The spray cascaded onto the young Herring Gulls on the breakwater as Storm Bella’s first gusts swept over Southport Marine Lake.
Sail surfers, or whatever they are, whizzed over the northern end, and meant there wasn’t much else on the water apart from the usual Mute Swans, Little Grebes, Coot and Gadwall.
A bubble-headed female Goldeneye was distant between the two islands as I scanned from the shelter at the top before heading to Marshside.
The strengthening wind saw most things hunkering down, but the raptors were as reliable as ever on the outer marsh – a fine male Hen Harrier, hassling a dozing Common Buzzard before sailing off north towards Banks, two Common Buzzard, two Merlin, Kestrel and two Peregrines dancing about above the sewage works.
Two Great White Egrets – one on Crossens Outer and one further out on the saltmarsh, but geese were thin on the ground, apart from the ever-growing infestation of Canada Geese beyond Crossens Outer.
700+ Golden Plover, and at least 500 Lapwing on Crossens Inner, leaning into the chilly wind, but it was cold and the light was failing.
Grey as this most awful of periods of the year between Christmas and New Year often is….nature abhors a vaccuum.
After a morning cutting Sea Buckthorn out on the frontal dunes at Ainsdale, the appearance of two Short Eared Owls just before lunchtime today was superb.
The two have been around for a week or so in the dunes, but it’s the first time I’ve seen them just south of Ainsdale Discovery Centre where they hunted behind the frontals west of Slack 170 – the first big open area of water as you walk in past the office.
One of the birds has particularly pale primary bases giving it the appearance of a giant nightjar (Great Eared Nightjar eat yer heart out) – cool.
As I was working I had no bins or camera, but it was enough to watch the two birds gliding and flapping over the marram for five minutes or so and I even attempted some misguided phone grabs.
Less said about these pics the better, and as for the video on YouTube, well…
Stonechat, Mipits, Robins and finches as usual.
Chiffchaff calling away there today too and moving through the skeletons of elder scrub, but nothing particularly tristis about it.
Andy Spottiswood had his Dusky Warbler again, but I’ll save another hunt for that critter until the next bright morning when it will hopefully be still roaming around its huge circuit at the top of the National Nature Reserve.
Snatched an hour before night fell at 2pm today for a scan from the Sandplant, sheltered from the light showers and breeze by the bank.
Pink feet were scattered over the outer marsh, with 3+ Marsh Harrier, 2-3 Peregrines (including a youngster attempting to flush Pinks – someone really should have a word), 3 Merlin and a male Hen Harrier.
The hunting male Hen Harrier was fine as they always are, but dropped into the vegetation at 2pm.
A bit early to be going off to bed, although it was getting dark.
A redhead Goosander rose from the narrow splash of water behind the reedbed just off the Sandplant and flapped off north towards HOM on stiff wings – not unprecedented, but not a bird you see every day at Marshside either.
Rock Pipit calling.
A south easterly is almost always pants when it comes to seawatching from the Sefton coast, especially in the depths of winter.
So it takes a special type of eejit to venture out for a session ‘scoping a low high tide from Ainsdale.
There was some method in my madness today though as south easterlies tend to flatten out the sea, sending small waves breaking back out against the swell.
This means that any Common Scoters out there, rather than dozing with the current at their backs, are awake and alert, cresting into the waves, and crucially showing their heads – just the job when you’re looking for interesting bits of white plumage…
The downside of a south easterly is that it does disperse the scoter and numbers fall – presumably many move off to the north towards Shell Flats, but they’ll be back again.
Unseasonably mild with a few sharp showers, I gave it an hour from 1245 to 1345.
Ainsdale, 1245-1345, SEly f4, cloud, showers:
Common Scoter 250
Red Breasted Merganser 7 (5m 2f)
Scaup 5 (4m 1f)
Red Throated Diver 1
Admittedly as cunning plans go, it wasn’t overly successful, with scoters scattered over the sea, largely distant and in low numbers, but 5 Scaup were good and mergs are always welcome.
There are worse ways to spend a lunch hour.
Stonechats in the dunes as to be expected today, but the sun was a brief relief from the murk.
A morning cutting out Sea Buckthorn at Ainsdale revealed the usual winter flyovers, while this afternoon I was out checking on the cows.
This year we have Belted Galloways and Shorthorns on the dunes at Ainsdale and Birkdale – these are the heifers that were grazing at Lunt over the summer.
Docile, but dog walkers are reminded to keep their pets well away from them and under control, as you would anywhere in the countryside where livestock are grazing.
A few Snipe in the slacks as I searched for the beasts (small cows, big nature reserve), with two Redpolls at least still in the birches of the sheep enclosure and best of all a plump Woodcock batting along over the dune ridges before dropping into cover again.
Several Fieldfare, Song Thrush and the usual daily Common Buzzard around our skipyard behind Pontins at dawn and dusk.
Up to seven Skylarks foraging in the tideline north of Shore Road, but I haven’t seen Jack Taylor’s Snow Bunting, which he found late afternoon last Wednesday… it may still be around as Snow Bunts have a habit of trundling off into the frontal dunes and out of sight quite often at Ainsdale.
After pretty much a week of dank, a circuit squelching around Lunt in bright sun today was just the ticket.
Admittedly the site was a little on the quiet side, with sporadic Cetti’s splutter and just a handful of Snipe, but about 100 Lapwing in the bright sun on the Great White Pool were a sight for sore eyes, and seven Pochard were with the Tufties on the main pool.
Plenty of Teal were whistling about.
A Merlin whizzed through and local Buzzards flapped over the Alt, but the reserve’s Short Eared Owls are not putting on much of a show this winter…yet (plenty of time for that to change).
A Barn Owl was hunting the rough grassland to the south – watching one patrol a sheltered field is like watching a silent movie.
Chatting to Phil Boardman and Tony Conway I learned the Bittern had been seen earlier in the morning, and a few Goosander had favoured the main pool, but I didn’t connect with either species today.
As the light faded and the geese began to head off the mosses and out towards the coast to roost it became harder to follow the owl in the failing light and I slithered back to the car park through the woods.
A few Redwings and Fieldfares called in the branches, and while there appeared to have been something of an influx of them into the dunes this week, numbers still feel low to me.
As I understand it, the current Covid tier system allows me to launch into the six hour 350-odd mile drive down to Land’s End but not tootle over to Haskayne Cutting, barely three miles from Dempsey Towers.
Such is life.
With a tank full of gas and a hankering for a pasty, the former option was looking very attractive – downright Sociable some might say – right up until the point when the long-staying Sociable Plover/Lapwing disappeared from the fields around Crows-an-Wra yesterday.
I don’t know about you, but a 24 hour absence certainly knocks the crease out my long range twitching troosers, so I stayed local and hit Marshside today (naturally the Sociable Plover/Lapwing was refound in Cornwall this afternoon – grrrr, cue grumpy old man fist shaking at the sky).
With a dusting of snow the Lakeland fells in the far distance were looking totally Wainwright from the Sandplant this morning and a quick ‘scoping sesh revealed three Marsh Harriers, two Great White Egrets, Rock Pipit, 2 Merlin and a Buzzard.
Two Raven were on the outer marsh south of the ‘plant.
Rather than waiting for a Hen Harrier to sail through I drove up to Crossens Outer, where despite the morning frost, 300+ Lapwing and 110 Golden Plover were on the marsh, and another Great White Egret was striding about.
About 1,000 distant Pinks held a single Barnacle Goose.
A very large Peregrine-type suddenly appeared powering in from the north west low to the marsh – it looked brown with a pale buffy head and chest at distance and had dark underwings.
It was just, well, weird and thoughts turned to one of those Tundra Peregrine/calidus puzzles.
The bird perched up and although at extreme range it showed a big white supercilium behind the eye, pale forehead, glaring white cheeks and only a very thin moustachial stripe.
Its nape was streaked and perhaps lighter brown, but lacked the whole “collared” effect of a Lanner.
It was more compact than a Lanner too. Big though.
I blasted some woeful long range shots, pushing my P900 to the limit of its digi-zoom, but regular readers may remember a not dissimilar falcon I encountered out here in March 2016.
Today’s bird was bigger but had the same striking super behind the eye and white cheeks.
Its undercrackers were very poorly marked, with only a minimum of streaking visible.
Apologies for the images, but y’know…
I’m afraid you’ll have to click on the pictures to see ’em bigger for detail.
I shot a bit of video for Migraine Productions Inc which you can watch on You Tube here and here
Ignore the car noise, that’s just Marshside – imagine how much better it’ll be when we’re all hissing about silently in electric cars (or I could just switch the volume off I suppose).
In flight the falcon’s rump and tail looked a slightly warmer brown and contrasted with the upperwing but that could have been caused by the appalling winter light.
Its proportions in the air were like a normal Peregrine, but bulkier.
Perching even further away its underparts looked very pale, and it appeared longer-tailed, like a giant SprawkxMerlin cross…
Tony Baker who I got onto the bird (and Les Brown too) remarked how it was almost like a Goshawk, and I understood what he meant, it was big and bulky, but looked more svelte later out in the murk…
The falcon flew off inland at 2.25pm having spent at least an hour on Crossens Outer.
An aberrant youngster? a tundra or calidus race? a falconer’s bird (no jesses or transmitters were visible at any time)??
I’m open to suggestions and it takes my mind off pasties, Sociable Lapwings and a rather long drive south west.
Another day when someone seemed to switch the lights out early, but it wasn’t a total loss.
Admittedly I chose the wrong moment to walk into the dunes as my visit south of Shore Road at Ainsdale coincided with the rain setting in again and it went real dark, but Water Rails were still testing out a series of bizarre noises, showing up as occasional darting dark shapes amongst the semi-submerged beds of Creeping Willow.
Seems to be good numbers this winter, but there are always a few in here from November through to March, with some hanging back to breed in the peace and quiet of the lockdown spring this year.
A male Blackcap was fleeting but seven Redpolls trumped the regular small flock of Goldfinch, Greenfinch and Chaffinch, and justified the squelch through the wet dunes.
Song Thrushes seemed to have increased with the colder weather and I saw at least nine in the area around the grazing enclosures today (one was singing at Dempsey Towers yesterday morning – top effort).
The Linnet flock around the office has shrunk to five or six birds, but they still bound in to feed under my window – skittish as ever mind.