came rushing back in.
I know they’re regular on the coast now, but Raven is still my favourite bird – what a beast.
A privilege to be so close to a critter that just exudes “wild”.
May you keep on “cronking” for years to come…

Locked out.

Nels Hide was still locked up way past 1pm today and with it access barred to one of the few interesting bits of water on the reserve at the moment – it summed up a midday visit to Marshside.
At least the two juve Greenshanks dropped in briefly in front of Sandgrounders Hide to feed with a small group of Blackwits before calling and heading off to the south, presumably back to the lagoon in front of the access verboten Nels.
Under broiling brightening skies, there was little else to get excited about.
Out over the wibbly wobbly heat haze of the Ribble, Lancaster, Typhoon and Spitfire shimmered above Blackpool for the airshow there.

Sprawk, Kestrel and Peregrine were hunting over the saltmarsh.
I called into the Sandplant where a flock of about 40 House Martins and a few Swallows and Sand Martins were basking on the new “berms” or collecting grit/sand, presumably to shore up nest sites on the housing estate.

On the upside, I spent a fine minute or two up close and personal with a Ruddy Darter on the Green Beach north of Ainsdale during a guided walk yesterday.
The beast let me get to within a few centimetres and there wasn’t a locked hide in sight.

And there was me thinking bug-time was over…

My quest for the white whale

I’ll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition’s flames before I give him up.

Okay, my dark desire is not quite as driven as crazy old Ahab’s, but I really want to see the leucistic “white” Sarnie Tern that’s been popping up in the roost between Ainsdale and Birkdale this past week.
I couldn’t get away from a job to see it yesterday, it wasn’t there on Tuesday, and I couldn’t find the damn thing today.
Odd how the obsession can get you – it’s not like it’s a tick or anything, but I need to see this critter!!!

Plenty of other terns in the roost today, with over 300 Sarnies, including a colour-ringed bird (blue with white lettering anyone?), Common Terns and just the one young Little Tern still hanging out with it’s bigger cousins.
As I counted the terns, more and more swept in and Sanderlings scurried about just a few feet from my position.

Ainsdale Sandwich Tern roost count 11.8.17:

Sandwich Tern 359
(juves = 29; 6 ringed birds, and one with a blue colour ring with white lettering)
Common Tern 24
Little Tern 1 juve

Only minor disturbance today – one jogger and one walker, otherwise the birds were left in peace before heading out to fish and bathe after the tide began to fall back.

Don’t forget if you make a count of Sandwich Terns on Ainsdale beach this autumn, please submit it to my work email at – for the second year we are surveying the tern roost and establishing the level of disturbance it suffers, so all data will be gratefully received – many thanks (and thanks to the Friends of the Sefton Coast volunteers who are helping out with the survey this year).

Sandwiches before lunch

With an army of volunteers enlisted from the splendid “Friends of the Sefton Coast” for the second Sandwich Tern roost survey at Ainsdale this year, it was beginning to appear that I wouldn’t get a look-in.
Fortunately for me, unforseens meant I got a chance deputise and nip down for the count today recording the terns, looking for rings and monitoring the amount of disturbance.
With an afternoon job in Southport I couldn’t stay long, but it was worth it for the sound of the terns and the sight of ’em winging in against an inky horizon.

Count as follows:

Ainsdale beach, 1055-1210:

Sandwich Tern 337
(adults 307, juves 30; one colour ringed subadult, orange on left leg, metal ring on right)
Common Tern 36
Arctic Tern 4
Little Tern 3
(adult 1, juves 2)

Roost disturbance – dog walkers x4; jogger 1.

The dog disturbance was unfortunately far more predictable than the Little Terns – I was made up to see three of the midget gems dwarfed by the Sarnies and Commons, and even attempted an ill-advised zoom digi-scope record shot…. you can just make two of ’em out can’t you?

Many thanks to all the volunteers who are helping with this project this year – but if anyone else wants to submit any Sandwich Tern counts to me from the beach between Ainsdale and Birkdale, they can do so by emailing them to my work email at:
I’ll be collating a report on this second annual survey, any ringing returns and the amount of disturbance once the counts are completed in September.
Hopefully this will highlight the importance of this roost (over 2,700 birds at its peak last year) and the significance of disturbance on these birds.
Muchas gracias.

Snorkelling on the mosses

I had to drop off a snorkel and face mask for my godson Spud (so named because of the uncanny resemblance he bore to a potato at birth – he’s much older now, but still has the look of a King Edward about him), so I detoured via Plex to have a butcher’s at the stubble fields.
Best not dwell too much on what a teenager needs a snorkel and face mask for in the late summer dry West Lancs farmlands, but at least the stubble fields were interesting, being hunted over by Kestrel, Common Buzzard and a fine young Marsh Harrier.

The Marsh Harrier repeatedly pitched into the stubble, presumably after invertebrates, when it wasn’t scattering Woodpigeons and Stock Doves on lazy forays into the stiffening westerly.
I was always the wrong side of the wind to get particularly close to the harrier, but it was fun watching it for half an hour or so before the raptors melted away and the heavy rain swept in.
Ahh, so that’s what he wanted the snorkel for….