Bleached blob birdin’

The immense forces at play stress the tectonic plates and they shift and buckle under the almost inconceivable power; mountain ranges rise and fall.
And still the Spoonbill sleeps.
Dinosaurs evolve from the primordial slime, and stride across the earth; a Tyrannosaurus Rex sneaks giggling into the kitchen to pillage the fridge before a blinding flash of light signals a terminal tumble down the snakes and ladders board of extinction events.
And still the Spoonbill sleeps.
A Chimp finishes “Hamlet” and wanders off from the typewriter in search of bananas and Typhoo tea.
And, yup, you guessed it, still the Spoonbill sleeps.

To be fair the adult Spoonbill did lift its head once or twice in the wibbly wobbly haze of what was already shaping up into a scorcher at Marshside before 9am this morning, but blink and you’d miss it.
Which was easily done as the bird was snoozing distantly north east of Polly’s Pool with Canadas and Shelduck, a long range white blob in the shimmer.
Occasionally I imagined I could see its apricot breast band, but most of the time the bird was hunched up, its crest blown back over its crown by the north east breeze like the Pennslyvania Avenue orange loonball’s comb-over when caught in an unexpected gleefully malevolent gust.
I ‘scoped it for a time (it felt like infinity), and tried a few ill-advised long range pictures from the back bank.
On reflection keeping your head down and shutting your eyes tight these days may not be the daftest of policies…
Evening light and watching from Marine Drive may present better viewing opportunities.
Elsewhere a check at a site spared the Highways Dept mowers by specific request revealed Bee Orchids now flowering, but the heat and drought means most plants looked washed out and stunted with burnt leaves.

Always good to enjoy orchids on the local patch though…

Bad parenting

For all the bold, loud confronting of potential threats from cows to Canada Geese, Avocets can sometimes drop the ball when it comes to their brood.
I watched, fearing the worst at Lunt today with Tony Conway and Phil Boardman nearby as the adults wandered off across the lagoon leaving their two youngsters bobbing about exposed on the shallow water off Avocet Island – a prime target for any passing Jackdaw.
They got away with it, but they should really step up their game.

I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the Hairy Dragonfly (first for Lancs and North Merseyside) that has been on site for the last week or two, but although it was blisteringly hot, it was quite breezy too, and apart from a few Four Spot Chasers and “maybes” tazzing off over the vegetation there was no sign of Brachytron pratense while I was there.
Better luck next time.
Brimstone Butterflies on the wing though (a good spring for them this year) with Little Ringed Plovers and chuntering Sedge Warblers.
It was pleasant talking to Tony and Phil (a bit weird as we kept our social distancing up), as conversing with folk who really know and care about a site always is.
Still at Lunt, thanks to Phil Collins for sending me his record shot of a Spotted Flycatcher there on Tuesday evening “going bananas catching midges over Homer Green Pond”.

A fair few of these have been recorded this spring too, but I’ve yet to connect with one.
Back in the office as the dunes bake in the heatwave and thousands of people crowd onto our beaches apparently immune to the C-19 threat, things are sliding towards summer at Ainsdale.
Skylarks may struggle with their broods – as lark guru Ian Wolfenden explained to me this week, the hot, parched conditions can mean less insect food to raise the youngsters on, a shame as they have enjoyed relative peace this year with reduced human disturbance in the dunes until recently.

Keep on letting me know what you’re seeing from your patches and gardens, it’s great to hear your news.

And exhale………

As if to confirm the correlation between Swiss Cheese and my ropey memory, the male Bullfinch perched up repeatedly to call in the bright morning sun.
I believed my last visit to Haskayne Cutting nine days ago had represented my first encounter with Bullfinch here – in fact long, long ago when it was a regular ringing site they were seen too (thanks to Jack Taylor for refreshing my shattered recall).
But that was in the days when just a short walk away you could hear Turtle Doves on a hot, calm morning like this one.
I still check some of the old sites just in case, but all I hear is a great big silent hole where the soporific purring should be.
Yellowhammers try to plug the gap, but it’s not the same – and they’re getting thin on the ground too.
Back in the ‘Cut, Willow Warbler, Blackcap and Chiffy provided a pleasing chorus – especially as the latter appeared to be the scruffy individual I bumped into here way back in March.

Couldn’t resist a snippet video clip of the Blackcap, not so much for the footage, more the purity of the notes.
You can watch the clip on You Tube here.
If only there was some purring in the background.
Botanically as ace as ever, with plenty of marsh orchids to puzzle over, Water Avens and dazzling Spearworts.
Sometimes you just need to get away.

Waiting for the next wave…

Too sunny with too much sand-blow to try a seawatch off Ainsdale yesterday, but today was a bit better – the gale force SWly had dropped down, although it was still strong, and it was cloudy and murky out beyond the flotilla of kiters.
I gave it a bash over the tide from 1130-1300, and although it was relatively quiet (Ainsdale is not the best place to seawatch from on the coast, but needs must when the Devil drives), it was pleasant enough watching Gannets and smaller numbers of Manxies arcing effortlessly south into the wind.

24.5.20 Ainsdale, 1130-1300, SW/Wly 4, cloud, mist:

Gannet 84
Manx Shearwater 25
Common Scoter 33
Shelduck 5
Kittiwake 1

You can’t win ’em all – hope you had better luck out there today than I did?

Just clinging on

The startlingly strong south westerly was fierce enough to pick up tonnes of top soils from the fields of the South West Lancs mosslands, darkening the sky and sending gulls skittering across the blue.
Totally dustbowl baby.
Clouds of Swallows, House Martins and Swifts – up to 100 birds – fed in the lee of the tall trees at Thornton, especially over the newish drainage pool as I waited for another round of food delivery pick-ups for distribution across the borough.
Top marks then for a few of Ainsdale Local Nature Reserve’s Willow Warblers who clung on to the territorial advantageous high points to keep on singing.
One of the reserve’s still reeling Groppers wisely kept low, it’s belly just visible through a tangle of Sea Buckthorn branches.

Yesterday before the wind really muscled in I crept up on a pair of mating Small Heaths (I know, I know, I need help) – not a butterfly you often get the chance to get close to, but they were in a different universe at the time.

I intruded still further by videoing them for a few treasured seconds on the sheltered slope amongst the downy seedheads of Creeping Willow.
You can watch that on You Tube here against the dune backdrop of singing Whitethroat and Willow Warbler.
Thanks to you all for letting me know what you’re seeing by the way – please keep the comments coming, while I try to work out where I feel most comfortable isolation birding locally over the Bank Holiday weekend…
Stay safe all.

Well, that was lucky…

Venturing out this afternoon to feed Mrs D’s insatiable lust for compost, I decided to combine it with a spot of exercise and a stroll round the top end of Lunt Meadows in the hope that yesterday’s Temminck’s Stint was still about.
It’s only a ten minute drive down the road, so still good and local, with Len Heaton’s (other garden centres are available) nearby, ordered, socially distanced and tempting me with mountains of peat-free.
I’m not sure why the boss needs so much of the stuff, you can only grow so many tomatoes after all, but it is a fierce addiction and must be sated.
A bit like my need for waders.
Ahem, gloves on and masked up.
Anyway I walked onto the top end of Lunt (the site’s car park just north of Lunt Village is CLOSED) serenaded by Willow Warblers, Cetti’s, Sedgies, Blackcap and Reed Warblers, and the Temminck’s Stint was creeping about amongst the goose droppings on Avocet Island.
Dwarfed by the prodigious piles of poop, I was just starting to grill the bird, when I saw Andy Pryce and Phil Boardman, socially distanced but nearby, so went closer to shout “hello” only to discover they’d just found a crisp Pectoral Sandpiper – double wader joy!!!

I watched the Pec for a few minutes (the guys had gallantly moved away so I could have a look – many thanks fellas) before turning my attention to the stint as it crept about amongst LRPs and Avocets back up the track.
I didn’t hang about, as others would doubtless want to look at the tasty wader combo.
Time to head back to Compost Corner, but not before adding some risible video to my risible pictures here.
You can see my Pec Sand footage on YouTube here and my Temminck’s Stint epic here.
Windblown, wobbly and out of focus – some things just don’t change.

A low high is better than no high at all.

It was a bit calmer than anticipated this morning, and the tide was barely scratching 7.5m, but you can only go so long without seawatching.
And if it’s ok to sunbathe, it’s okay to seawatch from the dunes by the office at Ainsdale.
I scoped the flattish briny from 8.30am to 10.30am, and while it was pretty quiet, I’ve had worst seawatches – and it was good to say howdy to a few old friends.
The wind picked up a little bit just after the tide so I stayed on longer than planned, just in case.
Out past the Lennox and Irish Sea Pioneer Gannets and smaller number of Manxies were moving south into the wind, and a few pulses of the latter came in a bit closer too.
Amazing birds made all the better by this lockdown pain – cruising round the Irish Sea after an odyssey back up from Tristan da Cunha way no doubt.
Incredible, I love ’em.

18.5.20, Ainsdale, 0830-1030, SWly 2-3:

Gannet 200 (approx)
Manx Shearwater 77
Common Scoter 7
Sandwich Tern 18
Kittiwake 3
RB Merg 2
Great Crested Grebe 2
plus Grey Seal, Turnstone sparkly summer plumage Grey Plover etc.

A quiet morning with GBBs lumbering by and squadrons of Cormorants flapping about, but at least I was looking at the sea – and beyond that horizon is everywhere.
Hope you’re all okay, please keep the comments coming, it keeps me going!

Fresh rust

If Tom Waits kept cage birds, a practice which I heartily disapprove of, but if he did, he’d keep a Corn Bunting.
Marvellous as the great man is, only a Corn Bunting chewing glass and gargling with barbed wire to perfect the “rusty keys” chorus my uncle introduced me to so long ago, would make it into his aviary.
It was surprisingly moving to listen to the Corn Bunts duelling out on Plex very early this morning, long before the first dazzling Lycra began sky-lining along the tracks above the fields, whirring through on their narrow wheels.
I haven’t been out there birding for nearly two months, and the Skylark and Corn Bunting chorus, set against glaring yellow Rapeseed Oil fields and frothing Cow Parsley, was just stunning.

Fat, plain and unrepentantly monotonous – I seem to have plenty in common with Corn Bunts.
I recorded one bird “singing” away but the video is my usual pants, especially as a brisk westerly wind was racing over the fields.
Didn’t stop Mr Dangly Legs trying to dislocate his jaw though.
You can watch my attempts on YouTube here and here.
The greening fields were busy with Brown Hares and the Lapwings were as stressed as ever, chasing off Jackdaws and Carrion Crows for all they were worth.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Could be that I’ve missed most of the breeding season, but there seem to be far fewer Lapwings out there this year – must do a proper count.
Nearby Yellowhammers were holding their own, as I wandered alongside Haskayne Cutting.

Marsh Orchids and Water Avens were looking good, but the biggest surprise was a calling Bullfinch, discreet as they always are, which moved along the Hawthorn line before flying off high north – I think this is the first time I’ve seen one on Plex, so that was good.

Site visits at Ainsdale yesterday revealed the Cuckoo was still present and at least one Gropper was reeling.
Four Spot Chaser on the wing, and Reed Buntings continue to vie for dune supremacy with Whitethroats and Willow Warblers.

Please keep letting me know what you’re seeing whether at home or wherever you’re taking your exercise… and keep well.
The future is streaky brown and sounds like a Corn Bunt.

Zoothera suit

Yes, it looks nothing like a Scaly or White’s really, but the young Mistle Thrush was the closest I was going to get today while my mind went awol and back to a humid, frantic, thoroughly splendid afternoon on St Agnes in October ’99.
The youngster fed with its parent through a carpet of daisies and buttercups as I made a site visit away from the dunes just for a change.
Swifts surfed through along the edge of the cool northerly air mass, and at least three Reed Warblers were on territory – they squawk and chunter in just about any suitable reedbed now, but once they were unknown as a breeder on our coastline.

The puling young Stormcock snapped me back to the present and I returned to the office at Ainsdale, where Stonechats have fledged young too, Ruby Tigers were basking on one of our woodpiles in what little warmth they could find, and a Gropper was reeling at one of the usual locations.
Only one or two Common Blues braved the chill.
Tried to make sense of the new lockdown guidelines, but just got confused, although I think I may be able to visit Marshside in a day or two as long as I’m not using public transport, there’s a vowel in the month and I haven’t got a football team with me.
At least I think that’s what it says, last time I saw someone that flummoxed I was having an out of body experience staring down at my teenage self drowning in a Maths “O” level, protractor and logarithmic tables clattering to the overly polished exam room floor.
And that was a long time ago.

The song remains the same

It’s a funny old world when the tilting basic greatest hit (!) of a Chiffchaff starts to make a welcome change from the wall to wall Whitethroat/Willow Warbler dune soundtrack, but there you go.
In some years there are more Chiffies singing in the dunes, pushing up from the south, well past the historically agreed Ince Blundell Woods Willow/Chiff demarcation border (north of here Willow Warblers used to always outnumber the southern Chiffies until just a few years ago).

In 2018 the stubby-winged summering Chiffies almost outnumbered Willow Warblers in the dunes.
Not this year – there are Willow Warblers everywhere, and what was once a fresh and eagerly sought out song just a few weeks back is now a constant (albeit nice) overly familiar loop.
Whitethroats are beginning to sound annoying too – a sure sign the season is creeping on.
It was my own fault for getting into the dunes for my Ainsdale site visit late today – the place always starts to quieten down after 9am, but there were still two, possibly three Lesser Whitethroats singing at 10am.
I reckon one bird was the individual we’d watched rattling away by the office on Thursday morning.

One about a quarter of a mile from here this morning felt “new”, and although distant it sat out in the sun for awhile, its undercrackers bleached a shocking white in the glare.
A Cuckoo slipped quietly south through the hot air, with just a single Mipit in pursuit – the female I’d seen a few days ago perhaps?
The butterfly dynamic is rapidly changing as well – a few days back Wall Browns were the most abundant on the wing, now a big emergence of Common Blues, like elevated and energised Heath Dog Violets, have superceded them and Small Heaths are out too.
Along with many other birders I have my fingers crossed that the cold front sweeping down tonight and tomorrow may bring a few new birds in – spring has plenty more cards to play before it hands over to summer yet.
As ever, thanks for all the comments and support, keep letting me know what you’re seeing too…