Classic November murk, when it felt like daylight never really appeared.
A weekend of Lancashire dreich.
But two days off are not to be sniffed at.
Mist, drizzle and low cloud meant the Long-Tailed Duck at Hesketh Out Marsh was almost reduced to diving monochrome yesterday, but the site was still good with Greenshanks, Goosanders, Fieldfare and a big herd of Whoopers keeping the duck company.
If anything low mist made conditions worse today, but a morning birding with Neill Hunt at Marshside was time well-spent.
We called in on the Grey Phalarope first thing as it whirled about under the bank in the usual area, pinned down by Charlie Liggett.
Still spinning after five days, and no signs of throwing up yet (the phalarope that is, not Charlie).
In case you haven’t seen enough video of the thing twirling around, here’s my latest YouTube clip of it here.
I pondered how its nutrient intake compared to its energy expenditure – with such an intense feeding technique it must burn calories, so presumably the bird must have to grab micro-critters near constantly to make it worthwhile.
Neill suggested we film it for a minute then rewind and count how many times it grabbed prey in slo-mo.
It was time to move on.
We convoyed up to the Crossens pull-in and ‘scoped the inner marsh for an hour or so.
A few Ruff with the Lapwings and Golden Plover, but if anything the mist was denser out here, and the outer marsh was largely obliterated.
That checked we drove to Banks and called on the resident Little Owl, still barn surfing and scowling at Magpies in the usual spot.
Truth be told fatso didn’t do much apart from hunker down, and when the bird dropped off the apex of its fave barn, it could be remarkably hard to spot.
I shot some shaky video in case the owl did anything cool.
It didn’t – apart from falling asleep. Hard life.
Quite the contrast to the frenetic world of the Grey Phal.
Shaky Little Owl vid on You Tube here.
Heading home what looked like a ringtail Hen Harrier was cruising north over the outer marsh north of the Sandplant, but as is often the way, I couldn’t stop the wheels.
I managed a brief walk from the office at Ainsdale Discovery Centre most days this week – nothing startling, but pleasant enough.
The regular Common Buzzard was on the look-out for breakfast early doors before the sun got too high and the car park filled up.
Wintering finches include 20+ Linnets, 11 Goldfinch and 3 Chaffinch with occasional Greenfinch, with Robin, Wrens and still a few Stonechat.
There also seemed to be a bit of a small southerly movement of Meadow Pipits some mornings too, which was odd.
Only two or three Reed Buntings yet though – as it gets colder their numbers tend to increase around the office, and one perched up to preen right in front of me yesterday.
Preening Reed Bunt vid on YouTube here.
A Chiffchaff called from the Sea Buckthorn today, but there was no sign of last week’s Blackcap – the irony of me concentrating birding efforts around the very pernicious plant I spend a fair bit of time trying to remove did not escape me.
Pied Wags and up to three Grey Wagtails feed around the rooftops in neighbouring Pontins and along the perimeter fenceline.
When a tangle of tiers makes the mundane the main show that’s the way it goes.
Perhaps it was the way the white Sorbus berries looked like spring blossom, or the silhouettes the thrushes created in the crisp lattice work of branches, but a few minutes gazing up at a tree in the Botanic Gardens in Churchtown today had a real elegant Japanese vibe.
Bright sun meant the birds were all largely backlit as they gorged just a few feet above my head.
Mistle Thrush, 2 Song Thrush, 7 Blackbirds and a single Redwing all in the same ornamental tree.
As I glanced up Nuthatches called elsewhere in the park and Grey Wagtails fed like Forest Wagtails in the leaf litter.
The tree also drew Chaffinch, Robin and a female Blackcap.
I’m sure I’d have seen more if I had more time.
Just a few minutes out of the day job…
With apologies to Lee Marvin and Burt Lancaster, but it has been an odd few days.
A text from Planet Spottiswood on Sunday alerted me to Andy’s excellent find of a Grey Phalarope on a flooded path in the north west corner of Ainsdale NNR.
With 189 numbered slacks (flooded low lying areas) in the dunes plus countless winter pools and wet areas, relocating the bird after it flew north was always going to be a needle in a haystack job, and I gave up after a two and a half hour search, a few Stonechats, Fieldfare and countless Sea Buckthorn and bramble puncture wounds.
The phalarope was the very least Andy Spottiswood’s textbook patchworking deserved this autumn.
Then yesterday a sighting of a Wood Mouse in the kitchen at Dempsey Towers led to online searches with the boss for ACME giant anvils, massive coils of rope, big lumps of holey cheese and large red crosses – these being the preferred trapping methods I remember from documentaries I saw as a child.
Iron filings disguised as cheese and a giant ACME magnet may also prove successful – and can be adapted to capture Roadrunners of course.
So the appearance of another (or the same??) Grey Phalarope at Marshside today presented the further chance of a lunchtime dart into the weird as the phalarope was spinning constantly while I watched it from the bank.
Endlessly twirling it barely paused for breath – you can watch my spinning wobbly video on YouTube here.
The bird was on the small pool immediately beneath the golf course northern fence at the top end of Rimmer’s Marsh across from Stanley High School.
Andy Spottiswood will be better placed to comment as to whether it was his phalarope or not – he did mention some staining on the bird he found, which I thought I could see at first in the murky conditions today, then realised it was vestigal smokey plumage on its right breast and flanks.
One of the local Kestrels eyed it up for a minute or so, then presumably got too dizzy and flapped off.
The phalarope is probably still spinning around the pool now.
Finally thanks to new readers in the US of A who have started following the blog recently – much appreciated folks and welcome, anything must be better than listening to the big puling orange baby at the moment.
No matter how many times you witness it, the surge on a high tide that covers the saltmarsh at Marshside is always impressive.
Today was no different – at first it looked like the tide wouldn’t make, but the south westerly picked up and the estuary mouth waves got seriously stormy, with an impressive swell building offshore.
The marsh was quickly inundated just after the high tide, forcing just the one Short Eared Owl that I could see out of cover.
It dropped down again fairly sharpish, before flapping over to the bank below Marine Drive.
A few hundred Knot tazzed south to look for somewhere else to roost and the air was filled with chirrupping Skylarks, squelchy Snipe and yelping Redshanks.
GBBs and Herring Gulls were picking off voles pushed out by the rising waters, and there were two Marsh Harriers, a Common Buzzard and two Merlins out there before the water got too high and they moved off.
A brown Peregrine-type was zooming about too as I ‘scoped north from the Sandplant.
Crossens Outer was completely submerged as I checked the top end with Neill Hunt.
Three Rock Pipits were along the fenceline and hordes of Lapwing etc were on Crossens Inner, although with the wind strengthening it was hard to ‘scope the fields looking into the hard sun.
Murky, grey, squelchy and altogether great up at Hesketh Out Marsh this morning.
A fine herd of about 120 Whoopers were in the cleared field by Dib Road just before the car park – the first I’ve been particularly close to this autumn…lovely calls, cue shaky video on You Tube here.
Most of the action seems to be on Hesketh Out Marsh east at the mo, so that’s were I headed.
At least three redhead Goosander and one drake, with Merlin, Marsh Harrier, egrets etc.
The female Long-Tailed Duck was diving away relatively closely (sometimes) but it was a dark, drizzly morning to be attempting bad photography.
The second bird, a male, was further away on the second lagoon out amongst flotillas of Wigeon.
The female Scaup was lurking there too.
Tree Sparrows, Blackbird, Redwing and Song Thrush in the hawthorns and astonishingly a flyover Yellow Wagtail which bounded over my head calling away and headed north east towards the greenhouses of Hesketh Bank in the distance.
I can’t remember having a later Yellow Wag, but it didn’t appear odd in anyway, although conditions weren’t ideal for motacilla mysteries.
Bird of the day.
I still haven’t got used to Egyptian Geese being in our neck of the woods either, but three were out in the sedges right at the back of the marsh early on.
I turned away from them to watch the Long-Tailed Ducks and when I glanced back the geese had gone – they could just have hunkered down in the vegetation I suppose, but I didn’t see them again.
Time flew while I stood on the bank, but before I left I had a quick look at the west side, where two Spotted Redshank were speed-feeding in the shallows and 20 Dunlin were on one of the muddy spits.
A shame the Long-Tailed Ducks were so distant, I may have a try for the more obliging bird at Crosby Coastal Park if work takes me that way in the week – it is still frequenting the north end of the Marine Lake and small boating lake and showing very well.
Despite the blustery south westerly, interspersed with uncomfortably heavy downpours (ain’t November grand?), the male Hen Harrier cruised purposefully by the Sandplant at Marshside, flapping into the wind looking to scatter larks and pipits, which generally stayed put in the wild conditions.
I was delighted to see the thing – it was pretty much the first bird that came by after I arrived and I quickly pressed the red “blurry wind-rattled video” button on the back of my camera – you can see the results on YouTube here.
Not quite a full adult, it wasn’t far off apart from a slightly darker mantle and some flecking on the upperwing – a beautiful bird that somehow managed to convey grace and agility regardless of the high winds and occasional mobbing from BHGs and Herring Gulls as it powered south.
I grabbed a couple of blurry images before the harrier disappeared behind the reedbed and Sandplant revetment.
A great beast.
A check of Sands Lake and Southport Marine Lake was not as successful – no tired scarcities seeking shelter from the storm, although the latter’s Little Grebes were joined by a distant Great Crest.
Another Dabchick was stuffing its face with a Stickleback in front of Sandgrounders.
GBBs were hustling Wigeon on the edge of the estuary vegetation and away off to the north two Marsh Harriers were stalling and wheeling in the wind and a Great White Egret was off Crossens Outer.
Hen Harrier Day.