Long Tailed Duck

Sure to be popular with all the year listers tomorrow, the smiley Long Tailed Duck was still cheerfully bobbing and diving on the small boating lake at Crosby Coastal Park this afternoon.
Despite plenty of folk enjoying the oddly mild conditions, at times the youngster came phalarope close, as long as you kept low and quiet.
It seemed as happy as a clam.
I shot a bit of video of the first winter bird steaming about that you can watch on YouTube here. The video looked fine on the back of the camera, but not so hot now I’ve uploaded it, oh well – birding first, pictures second.

As is often the case with lingering Long Tailed Ducks at Crosby, it seems completely at ease with park life.
Five Turnstones were equally chilled and posing for portraits in the bright sun around the edge of the boating lake.

All the best for 2020 everyone, enjoy your birding and all the rest of it… see you next year.

Seasonal excess

Delighted to see the Redwings were still stuffing their faces with Cotoneaster berries at Dempsey Towers quicker than I can clear a tin of Quality Street.
The birds were there when we left for the east coast on Christmas Eve and were still stripping the branches today as we tried to reinstate a bit of normality to the tinselly routine having got home yesterday. Brilliant.

I’m no gardener, but this year the maturing Cotoneaster is finally absolutely covered in berries, and while I was hoping for something in the Waxwing line, Redwings will do just fine, even if they are so wary you have to watch, snap and film ’em through the window.

Peace and goodwill to all…

“When access allowed, do not touch any military debris, it may explode and kill you”.
Affirmative chief.
After a quick diversion to confirm the Long Eared Owl and Turtle Dove filled glory days are sadly behind Killingholme Haven (although wintering Avocets are a new one on me here), I left the car storage yards behind and drove south along the Lincolnshire Wolds to Donna Nook, in no mood to feel rueful.
The vast marsh and shore was grey and dreary, but quiet as military exercises appeared to be suspended for the festive season.
I’m all for Christmas ceasefires.
However the place was very busy with families enjoying the Grey Seal pups, which clearly scored high on the Xmas cute scale.

I walked away from the main viewing area and headed north past groups of Yellowhammer and Reed Buntings.
The well-marked Black Brant was distant, but fairly obvious amongst 2-300 dark-bellied Brents (look at the size of that neck collar), and it made a change searching through Brents as opposed to the Pinkies at home.
Presumably this is the bird that pitches up with its hybrid brood across the water at Spurn too?
I don’t remember the collar being as big on that one.
I snatched a long distance record shot in the murk, then walked on.
Peregrine and Merlin were perched up not too far out and parties of Twite bounced about.
Donna Nook is much like Taggs Island really, except with added explosives and Grey Seals.

The wintering flock of Snow Buntings were nowhere to be seen, which was a pain.
I suspect they had flown just down the coast and out of sight into an area without access, but I’m sure they’ll be back again.
As the light faded I scoped the GBBs gorging on the casualties from another successful Grey Seal breeding season.


Right off the map…

The Rough Legged Buzzard sailed across the road in the morning gloom showing off all its spiffing plumage features even before the car had come to a halt beneath the looming mass of Hatfield Colliery’s tip in South Yorks this morning.
Everyone needs a break from the satsumas and dead pine trees at this time of year, so I’d slipped away from the Outlaws on the east coast and motored north to have a look at the young Rough Leg because, well they’re such great birds.
This one was no exception, riding the wind above the colliery tip as if it was hunting over an arctic ridge, hovering frequently with such ease the local Kestrels looked jealous.
The buzzard often came pretty close. Rabbits were nervous.

It was a shame conditions were too dark to get any decent pictures, but it was hugely enjoyable to watch the bird on and off for a few hours as it drifted by, circled high over nearby birch scrub or perched up in the murky treetops.

Marsh Harrier, Whoopers, Common Buzzards, Sprawks, thrushes and Stock Doves passed the chilly summit of the tip too _ I bet the massif that dominates the landscape above Stainforth is good for vismig at the right time of year.
You can see my wobbly windy videos of the buzzard on You Tube here and here and almost make out plumage detail on the long-winged beauty…
Don’t laugh.
I was tempted by a foray into the nearby Hatfield Moors for an unreliable Great Grey Shrike, but given this vast peatland is marked by big “there be dragons here” signs and even hardened Yorkshire birders can only explain directions around the place in the most arcane way, I decided to give it a miss.
The site is reportedly larger than South America, with no discernable features and it is still represented by a big white space on most maps.
An as yet undiscovered indigenous people is rumoured to forage there, and when we visited to try for an “easy” Red Footed Falcon a year or so back we were lost in the interior for a month, with no supplies and certainly no Red Foots.
We narrowly escaped with our lives.

Heading back to the relatives for the afternoon I detoured to Far Ings, to check the reedbeds, hawthorn and lagoons in the shadow of the Humber Bridge.
The light had improved slightly and Marsh Harriers tilted over the reeds where noisy Cetti’s Warblers skulked and Water Rails squealed.
Goldeneyes were out on the water and after 20 minutes or so in the Ness End hide, a fine Bittern wandered out of cover to fish beneath me.
It was fascinating to watch as the bird held its bill under the water, presumably sensing vibrations before striking for prey.
I blatted some more ropey video, which you can see on You Tube here, here and here.

I know it’s not around for very long, but can anyone identify the fish it scoffs in the first clip?
Stay festive everyone….

Dressing a turkey

Now we all know that Baby J managed to feed the 5,000 in later life, but is that any reason for us all to try to emulate the feat during the festive season?
The supermarket was chaos.
It was like the final hours of the fall of Saigon, as life and death struggles played out over the Satsumas and wrapping paper.
We do not need all this stuff people.
Mercifully I had been sent for only two easily grab-able items and before you could say “consumerism gone mad” I was clear of the aisles, free as a bird and heading for Lunt Meadows.
The reserve was pleasingly quiet, with two Short Eared Owls already up and hunting over the grasslands to the south at 1.15pm, occasionally tussling and squabbling with a screaming Kestrel.

The Shorties ignored me as they sailed about, their big owlly faces locked on the rank vegetation below and frequently plunged into the grasses.
I enjoyed watching them for awhile before the site started to get a bit busier so I walked off north, where one, possibly two, Cetti’s Warblers were intermittently singing from the brambles that cloak the bank on the way up to the Pump Station Pool.
I even saw one, albeit briefly.
Another called just by the car park as I was pulling out and a third Short Eared Owl broke cover up past the Garganey Scrape.
Goldeneye, Tufties and Pochards dived on the lagoons amongst the dabblers, but I couldn’t see the recent Long Tailed Duck as I squelched around the reserve – more a reflection on me than the duck I suspect…

A few Redwings went through as the light faded away – there were 15 at Dempsey Towers today, but still only four Blackbirds, as the thrushes finally discovered our berry-laden Cotoneaster.
Wishing you all a great Christmas – thanks for still reading the blog.
I look forward to blogging with you all on the other side.
Ho ho ho….

How long does it take for a Purple Heron to eat its lunch?

Ken Morrison’s discovery of a Purple Heron at Marshside shortly before lunch was just the ticket today – I drove up the coast to find Ken all on his lonesome, admiring his find as it strutted about under the Sandplant car park looking totally prehistoric.
Presumably the bird that had been lurking over on the dark side at Eagland Hill until today, the heron strode about through the winter-bleached vegetation, oblivious to the growing twitch.

It stood motionless for long periods as herons do, a study in concentration, but it was super-snaky when it got its groove on.
The site’s Short Tailed Voles may disagree.
At least I think it was a Short Tailed Vole – lunch didn’t take very long to disappear down the heron’s gullet.
For the full appalling video, click here.
For those of a sensitive disposition, you may want to watch a short video of it strolling about here (not eating) instead.

Looking back through the pages of “The Birds of Marshside” the only other site record is of a bird in flight heading Crossens way in 1979 (Barry McCarthy found that one).
Excellent work today Ken, many thanks – time for some patch gold smiles!

Taking a breather

After all those high winds, heavy rain and sleet, it was hardly surprising this young male Scaup took time out for a doze on Southport Marine Lake today.
Conditions must have been decidedly unpleasant out in the swell in Liverpool Bay this week.
Clearly knackered, the duck snoozed right underneath the Lakeside Inn (I was outside the establishment, honest), just a few feet below the Prom, before steaming off to see if the local Mallards would betray a food source or two.

I’ve had a look at the lake a few times over the last week in case the weather brought anything in, but gull numbers remained stubbornly low (excluding the resident Med Gull of course) and the multiple Little Grebes (one or two starting to call today Dabchick fans) largely kept their distance.
I videoed the Scaup once or twice today as it was so close, (you can see the results here and here – don’t laugh), then left it noodling around under the Lakeside…

Weekend stubble

Went for a spin around the Withins this afternoon.
Overcast and calm enough to bring an owl out early, but it wasn’t to be.
Two Ravens were a treat though, calling and bouncing about on the deck.
I watched them for awhile in the fading light – they usually do something entertaining, but for once these two were quite well behaved and after conferring on the track for a few minutes they flew off in the direction of Maghull.
Great birds.
A young Merlin was looking fine too as it sat in the stubble, working out whether to stay put or have a go at one of several Starling flocks out there today.
Plenty of Common Buzzards too.

Apart from the usual poultry, the fields were disconcertingly quiet, even allowing for the fact it is December…

Diwrnod da iawn

Fleet as Mercury, the two Firecrests barely paused to catch breath as they zipped through the brambles and bare branches around the Bridge Pool at Conwy RSPB this morning.
It took me about 90 minutes in the raw cold to track the little gems down, but the search was pleasant enough with Goldcrest, Chiffchaffs, Treecreeper, six Bullfinch and two Siskin moving alongside the very, very tame Robins through the scrub at the reserve, while hidden Water Rails shrieked.

The Firecrests squabbled, darted about and hovered frequently around the pool (to be fair the Goldcrests at Conwy were doing Pallas’s impersonations too) in the murky morning conditions, but were oddly silent.
The blue skies and sun of the forecast for this neck of the woods had failed to materialise, so I delayed my planned seawatch and detoured up the Conwy Valley instead.
The village (residents asked that I did not publicise this well-known site!) was quite busy, with noisy farm machinery and flocks of wheeling Jackdaws, so it took half and hour or so to track down a single shy Hawfinch feeding in the tall trees above the marvellous medieval church, just up the road from Ye Olde Bull Inn (ahem).

I managed one or two ropey long distance pictures as the bird moved about quietly in the distant branches, almost silhouetted against the watery sky.
Shame about the light, but always a treat to see this species.

Plenty of Redwings in the village too, but it was time to return to the coast, and 20 minutes afterwards I pulled up at the eastern end of the Prom at Old Conwy, just before 1pm, more than an hour before high tide.
The scoter carpet was stretching right the way up to the “Rainbow Bridge”.
Two hours later I was still picking my way through the thousands of Common Scoter offshore in the poor light and choppy seas, when a big white nape smacked me in the eye and a drake Surf Scoter turned to reveal its full stunning black and white head pattern and swollen orangey yellow conk a few hundred metres offshore.
The Surf Scoter dived frequently and I lost it a few times, but managed to get at least other three birders onto the Yankee as it melted in and out of the scoter horde in front of the wind turbines offshore.
With the scope on 60x zoom, I got reasonable views of this wonderful seaduck – it has been a few years since I last saw one.

It’s actually in this picture, just beneath and to the left of the central turbine, but you’ll have to take my word for it, or go for super super zoom!
A single Slav Grebe, with numerous Great Crested Grebes and Red Throated Divers, a few Razorbills, two Fulmars and Red Breasted Mergs made the hunt for the Surfie easier.
Three for three – North Wales was on top form today.

A bit nippy

The Common Gulls began circling as if the eejit slowly freezing on the dunes was potential carrion.
I wasn’t, but a merciless northerly breeze that picked up during a seawatch at Ainsdale over the falling tide this afternoon really put an edge on proceedings.
Although not a large tide, the light was good so I ‘scoped out to the Lennox Rig from 1.30-3.45pm.
Later in the afternoon the sinking sun splashed white light onto the underwings of a few flyby scoters, which was diverting, but I was not lucky enough to pick a genuine Velvet out there today.
Small parties of Common Scoter were scattered right the way down the coast towards Formby, but all too distant to work through properly (situation normal).
A few Red Throated Divers and Great Crested Grebes dived amongst the black scotery blobs, although I probably missed others as many were dozing on the swell, huddled up against the cold.
Bird of the day had to be the winter plumage Great Northern Diver that tanked past and pitched down offshore in line with the yellow Zealandia marker buoy.
Good ‘scope views, but it kept on diving, heading farther out every time it surfaced, until my watering eyes lost it to the waves.
Not an annual bird for me on the coast by any means.

Ainsdale, 1/12/19, 1330-1545:

Common Scoter 4,000+
Red Breasted Merganser 1
Red Throated Diver 7
Great Northern Diver 1
Great Crested Grebe 11
Shelduck 3