3pm: Lights out

In spite (or perhaps, because) of the shooters out on Plex this afternoon, busy atomising the Red Legged Partridge/Pheasant biomass, all the thrushes had congregated in the tall trees around Plex Brow Farm.
Chacking and sighing, 40-50 Fieldfare, 20+ Redwing and a few Mistle Thrushes and Blackbirds were hidden in the branches as the light went out of the day shortly after 3pm.
It happens every year, but the realisation that someone has pinched the day by mid-afternoon once the clocks go back, always comes as a bit of a shock.

The winter thrushes were as alert as ever as I watched them for a few minutes before heading off. Great birds.
Much brighter yesterday, when I spent a few hours at the Hesketh Road platform at Marshside – Goldcrests watched me through the hawthorn twiggery, Cetti’s Warbler and Water Rail called from the SSSI ditch, and despite a young Marsh Harrier patrolling Marshside One, a Greenshank dozed away amongst the Blackwits.

Siskins, titmice, two Whooper Swans, Chaffinches, thrushes, 3 Greater ‘Peckers and wagtails through as I listened out for arresting calls overhead – but Wigeon impersonators was the best I could do…
Not today John.
Marsh Harrier hunting and plenty of Ruff at Martin Mere in front of the In Focus hide today and yesterday (the light was better yesterday though) as Andy Bunting plotted patch birding world domination.

As good as place as any to pick up the 2016 Lancs Bird Report – have you got yours yet?

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“piZZZt”!!!

A fine, crisp clear morning down at Marshside today, with a nippy northerly blowing, a Cetti’s Warbler spluttering and a Water Rail shrieking from the SSSI ditch as I settled down at the Hesketh Road platform.
Pinkies dropping onto Marshside One, amongst the Ruff, Lapwings and Blackwits, while the local Buzzards got serious Magpie hassle.
Small groups of Starlings were heading north, and a Migrant Hawker was still just below the platform.
All felt well.
Things got much better though at 10.45am when I heard a sharp call and got my bins on six big pale brown fat lumps heading north in the sun just to our left – bull heads, dirty great bills, a pale flash at the base of dark primaries and stumpy rear ends as they bounded north and away – HAWFINCHES!
Come back!!!
Luckily I got Big Hairy Dave and the splendid Colette (you can see someone about those dragonfly dreams you know) onto them before they disappeared over the willows of the SSSI ditch and out of sight.
A loud sharp call had alerted me to them (the blog entry header is the best way I can describe it), but they uttered another call too, which was hard to describe, kind of like a muted Crossbill if that makes sense.
I’d certainly not heard Hawfinches do that before.
I checked the Collins Guide on my phone… the call was related as “the sound made by jabbing a spike into solid granite”.
This was undeniably colourful, but as I lacked a spike or a block of granite, it wasn’t much use.
The current national influx of this superb finch is one of the biggest and most mahoosive ever apparently, but I wish I could have seen these beauties perched up.
I put the news out (Tropical Thomason had three Hawfinches over the golf course a short time later) and headed up to Nels Hide, where a scabby male Goldeneye was diving away and one of the Long Billed Dowitchers was snoozing, preening and then snoozing again.

Good ‘scope views, but too far away for me to get anything other than a baaad blobby picture – as these shots prove only too well.
The Cattle Egrets (I saw at least five today) were messing about up in the corner by Marshside Road, and a Little Stint popped up as the air warmed with the vision of a flock of 100+ Golden Plover coming in to rest in the hard sun.
There were a few Goldcrests around the Sandplant and small groups of Pied Wags were on the move.
Two flocks of small bouncy finches jerked about over the beach north of the pier and a short while later off Weld Rd, at about 1.30pm, and may have been Twite back in for the winter, but I was trundling along in the Sunday pm traffic by this time, heading back to Dempsey Towers for a spot of autumnal slash and burn…. I’ll get back to them during the shorter days to come I’m sure.

Red Breasted Fly on the doorstep

Andrew Spottiswood‘s voice sounded a bit trembly when he called me just before work this morning…
“I’ve got a Red Breasted Flycatcher by Gate 13 at Ainsdale”, was all that he needed to say.
I was out of the office door and covering the two hundred yards from the office to the area in licketysplit time, stumbling through the drenched Creeping Willow.
I know RBFlys are regular east coast autumn visitors, but in Sefton they are rarer than Unicorn Bacon.
Got to the area to find Andrew watching a patch of willows where the RBFly was zipping about as only they can do, black and white tail flashing in the gloom.
Pauses between sallies around the willows showed no red on the throat (obs) and plenty of white at the base of the tail.
Too dark for a pic after the rains, but I set the ‘scope up for digiscoping expecting it to come closer, or at least sit out in the open for long enough for me to get a record shot – but it just melted away and that was it – no sign after 0940.
First time I’ve seen one on the Sefton coast and a great reward for Andrew who covers this patch south of Ainsdale Discovery Centre day in and day out.
His previous finds here down the years include Red Backed Shrike and Wryneck. His rewards are hard-earned and richly deserved.
Classic patch birding, well done Andy and thanks!
If you come looking, follow the fenceline south of Ainsdale Discovery Centre, the bird may just be lying low, or it could have moved on – the dune system has plenty of places to hide as regulars know only too well!!!!

Now my car smells of shearwater

As I slid into the driver’s seat I noticed the lid on the box in the passenger footwell was slightly ajar and in the dark I could hear a scuttling noise.
It was just like that bit in “Aliens” when Ripley and Newt are locked into the medi-lab after the nasty beasties have been released from their holding jars in an act of predictable corporate wickedness.
Okay, it wasn’t quite as scary as that, but the bottom line was that the Manx Shearwater had got out of its box and was now somewhere in my car in the pitch dark.
The air was permeated not so much by the stench of fear as the pong of straw and pilchards.
Oops.
I didn’t want to dazzle the bird with a light before release so the Manxie had the advantage over me (being raised in a dark, cramped burrow).
So we played cat and mouse, or rather idiot and shearwater, in the confines of the wheels.
After a bit of fumbling, and nips and scratches from its pointy bill and claws (great for climbing out of holding boxes) I cornered the shear under my seat and bundled it back into the box before heading to Ainsdale beach.

I don’t know how long it had been wandering around my car, but the odd thing was when I left it there, I’m sure there was a Paco Pena CD on the deck.
When I finally turned the ignition on, the Pogues started playing instead…perhaps this was an Irish Manxie?
Once I got out to the eerie water’s edge at Ainsdale it seemed anxious enough to be off and after two false starts flew strongly into the night – only to veer back east and head inland!
Ronald Lockley eat your heart out.
It was probably heading back for some more of the luxury pilchards Dave Bickerton had fed it after it was discovered on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal near Rishton on Thursday evening.
The bird was dropped off to me by Cheryl from Lancs Wildlife Trust yesterday for release once night fell and gulls couldn’t snaffle it.
Fully fed and watered the shearwater had spent most of the afternoon sleeping, while I enjoyed Common and Jack Snipe in the dunes during a guided walk.

A strange evening took a further turn for the surreal when after the success of Operation Pilchardface I popped up to the Legless Arms, where Neill Hunt displayed the sad corpse of a Black and White Warbler he discovered on a cargo ship that docked at Liverpool.
The ship had come in from Belgium, but before that it had sailed from Wilmington in North Carolina, a far more likely port of embarkation for the ex-Yankee warbler than the Low Countries.
I thought the eau de shearwater in my car was a heady perfume before I caught a whiff of this wonderful, but very dead, waif.
Nope, you can’t tick dead Megas.
Don’t think you’ll want to be keeping that in Mrs H’s best tupperware for too long Neill…

How hard can it be?

Nowhere does murky grey quite like Lancashire.
Grey clouds bleed into the grey horizon that bleeds into a grey marsh where grey geese graze.
Some raw, grey mornings here squish birding optimism pancake flat quicker than Fred Dibnah’s steam-roller.
If they made Hawaiian shirts on days like these, they’d be monochrome etc etc.
Grey.
I wasn’t in the mood for grey though and even as I was pulling up at Crossens on the rising tide I was making other plans.
There were a few birds about – two Little Stints and a Curlew Sandpiper with the Ruff etc on Crossens Inner, and a few flights of Golden Plover.
Then a Peregrine came through and put the willies up everything.
Goldcrests, Blackbirds and Robins were in the bushes around the sewage works.

On Crossens Outer a young male Marsh Harrier flapped through with a purpose, heading straight east, and Raven, Snipe, Merlin, Pink Feet, Common Buzzards and Great White Egrets were further out.
Beneath the pull-in there were plenty of Mipits, Linnets, Goldfinch and Pied Wags.
I could see the grey seeping into the edges everywhere so followed the Marsh Harrier’s example and moved inland.
Time for a look at the Willow Tits at Mere Sands, by the feeders behind the centre.
The Willow Tits were in and out all the time, but unlike the other species there, they were really wary, never perching in the open and rarely spending more than a few seconds on the tables.

Coal Tits, Nuthatches (mmmm…sunflower seeds) and everyone else was playing the game, but even an idiot like me can manage to photograph birds on a bird table.
The Willow Tits were far more awkward, although it was nice listening to them calling from the shady canopy of a pine before they zipped back into cover.

Soon the grey caught up with the day, heavy rain set in and somewhere I could hear a steam-roller starting up.
Time to head home.

Between a Rock Thrush and a hard place

When I was a kid and training to be a journalist in Cardiff, one of the richest seams for mining quality stories (you were expected to find a real exclusive every week), was the magistrates courts up in the valleys, wearily called to order after another wild weekend.
All human life (and most human excesses, vices and crimes) could be found here, although after a seriously debauched break, it was often a bewildering mystery to said human life quite how they had ended up before the beaks.
These were tough, hard people in a hard place.

I was reminded of days past as I stomped and splashed over the moorlands of the black hills above Abergavenny before dawn today with Alan Wright, towards the old Pwll Du quarry.
I’d collected Alan at 2.30am and driven down through worsening conditions, so that the moors and quarry, sluiced with drizzle, wind and rain looked like the alien planet in “Prometheus” when we arrived.
Ravens, yes; Merlin, yes; Kestrel, yes – but not surprisingly no sign of yesterday’s Rock Thrush which had been seen here yesterday.
After nearly four hours of being buffeted by the gale on the edge of the quarry’s cliffs and drenched by the rains, we called it a day and I began to sleep-drive back to Merseyside.
Inevitably half an hour down the road, distracted by Red Kites and what looked like a fly-by Hawfinch (?), the sun broke through and the Rock Thrush reappeared in the hills above the quarry.
We whizzed back to Pwll Du to enjoy prolonged and wonderful views of this marvellous bird as it hunted wasps amongst the scree and gorse just above us on a sheltered slope round the hillside from the quarry.

In the sunshine it stood out as bright and pale as a very big Wheatear (albeit one with a red tail, orange flecked belly and lovely scaly and pale-edged uppers), but when the low clouds scudded back over it could really blend in to its background – what a stunner.

You’ve gotta love autumn…Thanks for the company Alan! Thanks for the show Rock Thrush!

Squeak checks suspended.

I was checking the 17th series of high-pitched squeaks of the afternoon in the Sycamores at Cabin Hill when my phone buzz buzz buzzed.
New fangled communications are an incredible thing – it was a message from Mike Stocker, far away on the Isles of Scilly (up to his oxsters no doubt in Cedar Waxwing and other goodies) imparting the news that Stuart Darbyshire, Pete Kinsella and Mark Nightingale had found an American Golden Plover AND a Long Billed Dowitcher on Crossens Outer over the high tide.
Much as I enjoy sifting through Goldcrests in the shrivelly canopy (one day there’ll be a marvellous surprise amongst ’em, one day), two Yankees at Marshside were too good to ignore, so I speed-walked back to the car.
The marsh was enjoying a mini-twitch when I got to Crossens Outer, but there was just enough space to squeeze my car into the pull-in and I joined the crowd (there were at least seven people).
Great finds by Stuart and co, the American Golden Plover was preening and running around about 200 metres out from the bank amongst Golden Plover and Lapwings, while the Dowitcher was at interstellar zoom ‘scope range by the time I arrived, but still given away by its sewing machine feeding action and dirty great long bill as it scurried amongst a group of dozing Pinkies in the wet grass, often disappearing from view.

I managed a few full zoom with a bit of added zoom record blurs of the AGP in the afternoon gloom, but the dowitcher was way, way beyond my range.

It has been a long time (or it feels like it at least) since I’ve seen either species at Marshside, so both together was extra special.
Thanks once again to Stuart, Pete and Mark for putting the effort in (and thanks to Mike for the long distance heads up).

East in a westerly

The consistently western winds of the last week are hardly the best for Spurn, but sometimes you’ve just gotta put some miles at your back.
I headed over in the drizzle ridiculously early this morning, pulling up at Easington Cemetery by 0830.
A screeeeeeching Ring Necked Parakeet was a surprise as the first Goldcrest and Chiffies began to call, before it hurtled back towards the village.
After a minute or two the young Red Backed Shrike popped up in the hedgerow just up the lane – well done you for showing off despite the blustery winds…

Back in Easington, the long-staying juve Rose Coloured Starling was flying about and occasionally dropping into its favourite Dimlington garden, despite several patrolling Sprawks.
It kept disappearing, so rather than spend the rest of the morning playing “hunt the Stinky Pink” I drove on down to Spurn proper.
There was a clear, if light passage of Redpolls, and small parties of Snipe were careening in off the North Sea.
Paul Collins had trapped a late Garden Warbler so I had a look at that before checking Beacon Lane.

Goldcrests here and there, with Whinchat around the Triangle and passing Skylarks and Mipits.
Slow going though.
A sneaky hidden Chiffchaff doing that Greenish Warbler type call was distracting until I got good views of it by the Bluebell.
At Numpties a Lapland Bunting was performing very well, shuffling about in the grass just a few metres from the vis-migging ranks, but other autumn staples like thrushes were thin on the ground.

I retraced my steps and had another go at the Easington Starling as the afternoon rain got heavier – true to form it popped up in its favourite garden again, albeit briefly.

Finished the day off with a quick check of Sammy’s Point, but the wind made it challenging, although a Whimbrel was feeding on the mud, two Whoopers were dozing away further out and a Med Gull sailed over the fields.

Not a bad day when you consider the wind direction.
Hurrah to the Red Backed Shrike for perching up despite the wind…
Hurrah to the birder that shouted “what a cracker!!!” when the Starling reappeared – it’s not often you hear a complimentary comment directed at a juve…
Hurrah to Paul Collins for digging out two back copies of the Spurn bird report for me (I still need edition number 23, so if anyone has a spare copy, please get in touch)…
Hurrah to the Lapland Bunt for trundling about so close to us…
…and finally hurrah to Tito and Tarantula for kicking the M62’s tarmaccy ass all the way home!!!

The heretical view

With just light showers in the strong westerly, there was nothing to keep the sand down at Formby, and I didn’t fancy a sandblasting today, so instead went over to New Brighton to watch the high tide, sheltered by the lumpy windbreak that is Fort Perch Rock.
I know, leaving the Tobacco Dump to watch from “the other side” is a heinous offence, but I’m sure there are worse betrayals.
After a lash up on the domestic front, I only got to the river mouth at 11am, less than an hour before high tide, but enjoyed good views of a number of Leach’s Petrels.
I saw 15, but whether that was 15 individuals or a smaller number of birds tacking into the wind as they tried to leave the Mersey and then coming back in again, is another question entirely.
Almost all the petrels were over on the Liverpool side, and many look tired, with one even resting on the water as it drifted out with the current.
The numbered 0-800 metre system on the dock wall under the big new Peel cranes made pinpointing the birds easy – like watching on a range!
A string of nine Red Throated Divers, including several still in summer plumage, was exciting as they sped out of the river and my first two Brent Geese of the winter came out of the Mersey as the water began to fall back.

New Brighton 1100-1345:
Westerly f5, cloud and sun.

Leach’s Petrel up to 15
Guillemot 4
Red Throated Diver 10
Great Crested Grebe 2
Brent Goose 2
Tufted Duck 1
Dunlin 7
Grey Plover 8

Steve Young “duck trumped” my Tuftie with four Shoveler before it was time to call it a day and wave the Leach’s back out toward the Atlantic…

Autumn steps

Another walk amongst the drying leaves and rattling branches at Cabin Hill in the strengthening S/SWly today, when autumn anticipation was not realised, but checking the flitting shapes of regular species through the Willows and Sycamores kept me on my toes.
More Blackbirds around certainly, with a fair few scoffing the hawthorn berries, but I could only find two or three feeding flocks of titmice and Goldcrests.
Skylarks and corvids were building on the fields of Marsh Farm, with one bounding flock of Linnets and a few Mistle Thrushes.
The resident Stonechats were posy in the Old Man’s Beard and big flocks of Pinkies commuted from the fields behind Altcar to the shore against concrete skies.

Keep walking.
Keep checking the branches.
Two young Marsh Harriers were out on Plex later, with 12 Common Buzzards, a few family parties of hirundines lingering around favoured farmhouses and Corn Buntings still happily strangling the concept of song.
The autumn crops and stubble will soon give way to winter soil black enough to crush any birding dreams…but at least we’ve got October to play with first.