Stubbly

The local Common Buzzards were very vocal as I checked Haskayne Cutting late this afternoon, but the persistent westerly breeze made it tough working through the bushes.
A feeding flock of 11 Long Tailed Tits dragged Blue and Great Tits, 2 Chiffchaff and a Goldcrest with them as they zipped through the hawthorn, birch and willows and autumnal Jays flopped about.
Thin seasonal fare.
Plex was busy with agricultural activity, while several groups of up to 20 Skylarks were moving through, and 100-150 Starlings probed the stubble, but I only saw eight Corn Buntings and two Yellowhammers.
Plenty of Stock Doves and Common Gulls with the Woodpigeons and BHGs.
It still felt like a busy afternoon, especially as the sky was littered with Pink Feet, with skein and after skein rising and falling over the mosses before the evening commute.

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AGP: Still around, still distant.

Checked Crossens Outer and Inner early afternoon today – the former was quiet, but the latter had good numbers of Golden Plover, including one of the American Golden Plovers from last week.
Hard to pin it down at first as it was up and down out of a drain and I was looking into the light, but when cloud went across the sun I was able to get better views – and even see the grey axilliaries when it flapped its wings.
Smaller than the rest of the Goldies and more active, with a lightning strike super as bright as a Lapwing’s white eyebrow.
It looked to me like the more well-marked bird of the two that Stuart Darbyshire found last week.
Watched the AGP from 1220 to about 1315, when a Peregrine (with a touch of Lanner) swept through and scattered the flock.

No bins necessary.

‘Cos they’re a high arctic bird, and first winters have rarely clapped eyes on human beans, Grey Phalaropes can often be ridiculously confiding.
Especially when they turn up at the small boating lake at Crosby Coastal Park – they like noodling round the edges there, where their view and awareness of their surroundings is probably restricted to little above the foot high sheer walls of the pool.

Combine these factors and you have the opportunity for a remarkable close encounter with a very special bird, as long as you keep low, still and quiet.
Just pick a spot on the bank and wait for the bird to come to you…

Sometimes today’s bird came so close you could touch it, but if I remember my I-Spy rules of bird-spotting correctly, poking a phalarope is a very bad thing…
I was surprised Steve Young resisted temptation though, as it came even closer to him than me.
You could even see the lobes on its freaky feet (the phalarope that is, not Steve – he kept his shoes and socks on).
The critter was completely oblivious to the crowd drawn to the pool.

A marvellous bird – the universe radiated out across the ripples on the water created by the arctic waif like light bouncing off Saturn’s rings, then spun back to spark smiles all round.

Blowing away the cobwebs

The fury of Storm Bronagh turned Liverpool Bay into a boiling cauldron this morning – in many ways the startling seascape was the real draw today, as birds moving offshore were few and far between.
Looking north west across the Ribble towards Blackpool, the inshore waters were fierce.
I still gave it three and a half hours at Ainsdale from 0830 to noon though.
Stuart Darbyshire had got down there half an hour or so before me and scored a juv Sab’s Gull – the early bird catches the worm.
The wind was a touch too south west and the tide a bit low for Ainsdale, but you can’t say no to a force 7 on the doorstep.
Just before 9am I picked up a Leach’s Petrel moving south through the surf, those sharp black wings standing out against the raging swell – more may come through this afternoon if the wind swings into the north west as forecast.

Ainsdale, 21.9.18, 0830-1200,
SWly gusting f6-7, squalls:

Leach’s Petrel 1
Manx Shearwater 3
Gannet 1
Med Gull 1
Kittiwake 1
Guillemot 2
Sandwich Tern 57
Common Scoter 50-100 (many more hidden by the swell)
Pintail 7

Roosting gulls held a Med and one or two unsavoury looking Herring Gull x LBB hybrids, while plenty of waders were hunkering down trying to keep out of the wind and racing sands.
A beached Common Scoter was given a right battering by GBBs – nature red in tooth and claw.
There’ll be a lot of exhausted and tired birds on the coast in the next few days – please give them a wide berth and don’t walk through roosts.

Morning trouser dance

Couldn’t believe the young male Sprawk didn’t fly as I lurched past the window early morning today during the daily trouser dance – bilstons easy, socks no problemo, balancing on one leg to get my strides on…always a tricky proposition.
Damn you gravity.
I gave up on the sartorial stuff, grabbed my camera and blatted the Sparrowhawk through the window as it sat hunched up in the drizzle, staring at the deserted feeders.
A cracking way to start the day.

I looked away for a second, looked back and it was gone.
At the other end of the day the rain had stopped and the sun came out, warming the garden and a flush of Small Coppers suddenly appeared – one of the last bits of summer colour before things get more interesting…

Grey peas and plover

Deep in the depths of yam yam land, wizards (should that be wizzards?) schooled in the dark arts and fuelled only by Pot Noodle and old Slade albums, create one of Mrs D’s favourite dishes in gloomy cellars, before it changes hands in pub car parks under the cover of night.
It genuinely worries me that trays of frozen grey peas can be distributed with such impunity.
Bags of the stuff are secreted in the backs of cars and spirited around the country, in the same clandestine way proper Irish snorkers or black pudding appear out of nowhere if you’re really lucky.
Over the years I have tried hard to embrace the boss’s Midlands heritage, but I have to draw the line at grey peas.
Some things are just not right, and I was reminded of this over the high tide today, as the sea at Ainsdale turned the colour of grey peas.

It sent a shiver down my spine and sent me scurrying back to the office after a 20 minute seawatch – it was quiet offshore anyways, with just one Red Throated Diver and approximately 1,500 Common Scoter scattered across the grey green swell.
A few Sarnies were feeding over the bay and approximately 200 were in the roost north of Shore Road.
Fortunately Stuart Darbyshire found an American Golden Plover on Crossens Outer in the high tide roost during the afternoon, so after work I drove up to see if was still about in typically dude-ish fashion.

The outer marsh was looking gorgeous in the sharp evening sun, and was peppered with feeding Dunlin, Blackwits, Lapwings and Ruff – it just felt rare.
Unfortunately the Golden Plover flock took to the air a minute or so after I arrived, scattered by an invisible raptor.
D’oh!
I walked back down the coast road to the area where some of the flock had landed again, but there was no sign of the American Golden Plover there.
I checked a few other small groups without joy, but luckily when I walked back to the pull-in, Graham Clarkson (in his new favourite birding jacket), was ‘scoping the yankee in a group of distant goldies by Crossens channel at about 6.30pm.
Graham got me onto the bird and I was able to watch it for a short time and even take long distance 60x zoom digi-scoped rubbish like the image at the top of this entry.
The AGP is the plover on the extreme left of the image, between the two Dunlin smudges, although you’d struggle to know it as the birds faced head on to us in the hard light.
At least that lightning strike super was obvious through the scope.
Yankee panted, I sped home in time for the chicken enchiladas of the gods, courtesy of Mrs D.
Far better than a tray of frozen grey peas anytime, but don’t tell her that…

Teal show

Managed to time my post high tide visit to Hesketh Out Marsh today with an outbreak of persistent autumn drizzle – the high water had moved most of the waders off anyway.
Still a flock of Avocets at the south end and two Great White Egrets were unfazed by the rising waters thanks to those long legs.
Squadrons of Little Egrets croaked past them as they carried on hunting.

A distant Marsh Harrier over the outer marsh and plenty of Swallows moving through, with calling Greenshank somewhere in the creeks.
Marshside was super quiet, and I found myself watching the growing number of Teal in the channel in front of Sandgrounders (it was either that or the Migrant Hawkers).
Some were quite dapper despite the state of their plumage – others were very much a work in progress…

Still.

Still humid, but with a bit of drizzle early afternoon, and I wondered if it might bring something down, so called in at the marsh.
It was very quiet, apart from the Cattle Egret still happily living up to all its cultural stereotypes with the coos just under the Hesketh Rd platform.

I was thinking about what an engaging character it is as it strutted amongst the herd, until it grabbed hold of either a toad or frog (I suspect the former).
Whatever, the amphibian is pure egret energy now – although watching it gag the thing down was quite enough to put a chap off his afternoon Staropramen.

And did the egret really need to look quite so smug afterwards as its throat jiggled away to the still thrashing frog chorus????

Looking west, thinking east.

I squeezed an hour or two in at Cabin Hill this afternoon, dark, humid and grey, but despite that, it was not too bad for a west coast afternoon.
Three Whinchats alongside a family party of five Stonechat, Whitethroat, grotty, featureless juve Reed Buntings, and groups of Starlings, Goldfinch and Chaffinch were in the grazed corner field at the end of Range Lane.
All were frequently spooked by local Kestrels, which also sent a mixed flock of Swallows and House Martins into apoplexy.

Yesterday a meeting at the neighbouring Altcar Rifle Range produced a fine Short Eared Owl and stacks of Painted Ladies around the coastal thistles, so I was feeling autumnally inspired and ready for action today.

I was hoping to see a few Whinchats this afternoon – they’re pretty much guaranteed, but distant, at Cabin Hill in autumn, albeit in small numbers.
They remind me of the days when big counts were recorded on passage on our coast, and they were very much an indicator “carrier species”, rather than the target bird they are now.
The first scarce bird I found – a Wryneck – was lurking amongst 100+ plus Whinchats around 40 years ago (!!!) at Hightown as I left the area following a morning’s ringing with my uncle, Dave Low.
I remember bouncing along in his car and testing out my new Boots Pacer binoculars as we drove off site.
“Whinchat…Whinchat…Whinchat…Wryneck…Whinchat – woah!!!”
The Wryneck disappeared as soon as we stopped of course, dropping into the Sea Buckthorn, and it took a few hours before it was refound and any doubts over a youngster’s id call evaporated.

Whinchats used to breed at Hightown, but they, like my uncle, are long gone…
Chiffchaffs, Goldcrests and titmice were in the scrub at Cabin Hill today, and Phil Smith was heading off for some willowy business in the Devil’s Hole.
A Spotted Fly was sallying out from the wires by Range High School, but two afternoon walkers, loudly sharing their life experiences, spooked it before I could get close enough for a clear picture.

“Blah blah BLAH” – bye bye Spot Fly.