Savouring the normal

With all the urgency of spring, the three Meadow Pipits dropped down onto the sheltered bank by our office to feed.
Wary and full of nervous energy, they were the closest I could get to passage today – but sometimes you have to take what you can get.
A few groups were moving north through the dunes at Ainsdale today, pitching down to feed before moving on again.

It doesn’t take long to become engrossed in what was previously mundane – when pickings are thin, everything should be relished.
The Stonechats were still around Ainsdale Discovery Centre, with up to 14 Linnets bounding about and perching up to sing (I’ll save the Linnets for another day).
A Merlin screamed past my window during the morning, although a work site visit into the southern area of the Local Nature Reserve revealed little in the way of movement, apart from groups of Mipits.
Tiny spring annuals like Rue-leaved Saxifrage are now in flower.

Chiffchaffs and Blackcap still at Dempsey Towers.


I’d possibly never have stopped to notice how well the Starling in breeding plumage matched the contours and colours of the Ainsdale Discovery Centre roof before these truly strange days started.
But there you go. Strange days indeed.
Panicking gulls overhead revealed only circling Buzzards with them, but the Stonechats and Linnets were still singing and Mipits were displaying.
These once “mundane” sights now take on a greater significance of course.
Likewise, getting home on a Friday night a glance at the feeders revealed a male Reed Bunting pecking at the sunflower hearts in the evening shadows – the first at Dempsey Towers in 20 years.
About as “mega” as things go in the world of garden birding!

I must thank all of you who let me know what you’re seeing in these “lockdown” days – I’m acutely aware how fortunate I am to work around several Local Nature Reserves and on the coast in these dark days, although the Green Sefton team is also helping out council frontline services far removed from the natural world as circumstances dictate.
So reading how others are embracing their gardens and immediate environs as birding locales is seriously heartwarming.
Thanks again all, keep the sightings coming…

A Stonechat never sounded so good…

I photographed this male at Ainsdale Local Nature Reserve on March 5th before things went all kablooey, but he was still singing away by the Green Sefton office today, and never sounded so good…
The thin scratchy song can often be a bit quiet, but in the inverse tranquility of the lockdown, you could clearly hear him through the open window.
At least three males this spring in the vicinity of the office, and good numbers elsewhere on the coast after the relatively mild winters of recent years.
He clung onto the bare branches a week or two back allowing me to commit his balancing act to ropey video, which you can watch on You Tube here.
Apologies as usual.

Work had me up and down the coast from Ainsdale to Southport today, with three Wheatears, a thin movement of Meadow Pipits and the electrifying song of Skylarks muscling in on my duties.
I tried not to look, but you can’t not.
Chiffchaffs were singing at several sites.
Vernal Mining Bees and other solitary bee sp starting to emerge too.
They’ll all be here again next spring though, so please stay home and safe, and enjoy what’s on the doorstep.
I managed 24 sp at Dempsey Towers yesterday, but I know others can smash that – let me know what you’re finding close to home.

Apple fresh

Opening the back door onto the new reality at 7.45am, the Chiffchaff singing from the tall Sycamore in the neighbour’s garden was as crisp as the nip in the air.
I’ve heard a few elsewhere this spring pre-lockdown of course, but the first one in your garden is always most welcome.
Possibly two birds out there today, they were active and whizzing about amongst the willow buds, Small Tortoiseshells and Buff-Tailed Bumblebees.
The wintering male Blackcap looked put out to finally have warbler songster competition again, although I don’t think the “northern Nightingale” has much to worry about.

I zapped the Chiffies with the P900 when I returned home at lunchtime.
Wearing my work hat, Mipits and a few Siskins were moving up the coast at Ainsdale this morning, with resident Common Buzzards starting to thermal like crazy, but more important duties will likely take me away from the coast for much of the forseeable.
For clarity, the stretches of coastline managed by Sefton Council are still accessible, but for exercise purposes only.
I don’t think driving miles to sites “for exercise” is in the spirit of the new Govt orders, but please let me know what you’re seeing locally around your homes and gardens….
It’s time to get those “lockdown lists” going!

Channelling Teal.

The sparkling blue vapour trail free skies this morning belied a bitter, strong north easterly down at Marshside.
Great light for searching for the drake Green-Winged Teal on Crossens Outer, and after 45 minutes or so I came across it tootling down the channel amongst the Eurasian Teal which were busy dabbling, riding the current, or just snoozing on the muddy banks.
The Yankee was quite hard to find as most of the birds were hidden to view along the snaking channel by the high banks until a marauding GBB swept through, and they all took flight, before settling again.
Unless the Teal are out of the channel, your best bet is ‘scoping up the waterway from Marine Drive just to the west of the concrete water trough, which gives the best field of view I think.

A bit too distant and windy to try to video the bird, but I had a go anyway. You can see the parlous results on You Tube here.
Most of the goose horde was distant, but two Greenland White-Fronted Geese were grazing out past the cropped turf of Crossens Outer and the usual scattering of Barnacle Geese were amongst the Pinks.
Peregrine and Merlin were hunting the clear, crisp air, a Chiffchaff was singing on the bank, with more Chiffies calling from Hesketh Golf Course and for once the three Scaup were decidedly alert as they paraded about off the Hesketh Road platform.
A steady northward trickle of Meadow Pipits was marked, with one or two groups of 20+ birds too.

Love in the time of Coronavirus

Despite all the trying circumstances, Weld Road legend, “A Gull called Arse” (try pronouncing his colour ring, “R4RS” out loud while watching him), was on top form this evening.
Feeling frisky he attempted to impress another passing adult Herring Gull by strutting around beneath the shrimpers’ yard after her with a Short-Tailed Vole in his gob for a few minutes.
All very romantic, unless you are a vole of course, but considerably less brutal than the GBB Wigeon tear-up I witnessed a week or two back at Crossens Inner.
It didn’t impress the female and she walked away, leaving R4RS to do what any sensible spurned suitor would do in these “waste not want not” days – he wolfed the vole down and got on with life.

I do have a soft spot for this bird – he’s been dropping into the Weld Road area for at least 12 years, long may the phonetically unfortunate gull continue to grace the place.
He was ringed on the Ribble estuary years ago.
I really must dig out his info – unless someone else has it to hand…?
It was surprisingly cold as I checked the site (and Sands Lake earlier), with not a sniff of a singing Chiffy or heartwarming Wheatear.
Plenty of time for spring to spring yet.

Going viral.

Well that was embarrassing – just had to explain to the check-out staff that my haul from the beer aisle was NOT panic-buying, it merely represented my weekly rider of 660s.
If anyone thinks I’m facing the hand gel-o-pocalypse without a cold one in the fridge they clearly haven’t been reading between the lines on my grumpy old face.
Fortunately it was all sorted out amicably and I clinked off to the wheels.
Still, on the upside, I encountered my first Wheatear of the year at lunchtime today, feeding in the tidal debris at Weld Road, Birkdale, in gorgeous spring sun with Skylarks singing their lungs out above us.

I was happier than a hoarder arriving at a freshly stocked shelf of toilet rolls.
Windblown and hand-held, so super-shaky video on You Tube of the Wheatear here. Sorry.

Wagtail freakout

Scattering, towering and calling frantically the Pied Wags exploded into the air above Crossens Outer.
I’d been totally engrossed in ‘scoping the distant goose flock (again) and not noticed the gorgeous male Sprawk perched up on the fence posts just down from me this afternoon.
After some serious scowling the Sparrowhawk launched itself into the wagtails and Mipits, but fluffed the attack and zoomed off down Crossens Channel.

Much further away the geese were strung out from Crossens to Banks, mostly in the longer vegetation of the outer marsh, where the distinctive black and white heads of Barnacle Geese poked up amongst the grey Pinks.
One continued to disgrace itself by hanging out with the Canadas in front of Sandgrounders, before going for a paddle on the Sandplant lagoon.
Shameful behaviour.

The Grey-Bellied Brant was with Pinks at interstellar range from the Crossens pull-in, starkly black and white in the afternoon sun and busy channelling its inner Oystercatcher.
I’d spent a fair bit of time hunting for Wheatears without success at various likely points along the coast from Ainsdale to Crossens, but with one at Seaforth today, it can only be a matter of time before that “Wheatear buzz” kicks in – can’t wait.
The pair of Red-Legged Partridge were in the old Sandplant compound, and a Goldcrest was in the hawthorns, but there were fewer pipits about than yesterday and it felt colder.
On the way home I called in to say “howdy” to the three snoozing Scaup at Hesketh Road, and the Water Rail was feeding just beneath the platform…

Hardly making the effort

Singing strongly, and taking in a short circuit around bushes and the March dark branches of Haskayne Cutting, the Chiffchaff wasn’t fazed by the onset of rain and overcast skies this afternoon – he meant business.
I was surprised then as I sat and watched it circling its newly staked out territory to get the bins on it and see it was in a right state – a dark stained and wet face, forehead all straggly…. he’s hardly likely to pull looking like that…

A thousand or so Pinks out there too this afternoon, rooting about in the flooded stumps of the maize fields, and Yellowhammers were keeping low, while the mosslands’ very own Mr Enigmatic was leaning into the wind, when not gargling with barbed wire.

Before calling into Plex I had a walk around Birkdale, but it was busy with dog walkers, and Bullfinch, a faltering Chiffchaff and a more forceful Mistle Thrush were the best of it.

Such a contrast to the warm, sunny morning I spent at Marshside yesterday, where a steady trickle of Meadow Pipits and 50+ Pied Wags up on Crossens Outer suggested my first Wheatear can’t be that far off.
Avocets were frisky, Little Grebes were yikkering and Lapwings were tumbling.
Clear early spring movement of Stonechat there too, with 5+ flitting around the tidal debris under the Sandplant, while the marsh between Crossens and Banks was as goose-tastic as it has been for the last month – the flocks are always worth checking through here.

Bad day to be a Wigeon

It could be worse I thought while I scanned across the geese on Banks Marsh as the wind and rain picked up and bore down.
I could have been the Wigeon.

The two GBBs were already tearing into the duck when I pulled up at Crossens Outer this morning – the poor Wigeon was still alive, but had that vacant expression that prey always has in the last seconds before the inevitable.
I waited till that bit was over before pressing the record button.
The results are on YouTube here.
P’raps best watched after tea.
Brutal, but I do like the way the Carrion Crow wanders in, picks up a scrap, looks at the carnage as the Wigeon is ripped apart and wanders off again, deciding it’s best not to get involved.
Elevenses was all over pretty soon and I went back to ‘scoping the distant geese on the outer marsh – as the bright spring light gave way to cold, murky grey winter again they got harder to work through, but I managed to pick out the Todd’s Canada and two Barnacles amongst the Pinks and ferals.
More Pied Wags and Mipits today, Goldcrest and Long Tailed Tits in the roadside bushes and a Merlin on the deck.

Two drake Eider were distant out on the marsh, while up at Banks, many of the Pinks were close in, with a more pleasing soundtrack to watch them to – Twite and Skylarks rather than cars.
Seven Barnacles scattered about up there, but I couldn’t get any Brent/Brant action in the gloom and rain.
The drake Red Breasted Merg was still at the top of Southport Marine Lake with a female Goldeneye in tow on the way home.