Show-offs and skulkers

Relatively quiet during my constitutional around the dune system south of Shore Road at Ainsdale today, but not without frustrations.
A harrier species drifted north east, high and tantalisingly distant at 1235, but it just wasn’t “bouncy” enough to press the panic button.
As the bird turned against the grey cloudbase it lacked the elasticity in the wingbeats to make me suspect it was anything other than a Hen Harrier, which would have been spiffing of course, but it was just too far away to ID and I let it go.
Win some, lose some.
The Lesser Whitethroat was still in its favoured hawthorn, but remained typically elusive, and largely silent, rattling only twice and manifesting as a fleeting shadow in the branches at best.
A Tree Pipit buzzed north and six Swallows were backed up by two Sand Martins (the House Martins finally returned to prospect last year’s nest sites at the Green Sefton depot earlier today).

Two Sedge Warblers had become a whole lot more vocal too, with one squawking away from the top of a Sea Buckthorn bush as showy as any Whitethroat, and there are plenty of them on territory now.

Ainsdale LNR (south) 1230-1330:
Lesser Whitethroat 1; Whitethroat 8; Willow Warbler 4; Sedge Warbler 2; Swallow 6; Sand Martin 2; Tree Pipit 1; harrier sp 1; Common Buzzard 3; Kestrel 2.

Back again

Visible only really when she was hurtling about over the dune ridges, with a train of freaked out Mipits in hot pursuit, the Cuckoo was stealth personified once she dropped into the scrub.
Not surprising given what she (presumably a female given her silent and furtive behaviour) was up to.
Dive-bombing Meadow Pipits were the only thing that gave her away as she moved about deep in cover, looking for nests as I enjoyed my lunchtime circuit at Ainsdale today.
Andy Spottiswood had seen one earlier in the day in the same general area, so presumably she was still on the hunt for suitable nests to target when I made it out later on.
The closest I got to the Cuckoo was a grey blurry shape deep in the willows, but she was away again before I got near her, showing best as she zoomed over ridges and out of sight.

You can just make out the grey outline in the branches in the pic above.
Just. If you squint hard.
A few other bits and bobs about, not least a Lesser Whitethroat that rattled occasionally deep within the Sea Buckthorn, but was generally even more elusive than the Cuckoo, affording me only fleeting views.
Not bad for a lunchbreak though…

Ainsdale LNR (south) 1230-1350:
Willow Warbler 3; Whitethroat 7; Cuckoo 1; Lesser Whitethroat 1; Gropper 1; Linnet 9; Swallow 3; Wheatear 2 (plus usual resident species).

Stuck in the middle…

Earworms, by their nature, are terribly annoying, especially when you can’t quite remember the words, then suddenly they parachute into your brain as stark as the infinite fields filling your binolikars:

Dotterels to the north of me,
Dotterels to the west,
Stuck in the middle with you

Ah, that was it.
No joy today, but it would be unfair to say Plex wasn’t on good form.
Before the lycra-clad horde began Wigginsing down the tracks, and after the wind dropped out of Hannah’s sails, the air was filled with the classic mossland soundtrack of Skylark, Lapwing and Corn Bunting, and nothing else.
Magical for a few minutes at least.

Although distant, four glowing Yellow Wagtails rather stood out against the black Lancashire earth, as did a single ghostly White Wag accompanying ’em.
Nine Wheatear, four Whimbrel, nine Whitethroat, two Yellowhammers, two House Martins and 22 Swallows kept the spring vibe going.
Where fields have greened over already, Buzzards ran about grabbing invertebrates.

At Haskayne Cutting impossibly coloured Orange-Tips were gorging on Cuckooflowers and Marsh Cinquefoil was out by the waterside.
So no sign of the target (they are a precious, tightly clasped memory these days), but the backing track is still great.

Set in their ways

Third week of April, North Moss Lane behind Freshfield, there will be Whimbrels. And long may this spring tradition continue.
You can set your watch by the bendy bills, so when Mike Stocker messaged he had more than 50 there on Monday, it was great news, if only to be expected in the context of the spring timetable.
If only all springtime wader targets on the mosslands were as predictable – with Storm Hannah (I thought we’d had one of those already?) lashing the coast, and no decent tide at a civilised time in our area for a seawatch, I spent a few hours checking suitable fields for Dotterel.
The strong winds and downpours have been potentially perfect for grounding this most enigmatic of migrants, but sadly their visits seem to be getting scarcer every spring.
Sure, you can go to Pendle or Great Orme for them (I may well be tempted this year), but there’s nothing like finding your own on the mosses.
Just a shame I haven’t managed it for years!
Anyway, after a fruitless check in the showers and gale-force gusts I swung by North Moss Lane, where 74 Whimbrels (and a Curlew) were in the first bare field on the left, set in their ways and looking good.

The more sensible ones were hunkered down, sheltering from the weather, but a few groups were still feeding away.
The humbug-heads come quite close to the lane, assuming you have the patience to sit awhile and the common sense to stay in the car – get out and they’ll just scarper to the back of this very big field…
Even keeping a low profile, Whimbrels are very wary, and these birds are no exception, walking quickly away whenever they got close enough to see me in the wheels.

Off peak ticket

No apologies for blogging yet more pictures of His Royal Peachiness… when the wind brings you Whinchats, the very least you can do is enjoy the pants off ’em!
Stunning birds.
That said, back in the lunchtime routine in the dunes south of Shore Road at Ainsdale this week, and the briefer visits later in the day are certainly a different kettle of fish.
Or chats.
Far less activity, although tonight’s heavy rain may have grounded some stuff hopefully – who’s checking the mosses for the “D-bird” tomorrow???

A good break from the desk each day though, and any encounter with a Whinchat is to be savoured.

23.4.19, 1245-1345:
Willow Warbler 6, Whitethroat 9, Gropper 1, Sedge Warbler 1, Wheatear 1, Stonechat 1, alba wag 2, Swallow 3, Little Egret 1 (plus Buzzard, Kestrel, Mipits etc).

24.4.19, 1245-1345:
Whitethroat 7, Willow Warbler 9, Sedge Warbler 1, Gropper 2, Whinchat 1, Redpoll 1, Wheatear 2, Skylark 3 (plus Buzzard, Kestrel, Linnet, Mipits, Greenfinch etc).

Doubt I’ll escape the green coalface for a day or two now, so don’t forget to let me know what you see….many thanks.


Today started auspiciously enough with a fine calling Yellow Wagtail heading south over Ainsdale Discovery Centre as I parked up at 0720, glowing in the early morning light, before it disappeared over the dunes.
Despite the continuing blue skies a slightly stronger and cooler easterly was blowing over the site before the mercury rocketed.
Good numbers of finches were on the move – from 0730 to 1130 I had plenty of parties of Redpolls buzzing through, sometimes one or two birds, sometimes up to seven, with four groups of Siskins.
Two Tree Pipits joined the morning Mipitry, and a calling Crossbill circled over the sheep enclosure.
Warbler-wise things were constant, although a closer look at a male Whinchat near Ainsdale Discovery Centre on the way out revealed it to be a different bird from Friday’s (today’s individual had a white flash beneath the lores, which the earlier bird lacked…)

Still a cracker though.
Otherwise today’s totals around my circuit south of the ADC were as follows:
Yellow Wagtail 1 south; Redpoll 33; Whitethroat 10; Tree Pipit 2; Willow Warbler 18 singing; Wheatear 6; Gropper 2; Siskin 8-12; Swallow 9; Sand Martin 3; Crossbill 1; Stock Dove 1; Blackcap 2; Whinchat 1 male; Sedge Warbler 2.
Plus the regulars…I wonder what’ll turn up next.
Feel free to share what you’re seeing too via the comments thingy…

Life imitating art

The Willow Warblometer was off the scale this morning in the dunes at Ainsdale as the song of one bird after another cascaded over each other and at times made it hard to hear other calls.
At least 30 on my circuit south of the discovery centre.
Clearly a further arrival of common migrants had taken place as I wandered in at 0745 with the dunes to myself.

Four Groppers now, a Sedge Warbler, two Blackcap, two Chiffchaff, seven Whitethroat, six Wheatear and a steady, if small passage of buzzing Redpolls and one or two Siskins scrawled into the notebook as I settled into my favourite “sitting” dune.
(Oh come on – when you hit the sand before 8am on a hot day, you deserve a few naps along the trail…)
As soon as I had my back turned a typically sneaky male Ring Ouzel swept over my shoulder, all powerful flight and frosty wings, before bombing into birch scrub about 200 metres north of the LNR sheep enclosure.
It perched up briefly to flip me the finger before disappearing into cover.
As they do.
Still got one “magic eye” blur record shot before it evaporated though…

The Rouzel alone justified getting out of my pit as I headed to my next snoozing dune, I mean observation point, in the LNR sheep enclosure.
The Willow Warbler chorus was peaking at about 9am, when a female Redstart appeared in the scrub, flashed her orangey tail, then moved on.
Up to 10 Common Buzzards kettled above the dunes as the temperature started to rise, but hirundine movement was at a trickle – presumably they were high, high up in the blue.
To the south, Lapwing and Shelduck were on territory and corvids were targetting the BHG colony.
It got a bit quiet after that while I gave the scrub and open dunes a good checking.
As I headed out I bumped into a peachy male Whinchat, which seemed to be hanging out with a female Wheatear when not getting serious hassle from two local male Stonechats.

Whenever the bird settled the Stonechats chased it, and it took about 45 minutes before they left it be.
After that the Whinchat flew up into a flowering gorse and had a bit of a sing-song in between flycatching.
And that’s were the “life imitating art” thing comes in, ‘cos a few weeks ago I cleared out my mum’s attic, shredding and recycling all manner of junk from my early years.
I did however hold onto a single “Wild Birds In Britain” Brooke Bond Tea card from I don’t know when (but the picture card album is advertised as available “from your grocer” for the princely sum of 6d).

Not sure why I kept it until this morning, as I’ve never seen a Whinchat sitting up in gorse before and Mr Charles Tunnicliffe* had made the scene look so darn attractive to a young birder a very long time ago… almost SNAP!

*If anyone is still collecting the series (!), the Whinchat is No. 11 of 50… Over to Mr Cholmondley-Warner on the back of the card:

“The spritely Whinchat is a summer visitor to Britain, appearing about mid-April and leaving us again in September or early October to winter in tropical Africa. It is a haunter of heaths and rough lands, and is often seen on pastures and in railway cuttings as it hunts for beetles, wireworms, flies and other insects. The nest is placed close to the ground, in low herbage or low shrubs. It is loosely constructed of dry grass and moss and is lined with hair and fine fibres. Only the hen builds the nest while the male accompanies her”.


Best came last.

After four hours walking the dunes from 7.30am, it was Les Brown’s discovery of a charming male Pied Flycatcher in Hesketh Park that was bird of the day – an obliging stunner.
I only got to it by mid-afternoon, when it sang briefly, but so quietly I could barely hear it above the Chaffinches, Nuthatches, Willow Warblers and Southport background drone.
The flycatcher was typically hyperactive, zipping around the canopy in the south east corner of the park.

My earlier walk into the dunes south of Shore Road was pretty good too – rising temperatures after mist, new Whitethroats in, the Gropper still reeling and a wonderfully bizarre fly-through Bar Headed Goose, heading north, which I assume was the Marshside escapee on a day-trip.
Slowly covering my usual circuit from Ainsdale Discovery Centre to the sheep enclosure and back from 0730 -1130 I had:
Willow Warbler 15, Whitethroat 3, Grasshopper Warbler 1, Whimbrel 1, Wheatear 4, Swallow 20+, Sand Martin 50+, Redpoll 5, Chiffchaff 1, Peregrine 1, plus the usual resident Blackbirds, Mipits, Lapwing and ignominious Bar Headed Goose.
It was a fine morning to be out, with groups of Sand Martins pushing through and Whitethroats tuning up – I’d forgotten how compulsive this patch mullarkey can be, even when the St Mark’s Flies start ganging up on you.

Not to be left out, I had a quick look at Plex in the afternoon, but apart from Orange-Tips and Cowslips in the newly shorn Haskayne Cutting, hirundines firmly back on territory around farm buildings and jangly Corn Bunts, it was pretty quiet, and the lure of the Pied Fly in town was just too strong.
Back home at Dempsey Towers now and a pair of Siskin are on the feeders and a Willow Warbler has joined the singing Chiffchaff in the tall trees down the bottom.

Ah, there you are…

Paint me pink and call me sunburnt, but it was warm and sunny in the dunes at lunchtime as I completed my constitutional.
This is of course not a good thing if you are a Natterjack watching spawning pools evaporating faster than a Swallow racing up the coast, but it did prompt my first Grasshopper Warbler of the year into “song” as I walked south from Ainsdale Discovery Centre.
I got fleeting glimpses as it reeled from Sea Buckthorn and briars, but lunchtime was perhaps a bit late in the day to hope for the Gropper to sit out in the open (early doors will be better).
Despite the light winds and all-round clement conditions the dunes were surprisingly quiet – I saw no Wheatears today following yesterday’s mass arrival, Mipit and hirundine passage was light, if steady, and there were fewer Willow Warblers singing on my circuit, perhaps no more than eight.
I paused to watch one, when suddenly a vision in powder blue, black and orange caught my eye – a male Redstart darted out of the birch scrub in front of me, pitched down on the sheep-cropped turf, snatched an invert, then whizzed back into cover again.
Never saw it again, as is often the way with this species in spring, but I bet it was eyeing me from the deep, dark cover of the branches.
I sought consolation in the singing Willow Warbler, which after the dazzling Redstart, I’m ashamed to say looked decidedly plain.

One day, all lunchbreaks will be made this way….

The Wheatear Tree.

The weather was a whole lot more promising this morning with a “new” Chiffchaff singing, crisp and fresh, by the office at Ainsdale and what looked like a male Greenland Wheatear on the roof of the discovery centre first thing.
After the brutality of the cold easterlies and blue skies of the last few days the warmth and cloud was reassuring and gave way to drizzle – even better as I headed out for my lunchtime circuit into the dunes.

The rain grounded plenty of Wheatears, with six memorably perching together in one exposed Sea Buckthorn on a ridge (I’ll get to you next winter…) and up to 10 in the immediate area.
Is a bird in the hand worth six in the bush???
Now 12 singing Willow Warblers, although I was surprised the rain hadn’t brought down more – I was hoping for a Gropper or a few Whitethroats at least, but tomorrow is another day…
The two pairs of Blackbirds were still skulking around the sheep enclosure, with the male occasionally singing – always a lovely sound in the spring rain – and swallows zinged through.
Smaller, but just as cool, most of the tiny spring annuals grace the dunes now from Hairy Bittercress and Early Forget Me Not to Spring Vetch (time to dig out the 5p bit again….)