Across the great divide

With the Warren at your back and the blue skies above, the sandy wastes of the breach at Spurn don’t look that daunting.

Just a short stroll to the Narrows on the other side.

But when you’ve trudged halfway across and start to notice the dessicated remains of mastodons, the sun-bleached skulls of cows and cow-pokes and that rarest of all finds, the skellingtons of honest politicians picked clean by the easterly winds, you quickly realise you’re in another world.

Yup, it’s a tough walk, head down and keep looking at the sand at your feet till you get to the other side.

Things got weirder when the “unimog” sailed by, trundling along with its load of day-trippers.

Out of time and out of place.

Suddenly the fat-wheeled electric bikes beloved of Spurn regulars start to make sense.

The walk across was worth it today though to spend a couple of hours with the male Eastern Subalpine Warbler hanging out at Middle Camp.

The bird was pretty elusive this afternoon, perhaps because of the strengthening easterly wind, but it fed constantly in the Sea Buckthorn and wild flower jungle.

I was hoping to hear it sing (apparently it was warbling away yesterday) but had to make do with a few Wren-like tacking calls.

Occasionally the Subalp clambered up high to show off its splendid slaty uppers, twirling white moustaches, rich red throat and white undercrackers. A crazy beast with angry ruby red eyes…

A great bird that more than repaid the Bank Holiday dodgem ride over the M62 and back. I tried a bit of ill-advised video, but it was too sunny and windy. The clip is on YouTube here. Sorry.

On the way out I paused to admire the female Black Redstart by Southfield Farm and check in on the reprobates planning the mother of all sunny Saturday BBQs after a good days birding that earlier on had included Bee-Eater and Bluethroat.

What could possibly go wrong?

As I accelerated onto Easington Straight I checked the rear view mirror for billowing mushroom clouds, and listened out for the dull thud of explosions, but all was clear on the eastern front.

Enjoy fellas.

On the beach

Great result for the combined ringers and cannon-netters who managed to trap, ring and release approximately 800 Knot and smaller numbers of Sanderling and Dunlin over the high tide off the Green Beach today.

The main target of the exercise was to colour ring/flag Knot, and after last year’s attempts which resulted in a much smaller catch, today the experts had full holding boxes and very busy ringing pliers!

Catch you later “VCV”.

With a three hour deadline before release, the team worked in an industrious, efficient production line.

Much like a flock of feeding waders on Ainsdale beach really.

BTO ring, colour ring and flag, then measurement, weighing, logging and release.

This year the Knot have green colour rings and above that an orange/red flag bearing three letters on the left leg – these should be easily visible through any decent ‘scope for wader watchers the world over. BTO silver ring on the right leg of course.

I’m assuming most of the Knot were second year birds, with some showing more peachy colour than others.

Here’s a couple of pics for the moult freaks out there…

Thanks to the ringers who converged from Bangor Uni in Wales, Leeds Uni and all over the north west, including the South West Lancs Ringing Group (Hey Ian! Hey Jack!) to successfully carry out the catch, and co-operated so closely with Green Sefton in the organisation and on the day.

Always more difficult observing Covid-19 safety measures but it went smoothly.

Thanks to other beach users who steered clear of this section of the coastal Site of Special Scientific Interest during the day.

And special thanks to Dave Bickerton for letting Helen, one of the Green Sefton coastal team, release one of the Sanderlings (Helen was made up Dave, cheers).

Great to see you all again, great to see so many of these colour-ringed globe-trotters getting off safely. I look forward to hearing of their travels.

*If you come across one of the colour-ringed Knot, let me know, but also log it with the BTO online or use the International Wader Study Group pages.

That time again

Bold and as yet blunt (until they have their first near misses with garden predators that is), the fledged Robins were out on the grass this morning.

Our very vocal male Blackcap was in too, bursting into song in between shovelling gobfuls of suet and seed down its neck.

Marshside was fairly straightforward early doors, with all the usuals about, although two Common Terns batting out to sea were different and inspired me to nip up to Hesketh Out Marsh (East) for a quick look at the Arctic Terns when my survey was completed.

The feeding waders had that “morning after the night before” look that they do following a prolonged spell of heavy rain, but a rather fine summer plumage Turnstone was out amongst the Ringed Plover and Dunlin, and a very washed out Grey Plover mooched about, albeit at a distance.

The Arctic Terns were indulging in a few elegant display flights, not bothered by another late May morning of single figure temperatures and light rain – they experience far worse most of the year.

Consigned to yesterday

You’ve got to keep your eye in, but expectations were low yesterday, with a feeble high tide, and anti-seabird easterly at Ainsdale.

Still gave it 45 minutes or so as the fishing boats came back in over the falling tide, and while there was little movement, it never hurts to give your seawatching legs a stretch.

Reasonable numbers of Gannets fishing offshore, the adults visible plunge-diving right out to the rig, but not many scoters left now.

A close-in Red Throated Diver still in winter plumage with that “Great White Shark” stark black eye staring out of a snow white face was pleasing, and another three flew through (two south, one north), including two in full summer plumage.

Ainsdale, 14.5.21, 1330-1415, easterly f2, cloud and mist offshore:

Red Throated Diver 4

Great Crested Grebe 13

Common Scoter 37

Gannet 52

Sandwich Tern 8

One small gathering of scoter were feeding instead of sleeping for a change, diving en masse and all bobbing up like big corks at the same time.

The usual late spring gathering of Great Crested Grebes, all in summer plumage, was obvious, and a few clouds of waders went north (usual species), but if you’re staring at waders you ain’t seawatching.

Looking forward to better winds, better tides and more birds.

A south to north ‘scope sweep from the dune revealed at least 14 bulky Grey Seal heads and snouts poking out of the flat calm sea.

Earlier in the day a young Marsh Harrier came in off the sea over the Green Beach only to be mobbed by Carrion Crows and Buzzards alike during the last date of my guided walk cycle.

Anyone else been out between the showers?

Back in the office

Nowt out of the ordinary, but a lovely day “back in the office” today, with Whitethroats and Wheatears, Swallows, Sedge and Cetti’s Warblers along the closed Marine Drive at Marshside during my survey, and fly-by Raven too.

(A young Raven was perched up in Southport town centre later in the day).

A Spoonbill came in high from the west and dropped down into the channels behind Polly’s Pool and as it did so it showed black primaries – a different bird to the fine adult I watched at the marsh on Friday.

No time to check the treasure trove that is Rimmers Marsh at the moment, but I did get to lead a guided walk in the dunes later in the morning – my first since the whole Covid-19 nightmare began.

With Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 choosing the theme of nature, I’ll be doing a few over the coming days as part of that initiative.

Despite reduced numbers of participants (some restrictions do still apply) and a few downpours, it was still great to watch people reacting to common warblers singing around Sands Lake (Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Sedge and Reed Warblers), taking pleasure and interest from their songs – especially the “Northern Nightingale”.

Skylarks, Swallows and Wheatears on the New New Green Beach.

Not a bad morning’s work.

Up periscope

Lifting its head out of the vegetation only briefly the male Garganey was snorkelling away in the shallows at the top of Rimmers Marsh early doors this morning.

I was just leaving the site after another survey when Stuart Darbyshire pointed it out to me from Marshside Road – thanks Stuart!

I never seem to have enough time in the mornings these days, and today was no exception, so I left before the usually elusive quacker emerged from cover again.

Its ruby red eye glared at me through the grasses.

Whimbrel whistling through, plenty of hirundines along the bank and two Wheatears plus all the usual during this morning’s count on Marine Drive between Hesketh Road and Marshside Road.

I went back up for another look after work, and while the Garganey was still in much the same area on Rimmers, it was a bit further out on the marsh, and still hugging the vegetation, with the afternoon sun making everything wibbly wobbly.

Morning is always best.

The Wood Sandpiper was still present, dozing very close to Marshside Road (please be careful of the traffic here – watch from the pavement on the other side of the road) before it woke and began feeding.

Little Ringed Plovers, Ruffs, White Wags etc.

Barely larger than the Dunlins it was with, I left the Wood Sand being admired by a growing crowd and headed up to Crossens Inner, where the Spoonbill, remarkably for this species, was a blur of energy, feeding and flapping about like there was no tomorrow.

I felt tired just looking at it. They’re still undeniably daft though.

The bird I saw on April 16th didn’t appear to be as strongly marked as this, but it was in flight and three weeks ago…

Tried a bit of video today, but the Spoonbill was distant, it was windy, shaky and the traffic noise roared between my ears like an extreme white noise syringing… buckle up if you want to watch it on YouTube here.

I’d go mute if I were you.

Fingers crossed tomorrow’s rain brings results, we are due a Wood Warbler…

Close encounter

Just the quietest of clicks to my right alerted me as I was tallying up the morning Marshside survey at stupid o’clock today.

A male Wheatear had flown in to perch on one of the posts on the edge of the RSPB car park, about two metres from my open window, its feet making a clicking sound as it alighted on the perfect perch.

Giving up breathing for the next few seconds I shot a bit of video and took three pictures as quickly as I could before dumping that stuff and just admiring it in the hard light inbetween the showers.

The Wheatear pulsated in front of me, its feathers rising and falling ever so slightly.

You can watch my vid on YouTube here.


Then with a flick of the wings it was gone, bombing off behind the Sandplant.

One of the closest encounters I’ve had with a Wheatear (not counting ringing), what a bird!

Before the hail and sleet slammed in, the day was looking quite promising – a few flocks of Dunlin hurtled off the estuary and dropped onto Rimmers Marsh, all frantic and fast, while 21 Golden Plover followed the same trajectory.

Skylarks, Cetti’s, Willow, Sedge and Reed Warblers, Whitethroat, Blackcap and Chiffchaff all singing.

A Great White Egret flapped north.

Male Little Ringed Plovers were zooming about, and I’m sure the “Stanley Pools” in the north east corner were on top form again.

I didn’t have time to check ’em, but sneaking a look at Wheatear Corner on the way back to the world produced a fine male Whinchat.

Shortly after I howdy-ed Stuart Darbyshire, who’d seen a female Whinchat down there too.

A weather eye on Plex

Persistent rain and a strengthening south easterly buffetted the car, with the weather getting more intense as this morning progressed – perfect conditions for Dotterel on Plex, right time, right place etc.

Shame no one told the Dotterels.

At least four of the Golden Plovers still in the stubble past Getterns, although they were flighty today, and the rain had grounded up to ten Wheatears.

Over 300 Common Gulls scattered across the ploughed fields (317 to be exact Common Gull fans) and a few Corn Buntings mangling the concept of song, as the footwell slowly filled up with Lancashire rain.

Whenever you’re ready…