A break in the reeds.

Drifting about in the inbetween week I managed to sneak away from the hospitality of the outlaws for an hour or two down to a bitterly cold Far Ings, the spiffing reedbed, hawthorn and lagoon reserve in the shadow of the Humber Bridge deep in the eastern badlands.
Not sure what day it was, Boxing Day possibly, who knows – when you’ve had one turkey sarnie, you’ve had them all.
Surprisingly I was accompanied by Mrs D – the last time she came birding was to watch Griffons and (find) Cyprus Warblers on Kensington Cliffs in 2002, so the change in temperature and habitat may have come as a bit of a shock.

(look – the boss even took a habo shot with her mobile).
Despite the low temperatures and poor light, the reserve was on tiptop reedbed form, with Bittern sloping across the thoughtfully created breaks in the cover almost as soon as we sat down, tubby Kingfishers whirring past, Water Rail foraging beneath us and Bearded Tits calling from the reeds.
Common Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, Fieldfares and Redwings too – all top notch festive fare.
Right, back to the vaccuum.


With the clock tick tocking down to “Jason and the Argonauts” and all that, it was still impressive to watch feverish consumerism accelerating beyond the bounds of decency today in direct proportion to rapidly diminishing levels of goodwill.
Is this what it’s really about?
You can almost hear the celestial laughter.
Best keep out of it, so I headed out over the mosses, just as the sun broke through three days of mist and gloom.
Up to 70 Skylarks chirrupping about in the stubble on the Withins, where two Common Buzzards were ratting around the big muckheap.
About 100 Redwings at Great Altcar, but none on Plex – just two Fieldfare, Common Gulls, more Skylarks and Starlings and a flock of about 120 Linnets.
Back home at Dempsey Towers, the Redwings continue to rudely open the Waxwings’ Christmas presents early (will they ever come here?), stuffing themselves with cotoneaster berries alongside Woodpigeons and Blackbirds.
Good numbers of Common Scoter off Ainsdale at the moment too, with a few thousand occasionally taking to the air – but no white bits in ’em yet.
Thanks to everyone all over the world who has read the blog this year, and thanks to those who continue to add their sightings and comments, hope you all have a wonderful Christmas…
See you when all the mince pies have gone.

Shipwreckin’ bonus

Superb bonus Snow Bunting as I struggled back over the dunes at Ainsdale in a hooley-driven squall this afternoon.
I’d been out checking our shipwrecks – the Star of Hope and the Atlantic are now showing well again shipwreck fans, it was like meeting old friends again for the first time in years – this constitutes MAJOR piratin’ score as both have been hidden under the sands for quite some time.

I’ll be leading a shipwreck walk tomorrow – see www.facebook.com/seftoncoast shortly for details.
I was walking back from the wrecks when I noticed the bunting watching me from a dune ridge directly in front of Ainsdale Discovery Centre.
As I trudged off the beach it flitted down onto the sands, presumably to check out the prodigious tideline…hope it hangs about.

Winter Hill was.

All clear skies and icy everywhere, with Winter Hill blue/white on the inland horizon this morning as I went to Lunt Meadows for an hour or two.
Several Grey Herons were hunting mices in the frozen fields, with Teal, Wigeon, Mallard and Shoveler clamouring about on the patches of unfrozen water.
37+ Blackwits around the edges.
At least four Water Rails were calling from the ditches (or maybe just one hidden squealer following me as I completed a circuit of the reserve???).
A Cetti’s Warbler spluttered in the south east corner of the reserve, but was as invisible as the Water Rails.
The frozen water and soil seriously discomknockerated the Snipe on the site – hard work to probe with those bills in these conditions – and small groups frequently took off to circle the area.
I was watching three burst from the grasses when a plumptious Woodcock (sorry, I’ve come over all Doddy for some reason) flew up behind them and pot-belly paddled through the air towards the Forestry Commission woodland, where Siskins and Fieldfares called above the bare branches.
Elsewhere quite a few “owl-arazzi” were set up anticipating a performance from the wintering Short Eared Owls, in the north east corner, but I left the big lenses to it and kept on birding.

Just three Redwings breakfasting on cotoneaster berries at Dempsey Towers earlier this morning, but they were joined by seven Fieldfare and five Blackbirds stripping the shady branches as the sun rose behind them.
Should any Waxwings ever arrive they’ll go bananas when they discover all the berries have gone.
I suppose I could always put a few bananas out for them if it comes to it….

White hell

I really wouldn’t like to be in the Met Office’s shoes after the snowmageddon predicted for Dempsey Towers failed to materialise today.
The “poorcast” coincided with the precise time that Mrs D’s festive vibe was starting to kick in, and the holly and ivy was growing nervous.
Despite hourly checks through the night, not a flake fluttered down, and Santa’s little helper was not happy.
Any nearby weatherman or woman that stuck their head above the isobar parapet would have faced a blizzard of a snow-deprived tirade this morning.
Heading out seemed the smart move, and I got my kit together while Redwings continued to scoff the cotoneaster berries I hope will one day lure a Waxwing or two into the garden (that’s if the thrushes and Woodpigeons don’t eat ’em first).

I was going to check the tideline between Ainsdale and Birkdale, but it looked a bit grim, and I’ve been up to my oxsters in beached cetacean corpse there for the last two days anyway.
Funny how a slight change in position, when a carcass in advanced decomposition is moved by the tide, can radically alter our perception – I took the first pic on Friday evening, when head shape appeared to indicate a beaked whale.
Some beaker folk were even muttering “Sowerby’s” on social media…

Then yesterday morning the body had shifted in the tide and my next pic shows an altogether different impression of head-shape, pointing to an ex-Bottle Nosed Dolphin, albeit a seriously bloated one.

I still had to measure it all up and count the toothy-pegs once we’d got it off the beach though for recording purposes – never the sweetest smelling of jobs.
So today I decided to motor inland, clear the tubes and check the Withins.
Small flocks of Common Gulls, Lapwings and Starlings were spooked by a hunting Merlin, ripping about in the raw cold air, and one of the pale local Buzzards kept an eye on a tasty-looking muckheap from the vantage point of a rotting hay bale.

As I trundled slowly down the lane, I was delighted to see the back end of a Red Kite disappearing up into a distant hawthorn – presumably the bird that has been seen at Martin Mere and at Lunt already this winter.
No wing-tags visible, but it was a considerable distance away and stayed largely hidden in the branches as any lazy raptor would while the temperature plummeted and the first flakes of snow began to fall.

Typically the kite only stirred as the light really began to fail and snow filled the air after 2pm.

The raptor set off on a series of languid circling flights, drifting off into the snow showers towards Lydiate Station (pic at the top of this post), before I lost it behind the long bank.
I drove back towards Ainsdale as the snow got heavier – all very festive.
Inevitably just half a mile of home, the sky lightened and the flurries stopped.
Not a flake had fallen at the Towers.
Don’t think I’ll tell the boss…

Marine warfare.

The bright winter sun bouncing off the wet plumage of scoters offshore at Ainsdale yesterday created the unsettling illusion of white patches on some birds’ heads as they bobbed about halfway out over the tide.
This freaky effect was enough to get my attention, but I didn’t really have time for a prolonged look.
However the thick cloud today meant there was no danger of a repeat Solar Surfie MacGuffin and I gave the flock a good ‘scoping over the lunchtime high tide.
Everything was reassuringly solid black, and largely dozing on the bumpy swell.
Situation normal.
Not much else out there, with the wind making observation tricky – squadrons of Cormorants and a single Red Breasted Merg passed as I shivered on a dune, while Sanderling and Grey Plover looked miserable on the tideline.
I did notice a few GBBs flying slowly over the waves in the same menacing way they do at Marshside when they “dread” the wildfowl, but in general this behaviour didn’t seem to faze the scoters.
Presumably a GBB could handle a sick or injured Common Scoter – I’ve seen ’em knock down a few Wigeon on the marsh over the years – but the seaducks stuck resolutely to the sea.
Were the GBBs trying to flush the scoter?
Did the black puddings know they were safe as long as they stayed on the water?
Why didn’t they dive?
Later three of the brutes plunged into the pack, but I couldn’t make out what they were after as everything was a good distance out.
The gulls could just as easily have been picking on an unfortunate auk that was hidden in the troughs, but it was impossible to pick out in the murk.
Still so many questions…
Just after 1pm about 500 of the scoter took to the air in one of those seemingly pointless bursts of activity inbetween snoozing offshore and flapped south.
No white wing flashes there today – time to head back to the office.


By the time I’d managed to get the stupid suction thingy for the SatNav attached to the windscreen this morning, I had used up my full December quota of expletives and profanities – just stick why don’t ya !@!**!! arrghhhh!!!
The air was blue. Roger Mellie would have been proud.
It wasn’t as if I was setting off on a major twitch or anything, I only wanted to get to Winery Lane in Walton-le-Dale without getting lost in the Preston traffic system – was that too much to ask?
Initially I’d thought about checking the tideline between Ainsdale and Birkdale for Snow Buntings (there were two there in the week, but I didn’t see them), however the tide was kinda high, and walking along there with the water right in just spooks all the birds.
Another time perhaps – so Winery Lane and the infuriating SatNav suction cup fiasco it was.

I should point out at this stage that while there is no winery there (something of a downer), there is a fine sewage farm and I wanted to call in for several reasons – I’ve never been to Walton-le-Dale and it sounds a bit “Robin Hood” doesn’t it?, Winery Lane has “wine” in it of course, and most importantly, I like Firecrests.
An hour later and there was just one or two folk about as I walked to the end of Winery Lane and scanned the trees and bushes around the entrance to the sewage works – there were plenty of Goldcrests, Chiffchaffs and Grey Wags, zipping about after the hordes of midges that sites like this inevitably attract.

After a few minutes of scanning the branches the wintering Firecrest popped up, darting around the trees making the Goldcrests look decidedly shabby.
It would hurtle about, hovering and flycatching just off the public footpath, before melting away into the trees again.

A lovely little thing.
I spent an hour or so on and off with the bird – when it was out of sight, the Goldcrests and Chiffies provided great entertainment, gorging on midges just inches away…
I could have stayed there all day, but I had to get the @!!*!!/* SatNav off the windscreen.