Everything moving

A day of great migration on the coast in the southerlies and hot sun – at Marshside Chiffchaffs were tuning up, Cetti’s were vocal on both sides of Hesketh Road at dawn and Wheatears were on the haul road again.

Hirundines started getting moving by 10am with my first Swallow of the year north over the dunes at Ainsdale and for the rest of the day small numbers of them came through with pulses of Sand Martins.

A walk south into the dunes from the Discovery Centre at lunchtime produced three singing Willow Warblers, gleaning the bare Birch branches when not getting musical, Siskins over and 17 Common Buzzards in two kettles over the dunes, one of which drew in a Sprawk.

More Wheatears in the dunes, including my first two females, and at least five tilting Chiffchaffs.

Vernal Mining Bees out on sheltered dune slopes, Rue-Leaved Saxifrage in bud and stacks of Little Mouse Ear and Danish Scurvy Grass flowering. Small Tortoiseshell and Comma too.

All good stuff.

Wet socks

Couldn’t work out what was spooking all the Pink Feet over the lunchtime high tide at Marshside today, until this damp Short-Eared Owl broke cover at the water’s edge seaward of Nels hide.

The owl disappeared into the vegetation remarkably effectively as it waded about looking for prey – always odd to see them hunting on the deck like this, but they seem to do it an awful lot at the marsh, so presumably it fulfills the daily vole quota.

They always look so annoyed when they’re creeping about though… Then again, they look annoyed most of the time.

Shaky video of the soggy owl on YouTube here.

The bright sun was welcome after the murky grey of my daily dawn survey (back in the Dowhigh saddle after a fortnight’s leave).

On the upside the more boldly barred of the Russian White-fronted Geese was grazing right under Marine Drive with Pinks, just below the RSPB car park, and I got great views in the 7am gloom until a passing helicopter flushed them all and they flapped off, the Whitefront dropping down about halfway along the haul road.

You can just about hear the Whitefront calling if you can stick it out to the end of my terrible first clippette. Sorry.

Great bird, rubbishy YouTube videos here and here.

This bird is more heavily barred on the right side (naturally I only got a picture of its left flank this morning(!)). Quite a distinctive individual, I first saw it on March 8th.

A Merlin clung on for dear life on a perch out on the haul road as commuting Pink Feet waddled past in the force 5 westerly – I couldn’t resist more pants video as it was buffeted about….on YouTube here.

I was back on site over lunchtime, although the Dowhigh team on Marine Drive had already stopped work before the tide flooded the marsh south of the Sandplant, so as to reduce potential disturbance.

One of the Great White Egrets was just under the car park (I will spare you more bad pics of big white things), and approximately 300 Pinks were grazing under the road, unfazed by joggers, cyclists and dog walkers.

Lovely light after the morning gloom, but thin on migrants, so the Short Eared Owl was a bonus as it hopped over deeper channels and melted into clumps of vegetation, hunched up and fairly sinister-looking it must be said.

The owl occasionally put the geese up when it got too close, although Redshanks, Lapwings, Mipits and Skylarks seemed to ignore it.

Cetti’s Warbler singing away on the SSSI ditch this morning (the Water Rail was showing there again yesterday), and another Cetti’s was tuning up on the corner of Hesketh Road and Fleetwood Road.

Fumbled a hirundine as I drove along Shore Road at Ainsdale later on – a martin certainly, but it was gone before I locked on….there will be more.

Down the wind

My first Wheatear of the year was typically mercurial, standing proud amongst the silt and puddles at Weld Road, Birkdale, this morning then melting into the marsh vegetation before I could get close – noooooooo!!!

Plenty of displaying Mipits here, with a Stock Dove feeding out on the mud too, but I left without getting better views of the Wheatear – I reasoned there would be more given the morning rain and strengthening south westerly.

I wasn’t disappointed, with another three birds on the haul road and south of the Sandplant at Marshside.

Typically flighty in the strong winds, they swept from the track back over to the Marine Drive seawall every time a walker got to within 50m of them in the bright March sun, often disappearing into the marsh vegetation that fizzed with Skylarks and Mipits.

Rather than chase them about, I retreated to the roadside and lay down on the bank, letting the trio come to me as they bounded amongst the driftwood.

Real stunners, I don’t doubt there were others elsewhere along the coast this morning, as it is getting quite late into the month for their first big push north.

Tried some windblasted video clips which you can watch on YouTube here and here. Those who suffer from motion sickness may wish to give them a miss, those who like tail-pumping foot-stampers may tolerate it.

How was your Wheatear winter I wonder?

A Rock Pipit was a surprise along the bank here, but I didn’t get particularly prolonged views before it was brushed away by the wind, and a female Siskin came out of the vegetation on the bank and across the road, dropping out of sight onto Rimmer’s Marsh bank.

A few thousand Pink Feet north of the Sandplant, flushed by the big plane from Warton.

But the Wheatears – ahhhhh, moments of light in a dark world….

Panning

A chilly westerly was doing no one any favours at Marshside this morning – hardly surprising then that I spent more time panning through the Pink Feet than searching for spring migrants.

It still took an hour or so before a Russian Whitefront appeared out past the reedbed behind the Sandplant, head down and grazing with the Pinks.

A bit distant, but clearly a different bird to the one I watched a fortnight ago, with virtually no belly bars and a smaller forehead blaze.

Still good though.

At least 5,000 geese were scattered across the outer marsh, mainly north of the Sandplant, obvious when they all flushed as engines began to roar across the estuary at Warton – everything went up from Crossens to Fairways, which was kinda odd, the birds must have heard that Eurofighter fury before.

Whatever, it meant the Whitefront was lost amongst the horde again.

A Rook heading north was notable – not a bird you get at Marshside everyday, and a Merlin grabbed a Meadow Pipit over the remains of the Forest of Bale.

Two Great White Egrets, Raven and all the usual too.

Cold.

And another one…

Rooting about in the garden today in the fine spring sunshine, but before I started rummaging I paused to watch this fine male Siskin, which dropped onto the feeders late morning.

Lovely little birds, even when photographed through the sun-blown window. As I said yesterday, hopefully more will drop in over the next few days as they pass through the area.

Despite the bright sun, stained double glazing etc, I fired off a bit of pants video too – you can watch it on YouTube here.

Thanks for all the comments over the last few days – it is great to hear from you all, keep it coming please!

Meanwhile…

A new arrival this week at Dempsey Towers, a female Blackcap was behaving against type as these warblers have been decidedly scarce here this winter.

Odd in an odd year, especially when Blackcaps appear to have been widespread elsewhere and they are usually a daily fixture in our garden. Just a few bird days with males in ’em this season. I wondered where the female had been for the last few months…

A bit like early Chiffchaffs, when it’s hard to draw a line between winterers and the first spring arrivals – birds around the Sandplant at Marshside over the last week felt like spring migrants, but ones just a fortnight ago did not.

After a brisk pre-9am appointment with the Chimpanzee adenovirus (I may now have monkey superpowers, although probably cannot be trusted around tea parties), the marsh looked bright and promising this morning.

But then an icy mist rolled in, making it hard to work through the geese and dashing hopes of a Wheatear, although a couple of Grey Wags went through as did several flocks of Meadow Pipits with north on their minds.

The Cetti’s Warbler in the SSSI ditch was so loud you could hear it from Wheatear Corner.

Back in the garden my first Siskin of the spring dropped in yesterday, like the Blackcap a female, and very welcome – when we first moved in here over 20 years ago (time flies when you’re having fun) flocks of Siskins up to 20 strong were a regular feature, often from December onwards.

Far scarcer now though with just a few popping in on spring passage (Bramblings have also been conspicuous by their absence) – fingers crossed for more over the coming weeks. What’s in your garden at the moment?

Spring limbo

Quiet as St Patrick’s Day at Pontins around the Sandplant this morning, with a Chiffchaff and a Pied Wagtail – not a squeak from the recent Goldcrests, but there’s time yet.

Cettis’s and Water Rail in the SSSI ditch, three Stonechat and Ravens commuting.

Nice light today for a change and a few thousand Pink Feet were ‘scopable from the pull-in on Crossens Outer, where one of the Great Whites was strutting about (another was on the seaward side to the north of Polly’s Pool).

Three distant Barnacles were in with the Pinks, Marsh Harriers quartering and up by the concrete trough the escaped Chiloe Wigeon was still hanging out with its wild relatives before they all dropped onto Crossens Channel and out of sight.

Wirral refugees?

Together, yet oddly apart, the three Snow Buntings on Crosby Beach were neck deep in the sand for much of the time late this afternoon, shovelling grains like Blackbirds fling leaves, as they searched for seeds.

Seems like I’m either out at first light or last light at the moment, but that’s how it goes and after all, you can’t beat a good tideline, especially when there are Snow Bunts in it, with Linnets and Ian Wolfenden’s Skylarks feeding close by.
Presumably a breakaway trio from the Snow Buntings over the water, which has rather selfishly hung onto them throughout the winter, out of reach in these days of curtailed movement.
Hopefully they’ll stick around on the righteous side of the Mersey for a bit instead of flying back to Wirral…
Unfortunately with all the sand shovelling and rain today the birds were soggy and caked in the stuff – look at the state of that beak!

Well really

Video seemed to work a bit better at capturing them in the fading light – you can watch my clips on YouTube here and here.
The flockette was shuffling and rooting around on the beach at the end of Path Three (the one that runs down to the shore from the Blucher Street car park at Crosby Coastal Park), with one well-marked male with massive white wing panels (and a nice line in beach yoga).

The bird frequently dragged its fanned tail along the sand as it launched itself on scurrying runs, but the threesome only called the once (magic sound) and I left them feeding away at 4.30pm.

Barely light

More like November than March light-wise early doors at Marshside… so I make no apology for my cruddy images of the Russian White-Front feeding with Pinks just opposite Nels on the outer marsh.
Presumably the bird reported on Birdguides yesterday, its forehead blaze shone out like a beacon in the dawn drizzle.
Belly bars all in the right place and nice pinkish bill.
The geese moved further out onto the marsh as activity on the closed section of road between Hesketh Road and Marshside Road began to increase.
I attempted some misguided video footage of the Ruskie which you can watch on YouTube here before it waddled off with the flock…
A cacophony of Avocets wheeling above Rimmers Marsh as I completed the daily survey, but disappointingly Wheatear-free (any day now).

Goldcrests have been moving up the bank over the last few mornings, and Mipit and alba wag numbers are increasing, so there are certainly stirrings…