Summer trade-off

The fledged Stonechats were sprightly enough, still looking good after leaving the nest a month or so back, but the rear dunes are changing now.
It has been a few weeks since I managed a circuit of my mini-patch but I got out for 40 minutes south of Shore Road at Ainsdale today and was immediately struck by the silence – the birds have stopped singing.
I should qualify that – the Herring Gull colony on the flat rooftops of Pontins is as full of noise and life as ever (the peace of the shut-down allowed the birds to take over) and the mournful “hooeting” of young Willow Warblers moving south through the scrub and occasionally pausing to flycatch ineptly added to the soft “tuc-tuc” of Whitethroats proved there was still avian life in them there dunes…but at a reduced level.
The sherbet lemon young Willow Warblers are always a treat, but seem to pass through in a fraction of the numbers of the days when the “Irish Sea Willow Warbler Movement” at this time of year was a thing – cue birders of a certain age to go all misty-eyed.
The trade-off, as Tony F alluded to in the comments yesterday, is the blaze of late summer floral colour – sure the orchids have mostly gone over, but Harebells, Ragwort, Evening Primrose, Stitchwort, Eyebright, Meadowsweet and carpets of fading Kidney Vetch with Restharrow and Wild Parsley were as breath-taking as ever.

Bird’s eye views of Self-heal crowns and clumps of Common Centaury – yellows, blues and pinks as stunning as any machair flower-scape up in the far north, and that’s without getting into the frontal dunes!

Aw c’mon…

The contrast to yesterday’s in-the-hand wader fest could not have been greater this morning as the Long-billed Dowitcher refused to come any closer than interstellar range as it lurked at the back of Polly’s Pool at Marshside RSPB.
Three times I’ve tried to get good views of this summer plumage stunner in amongst the Blackwits this week, and it still won’t play ball…
Very long distance blurs were inevitable today.

Stuart Darbyshire has fared far better, getting some wonderful views (and photographs) as it fed in the channels under the Marine Drive bank earlier in the week.
He kindly sent me this superb shot to drop into the blog, so we can all see what the dowitcher should look like…

Careful study of photographs from Iceland by Stuart suggests this bird moved north with the godwits in the spring and has come back down from Iceland with them after their breeding season.
The dowitcher seems happy enough with the godwit flock, so hopefully I’ll get closer views at some point, but if you’re going to look for it on Polly’s, don’t forget your ‘scope.
It looks lovely assuming you’re on full 60x zoom.
A Merlin was hunting out on the outer marsh earlier in the week, and Common Sands are piping about the channels.

Back to old ways

It was marvellous to join a cannon-netting squad, COVID-19 proofed and ready on the sands between Ainsdale and Birkdale today.
With permissions sought from Natural England and my employers’ Green Sefton, a small band drawing ringers from Bangor Uni, Leeds Uni and ringing groups from across the north of England fired over the high tide and caught 70 Dunlin, 68 Knot and just shy of 700 Sanderling.
Great to see the South West Lancs Ringing Group represented by Ian Wolfenden. Tony Duckels would have loved it.
The Knot, all bar one second year birds, were given orange flags above pale blue rings – look out for them on the estuary over the coming years.
One bird was still peachy, as were a few of the Sanderling.

While I kept passersby at bay until firing (thanks to everyone I spoke to for their understanding), the ringers were then kept busy for the best part of three hours processing the waders.
Almost made me want to pick up a pair of ringing pliers again…

One of the trapped Sanderlings was a colour-ringed bird with a sequence from Southern Spain (although the same sequence is sometimes used in North Africa – thanks for the gen Richard du Feu).

For those fascinated by races, all the Dunlin were schinzii apart from one alpina.
Watching the experts processing, aging, measuring and safely releasing the birds was mighty impressive. Must be 40 years since I last joined a cannon-netting session.

Appreciation to the ringers for doing such a great job – I’m looking forward to keeping an eye out for those colour-flagged Knot at Ainsdale over the coming years…
Apart from the main show, over 300 Sandwich Terns, with at least 18 youngsters were in the roost, but I didn’t really have the time to grill them properly.

Horizons broadening

Quiet as high summer can be (Marshside dowitchers excluded), Spurn is always worth a visit.
With the tide out it was a question of scanning distant Gannets in the wibbly wobbly North Sea, and enjoying congregations of hirundines and young warblers.
When the tide rose Barwits, Dunlin, Redshank, Knot and Whimbrel crowded in as the mud disappeared under the gentle waves yesterday.
When the Humber filled up and covered the mudflats birds were pushed in from the estuary and yesterday evening Kilnsea Wetlands was buzzing.
Nothing rare, but just a pleasing gathering of birds.
Up to 100 Little Gulls swept in, pulsing in in groups of up to 20 birds, with their marvellous tern-like calls. Roosts of Dunlins with Greenshanks were nearby, Med Gulls jostled Sandwich Terns and other gulls for roost space, and ducks were in ominous eclipse plumage.
The field edges carefully managed with swathes of wildflowers held many Ringlets and Meadow Browns, although the remarkable Norfolk Hawker which appeared a day or two back had evaporated – an incredible record.
Likewise the Cattle Egret seen earlier in the day (still a Spurn mega) had melted way too.
The Little Gulls were the business though – it’s been quite some time since I’ve seen more than small groups of these gorgeous birds.

Where do they come from? Post breeding dispersal from Scandiland mebbe?
Non-breeders popping in from the North Sea?
As I said, about 100 of the gems last night, but only three that I could see that were in less than adult plumage.
Wherever they originated from, they more than justified the drive over yesterday.
The wetlands fizzed with activity as I scanned them with Neill Hunt, who was happily tootling round his hideaway on a nippy electric bike.
As we admired the Little Terns on Beacon Ponds from the north bank I ‘scoped back onto the wetlands and picked up a dozing adult Yellow Legged Gull, its darker mantle standing out from nearby snoozing Herring Gulls in the failing light.

Cue fuzzy evening zoom shot…

It felt good to return even for the shortest of visits… it won’t be long before things pick up again here.
Don’t forget to let me know what you’re seeing.

Plenty of wet

The mizzling sea frets lay over the fields like a blanket today and muffled sound on the mosses like heavy snow does.
Perhaps because of the eerie quiet it made the “Plex Pavarotti” seem all the more jarring when he started to tune up.

Eight “singing” Corn Buntings out there at least this afternoon, with 11 more hunched up on overhead wires and looking marginally less miserable than a soggy Kestrel in the rain.

Hello beautiful.
The fields were pretty quiet apart from that and growing flocks of Woodpigeons and Stock Doves grubbing for food in the recently cut areas.
A party of 73 gulls were doing much the same and held a fading second summer Med Gull which always stayed a bit distant before flying off on its own towards the coast.

One or two parties of Swifts and hirundines, but nothing like the spectacle down at Crosby Coastal Park on Thursday in similar, if windier conditions, when at least 100 Swifts and 30+ House Martins were gorging on midges in the lee of the willows by the boardwalk area in the south east corner.
You could hear the wind in the Swifts’ wings they were so close. Superb.


It was about 4.45pm as I swept the grouse-gardened landscape and vast skies with my Leicas for the umpteenth time yesterday when the Lammergeier suddenly filled my bins.
The beast was distant but huge.
I swear the sky above Howden Reservoir in the Peak District darkened as it circled out over the moorland.
This blog post is a bit late of course, but it has taken my peanut brain more than a day to compute the scale of the bird it was so mahoosive.
The last time I clapped eyes on one was back in 2003 in the massive Pyrennean landscapes above Gabardito and Candanchu, and I’d forgotten how impressive they are.
Origins and tickability have been discussed ad nauseam elsewhere, so I just enjoyed the bird as it showed three times over the moorland ridges after our long stand on the tor.
I was too busy trying to describe the size of the thing and its position in the sky via the liberal and loud use of expletives (sorry about that archbishop) to take pictures, so luckily Neill Hunt, who was perched up on Back Tor with me and about 40 other blushing birders, obliged with these images – thanks Neill.

Just for scale – that’s a Red Kite mobbing the bird yesterday, and in the picture below that Neill took on Friday, the speck behind the Lammergeier is a Buzzard!

Setting off at a civilised hour, we’d enjoyed a pleasant 50 minute Sunday stroll up onto the moors above Strines Bridge, passing a flock of 20 odd Crossbills, but not much else apart from Meadow Pipits, Kestrel, Red Admirals and Small Tortoiseshells, before arriving at the Back Tor rocks for 12.30.
Back Tor was an obvious viewpoint, while the vulture’s roost cliff was another mile or two over the heather and bogs, and visible in the distance, but the bird had got up long before and lurked for hours in the deep valleys before we were treated to distant, but exciting views.

It wasn’t a bad spot to wait for Big Bird – Golden Plovers called nearly constantly, Ravens played overhead and the gargantuan (but not Lammergeier gargantuan) bee impersonator Tachina grossa buzzed around the vegetation (another Neill special pic below…).


That time of year again, when the Sandwich Tern numbers start to build between Ainsdale and Birkdale.
It is a little tricky to organise a survey count this year for obvious reasons, but if circumstances change I’ll give it a go for the fifth year through Green Sefton.
Meanwhile if you are out on the coast between Ainsdale and Birkdale and count a roost of Sandwich Terns (no matter how small), please email me the details at or use the comments section on this blog – it’s really easy (if I can do it, anyone can).
If you would like survey forms, contact me on the email above and I can send you blank copies.
We have been monitoring the roost here for some years, and a steady decline has been notable for a variety of factors ranging from disturbance to weather conditions.
Thanks to everyone who has helped out in years past.
I’m especially interested in the amount of disturbance they suffer, to learn of the number of young birds in any groups you come across, and if you can see any colour rings.
I’m also looking for dated information on disturbance, whether by dogs, horses, joggers, walkers, photographers or even birders!
Keep an eye out too for the stunning leucistic individual, ringed as a nestling at the Sands of Forvie in Aberdeenshire in 2017, which appeared at Ainsdale in 2017 and 2018.
I watched a group of 17 Sarnies on Tuesday this week in gloomy, drizzly conditions on Ainsdale beach, but at least they were in better nick than this year’s crop of Dune Helleborines on the coast, which generally seem slender, battered and burnt by recent weather.
Pleasingly there were three scallopy young Sandwich Terns in the small roost – if the 14:3 ratio could be maintained with larger groups that would be fab (if only).

Tern-wise, as an added incentive I should point out that the roost between Ainsdale and Birkdale occasionally hosts colour-ringed birds from Lady’s Island in Wexford, Ireland later in the summer, so if anyone is still stewing over the Cayenne Tern that graced that site earlier this year, there’s always the slimmest of chances that it may follow Sarnies from Wexford up the Irish Sea to call in to see us at Ainsdale.
After all, if a Lammergeier can pitch up in the Peak District, anything is possible.

You smell funny.

The aroma, noise and constant activity of a cliff full of stinky auks, Gannets and Kittiwakes is always a stirring experience, so it would be churlish to get too bothered over the great big Black-browed sized hole in the Bempton Cliffs seabird spectacle today.
The absence of the albatross in the room detracted from the atmosphere somewhat, as did the solo drive over and back.
The in-car conversation just ain’t as sparkling when you’re twitching solo, but at least I get to choose the music, and it’s safer.
Either way, a closed M62 made the journey over a tad onerous early doors, and Saddleworth was invisible both ways.

Bempton was as stinky and thrilling as ever though, with the tang of the Covid edge hanging in the air more pungently than the smell of stale guano.
Even with 200 odd birders strung across the cliffs first thing social distancing was possible, as long as you avoided the viewing platforms at times.
Especially chatting to friends at a careful distance during a prolonged dip.
You know it’s not there, I know it’s not there – stop ogling that Puffin!!!!
With the added bonus of a soaking wet and seriously grumpy Long Eared Owl on the cliff-top early on, before it flopped off inland over the grasslands, I put in eight hours in the hope that yesterday’s magnificent Black Browed Albatross would materialise out of the cloud of seabirds.
It didn’t.
Brief rubbish video of Mr Grumpy Owl on You Tube here.

Plenty of Guillemots, Razorbills, Puffins, Gannets and Fulmars to distract from the lack of the big boy, one, possibly two Bonxies offshore and the grasslands shivering with Tree Sparrows and Skylarks, plus a Siskin or two through.

There’s no show without Punch, and there’s only so long you can listen to folk praising Puffins, so I pulled out and headed home over the Yellowhammer and Corn Bunting-rich Wolds just before 3pm.
You win some, you lose some.

Catch you next time, you smug tubby little fish parrots.