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First time I’ve seen a Grey Squirrel on the seaward side of the Coast Rd at Marshside, today, but I think Greys are at their most dispersive at this time of year – there’s one in the garden at Dempsey Towers too, potentially rubbing shoulders with Reds, so it’s time to ring the number and arrange a “squirrel holiday” for them…
Perhaps one of the more interesting things amongst the branches though – I spent three hours interrogating Sycamores once the rain stopped with just Chiffchaffs, Goldcrests Greater ‘Peckers and Jays, Migrant Hawkers and Red Admirals as I walked the public footpath through Hesketh Golf Course.
Pretty much the same result from the same amount of effort checking the trees at Cabin Hill yesterday, with the added attraction of a few Small Coppers.

Only one Curlew Sandpiper on the lagoon at the back of Crossens Inner that I could see this afternoon, with at least 14 Ruff and a Dunlin, place looks great though.

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Sun King.

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The balmy autumn sun meant even Hesketh Out Marsh was bearable today – the place only felt summer tundra rather than permafrost cold.
The hedgerows around the car park were jumping with Robins as I walked out and down the bank, with Tree Sparrows, Chiffchaff and Goldcrest.
The sound of Pinkies overhead was still fresh and hirundines zooming through had a passage urgency to them.
I was hoping for a spot of wader action and it was looking good with 380+ Golden Plover, 1 Grey Plover, Curlew, 6 Greenshanks, Ringed Plover, 20+ Dunlin, 60+ Blackwits, Lapwing, too many yelping Redshank (making it hard to sneak up on the birds, even when using the bank as cover) and flurries of Snipe, until a young Marsh Harrier flapped through and spooked the lot!

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Sprawk, a few Common Buzzards and a zippity Merlin hardly helped things relax while I was there, but the Kingfisher and two Great Crested Grebes went about their business as usual.
Wigeon and Pintail dropped in too, and as I chatted with Keith Hiller, a Wheatear was flycatching from the fenceposts.
Pleasant as it was, I decided to head over to a well-known local Little Owl stake-out to see if anything was happening.

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Unfortunately someone was having trouble keeping their eyes open in the hot sun, as Migrant Hawkers and Red Admirals sauntered by.

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After a spot of de rigeur glaring, which fooled nobody, I left the owl in peace, after all, it looked like it had the right plan for the afternoon.

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A Monkey for a Redstart

Well, that was a quite wonderful and exceptionally surreal day.
I picked up Er Neill at 8am, and we met Paul Herrieven in a cold plastic Sunday morning Maccas at 9am on the Fylde.
Sweated as we waited, then drove round to the remains of Blackpool Airport but there was no news of the American Redstart on Barra (yes, you read correctly, we popped up to Barra in the Outer Hebrides today).
Neill had done all the preliminary, sorting the plane, pilot and timings beforehand, but when it came down to it, all we could do was wait for news of the bird, go home or take off…
We decided to fly up anyway…we were all too excited to back out of the booking now.

I was however, a tad disappointed to learn that our “cost shared” flight for the day was going to be in the Piper Cherokee on the right, not the grand old Lancaster behind it, but I guess the latter probably wouldn’t fit onto the beach at Barra.
We had crossed the rubicon and with no news of the mega from the island either way still, we prepared for take-off at 10.35am.
Chocks away!!!!
Our pilot was the excellent Adrian, who took us north past incoming skeins of Pink Feet, dropping out of the clouds to refuel at Oban before pushing west.
Always like a driver with a map (or a good i-Pad navigation app).
But how hard can an island be to find with that dirty great blue circle over it?

A sneaky check of the phone had revealed the bird was still there (how did that flight setting switch itself off???) vindicating this bizarre journey north.
We had to pause at Oban for a spot of negotiation before we had permission to land at Barra, but we were back up in the air again by just after 1pm.
Paul helpfully pointed out the gleaming white sands of the beach aka Barra International Airport after a stunning flight over the west of Scotland and numerous Hebrides.
Pods of dolphins had breached in a cobalt blue calm sea below us as we neared the target and the adrenalin started surging.

We swept down onto the sands of Barra and fell out of the Cherokee by 2pm, blagged a lift round to Eoligarry Church from airport team member Michael and were frantically scanning crinkly Sycamore leaves for the Yankee Redstart by 2.10pm.
The silence of beautiful tranquil Barra was almost deafening after the constant buzz of the Cherokee’s engines, but we were on a tight schedule – Michael was picking us up again at 2.50pm!

Fleeting views of the warbler as it darted through the dark understorey were not what the doctor ordered, and it was all getting a bit stressful as the minutes ticked by.
Luckily, with just ten minutes to go, the female American Redstart darted into the stunted Sycamore in front of us and began zipping all over the place, occasionally pausing for a few seconds to give gobsmacking views.
It was glorious, just yankee autumn mega glorious.
She was swishing and cocking her sexy yellow and black tail and flicking her wings almost constantly while hoovering up insects from the foliage.
Great views as she whizzed about, but way beyond my photographic abilities and I wasn’t going to waste the limited time worrying about f-stops and the like.
I just wanted to watch the warbler baby.
You can just see her in image at the top of the entry, and in this one too…

Luckily Neill Hunt is a bit better with a camera than I am – thanks for the picture below buddy. Spiffing.

Happy faces then as Michael came to collect us and bundle us to the airport/beach, while explaining as we sped back across Barra how the yellow-topped post marked the end of the runway and we had to take off before the rising tide flowed past it.

Oops.
Adrian hustled us into the Cherokee, and with the elastic bands fully tightened and backed by a fair wind, we raced down the sands and soared back into the blue again by 3.10pm!

Bye bye Barra, wish I could have stayed longer.
All that was left was to breathe a sigh of relief and play spot the Hebridean island as we cruised south.
Eriskay, Coll and Tireeeeee, Iona, Mull, the Paps of Jura, Islay, Ailsa Craig etc etc.
I wondered whether to tell Neill that his door wasn’t shut properly, but he discovered that himself quite quickly, and anyway, the cold air made the flight back to Blackpool all the more refreshing….
A ridiculously indulgent day, but with the white sand of Barra still dusting the soles of my Meindls as I sit here, back home less than 12 hours after I set out, it was undeniably splendid too…what an adventure!
I’ve been dreaming of landing on that beach for more than 30 years.
Thanks to Neill and Paul for the great company, Adrian and Michael for being brill and most importantly thanks to my lovely bank manager (if such creatures still exist in the virtual world of modern day finance) ‘cos my account took a right kicking today.
Was an American Redstart worth a monkey?
Absolutely.

More.

This morning’s final “Vis Mig” walk at work was hard going – fleeting views of one Leach’s over the low tide at Ainsdale in the wind and rain, two Wheatears and not much else.
True to form a return to the beach over the high tide after work this afternoon instantly produced a Leach’s pushing through the surf and a few minutes later, another weaving and staggering down the sand behind me.

It came as close as only a Leach’s can, stalling a few feet from me like a curious Southern Hawker.
You just gotta hold your breath and enjoy ’em then exhale as they drift off south away from you, tattered tails steering them into the wind and arched wings dipping and rising just millimetres over the shore.

There’s something almost intrusive about watching them when they wander past you on the sands, like you’re too close to their Leachy world.
Not a bird you can ever get tired of.
I love the stories and media that surround wrecks like this too – Ian Wolfenden’s sighting of a bird yesterday on the River Alt seconds before it was snatched by a Sprawk; Dave Bickerton recounting during this morning’s sesh how his dad followed a Leach’s up Salford and Trevor Road in Ainsdale on his milk float 40 years ago; Ron Jackson’s top video from this morning and of course Rich Steel’s amazing cod liver oil-steeped pics from Leasowe (previous entry).
Rich’s pix are much better than mine, but then I don’t smell like Billingsgate Fish Market (his words, not mine)!

A storm-battered female Common Scoter was resting on the sands at Ainsdale this evening, to compliment the male in the low tide channels there yesterday.
Hopefully they both got out to sea again.

Wonder how many Leach’s have come through Liverpool Bay in the last few days????

A fishy tale from the King of the Storm Bats

“Going to try some cod liver oil to see if I can pull them in or hold them for a few moments”, went the Messenger message from photographic guru Rich Steel as the Leach’s wreck began to unfold today and he went after some images of one of his – and my – favourite species over at Leasowe.
“And some shellfish extract concentrate – but I’m scared to take the lid off that one”.

How did he get on trying to bait something as wild as a Leach’s Petrel aka Storm Bat?
Well these stunning images speak for themselves – many thanks for letting me post them on the blog Rich!

Soon everyone will be covered in cod liver oil when the westerlies blow.
The wind is a bit in the south west tomorrow, but I think there is still plenty of scope to catch up with these marvellous birds in Liverpool Bay for the next two days at least – and Wednesday’s raging hooley if it shows up, could be a Leach’s blasting beast!
Last word goes to Rich.
“I currently smell like Billingsgate Market on a hot summer’s day – however it did work…had a couple of birds stop in front of us for about ten minutes at very close range”.
Thanks again buddy.

Leach’s Petrels.

Four Leach’s Petrels tottering and weaving over the sands at Ainsdale this morning in brutal conditions between 0930 and 1030.
The first of many no doubt if this NWly hooley holds.

Just magical birds – even when snatched at with a rain smeared compact camera.
Happily their arrival coincided with the first of three “Vis Mig” walks I’m leading at Ainsdale, so well done Tony and Kath who braved the conditions and met Leach’s Petrel for the first time.
Great to see smiling faces in a hooley!!!

Walks also set off at 9am from Ainsdale Discovery Centre (PR8 2QB) tomorrow (Tuesday 12.9.17) and Wednesday, last two hours tops and are free. Booking not necessary.
Don’t forget to bring your bins and wrap up warm – this weather system means business.

The yawning maw

I was hoping a bit more westerly would materialise out of the south/south westerly and that the rain showers would push something in as I spent this afternoon seawatching from the Tobacco Dump.
Neither hope was realised.
A storm-battered Fulmar was confronting its own mortality in the shallows – but no amount of Leach’s-style pattering was gonna get it airborne again and it kept being washed onto the beach.

The local Carrion Crows busied themselves preparing their napkins for the moment the luckless tube-nose succumbed.
Apart from this rather sorry distraction the seawatch was deathly quiet – good numbers of Common Scoter offshore, many of which were dozing after the recent westerlies, fishing Sarnie Terns and Gannets out on the horizon.

Tobacco Dump, 1245-1500:
S/SWly 4-5, cloudy with showers.

Common Scoter 500 approx
Fulmar 1
Gannet 56
Sandwich Tern 80+
Great Crested Grebe 1
Guillemot 2

A very wet owl

Conditions could hardly be described as perfect for hunting as I squelched into work through a rapidly flooding car park at Ainsdale this morning – so I was surprised to see a Barn Owl attempting to quarter the dunes beneath the office.
Just about the worse conditions possible for it – it perched up, drenched and looking thoroughly out of sorts after just a few moments.

Got a few blurry images of the bird in the gloom through the rain-streaked window and headed off to the first meeting of the day.
(“Sorry I’m late – Barn Owl on the fence” beats “dead Badger on the track at Basildon” every time Reggie).
I’d like to think it was a youngster, as late summer rain has probably made it a lousy season for them, but it was impossible to be sure as I tried to peer through the marram and the deluge.
Not a good morning to be a hungry owl though.