The Birds of Darbyshire.

Before you ask – yes, this pale blob is the best picture I could get of Stuart Darbyshire’s White Rumped Sandpiper at Banks Marsh today. It was MILES away!!!
But given the great man had achieved the not inconsiderable feat of finding three Yankees on the Ribble estuary over the last few days (the sandpiper, American Golden Plover and American Wigeon), the least I could do was go out and have a look for them once I got a free day.
Truly excellent work Stuart.
It was a glorious morning – Crossens Outer Marsh was stacked to the gunnels with waders over the high tide – Golden and Grey Plovers, Lapwings, Knot, Dunlin, Redshank – while three Marsh Harriers quartered the estuary further out and Whooper Swans winged in, calling in the crisp, cool air.
Mark Nightingale and Pete Kinsella were already scanning the spectacle as I arrived.
Nine Cattle Egrets flapped off towards Banks, and I followed them.
I paused to admire two Greenland Whitefronts in with Whoopers on the track down to Old Hollow, before ‘scoping the marsh for the next few hours.

The whitefronts dropped onto the marsh for a bathe before heading back out onto the fields with the swans, and Peregrine and Merlin were keeping everyone on their toes.
Up to 30 Fieldfares were around the farm, and 19-20 Twite wheezed in to perch on the fenceline.

The sandpiper kept a low profile for an hour or two before finally popping up in the company of a Dunlin almost at the back of the splashes.
The bird was so far away I used Blackpool Tower as a marker to get folk onto it.
Serious peep pain.
It seemed a bit smaller than the Dunlin, but would have been impossible without good light and the ‘scope on full zoom.
Mercifully the bird flicked across a channel twice while feeding, showing off its white arse, and while I strained my eyes to follow it, occasionally I could just make out its shorter bill, and more attentuated appearance.
Just.
A shame it didn’t come closer – it has behaved better at other times apparently.
A flock of 12 seedy-looking Egyptian Geese here were a surreal surprise – how long have they been around???

They kept their distance, loafing about near a herd of Canadas for most of the session.
Shady, but it’s the first time I can remember seeing this species on the estuary.
Two Great White Egrets, five Goosander and two more Marsh Harriers added to this most agreeable scene.
The birds are often distant at Banks, but there is always plenty to see…

Wary

Small numbers of Redwings were sighing and circling around Ainsdale this morning, and with birds heading north, south and west it had the feel of a classic thrush overshoot.
So I was surprised when I didn’t pick any more up along the coast in the bright sunshine – Skylarks and finches moving, but no thrushes.
Marshside was a bit nippy, but the hard light that often accompanies a northerly wind, revealed a few dozing Golden Plover on Crossens Outer, amongst the Wigeon, Teal and Lapwing.
I called into Martin Mere to pick up a copy of the Lancs Bird Report and say howdy to Andy at In Focus, but the hides were frankly quite noisy and I didn’t stay long.
Plenty of Pinkies about though, Marsh Harriers and at least three shivering Avocets.

A detour to Haskayne Cutting was just what the doctor ordered – at least 15 Redwings, 10+ Fieldfare, 2 Song Thrushes and 10+ Blackbirds were gorging on hawthorn berries as they do, but the wintering thrushes were remarkably skittish.
Up to 12 Corn Buntings and two Yellowhammers watched me from the overhead wires as I tried to get close to the migrants, but in the end the best strategy was to hunker down and let the birds come to me.
More Fieldfares and Redwings were swooping in over the fields from the east.
Goldcrests and Robins made the wait a whole lot easier, and huge skeins of Pinks appeared to be dropping onto Carr Moss to the north.

Getting close to these nervous birds is always a privilege of course.
Back at Dempsey Towers, Redwings began sweeping into the trees to roost in the late afternoon, so I guess that’s probably where the birds had come from first thing too…

On call

After yesterday morning’s fluke Hawfinch heading south over Ainsdale Discovery Centre (great bird), I was anxious to get a bit of time out on the dunes at lunchtime and see what else I could pick up on call – it is autumn after all.
Earlier, Stonechats were as inquisitive as ever at Hightown, while Chaffinches, Skylarks, Mipits and Blackbirds were heading through (hiya Adrian).

Up at Ainsdale a Sprawk was spooking the flocks of Goldfinches in the frontals, and a young Swallow was perched up on the wires next to the office in the showery conditions – the first one I’ve seen around here in a while.
Fortified by a packet of pickled onion Space Invaders and two ginger biscuits (the lunch of champions) I took a stroll round Sands Lake in the drizzle, but it was quiet bar feeding flocks of Long Tailed Tits with a Goldcrest or two.
At the waterside, two Little Egrets were resting in the Sea Buckthorn, Hazel and Alders. They looked most comfortable.

I know it’s the wrong season, but the habitat isn’t that different from the Marine Lake roost and nest site and about the same height – so you never know next year…

Advertising standards

Finally got completely hacked off with the constant adverts for dodgy financial schemes, holidays or weight-loss campaigns (what are they trying to say??? everyone knows Satterthwaites count as one of your “five-a-day”) obliterating the blog.
The more people read the thing the more feckin’ adverts pop up.
Thanks though to the 70,000+ of you around the globe who visit (it would be nice to hear from one or two of you occasionally), but it’s time to upgrade – so no more ads!
I’ll play around a bit with new design templates a bit over the next few weeks too (let me know what you think) – a dozing Common Nighthawk is certainly easier on the eye than that old image of me up on the Norwegian fjells as a header for starters.
Birding wise the bump back to reality is always a tough one after a great few weeks bouncing around the autumn, and strolls in the dunes have provided little other than Chiffchaffs, Goldcrests and titmice flocks – but you’ve gotta keep looking and walking.
Skylarks and Mipits are heading south in a light but steady passage most mornings at Ainsdale, with the odd Grey Wag thrown in.

Recent heavy rain hasn’t changed the dune water table that much, but it did force this young Sprawk to hunt on the deck at Dempsey Towers on Sunday – running about on long knitting-needle legs before it saw me and flew up to perch and scowl in the rain…

Thanks for hanging around

Detoured from fuelling up this morning for a quick look at John Wright’s excellent Kentish Plover at Southport Beach.
Given it has been 27 years since I last saw one in Lancs up at Rossall Point, and that this one has politely stayed put since the weekend while I gallivanted all over the country, I figured going to say “howdy” was the least I could do.

The Kentish was roosting with about 50 Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Grey Plover at the edge of the vegetation just off the main beach slipway, largely dozing and hunkering down in the teeth of the strong winds and squalls.

At about 10.25am they all flew off to feed to the south out on the shore between Pleasureland roundabout and Weld Road, but I’m sure it returned to the roosting area later on…
Nice bird.

Common Nighthawk, Antrim: Completely off the reservation

The strong black current of the River Maine swept rapidly past us in the half-light just before day-break, flecked by white waves and the occasional splash of a surfacing Salmon clocking on for another Tuesday in Antrim.
The gloom meant mercifully we couldn’t see what we were standing in, but Neill Hunt, Dan Pointon and I were certainly glad we had our wellies on as we squelched through the fields.
Suddenly just before 7am, I heard Dan shout further down the bank – and within seconds the stunning Common Nighthawk was whizzing past us, powering along over the fast water, or hitching and turning in the air, part giant Dot Moth, part Arctic Skua and part Leach’s Petrel.
An incredible bird, the huge white wing patches shone out in the gloom, and as the light improved we could see its forked tail, long pointed wings, paler striped belly, dark scarf and white throat as it made pass after pass along the river and over the fields.

Twice it came in so close you could almost touch it, once the bird passed between us as we stood open-mouthed on the bank.
The tranquility of the setting, the grace of the hunting Nighthawk, and the fact there was only three of us (rising to four when Josh Jones, who’d done so much to pin this bird down the day before, joined us) made it just a magical few minutes.
As suddenly as it appeared, the mega-Yankee was gone, off to roost at about 7.20am.
Time to reflect on the journey over from Spurn on Monday night via the 3.45am Stranraer-Belfast ferry, where Neill and I met up with Dan, passing the time expanding our vocabularies as different generations do when sacrificing two nights sleep for a mega rarity.
As far as I can remember modern definitions have changed about a bit – “druid” means absolute shower and “rancid” means well, rancid; but I’m afraid I’ve forgotten what “morbid” means.
No problem, Dan is writing us a list, so we can keep down with the kids, if indeed “down” is where they still go.
We docked in Belfast at 6am on Tuesday and hit the M2.
The bridge over the River Maine at Corbally Road in Galgorm near Ballymena was only about a 30 minute drive out of Belfast and as the day got lighter, the long haul was completely vindicated.

Big smiles on Neill’s selfie said it all – the bird had gone for a nap by full light, but those 20 minutes or so were one hell of a close encounter…
For the next hour or two we wandered about looking for the bird’s roost site, as Hooded Crows and Grey Wags moved along the river and Irish Coal Tits zipped between the trees.
What happened next is well-documented elsewhere as just before 11am, Neill suddenly turned and started waving at us, understandably wide-eyed as the Nighthawk was roosting out in the open about 20 feet from him on a single branch in front of a large woodpile we’d checked several times that morning!!!

By now twitch numbers had swelled to at least six people and four horses, as we crawled through the horse manure to watch the Nighthawk at point-blank range while it snoozed in the morning sun…

Hardly daring to breathe, the Nighthawk ignored us as I pressed the “record crap video” button on my P900.
You can see the results here.
I’m sorry to report however that the horses displayed a complete absence of fieldcraft, narrowly missing prostrate birders as they cantered about as if they owned the place.
They pee-ed on discarded bags, coats and ‘scopes and finally and most unforgivably, trotted past us up to the woodpile and walked OVER the Nighthawk, which remarkably stayed put until one of ’em (the black one in case anyone wants a word) kicked the branch and the bird took to the air, gliding past us on long wings to land in a Sycamore 50 feet away.

It moved like a huge gliding and flickering Leach’s Petrel, a fluid motion in flight, deliberate but fast, covering the distance to the tree in just a few seconds.

And that’s where it stayed till the early afternoon at least, dozing in the shade, aloof above the growing numbers of birders beneath it.
What a beast.
We headed back to catch the 3.30pm boat back to Stranraer, via an hour or so of noodling around Carrickfergus, where Black Guillemots and Eiders were close inshore and the huge “Samson and Goliath” cranes of the Harland and Wolff shipyards towered over the other side of the bay.

Sailing back into Scotland past the hulk of Ailsa Craig, as Gannets, Kittiwakes and auks whizzed around the boat before we docked at 6pm, we said cheerio to Dan, then drove back to Spurn with Neill at the wheel, pulling into Kilnsea again by 11.30pm on Tuesday night.
Some detour from Beacon Lane.
It had however, been a completely “morbid” day.
I think. Maybe not.
I’ll have to check with Dan.

Playing by Kilnsea rules

A wonderful five days birding (mostly) at Spurn, where it is easy to slip into the rhythm of Kilnsea life, reminded me of a few home truths from arguably the best place on the British mainland for birding.
Firstly it is simply not possible to pop into the splendid Crown and Anchor for “just the one”.
It is important to remember this when planning your day, but “I need to use the Wifi” is as good an excuse for calling in as any.
Also whenever feasible, try to speak in as gravelly a voice as you can (gargling with coal may help), as this will make folk think you are from Yorkshire.
Growling “Thy’s a ****” (insert expletive of your choice, the saltier the better) appears to be a normal greeting too that may also make others believe you are from the land beyond Lancashire’s eastern border.
And never miss an opportunity to plug the excellent work of Spurn Bird Observatory, the reason why most people are there.
I drove over on Saturday afternoon before the weather got colder, although south easterlies had been blowing for a day or two.
As usual Neill Hunt kindly put me up at the Hunt Hacienda at Sandy Beaches – thanks as ever my friend.

A Snow Bunting was at the top of Beacon Lane just above the beach when I arrived, and a presumed Eastern Lesser Whitethroat (Blythi) was scoffing hawthorn berries at point blank range by the path.

Nearer to the Bluebell tired Redwings, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Goldcrests, Chiffchaffs, Robins and Bramblings were also stuffing their faces after making the journey across the North Sea.

After a few liveners in the Crown and Anchor on Saturday night, Sunday dawned wet and windy, with pretty much constant rain for the most of the day and a good south easterly.
Conditions had obviously brought in more birds, with many commoner migrants – thrushes, Robins, Goldcrests – interspersed with smaller numbers of Yellow Browed Warblers (I thin I had four different birds today), a Short Eared Owl and fine Ring Ouzels dropping in through the rain.

Drenched having checked Beacon Lane, Kilnsea and the Triangle, we called into the Canal Scrape Hide to see if there were any Jack Snipe about (two were bobbing away in the reeds), and as we sat down another birder picked up a gorgeous Little Bunting as it dropped down right in front of us to feed in the cleared area in front of the reeds on the left!
We got superb views of the bunting before it shuffled back into the taller reeds and out of sight, a great wee bird…

Fans of awful video clips will be delighted to know I got a few seconds of footage of it in the wind and rain and you lucky people can watch it here. Sorry.
Moments later a Siberian Stonechat pitched up down by the Crown and Anchor (fancy that…) and Tim Vaughan kindly gave us a lift down to watch the sprite as it was buffeted about by the wind and rain, but still gamely perched up on fenceposts.

Classic Spurn.
It seemed the best thing to do was retire to the hostelry to dry out and while we did this the Obs team managed to trap the chat.
All the ringing, weighing and measuring jiggerypokery gave us just enough time for a couple of beers then we sauntered down to Church Field to admire the bird before its release…

We checked the Crown car park, where a greyish Chiffy may have been a Siberian, but didn’t call (and it was way back in the shadows anyway), Yellow Browed Warblers and Goldcrests scooted through the branches, and watery beams of rare late afternoon sun set a Redstart ablaze.

It being music night at the Crown, our presence was only polite.
Monday dawned mercifully drier, with an easterly and cloud, more common migrants, Yellow Browed Warbler, Siskin and Redstarts.
The Obs team trapped a Kingfisher, that seemed to think it was a Wryneck in the hand, slowly turning its head and fluffing up its nape feathers…colourful, but a bit weird.

As we pondered the behaviour, the radios crackled to announce a probable Olive Backed Pipit was flying up the peninsula, and within a few seconds it was circling above our heads before it swung back south – you can hear the alert on my weird Kingfisher video here.
Rain swept back in early and after walking along the bank we sheltered in the Canal Scrape hide again, where another bouncy Jack Snipe was doing its thing and three or four Bearded Tits (a group had arrived earlier in the week) pinged through over the Phragmites.
We drove down to Easington. Here a Red Breasted Fly played hard to get behind the White Horse and Yellow Browed Warblers, Chiffchaffs and ‘crests called in the Sycamores.

After that things got a bit strange, as we had to pop over to Northern Ireland on Monday night (Nighthawk related hi-jinks on a subsequent post) – it could have been worse, the original plan was to strike out Fetlar to try for the Rufous Tailed Robin, but mercifully it didn’t stick (they never do).
Hundreds of miles, ferry crossings, bad “Nrn-Iron” impersonations and a great big tickety tick later, Neill and I got got back into Kilnsea just before midnight last night.
Groggy we emerged into a south westerly and blue skies this morning, and stacks of birds heading through Spurn – Redwings, Meadow Pipits, Swallows, House Martins, finches, Skylarks etc etc.
Marvellous.
A Yellow Browed Warbler lurked amongst the Chiffies and ‘crests in the Willows at Sykes’ Field and a Redstart zipped about nearby as squadrons of Redwings sighed above us.

With a lunchtime dart home planned, Spurn had one last treat for us, when two Common Cranes came powering down from the north, calling as they went over our heads.
The big galoots turned back north again in blue skies once they’d seen the sea spreading out at the end of the point ahead of them.

Superb to them and everyone else at Spurn again.
Thanks to Neill for putting me up and being his usual self in the field…time to get some shut-eye, then chimp 200 Nighthawk pictures and videos…

Following the fenceline

You simply shouldn’t pass up any chance to get out in autumn; I squeezed 40 minutes around the Ainsdale LNR south of Shore Road at lunchtime, where the rank vegetation of summer made it hard going moving about in autumn.
I wasn’t the only one following the fenceline though, with one of the resident Common Buzzards keeping a close eye on the clearer areas.

True it can be hard going in the dunes – birds are often few and far between in there in the autumn, although the early return of the big girls (their usual grazing areas have flooded out, so 13 Red Polls are back on site already) may open up a few areas.

They’ve certainly left a prodigious amount of poop about since they returned on Tuesday.
A typical walk today revealed a few flocks of titmice, two calling Chiffchaffs, four Goldcrests, a superblue Stock Dove, a handful of Meadow Pipits and a fine male Peregrine ripping south over the dunes.
Two young Swallows moved south, but they were the only hirundines I saw.
A few hundred yards to the south of here, Andy Spottiswood picked up a Yellow Browed Warbler on the National Nature Reserve this morning – the very least his efforts deserve given the hours he diligently puts in on site.