A futile search for leeward

Plex Moss was flattened by the strengthening winds of Storm Jorge, as it gathered in intensity from the south west this afternoon. Nice and sunny though.
It was one of those frustrating afternoons, with 5,000 plus Pink Feet in the fields between Plex and Carr Moss, just too far away to work through, and obscured by the bone brittle stands of large year’s Maize stalks.
In the high winds the geese were all keeping their heads low and largely tucked under their wings – a Pinkie with its head up was rarer this afternoon than anti-bacterial hand gel on the supermarket shelves (shopping trips are always best diluted by birding).
The Pinks were flushed at one point by a farm vehicle heading out to survey the flooded fields and the geese drifted over me, before tumbling back onto the distant fields – like everyone else I wonder if the Norfolk Lesser White-Front may be lurking amongst these early spring flocks (you never know…), but they’ll have to be a heck of a lot closer than this to work through.
In the crisp air I vidded ’em for a few seconds as they were blown over the wheels (short YouTube vid here).
In the distance at least 100 Whoopers appeared to be further out on Carr Moss.
Up to 60 Fieldfare were still in the sprout field opposite Plex Brow Farm, but keeping a low profile.
Buzzards and a Sprawk were grounded by the gathering gale too, but many corvids, Stock Dove and Common Gull were still active.
Don’t forget to let me know what you’re seeing on the “Comments” thingy, assuming you’re as daft as me heading out on yet another day of high winds.


The poor old drake Common Scoter was having a hard time of it on Southport Marine Lake when I called in today.
It had drifted up to the north end for a wash and brush up, but every time it got into preening a young GBB went for it, lumbering in like a Lancaster bomber and causing the scoter to crash dive beneath the icy water.
I doubt the brute would ever get close to the scoter – I’ve watched windblown birds repeatedly evade out of control dogs in the shallowest of channels and pools on Ainsdale beach before the mutts were brought under control, so a clumsy young GBB probably wouldn’t succeed, especially in the continuing stormy conditions.
Repeatedly plunging into the cold grey water, which was frequently pebble-dashed by hail and sleet, looked no fun at all for the scoter though.
A few Goldeneye at the top of the lake too.

Two brief seawatches at Ainsdale have been particularly unpleasant off Ainsdale this week, unless horrific windchill, icy showers and sandblasting to flense the skin off your face are your thing, in which case, knock yourself out.
A few hundred Common Scoters out there, but they were largely hidden by the swell, and Sands Lake has been quiet apart from the usual Tufties, Gadwall, Shoveler and Mallard.

Thanks then to Chris Tynan for sending me the recovery above, of a colour-ringed Med Gull he has been watching at his patch on Stadt Moers Country Park (it’s at the Huyton end of the M57).
Ringed as a pullus in Leipzig, Saxony, in 2017, it has mooched around North Westphalia and Warwickshire before rocking up at Stadt Moers for Chris this month.
Same area of Germany that Knowsley/Huyton is twinned with – nice one Chris.

Occasionally it goes to plan

With the rain sluicing off the windows and the wind still blowing fit to burst expectations were low as I picked up Tropical Thomason this morning, but it all turned out rather well.
I pulled into Weld Road at Birkdale at first as a reasonable gull roost was bobbing about on the tide, although ‘scoping ’em was tricky in the high wind. They were flighty too as the tide pushed them about, but 4,000 gulls are always worth a look.
Two adult Med Gulls stood out, but as we watched them, a fine adult Yellow Legged Gull swept in, all dangly yellow legs and I was able to get Trops onto it for a minute or so before they all took to the air again.

After an hour, the windchill was enough to force us off the coast and I drove up to Brockholes to try for the elusive redhead Smew which has been wintering there.
I picked it up at the back of Pit No 1, and while it was very distant at first, gradually the bird came closer as it steamed into the wind, catching a fish and even allowing me to try a bit of ropey video, which you can watch on You Tube here.
Apologies as ever, but at least you can see what it is.

With the Smew safely trousered, the dull roar of the M6 above lured us back onto the road – the only thing to do was motor north to Carnforth for the Ring Necked Duck at Pine Lake.
It was at the far side of the water near a group of 6+ Scaup, Tufties and Pochards, and even at range it’s now sharp adult plumage was looking very fine – peaked head, stripey bill and defined grey flanks with a nice white flash.
You can just make out the bill on this full zoom blur from the other side of the lake. Shame the choppy conditions hid the rest of the bird…

Thanks for the company Trops. Ridiculous hat by the way (and I’m pretty sure that’s not how you’re meant to wear glasses).

Something to do with the horizon

There’s just something about the Alt estuary, especially at low tide, when the deep gouging of recent storms is revealed in the channels and sheared-off dune fronts.
A brief visit this afternoon gave me my first Ringed Plover flock of the year, six of ’em, fresh as a bunch of Daffodils as they scurried over the sands beside the prehistoric forest (showing very well after Storms Ciara and Dennis neolithic fans), patting with bright feet on the mud in search of prey.

The place looks huge when you stare out to the white horse churn of Liverpool Bay and the grey smudge of the Welsh hills beyond. As is often the way, it was pretty quiet, with just one other person in view the whole time I was there.

20+ Curlews, some calling, were wary as ever, although one or two stayed on the edge of the forest to cautiously eye me up as I walked along the beach heading south, and 100 Redshank with a few Dunlin sheltered from the endless hooley on the banks of the sand-shrouded main channel.

Two of Hightown’s resident Stonechats were foraging in the tidal debris at the base of the new dune cliffs, but they cowered in tight to the sheer sand when a Sprawk came cruising by.

Not bad as bird therapy goes, and on the way back north, a Barn Owl was hunting along Formby by-pass between the Lighthouse roundabout and Tesco at 1550.
The high winds and heavy rains are not good news for these hunters, and often forces them into patrolling in broad daylight.

Bad goosing.

Foxed by stiles, blown about by the latest hooley ripping across the marsh and out-witted by wind-wary geese while we struggled to keep ‘scopes steady.
Some things don’t change.
To be fair only two of us got confused by stiles as Neill, Trops and I struggled into the gusts out along the old seawall at Banks today.
See if you can guess which one simply opened the unlocked gate, sadly shaking his head while the other two of us struggled over the stile beside it.
Some things don’t change.
The geese weren’t overly helpful today either – each time a few hundred dropped onto the potato field behind the seawall, passing dog walkers spooked ’em as they headed down the public footpath through the fields, and they rose into the wind to drift back onto the outer marsh.
So we hunkered down to ‘scope them from range, avoiding barkers’ eggs and mole-hills as we settled into the grassy bank, while pipits, larks, wagtails and linnets were blasted about by the strengthening south westerly.
Some things don’t change.
An hour or two of work gave us two Barnacles, the Dark-bellied Brent and the (very distant) Grey-bellied Brant amongst the Pinks, Greylags and Canadas.
Enjoyable in the vaguely masochistic way winter goosing on the Ribble has always been.
That said, staring at the roof of a recycling centre on the edge of the city hoping for the ultimate in esoteric gullage, now Thayer’s is looked down upon, would probably have been equally challenging.
And the geeses wouldn’t have been as good.
Or bad, depending on how you look at it.
Don’t forget to let me know what you’re seeing on the “comments” thingy, ttfn.


Doing a poor job at rubbing out the horizon at the Irish Sea’s back door, Storm Dennis was frankly fairly laid back earlier on – it’s starting to get its rain dance on now though.
With only a little time today, I wanted a look at the goose flock out on Crossens Outer, especially as Graham Clarkson and Stuart Darbyshire having been doing so well off it for the last few days.
The birds were quite far out this afternoon, but it was no hardship scoping ’em from the lee of the car, with Ravens bouncing about and the sub-adult male Hen Harrier putting on a good performance while a Merlin scowled at it from its perch out on the estuary.
Mark Nightingale and Ron Jackson pulled in with the same goose thirst to slake.
The dark-bellied Brent (top pic, left hand bird) was grazing amongst the Pinks, but I couldn’t find the grey-bellied Brant, a shame as I was hoping for better views than my encounter with it up at Banks a week or so ago.
The bird had been around earlier, but geese were coming and going from the potato field over the old seawall at Banks and more were dropping into the long vegetation further out on the marsh.

The small Canada Goose, barely bigger than the Pink Feet (you can just pick it up in the pic above, if you really squint), was noodling about again before it melted into the longer grass, it’s head occasionally popping up amongst the grazing grey backs.
Two Barnacle Geese dropped in as more birds winged in from the direction of Old Hollow Farm later in the afternoon.
The light started to fade quite quickly as Dennis began throwing his weight about, so I called it a day.
Not a bad bit of goosing though.

Still fairly wild

The wind was swinging into the west and dropping slightly at lunchtime at Ainsdale today, before picking up again this afternoon.
Despite this, the beach was covered by water a full hour before high tide (and another surge of approximately one metre is expected tomorrow) and I spent much of my time asking walkers and dog owners to keep a reasonable distance away from the wader roost, which was already flighty as hell in the high winds.

Didn’t get the opportunity to check for rings or flags as the Sanderling, Dunlin, Knot, Grey Plover and Barwits were being blasted about in the gale, but I tried a bit of wibbly wobbly video anyway.
You can see that on YouTube here.
After a time I headed up onto the dunes for a seawatch, which was predictably more about getting sandblasted than seeing anything.
Seasick Common Scoter, a single Red-Throated Diver and a few Cormorants was the best I got, although 40+ Pintail were flying south in small groups – odd here, but not unexpected as the tide was presumably covering much of the Ribble to the north of me..

Storm protocol

Normally Blackcaps zip in to the fatballs, gorge for as long as possible, then zip out again at Dempsey Towers, so the behaviour of a male “sitting-off” a short distance from the feeders caught my eye today.
They don’t usually do that.
Watching wintering warblers from the comfort of indoors was infinitely preferable to venturing out into the curtains of rain that were strafing the rooftops like smoke backed by a howling south westerly, courtesy of Storm Ciara.
The garden has been relatively quiet so far this winter, apart from up to 11 Redwings on the Cotoneaster, but they cleared off a week or so ago.
Blackbird and finch numbers have been low and a male and female Blackcap only began appearing regularly last week, so it made a change to watch birds coming and going in reasonable numbers at last.

It quickly became apparent today that a male Blackbird had come over all territorial, defending the fat from all-comers now the Cotoneaster berries have all been scoffed.
Blackcaps will chase off everything from Greenfinches down when hungry, but they are no match for a Blackbird, so had to sit patiently waiting for the thrush to clear off today before dining themselves.

Mystery solved.

Great days, great days. Never to be forgotten.

About ten years ago we were shivering under mosquito nets in a couple of shacks in southern Mexico, not far from the Guatemalan border.
A typically tough day in the field, we’d been out from 5am to 10pm searching for birds – the type of day Barry loved.
It wasn’t a bad shack (Neill, rather than Paul, probably booked that one) and as usual I was sharing with Barry, as we both allegedly snored quite badly.
We were never shown any proof of this of course (video and phone recordings can be faked), but it meant we inevitably ended up sharing rooms when Marshside’s finest went birding around the world.
Anyway, at about 2am that night, Barry, fast asleep and snoring like a chainsaw, sat bolt upright and uttered the immortal words:
“Great days, great days, never to be forgotten”.
Then he fell back to slumbering.
Even in the Land of Nod he couldn’t contain his love of birding and travelling or his joy whenever exploring our spectacular global village.

There are so many people who will have travelled so many roads, across deserts and oceans, through forests and up the highest mountains on all continents to enjoy birding with Barry.
His knowledge, preparation and ready wit made him the perfect travelling companion, although as a confirmed and expert map navigator, I suspect he viewed the arrival of SatNav technology as the fall of civilisation.
But Barry was more than a confirmed globetrotter – this proudest of dads was as happy on his local patch at Marshside just down the road from here as he was in a rainforest or vast tropical delta.
As “Mr Marshside”, what he didn’t know about the site, wasn’t worth knowing and he was always happy to share his knowledge with inquiring open minds.
His book “The Birds of Marshside” is still the go to text for all serious visitors to the marsh.
As a stalwart of the Lancs Bird Report and recorder for many years, his analytical, dispassionate approach to data made him a formidable judge of records.

Those who believe there were shortcuts to gaining such knowledge occasionally got short shrift and simple, clear advice – “You buy a book, you read the book, you go birding, you learn”.
I may have edited that legendary response for the more sensitive amongst us.
Away from birding, Barry was an affable man, who hid his intellect with a laconic modesty, but his love of cinema, history, music and literature meant he would readily astonish friends with his knowledge during even the most obscure of conversations.
Who knew he was good friends with blues/rock guitar legend Rory Gallagher during his earlier life in Cork?
Or that he was a folk singer of some renown in the days before “the snoring years”?
He was tolerant, an open-minded man until confronted with bigotry or authoritarianism, when his eloquence would rapidly deflate such foolish approaches to life.
As a Doctor of Psychology at UCLAN, his lectures were posted onto YouTube by students, and became required viewing by many, whether they attended his popular courses or not!!!
He loved capturing the most complex ideas and concepts in simple clear terms.
This explains why his favourite moment in cinema was the terse, pivotal point in the “Wild Bunch”, when the Tector character utters the line “why not?” summing up all the intense emotions the characters feel in just two words.
I think it was also why he always chose the trickiest groups of birds to learn before he set off on an expedition with the crew.

Barry always chose the flycatchers, the drabber and more obscure the better – he relished the challenge and was equal to the task of putting a name to these difficult to identify birds.
His herculean seawatches from Formby Point, often lasting for hours at a time, largely staring at empty waves, summed his determination up perfectly – he knew sometimes you have to put the effort in, and was rewarded with a string of rare seabirds over the years.
How many times did we rise stiff-legged from the dunes to head home without seeing very much of anything, only to hear a smiling Barry explaining:
“Some days you get the bear, other days the bear gets you”.
The Tobacco Dump will never be the same.
A brilliant birder, proud dad, dear friend and great traveller it was a privilege to have known him.
Paul Thomason, who has perhaps covered more miles than anyone with Barry in recent years (they completed five blockbusting weeks in Argentina just before Christmas) sums it up perfectly when he says:
“Bazzo was a great travelling companion, enjoying the highs, dealing positively with the lows.
Also his fantastic memory helped with identifying new birds.
He once said if there was a tiger on the right and a pipit on the left of the safari jeep, he knew which way he’d be looking.”
I doubt the big stripey cat would have got a look in.
And Neill Hunt added: “Barry was an inspiration, the one you could always turn to talk about stuff, not just birding.
He was our sensible, reliable friend.”

Great days, great days, never to be forgotten.
Barry McCarthy 3rd November 1948 – 6th January 2020

A million shades of grey

It must seem odd to the Sunday drivers droning past along Marine Drive when they glance over at the line of birders staring out at what appears to be nothing on the mighty Ribble marshes from the Crossens pull-in.
It feels pretty strange being the person doing the ‘scoping sometimes too, and a few hours staring into the gloom with the ‘scope on full zoom today were fairly testing.
Numbing feet, cold fingertips.
The sesh was made easier by the company of Graham Clarkson, Stuart Darbyshire, Dave Bickerton, John Wright, Austin Morley and Dave Nickeas et al.
The geese were distant at all times, grazing out on Banks Marsh, with about 1,000 dropping in and out of the potato field behind the seawall at Banks.
The Brant wasn’t with them.
I continued searching for the Grey-Bellied Brant that Graham had dug out in the gale yesterday morning, and although four Barnacle Geese were obvious even at range I couldn’t see the visitor from the high Canadian arctic isles.
Great White Egrets, Merlin, Ravens, Marsh Harriers, and of course the dozing Long-Billed Dowitcher over at Glencoyne Drive, made the search all the easier, but it was a grey day made for ‘scoping grey geese.
At least plenty of birders were searching for the bird, which Stuart first found a few winters back.
It spends most of the winter down in Norfolk, first calling in to the Ribble in April 2018 (You Tube video of it from Norfolk in 2018 here) and drops into the Ribble on the way back north.
After a few fruitless hours, I drove round to Old Hollow Farm to search from the seawall there – Stuart was there already and after 15 minutes or so in the fading afternoon light, admiring the Twite flock (see pic at the top of this entry), Marsh Harrier, male Hen Harrier and Great White Egrets, he picked the grey belly up at long range.
So I tried a few VERY long range pictures.
Which was probably a mistake.
Sometimes there just aren’t enough pixels.

Like a conventional Brant, the grey belly’s bright white flanks were startlingly obvious, so that it stood out when it left the longer vegetation, almost reminiscent of a giant Oystercatcher as it grazed in the murk – apart from the big orange bill and legs obvs.
As it waddled closer, the grey brown hues to the back and lower breast were visible, contracting with its sooty black head and neck and white collar.
Interesting bird.
I look forward to seeing it again over the next few weeks, hopefully when it’s a bit closer, at a range a little less interplanetary perhaps…