Snatched hours

The stores still selling flowers were as Herring balls pillaged by Orcas, so I grabbed an hour or two before all the lovely Mother’s Day stuff this morning and took a stroll in the Local Nature Reserve at Birkdale.
I walked in from the Royal Birkdale side, with Chiffchaffs singing all the way along the trail, a Blackcap tuning up and Siskins, Redpoll, Goldcrests, titmice and Greater ‘Peckers zipping about.

A female Marsh Harrier came in off the sea at 10.30am as I enjoyed the panoramic view from one of the highest dunes (what a place to watch vismig!).
Beautiful blue skies saw local Sprawks and Buzzards up.
Walking back I came across a pair of Crossbills sitting quietly in the top of birch trees next to the Hillside Golf Course boundary fence.

Crossbills have been lingering in this area (or if they’re not there, check the areas around Gate 28 and 29 in the cattle enclosure fence, where I think they come down to drink in the narrow ditch, after all, it’s thirsty work chewing pine resin) for the last month at least, and with another 50 reported in the NNR a week or so back, it looks like a good spring for the big beezered ones.
Post breeding dispersal from the north?
Spring passage?
Or birds that maybe be settling on the coast again – last time they bred here in numbers they seemed to be significantly later nesting than ones further north, which are often found brooding in January with the Speyside snow dusting their backs….

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Small and far away #2

Towering above a 5p bit (just) the Early Sand Grass, or Mibora minima to give its grown-up name, was flowering away at its Southport HQ this afternoon.
I popped in to have a look following the annual tip-off from Phil Smith (ta Phil), after a quiet few hours at Marshside.

Nationally rare, and seriously small, it is yet another important species that occurs on the Sefton coast.
Always good to have a fall-back in the slowish bit between the first Wheatears, Chiffies and hirundines and the tsunami of superb migrants which will start pouring in over the next few days (hopefully).
Marshside was cool and largely overcast, with three Sand Martins over Fairclough’s Pool at Hesketh Road, singing Chiffchaff, Avocets and plummeting duck numbers.
The Buzzard and Sprawk were both up around the Hesketh Road platform, but the Sand Martins were moving away by the time I got my camera on ’em…

I drove up towards Crossens just in time to see the majority of the geese taking flight and heading far out onto the marsh in the wibbly wobbly haze.
Six Barnacle Geese remained with the stragglers and I had a Great White Egret over before I was lured away by the smallest grass in the world…

Sun goes in, sun comes out…

The mosses were predictably quiet this afternoon as a brisk, cold westerly ripped in off the Irish Sea, so I sought shelter at Haskayne Cutting.
A solar activated Chiffchaff broke into song whenever the sun broke through, but switched off as soon as the clouds rolled in again – one of many tuning up locally since midweek.

Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies were on the wing, but otherwise everything was going yellow in the cutting, with Marsh Marigold, Cowslip and Lesser Celandines bursting into flower.

On the exposed mosses about a thousand Pink Feet were in the air over Carr Moss to the north, and several Lapwing were sitting on Plex.
Three Fieldfare were lingering on Station Road not far from the cutting and a Grey Partridge scuttled across the track here.
Meanwhile Common Buzzards were enjoying the breeze, riding the gusts and calling away at Engine Lane and a few other spots.
Profoundly depressed to see two stretches of hawthorn hedgerow on Station Road and Plex Moss Lane covered in anti-bird netting today.
Clearly someone’s hermetic idea of a rural idyll doesn’t include wildlife.
Really????

The time and the place.

I got to Marshside an hour or two before high tide today and settled down at the end of the Sandplant as the waters crept in over the outer marsh.
It’s the right time and right place, so I wasn’t surprised to see my first two Wheatears of the year hanging around on the south side, as 30+ Skylarks and Mipits fed in the fenced off area.
Both Wheatears frequently flew up to perch on posts and lean into the strengthening south westerly breeze, allowing me to look down on them from the cover of the sandplant revetment…

Marvellous birds, wonderful to see them back, as a Chiffchaff sang in the scrub behind me.
I wasn’t expecting a female/first winter bird so early on though, usually I just see adult males in March, although I seem to remember females were moving early last year too…?
As the marsh disappeared one (or was that two?) Short Eared Owl took to the air, hunting briefly along the water’s edge before searching for drier ground to the north, and two Merlins zoomed about.
The air fizzed with clouds of waders, gulls and egrets – you can’t beat a big tide at Marshside.

Offshore two drakes and a duck Eider bobbed about on the swell, while the waters pushed thousands of geese off the outer marsh and onto Crossens Inner.

The ringed second summer Med Gull was off Sandgrounders, and one of the female Scaup and a Pochard was with Tufties on the Sandplant Lagoon.
The Spoonbill was hoovering through the Avocet carpet on the flashes behind Polly’s, and the two Barnacle Geese were still about.

The day began to drop cold as the tide receded, so I headed up to Crossens, where pipits and Pied Wags were feeding on the freshly exposed turf and on Crossens Inner the small Canada Goose was with thousands of Pink Feet and showing well, or at least it would have if I’d walked down the inner bank, but by then I was too cold, so ‘scoped the tease from the pull-in.

Feeling like the start of it all…

Top marks for this morning’s Goldcrest at the Sandplant (one of two or three birds) for singing away despite being a bit on the bedraggled side.
The tiny bundle of feathers was feeding and preening by the Sandplant entrance, while a Chiffchaff was moving up and down through the scrub, tail pumping and singing occasionally…

Marshside has been getting steadily more zingy over the last week or two – BHGs returning to the lagoon, Avocets squabbling all over the place, but the rising temperatures today (Peacock butterfly tottering about, several bees) and for a time, dense mist, meant good numbers of Meadow Pipits and Pied Wags were on the move too.
A few Redpoll buzzed overhead, but fortunately they were obscured by the mist.
I couldn’t see the Spoonbill behind Polly’s Pool either, but this wasn’t surprising as most of the time I couldn’t see Polly’s Pool.
Wheatear felt imminent, but wasn’t – anytime now though.

Life is a cabaret

I like a good storm as much as the next birder, perhaps more so, but I was relieved to see the wind had dropped this morning.
Yesterday it was still pretty breezy and at Marshside the Spoonbill, ringtail Hen Harrier, Avocets and two Barnacle Geese were all great value, with the former still bog-snorkelling along the ditches behind Polly’s and the ringtail coming pretty close to the Sandplant.
Much calmer today though, and with a week off, I walked into the Local Nature Reserve at Birkdale in near perpetual light rain.
It was quiet, but I did come across 2-3 Redpolls amongst the Siskins, Goldcrests and titmice.
At first I couldn’t get a good view of the birds as they had the watery grey light behind ’em.

All Redpolls deserve close inspection, even if they do make my head hurt, so I followed the loose feeding flock through the birches until the light was behind me and I could watch as they fed quietly on buds.

Clearly good, straightforward buffy cabaret Lesser Redpolls, it was all going swimmingly until I noticed the third bird seemed much paler and I had to try and remember all the confusing Redpoll stuff that you store away (or in my case, blot out) for a rainy day much like this one…

Small bill, small bib, paler, heavily streaked rump, whiter wing bars, white belly and vent with minimal streaking etc etc.
I needn’t have worried though, I wasn’t really in Mealy land, not by a long chalk.
The more I watched the bird, the more I realised it was a male cabaret, just a bit worn probably, which gave the initial paler impression, and this was exaggerated by the wet, watery light conditions.*

As the light softened the bird began to assume the buffier hues I was expecting and I relaxed.
All good clean fun.
* More than happy to hear other views though, if anyone fancies a spin round the ornithological padded cell that is Redpoll ID ….

Comedy Spoonbill

Arguably Spoonbill look daft enough to be going on with, but with a force 6-7 south westerly pushing it along, the Marshside bird was a sight to behold this afternoon.
With the storm force gusts up it, the Spoonbill fairly scooted along the marsh behind Polly’s Pool, tottering along like a roller skating stilt-walker.
Possibly the most frenetic Spoonbill ever – whether it wanted to be or not.
Sheltering in Sandgrounders Hide seemed the best bet, while the gale was strong enough to ground the big female Peregrine not far from Polly’s and keep most everything else down.

Avocets were blasted around south of Nels Hide, but smallish gull roosts at Hesketh Road and earlier, Weld Road, held nothing out of the ordinary that I could see.
I should have pushed up to Crossens, where Stuart Darbyshire watched two Little Gulls amongst the BHGs, but I was windblown enough and headed for home, as a Merlin scorched across the Municipal Golf Course into the wind and out onto the shore.

Siskins back.

My first Siskins of Spring dropped into the feeders at Dempsey Towers today – two males and a female.
A sure sign the seasons are changing when the March passage of these cracking little finches starts to exhibit itself through the back window.
Managed a few shots via the double glazing and billowing Saturday washing drying on the line…
Anyone else got them in their gardens?

Scratching my psychoterratica*

I needed an outdoor hit whatever the weather today, so popped over to Martin Mere in the drizzle.
Quiet, but pleasant enough, with plenty of Pochard, Ruff, Lapwings and about 80 Whoopers as I chatted with Andy Bunting at In Focus.

A busy flock of Fieldfare were rippling through the stubble in the field opposite the entrance, while further down the track the resident Tawny Owl was one soggy, scowling critter today…

Out on the Reedbed Walk I could hear Water Rails, but got not a sniff of the Bittern or Bearded Tits that may still be lingering here.
Andy’s Sand Martin sneaked past me too… ah well, good days, bad days.

*No, I’m not sure what it means either…