More chipssh please Mr Goldfinger…

The concrete of the seawall was cold to lie on – hardly surprising as a blusterly Storm Aiden was still battering the coast and there wasn’t much warmth in the last sun of October.
Something tells me our Covid parameters are going to get revised again pretty soon, so I took the opportunity to head Wirral way while I still could.
Socially distanced and venturing into the south western depths of our Liverpool City Region tier 3 zone.
It took far longer than it should have to pin the two lingering Snow Buntings down, as they ranged from Dove Point to Leasowe and there was a fair bit of human activity along the seawall – as you would expect on a sunny afternoon after tumultuous rain.
The buntings completely ignored me though when I finally got to them at Leasowe – seeds were far more important than birders, joggers, dogwalkers, photographers and strollers… they were oblivious to the lot, scurrying about just a metre or two away.

One bird enjoyed the last rays of the sun while the other fed in the shadow of the seawall, stuffing its face, but allowing me to get a better look at all that feather detail and rump pattern, as I lay down to watch it.

I shot a bit of video of the one that clung to the sun, which you can watch on YouTube here then left them seed bingeing in the sinking sun.

Slim pickings

It comes to a pretty pass when you have to fight with the local corvids over a scrap of manky wildfowl carrion – one of Marshside’s Common Buzzards gave up all too quickly on Crossens Outer today.
Standing over the remains only delayed the inevitable and the crows drove it off.

The buzzard flapped over Marine Drive and went into “Rough Legged” hovering mode courtesy of the brisk south westerly above Crossens Inner.
And a Kestrel chased it away from there too – the buzzard was not having a good morning.
On the upside it’s always cause for celebration when the car clock starts telling the right time again (farewell BST).
Yesterday’s darkness and rain had given way to bright sun, and enough warmth to get Migrant Hawkers and Common Darters back on the wing.
A big hawker by Sandgrounders may have been a Southern Hawker (I have had them later than this, albeit by just a few days) but it didn’t hang around and zoomed over the scrub behind the hide.
The Merlin (one of three today) was still tazzing about behind the Sandplant and at least four white cow chickens were with the cattle on Sutton’s Marsh.

Most of the Pink Feet seemed to be further out towards Banks and ‘scoping a few groups revealed nothing more than a Pink with a big face blaze.

Marsh Harriers patrolling the out marsh and a particularly sneaky Peregrine was hunched up on one of the big tree trunks, barely visible but commanding a hunter’s view of the estuary.
No sign of any Hen Harriers although I believe I missed a male from the sandplant earlier in the day.


The fallen leaves were certainly noisier underfoot and the Robin quotient was well up on Formby’s Range Lane today, but just two feeding flocks moving through the trees were thin gruel.
To be fair I wasn’t expecting much and I wasn’t disappointed.
Seven Redwings, Coal Tit, Chiffchaff, Goldcrests, Jay and a single Treecreeper dragged along by Long Tailed Tits were the best of it.
70 odd Skylarks still occasionally erupting from the stubble, and the Stonechats had more of a wintry than autumnal feel about them today.
The woodland at the old Cabin Hill farm site looked as exciting as ever but, as ever, was quiet.
About 100 Pink Feet were mooching about in the recently cleared field on Marsh Farm opposite Range High and it was possible to get close views of them through the gaps in the hedge – may as well get the Pink Feet papping out of the way now then.

Something tells me there will be plenty of grey days to look at grey geese ahead…

Morning call

The high tide was barely big enough to trouble the edge of the saltmarsh at Marshside this morning, but the sunny periods and light north easterly were pleasant, and the light was good.
A few thousand Pink Feet were on the outer marsh, with a Great White Egret dropping in briefly before flapping off north, and passage Chaffinch, Redpoll and Mipits calling in the blue.
At about 10.20am the harriers woke up and suddenly there was up to five Marsh Harriers in the air, at one point congregating off the old wildfowlers’ car park.

They were soon sailing up and down the water’s edge.
A ringtail Hen Harrier appeared, flying high and purposeful so I followed it through the ‘scope as the bird flapped south east far out over the estuary, before it turned to circle and drift back toward the Fylde.
I lost it, so the harrier could easily have dropped back onto the Ribble.
The Merlin was perched up in its usual spot behind the Sandplant, occasionally peering skyward and doubtless considering Skylark elevenses as several flocks were chirrupping overhead.

Beyond the Shelduck and Wigeons in the shallows, seven Common Scoter were dozing out on the estuary swell – the group appeared to be one female and six males, but they were a long way off.
The Sandplant scrub held two Goldcrest, Robins, Blackbirds and a few Blue Tits.
A Greater ‘Pecker that came bounding out across Marine Drive was almost certainly a migrant.

Five Cattle Egrets were “Max Wall-ing” about amongst the cows on Rimmer’s Marsh from Marshside Road, while at the other end there was a large Black-Tailed Godwit roost and at least 28 Ruff, including a white-headed bird, from the Hesketh Road platform.

A matter of direction

The calls of Fieldfares and Redwing moving north over Ainsdale (classic overshoot movement?) broke the Tier 3 inner silence this morning – autumn carries on regardless.
They seemed to have followed me back from the east coast, where I’d spent a couple of days at Spurn, returning yesterday evening.
It was relatively quiet over there, although large numbers of thrushes began falling out of the sky yesterday, plummeting like falling arrows into the trees around Kilnsea _ Redwings, Fieldfares, Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Bramblings…marvellous.
Spending time with Neill Hunt and the small band of other Spurn regulars out in the field is always a pleasure, especially when the peninsula hosted only a scattering of non-avian visitors.
Even if you can’t visit, you should give serious thought to signing up as a “Friend of Spurn” to support the tremendous work this great bird observatory does – the annual Spurn Wildlife report is worth the £24 yearly subs alone (another cracker this year), AND you get access to private areas like Church Field and Sykes’ Field AND a reduced rate at the obs.
Total bargain.
The forecast looks very good for the next few days.
Right, plug over, back to the birds…
Sunday provided a marvellous dozing Long Eared Owl in the hawthorns behind Rose Cottage, and a remarkably sedate Yellow Browed Warbler scoffing what appeared to be Harlequin Ladybird larvae in the willows in Sykes’ Field.

A cold northerly slowed things down, but Redstart, Chiffchaff and a trickle of Redwings toughed it out.

A short seawatch revealed a stream of Gannets and Guillemots heading north, a couple of Red Throated Divers and two Arctic Skuas.
The wind was westerly on Monday with heavy showers, and I got a full day in as clouds of winter thrushes began arriving in the cloudy, gloomy conditions.
The lingering Purple Sandpiper fed on the concrete blocks north of the breach, the waves frequently crashing on top of the bird – it didn’t seem to mind.
Three House Martins dashed south over the beach and through the Narrows.

A Great White Egret – still noteworthy at Spurn, although getting more regular all the time dropped onto the Canal Scrape to give point blank views as went fishing among the perplexed Mute Swan and Moorhens.

Bramblings, Redstart, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Siskin, Redpoll and Blackcaps all promised a bigger haul if the wind would shift direction…
Bizarrely Boris Johnson’s RAF Victory circled the Humber and out onto the North Sea for nearly two hours – what was he doing up there???
I felt an FOI request coming on as the plane went round and round in circles.

Yesterday (13.10.20) saw the wind swirling pretty much round the compass, before edging into North East but more birds were arriving, with Brambling, hundreds of Redwings and Fieldfares and a fine Short Eared Owl that flapped in off the North Sea and pitched down in the vegetation around the Borrow Pit.
Made it, well played!

The hedgerows and trees were filling up with Fieldfares and Redwings as they dropped out of the sky and a few Ring Ouzels started to appear.
Jack Snipe, Whinchat, Wheatear, a brace of Swallows, Arctic Skua, grumbling Brents, and overhead Pinks and Barnacle Geese illustrated exactly what Spurn is all about in autumn.

Inevitably the first Rouzel of the season was trapped and ringed at Church Field – an adult female that was a real treat to see at close quarters before it was safely released and “chuck chuck-ed” off into cover.

A Merlin chased down a Skylark for what seemed like an eternity out over the North Sea, almost as if it was playing with it (didn’t seem much fun for the lark though), and a few more Yellow Browed Warblers popped up.
Watching one of the latter around Pancho’s Pond as the sun sank lower seemed a good point to call it a day and head back west.
Roll on happier days and a return.


It seems a lifetime ago now, but the long-staying Hoopoe in West Yorkshire (the bird appears to have butterfly-flapped away now) lured me across the Pennines on a crispy clear morning for a very odd innings at Collingham and Linton Cricket Club north of Leeds.
Feeding in a world of its own on the perfectly manicured grass, the Hoopoe ignored the rattle of camera shutters as it pitch-fished for grubs in the October sun on Sunday, just a metre or two from observers.
Always crazy-looking birds, this Hoopoe show was all the more bizarre given the setting and the boldness of the individual.

Frankly, I’d never appreciated just how far Hoopoes can stick their bendy bills into the earth to grab prey before, with a rapid-fire feeding action to put a dowitcher to shame.
You can watch some of my ropey video clips on YouTube here and here.

The perfect start to a Sunday then, and with migrating Skylarks chirrupping overhead and a Red Kite drifting across the blue skies just outside town, I pushed on towards Spurn for a few days before the latest episode of lockdown lottery kicked in tonight.
If anyone else is seeing anything, please feel free to use the comment section – it’s always great to hear from you.

Out of the wind

The hawthorns, sycamores and apple trees on the east side of Haskayne Cutting were fairly sheltered from the wind this afternoon, but no winter thrushes showed themselves apart from a few Blackbirds.
The site always looks so good at this time of year – one day.
Two of the local Yellowhammers savoured the calm and in the reserve itself Bullfinch, Robins and a small tit flock moved through the scrub.
Common Darter still on the wing when the sun came out, but a Wall Brown feeding on bramble flowers seemed late to me – can’t remember seeing one in October before…

Out on the fields a Merlin was hunting the stubble, scorching past me, and scattering up to 100 Skylarks which were ranging from Plex Moss Lane over to Station Road and out towards Downholland Moss.

East of Getterns Farm the flooded field held a good gathering of commoner gulls and 70+ Lapwing.
The sky was dark with Pink Feet to the north over Birkdale Moss, presumably the birds Chris Fyles mentioned yesterday, there seemed to be thousands of them in the air.
Perhaps 1500 fed in the stubble between Plex and Carr Moss, close enough to ‘scope. Just.

Away off in the long grass

Lurking in the long vegetation, occasionally breaking cover on the other side of the cattle fence, the Grey Phalarope at Marshside was hardly the showiest of individuals.
Lovely to see any phalarope of course, but I guess we get spoiled with close views of these waifs.
Today’s bird was marginally closer than a seawatch bird but on a different planet to some of the ones that have called in in recent years – anyone expecting a repeat of the Crosby Coastal Park bird in 2018 today may have been disappointed.

I ‘scoped it for about 45 minutes at lunchtime, as it bobbed in and out of cover, but the bird never looked like coming closer to Nels – maybe it behaved better later?

Two Ravens sailing along the seawall south of the Sandplant, where at least four Goldcrest were zipping about the scrub as it was buffetted by the strong westerly – if the wind keeps up, Leach’s is a possibility further down the coast tomorrow.
Otherwise the marsh was egret-tastic, with plenty of waders and wildfowl up the Crossens end.


Highly appropriate after Monday’s fiasco in Fife, but let’s move on from that.
It was fun watching this Dipper on a fine walk with Mrs D above Dunsop Bridge today – Dippers seem impervious to the cold at this time of year and this one was busy stuffing its face with what appeared to be caddisfly larvae, which it hoovered up, spending long periods of time (ten seconds plus) under the icy current.

The tubby critters are hard to resist when they break into their cheery, wheedling song, audible above the white noise of the wind in the pines and the rush of peaty water.
I grabbed a quick video of this ringed bird, which you can watch on YouTube here.

What goes up, must come down.

It was a lengthy, rain-drenched solo haul up to Fife and back down again yesterday – especially with the birding gods in an unco-operative mood.
Getting to Kilminning long before sun up, I managed an hour or two’s kip in the car with the place to myself and the wind moaning in off St Andrew’s Bay.
The flooded roads of rural Fife and continued showers promised autumn migration, but a fleeting glimpse of something or nothing just after 7.30am in the gloomy drizzle was the closest I got to the incredibly skulky Siberian Thrush there yesterday.
So I spent the rest of the day scanning its favoured Rowan and Elders, and keeping my distance from other folks.
Shame the thrush chose to do the same.
The elders sagged under the weight of more Blackcaps than I have ever seen in one place before – up to three to a branch and hard to say just how many were zipping about or sunbathing in the sheltered corner.
A Sylvia fall no less.
A Garden Warbler, Goldcrests, two Yellow Browed Warbler, four Bramblings and 200 odd Barnacle Geese coming from the north were pleasant enough distractions from the absence of the star Sibe.
The superciliums of my first Redwings of the autumn teased me as they jostled with Song Thrushes and Blackbirds and Chiffchaffs tail pumped in the Fife sunshine.
Several Grey Wags, flocks of Skylarks and a single Hawfinch went through overhead, and the local Yellowhammers called from the scrub alongside a few Goldcrests.
Can’t win ’em all (although just this one would have been nice), but driving the country lanes recognising village names I’ve long-forgotten since I haunted this neck of the woods over 35 years ago was at least a pleasing exercise in nostalgia.
Brownhills no more.