A good drive home…

Staring wistfully towards the horizon, the big lad was as enigmatic as ever at Bempton today – you could almost see the wheels turning and sense the albatross-thought waves rippling out from the cliffs, over the swell, thousands of miles across the doldrums and away off into the South Atlantic.

What a bird – I’d dropped in for my third visit with the Black-browed Albatross as I took an admittedly circuitous route back home from a few days at Spurn, and popped in to see the Blacktoft White-tailed Lapwing too.

The albatross dozed and preened amongst the Gannets in the hot sun on the steep rockface of Staple Newk.

A bit distant perhaps, but still a privilege to scope it for an hour or so, willing it into the air.

Wonder how many more chances I’ll have of further audiences this year?

Far closer was the gangly legged White-tailed Lapwing which fed in front of the Xerox Hide at Blacktoft to the tune of clattering camera shutters – an obsessed chorus beating out its tunes with wooden spoons on a host of plastic trays.

The third one of these megas I’ve seen in the UK now (after Caerlaverock and Seaforth), but still great.

Occasionally it glanced hide-wards at the big lenses rattling away before going back to feeding, either by stirring the mud with its paddling feet like a giant Ringed Plover, or striding and snatching invertebrates in the more conventional wader way.

I shot some iffy video through the heat haze, but it was a bit blurry through the shimmer – you can watch it on YouTube here and here.

Plenty of Bearded Tits/Reedling with Snipe, Greenshank and Green Sands at the reed-fringed lagoon too.

The albatross and plover were a great conclusion to a few days birding on the east coast, (thanks to Neill Hunt for letting me crash in his caravan as usual), but Spurn, while still hugely enjoyable, with northerlies dominant, was a little quiet.

Twice daily seawatching sessions from the edge at Sandy Beaches provided a few Sooty and Manx Shearwaters, cruising north, but generally at range, dark shapes against the vastnesses of the seas…

Reasonable numbers of Arctic Skuas (double figures each day) with a few Bonxies, were busy mugging unfortunate Sandwich Terns offshore – it just ain’t your day tern-wise when you’ve got four jaegers on your tail…. with some of the pirates sweeping in over the coast.

Yesterday evening small numbers of Little Gulls, beautifully lit by the sinking sun, and including three gorgeous first year birds trekked north in little trains, a change from the Kittiwakes, Gannets, Fulmars and Red-throated Divers.

The northerlies really churned up the high tides, dirty crests of muddy water crashing down on the coastal path north of the seawatching hide.

A full summer plumage Purple Sandpiper fly-by felt pretty special.

Wheatears watched me ‘scoping the waves and when the sun did emerge, so did commoner migrants including Lesser Whitethroats and Pied Flys…

A bit scarcer, but far more skulky was one sulky Wryneck in the garden of Chapel Cottage, flitting about and lurking in the willows.

Excellent camouflage.

A short distance away a Barn Owl was dozing in hawthorns on the path to the Canal Zone, and Kestrels, Sprawks and a zippy Merlin were all on the look out for an easy meal.

Kilnsea Wetlands was as dynamic as ever, with commoner waders, Yellow Wagtails and plenty of hirundines.

The gull and Sandwich Tern roost on Thursday held a juvenile Caspian Gull, browner than the slightly older first year birds I’m more familiar with, but still distinctive as it tottered about on long legs.

I got a bit of video in gloomy, windy conditions, which you can watch on YouTube here, proving perhaps you can have too much of a good thing…

Thanks to all the Spurn regulars for the warm welcome as usual – I look forward to getting back as autumn ramps up.

Bushcraft backchat.

That big glorious red tail was swishing and flicking about like a considerably classier version of Basil Brush well before the sun elbowed its way over the fields this morning.

Boom! Boom!

In common with most of the birders unable or unwilling to twitch the lockdown bushchat in Norfolk last year, I was not expecting a chance to grip it back quite so soon.

Call it what you will – Eastern Rufous Bushchat, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin or Rufous Bushchat (eastern race), there it was, jaw-droppingly wonderful and filling my bins.

An incredible beast scurrying about the paths and walls and perching just a metre or two away – and there I was too, with June Watt, Mike Stocker and Rob Pocklington admiring the mega mega in a remote corner of The Lizard in Cornwall in the cold pre-dawn light at Treleaver.

As we spent an old school night on the tarmac, none of us had mentioned the huge moon and clear skies as we hurtled deep into the south west – a dip didn’t bear thinking about, although we needn’t have worried, the bushchat was on view from the moment we arrived at Treleaver before 6am.

The bird spent much of its time zipping about underneath parked cars and tail twitching from gate tops, alongside House Sparrows and Robins on the drive of the last cottage.

It would run out onto the track or perch up in bushes or gateposts, swish, swish, swish – look at my tail!!!!

I blagged two videos which you can watch on YouTube here and here.

I do like the meeting of two Robins in the second clip.

A surprisingly small group of just 12 birders (including us) quietly watched the rarity at point blank range from the public footpath and track until the householder woke and expressed her unhappiness at us peering into her garden.

As the lady had seen large numbers of birders on the track outside her house the night before, I could sympathise with her unease to an extent.

The bemused Bushchat watched the exchanges from underneath a parked Peugeot.

So we left having watched the bird for over an hour and before the world started stirring.

Sometimes the price of fame is raised voices and charity buckets…

We pulled out, but not before encountering Ravens, a Pied Flycatcher and Jay around the exciting landscape of Goonhilly Down, and left the dishes and gorse behind by 8.30am, with the day at our mercy.

Rather than push June’s legendary driving stamina too far we stopped off on the way back north at Dawlish Countryside Park near Exeter for an hour or two of fun with the site’s reliable Cirl Buntings.

Up to 15 birds were calling and perching up in the hedgerows and although many were in varying stages of moult, at least two males were still singing.

Later the long haul north slowed to a crawl as the motorway traffic built up, still it was a great day, with great company and a great bird.

Autumn account opened… anyone else seeing anything???

About time

Great skills from Chris Fyles who picked up the Elegant Tern in the Ainsdale roost (finally) during his monthly WEBS count with Pete Allen this morning.

Given the Elegant has been swanning around everywhere from Cemlyn to Knott End-On-Sea this summer it would have been the height of rudeness if it didn’t drop into Ainsdale at some point.

Maybe the tern should sell a tour t-shirt…

After some initial disturbance the roost settled in the usual area about half a mile north of the Shore Road beach entrance and I spent two hours playing hide and seek with the Elegant Tern inbetween asking dog walkers and horse riders to steer clear of the area.

Thanks to them for their understanding – incidentally if anyone wants to help me as a volunteer educating our increasing numbers of visitors about the need to respect this SSSI coastline and not disturb the roosts, just drop me an email at john.dempsey@sefton.gov.uk.

I’m on my hols this week but will contact you on my return.

The Ainsdale roost was a little distant for pictures and I’m glad to say no one tried to get too close, but snapping the big-beezered beauty was all a bit hit and miss – fire at the area the bird is in and hope it has its bill up!

The roost was habitually spooked by Lesser and Greater Black Backs and a Carrion Crow, but the terns settled again quickly and then it was just a case of picking up the bill again.

Top right.

When it turned face on the bird could be hard to find, but its slightly larger size and subtly different head pattern helped pin-point it.

More bull-necked too?

About 30 Common Terns, at least one Arctic and a Med Gull with the roost.

Thanks Chris and Pete – great work….

Four in a barrel

It maybe the height of dudery, but I couldn’t resist the gang of four Common Sandpipers feeding on the island in front of Sandgrounders Hide at Marshside this afternoon.

Calling and bobbing all over the place the tubsters were on fine form and I blatted them to pieces as they fed, crouched when Kestrels swept over and whirred around the pebbly shoreline.

Round and round they went…

Shameless behaviour on my part, but it’s not as if I shot any video (oh hang on….)

Yesterday’s Hobby over the house, all pointy angles so sharp they could cut you and the usual breathtaking turn of speed from a standing, or rather circling start, had kind of enthused me so I went out to HOM today, where a Marsh Harrier weaving into the wind spooked flocks of Teal and a few Wigeon and about 40 Curlew – very autumnal.

Up to five Yellow Wagtails in the fields and three Great White Egrets, plus a distant Great Crested Grebe adding to the usual Littles on the east side.

Didn’t see any Arctic Terns though, and the Quails were keeping their gobs shut while I was there…

Straight west

Didn’t have time for the full Tobacco Dump hit today, and the tide barely passed 8 metres anyway, so I put in about 2 hours from the dunes at Ainsdale.

It was murky after the early downpours, with a brisk f5 westerly bustling in at 25-35mph with big boisterous gusts, and while Ainsdale is not the best place for a seawatch, there’ll always be more seabirds here than in the garden…

Ainsdale, 8.8.21, 1030-1230

Cloud, f5 westerly:

Gannet 7

Manx Shearwater 29

Red Breasted Merg 1 female

Sandwich Tern 150+

Common Scoter 300+

Kittiwake 2

Not enough south or north in the wind to let seabirds ride the “angle” of it and sweep in near to the coast, but a few Manxies were reasonably close.

Sarnies were fishing offshore and a few were trying to roost on the beach before dog walkers disturbed them.

Nothing like the numbers on the Alt earlier in the week though.

Good to keep your eye in.

Bill please

Couldn’t sleep last night, so I slipped down to the Alt Estuary at Hightown this morning arriving at about 0645.

There were two roosts of terns developing already, one just to the north of the pumping station and old navigation wall and one just across the Alt from the Blundellsands Sailing Club clubhouse.

I settled on the bench at the sailing club and waited as more and more Sandwich Terns drifted in and at about 0745 I picked up the big beezered Elegant Tern in the middle of the roost – finally.

The bird preened in good light for the next hour as more people arrived and were able to enjoy a mega on the Sefton Coast!

Plenty of colour-ringed Sarnies (among about 700 terns by the time I left, but more were arriving) with yellow rings – Lady’s Island in Wexford?

Med Gulls, trilling Whimbrels, a first year Kittiwake in off and the majesty of the regular Swan Goose.

Fishing Gannets offshore (thanks James!) and distant terns shining white like confetti in the warming sun over the Mersey approaches.


Shaky hand-held video of the Elegant Tern on YouTube here.

Job done.

A cracking way to start the day and back to the coalface before 9am – no one suspected a thing.

Until now.

Gone fishin’

I was lucky enough to see the Pagham Harbour Elegant Tern in 2017, and too lazy (and albatross fixated) to go to Cemlyn for the summering bird last month, so a Lancs tick on Formby Beach was not to be sniffed at this afternoon when the beast relocated here.

Once Tim Vaughan had refound the Elegant Tern just before 4pm today I scooted down, however the bird had flown out into the bay by the time I strolled in from Lifeboat Road – gone fishin’.

No matter, as it was glorious ‘scoping the Albert Road roost for a few hours as birds came and went and the air was filled with harsh tern calls while the meagre high tide crept up the channels.

There’s always been a great variety of species in this roost over the years and this afternoon there were probably 2,000 terns initially with numbers dwindling as the evening went on and the sun sank.

Hard to say how many Sandwich Terns as they were so dynamic, rising and falling, fishing and bathing…

Huge numbers of Common Terns, a scattering of Arctics and up to 8 Little Gulls, with at least four gorgeous scallopy juvenile Med Gulls (several of which appeared to throw up with disconcerting regularity – what are you eating???).

Repeatedly sweeping left to right, then back again through the roost in the hope of pulling out the Elegant Tern (birds were coming and going all the time), my ‘scope rested on a superb Roseate Tern.

A ringed bird (right leg), I did wonder if it had been banded by Niall Keogh and co over the horizon – you can’t beat a good bit of Rockabilly.

The Rosy spent most of its time in the roost hidden by other birds but later came out on the north side, distant but pearly white and marvellously pallid compared to other terns to preen (it’s the left hand bird below).

A classy, black-billed beauty, but equally cool was a teeny weeny Little Tern which I picked out at the very north end of the flock an hour or so later.

My first locally this year.

No Elegant this evening, but it was still a quality few hours, with good company and a Mersey mouth boiling with terns.

Numbers are really building now with Graham Clarkson logging 4,000 Sandwich Terns off the Alt at Hightown a short distance to the south and hundreds of birds feeding offshore while we watched the Albert Road roost.

Birds seem to have deserted Ainsdale this year – a few were feeding offshore early this morning, but clearly most are between the Alt and Ravenmeols.

That can change of course, as numbers tend to peak at Ainsdale in a fortnight or so, but hopefully I’ll get another crack at the Elegant in the next few days…

Sand Eel anyone?