From out of the blizzard, joy.

I’d no sooner pulled up this morning by Redscar Woods when news came through that the Belted Kingfisher was viewable from the top of Brockholes downriver, so back round the loops of the Ribble I went.

It wasn’t long before the snow set in though and while standing in an angler’s Christmas Card was pleasant enough, it wasn’t getting the big boy seen.

Common Kingfisher, Great White Egret, 3+ Green Sandpipers and Common Sandpiper passed the time, but the snow got thicker and I decided to walk round to the Tun Brook mouth and try scanning the river from there after 12.30.

The slope down to the Tun Brook mouth wasn’t too bad today despite the “Death Slide” and “Cresta Run” nicknames bestowed upon it in the last week – with a monopod and ‘scope for a stick, grown-up walking boots, a good supply of Kendal Mint Cake and a fully-stocked well of profanities the steep muddy incline could be negotiated despite the damp and snow.

But the snow kept falling and it wasn’t looking promising.

Mercifully conditions improved after 2.30pm, and about 15 minutes after the snow stopped I heard a shout from downstream somewhere “it’s flying upriver!!!” (thanks to whoever the disembodied voice belonged to).

Just enough time to get a glimpse of the Belted Kingfisher as it flew round the bend of the Ribble and disappeared into the dense trees about 100m down from the Tun Brook. Nice but hardly enough for a bird of this quality.

I needn’t have worried – a few minutes later the male Belted Kingfisher treated the small crowd to a smashing flypast before perching up briefly in the hawthorns across the river just left of us – what a bird (see top pic)!

Then it flew back past us again, perched up briefly in the three hawthorns across the river, before sweeping back downstream to disappear into the tree-lined coils of the Ribble, as the late afternoon light began to fade.


A Little Aukward

The smallest of auks were tricky to pin down as they hurtled past in a biting northerly wind, usually at long range through a wind-rattled ‘scope during a week’s break with Mrs D up on the bracing Borders coastline.

Little Auks were certainly awkward over a week spent in a cottage with a real seawatcher’s view (see pic above) in St Abbs, as Puffins lurked offshore, and it is easy to forget they can appear very small and black and white too.

A few sessions grilling the offshore traffic were good auk hygiene with numerous Guillemots in varying plumage, Razorbills, and of course Puffins, whose characteristic smoky faces, big bills and habit of “snooty fox” fly-bys with their noses stuck up in the air, were not always obvious in the eye-watering cold.

Remembering the different jizz of pointy-tailed Razorbills, the extent of white around the rump as they speed past and checking underwings again were all a helpful refresher course.

That distant bird with an all dark head just hadn’t moult yet right?

I had a least two Little Auks I was happy with – one on the water close to a convenient Guillemot for comparison, and often completely lost in the swell on 23/11/21 and the other a classic tiny flyby on 24/11/21.

Gannets, Fulmar and Kittiwakes were regular local traffic, with Eider and Purple Sandpipers omnipresent around harbours as you’d expect in the borders at this time of year.

Divers often presented conveniently close flybys in good light at St Abbs, with two Great Northern Divers on 21/11/21, one north and two Red-Throated Divers plus two Black-Throated Divers south on 22/11/21, one Red Throated in 23/11/21 and two on 24/11/21.

A fly-past male Long-Tailed Duck on 21/11/21 and a female fishing just outside the harbour on 24/11/21 were grand, otherwise Pink Feet, Wigeon, Common Scoter and Goldeneye winged past.

Adding wheelie bins in flight to the seawatching log was enough to convince me it was wise to head home before the worst of Storm Arwen hit, and we scooted back south yesterday afternoon with 100 mph gusts, heavy rain and flurries of snow snapping at my wheels all the way down the A1 and across the A66.

Shoes and socks off

Mathematics has never been my strong point – I’ll resort to any aids available once I run out of fingers – but a few days counting waders around Burbo Bank helped address my numerical dyslexia.

Nothing out of the ordinary, but fascinating to watch the movement of the birds along the coast between Seaforth and the Alt navigation wall as the tide ebbed and flowed.

As usual, the biggest concentrations of Knot and Barwits in this area were on the sandbanks at the southern end of the shoreline, although as the roosts broke up these birds filtered back up the coast.

Over 800 Barwits and 1,000 Knot at one point, with added Oycs, Curlew, scurrying Dunlin, Sanderling and yelping Redshank.

Curlew times Grey Plover divided by Turnstone.

Fewer Grey Plover today, perhaps they were somewhere else on the coast (?) but the roosts on the Blitz Beach were as enjoyable as ever to work through from a distance with a ‘scope – these birds are always edgy here and will flush easily, keep your distance and don’t be tempted to clamber onto the rubble.

Local Ravens drifting by and a female Common Scoter out of the Mersey yesterday. Down at Hall Road a Black-Headed Gull was well on the way to full summer plumage.

One of the Carrion Crows that hang around the shore did its best Starling impression in the Burbo Bank car park, but was fooling no one – I wouldn’t fancy that sitting on my wing mirror…

All downhill from here

There are probably easier places to look for rares than the steep, tree shrouded north bank of the mighty Ribble at Red Scar Woods upriver of Brockholes.

But when last week’s Belted Kingfisher was reported again there this morning, there was only one way to go.


No sight or sound of the big (usually) raucous beastie, but there are probably worse ways to while away a Sunday than watching the Ribble snake past below, all smooth swirls and eddys as the red, yellow, brown and green leaves of late autumn parachuted down all around and local Ravens laughed at me from high above the thinning canopy as they sailed by.

Restricted viewing obscured by the trees and calf-ripping inclines, where it was very difficult to move quietly.

I’m sure I’ve worked steeper and slippier slopes in the South American cloud forests than those above the Tunbrook mouth as it meets the Ribble, but I can’t remember them right now.

At least the Nuthatches and Treecreepers seemed to be enjoying it.

Some days you get the bear and some days the bear gets you.

I called in at Crossens Outer at dusk on the way home just in time to watch one of the three Short-Eared Owls, that delighted observers there today, still hunting around the east side of Crossens Channel.

Great White Egret, Buzzard and Pinks further out.

No sign of the ibis from Hesketh Rd, but the light was failing and I hope there will be plenty of time to catch up with Marshside’s latest Glossy another day – they usually linger.

Always worth wet knees

Three cracking Snow Buntings on Ainsdale Beach today – two adult males and a young male I think – feeding in the extensive tideline left behind by the weekend hooley.

I was checking for more Man O’ Wars and By-The-Wind Sailors (none of the former, plenty of the latter) when I bumped into them.

Before I got to the buntings, many of the By-The-Wind Sailors in the tideline still retained the intense blue colouration that they show when sailing the seven seas, blown wherever the wind takes them… can’t think of anything better!

At least 20 harmless hydrozoans every 100 metres north of Shore Road, but there were probably more.

I nearly stood on the Snow Buntings as they trundled along, but they were very settled, so I lay down on the wet sand, trying to ignore the spreading damp north and south of my knees, and let them come to me.

Stuffing seeds, bathing and resting, they seemed fresh in and paid little attention to me.

Skylarks, Mipits and Pied Wags feeding in the tidal debris too – anyone with time to walk the length of the Green Beach strandline could be rewarded with more, it looks perfect at the moment.

Love Snow Buntings. I left them feeding and trilling away and headed back down the beach.

Ropey Snow Bunting video on YouTube here and here.

Washed up.

Tropical Storm Wanda delivered oceanic treasures on the Sefton coast today.

After yesterday’s hooley deposited a superb Portuguese Man O’ War on the beach at Ainsdale (I removed it this morning – no need for unfortunate “Floating Terror” related accidents for over-inquisitive youngsters or dogs), I was delighted to come across a number of tiny By-The-Wind Sailors washed up at Crosby north of Mariners Road, where I was working today.

Another Man O’ War was found on Wirral, and I suspected Velella velella was a possibility after the storm, but with seven husks on just a short stretch of the Prom, there must have been many more along the coast.

Hydrozoan heaven – I find the idea of both of these remarkable and beautiful colonial global oceanic travellers tremendously exciting (almost as good as a Sea Bean), so to encounter both on the Sefton coast in the same morning was quite something!

And it makes a change from odd trainers on the tideline.

Anyone else found any (hydrozoans that is, not trainers)?

It’s all relative

Nothing too odd about Bramblings in the autumn – those nasal calls give them away as they move along the coast in small numbers, and a few are regular at the Janet Kear hide feeders at Martin Mere at the moment.

Better in your garden though – this male dropped in to scoff sunflower hearts at Dempsey Towers in Ainsdale this afternoon – my first here in two years (2020 was a blank for these goggle-eyed beauts in our garden). Mega!

We used to get one or two sporadically over the winter, but always in the new year rather than this early – maybe it will be a good year for them.

Hasty “through the window” papping followed as it came and went with a flock of eight Chaffinches and six Greenfinches – quite high numbers for us here.

Made a change from cursing the Red Squirrel as it buried yet more acorns in inappropriate places – although the random oak plantation is now coming along nicely.

A Peregrine through too high overhead and scorching south this afternoon as I caught up with autumn gardening chores (aka killing the lawnmower).

Long stand.

A six hour survey south of the Alt today was as great a change of pace from the frenetic ups and downs of autumn as could be imagined, but none the worse for that.

There were plenty of commoner waders, with numbers rising and falling with the progress of the tide – sometimes watching the same spot for a prolonged period of time can be thoroughly absorbing.

The gulls, Grey Plovers, Curlew, Oycs, Ringed Plover and Turnstones were to be expected; but a Kingfisher hovering like a gigantic hummingbird (guess who’s reading “Glitter in the Green” at the moment) then fishing amongst the rubble of the Blitz Beach as the tide receded and a winter plumage Great Crested Grebe close in were pleasing.

A single confused Snipe sitting out on the sandbanks looked decidedly out of place, while 1100 Knot and over 300 Shelduck were more predictable.

Stonechats regular as usual, but further to the north I could see large numbers of thrushes in the air around Hightown – through the ‘scope I picked up at least 500 Redwing and 90 Fieldfare moving north.

These birds did not come over me along the coast rather they appeared to come from inland, an interesting movement. They appeared oblivious to a Peregrine that passed over them at a higher altitude.

Small numbers of Meadow Pipits and commoner finches on the move in the sunny conditions.

What appeared to be a family party of 6 Whoopers on Hightown Bends late afternoon.