Decisions, decisions

North East Lincs was as dreary as only this county can be on a cold, wet December day, so the Ness Hide at Far Ings seemed as good a place as any to sit out a few hours.

Totally Rain Dogs.

The reedbeds held Bearded Tit, Cetti’s Warbler, Reed Buntings and Water Rails, largely calls only in the gloom, and Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Gadwall, Cormorant and Mute Swan were on the water.

Bullfinch and spadgers were in the hawthorns behind and the whole place was stowed out with Blackbirds.

Plenty of fish in the lagoon though with Cormorant grabbing a Pike and even Moorhen snarfing down a smaller, unidentifiable species.

It still took an hour or so for one of the site’s reliable Bitterns to wander out of the reeds mind, and it was wary, only staying in the cleared roads between the patches of reeds for a few minutes before it melted away again.

Too gloomy to get sharp shots of it – will post some video at a later date.

There we go…out of the Google security black hole – a few seconds of carpet bag vid on YouTube here.

Hard to use that sensitive bill in the shallows when it’s raining I guess.

Ah decisions, decisions – did I stay for another few hours testing out the heat-retaining qualities of my new super deluxe welly socks to the limit and practise with a new phone adapter on the ‘scope (still perfecting that one)?

Or should I head back to the warmth indoors to trial the brilliant robotic red T-Rex (with fully operational rocket launcher) that Father Christmas brought me?

No contest – small things for small minds.

Now, where are those AAA batteries?????

Gold and grey.

Low cloud and cold, although it was a peaceful pleasure counting along the coast north of Hall Road this morning over the tide, with barely a breath of wind.

Nothing out of the ordinary (there are often one or two Golden Plover lurking in the Blitz Beach debris during winter), but by carefully staying out of sight and off the rubble beach itself the waders were easy enough to check through.

The big numbers started to appear as the tide fell back of course, and the birds began to feed on exposed banks north towards Hightown.

Peak counts included 307 Oystercatcher, 284 Curlew, 199 Lapwing, 128 Dunlin, 50 Sanderling, 42 Ringed Plover, 26 Redshank, 16 Turnstone, 14 Grey Plover and single Bar-Tailed Godwit, Black-Tailed Godwit, Snipe and Golden Plover.

The calls of Pink Feet were audible from inland most of the morning, and a few modest skeins numbering between 116 and 30 tracked south offshore from my vantage point.

Given my steadfast refusal to post seasonal pictures of festive Robins I should take this opportunity to wish all the readers and contributors to the blog from all over the world a splendid Christmas and happy, prosperous New Year.

Seasonal flashy

With the pre-decimal end of Southport Pier hidden in fog and the calls of invisible but disorientated Pink Feet lost in murk, it was clearly not a day for ‘scope action.

Luckily we currently have Snow Buntings to keep us warm at several places along the coast this winter, and as five were still feeding at the base of the seawall opposite West Lancs Yacht Club on the right side of the fog bank, I spent an hour with them today.

Nice and close and completely oblivious to me on the sea wall just above – engrossing to watch as they squabbled and fed, stripping the dessicated winter vegetation of seeds before scurrying off on short range surging runs searching for more food.

Snow Bunts always seem so pre-occupied (we all gotta eat I guess) – one nearly got his head stuck in an upturned whelk shell as he scoured the tidal debris!

Shame about the constant drone of Sunday afternoon traffic, as cars doubtless filled to the gunnels with Christmas, slid by behind me.

Shallow soul that I am I concentrated on the brightest, whitest male in the pack – he was easiest to follow in the gloom, and frankly showing off quite a bit this afternoon…

YouTube video dross available here. if you’re gonna watch it, hit mute to avoid the traffic.

The bouncing Twite cloud loomed in and out of the fog a few times, about 60 birds that I could see.

Conditions couldn’t have been more different on a sparkling blue sky Friday, with a pot-bellied Woodcock lumbering out of Sniggery Wood behind Little Crosby in the morning, and five Corn Bunts, Skylark, Siskin, Linnets, Grey Wags, Buzzards, Lapwing, Curlew and 1,000 Pinks nearby.

Old school agricultural.

Up at Ainsdale the tideline was busy enough with folk to have sent the Snow Bunts there incognito (presumably lurking in the frontal dunes – that’s where they usually run when disturbed), but the wintering Skylarks were good value – look at the hind claw on this critter!

And the Reed Buntings were still busy stripping seeds off the Marram heads.

Two Cacklers.

There were two Cacklers out on Banks Marsh today – the first was Stuart Darbyshire’s fine Richardson’s Cackling Goose, showing occasionally in a galaxy far, far away from the bank.

The difference between small and far away is entirely superfluous at that range.

Mercifully Stuart sent me his superb image of it above, which he got when the bird was feeding with the Pinks on the other side of the seawall nearer Crossens a few days back. Thanks as ever Stuart.

See how small it is? And look at that tiny bill!

Today, although we were treated to gorgeous winter sun and mild conditions, the most I could aspire to image-wise was a single pixel of the bird it was so distant – but if you squint really hard you should be able to make it out in my images below… almost…

Setting ‘scope to full zoom.

Six Barnacles amongst the Pinks out there too, and as we chatted Stuart picked up a Pale Bellied Brent Goose, which despite a “Brant” quality huge neck collar otherwise fitted all the PB criteria.

Male and ringtail Hen Harriers sailed by and Great White Egrets were strutting about.

The second Cackler of the day was Rob Pocklington’s son Rudi, who understandably was somewhat underwhelmed by his dad’s efforts to ‘scope the Richardson’s as it melted into the vegetation for long periods.

Dancing in front of his dad’s scope and giving Pocklington senior the “L” for loser hand signal down his lens was far more entertaining for the youngster, and I could only sympathise.

I wasn’t much older than Rudi when I was taken to see what was the first “Richardson’s Canada Goose” on Downholland Moss back in 1976, and that one was considerably closer.

Nice work Rudi, good to see you both on the marsh and let’s face it – how often do you get to see a dead cow travelling by tractor?

Leaving Banks I had a quick look at Marshside from Hesketh Road – Cetti’s and Goldcrest in the corner with the usuals on the floods and edges.

After that I had just enough time to call in on the Snow Buntings from the seawall north of Southport Pier in the failing light while nasally Twite bounced about.

I could see two Snow Bunts blending into the tidal debris, but the other one couldn’t have been far away.

The light wasn’t much better and it was drizzling yesterday afternoon when I scanned Southport Marine Lake, where the male Common Scoter was commuting between the islands.

Last of the light

Banks’ chubbiest resident was enjoying the last of the light this afternoon up on the apex of its fave barn.

Ignoring the attentions of local Magpies, the Little Owl watched the sun slip down the sky.

Just up the road at Crossens Outer a small crowd at the pull-in was enjoying another performance from the three Short Eared Owls that are currently favouring the rank vegetation around Crossens Channel, although at least two of the birds took to circling high over the marsh as I watched them.

A late arrival on the estuary for me today, after too much navel gazing (sigh, another high tide missed), but at least my first male Blackcap of the winter was bathing under the feeders at home – in the short winter days I don’t get many opportunities to see what comes into the garden.

Not enough time before heading to work and dark when I come home.

Out on the marsh one of the male Hen Harriers cut north, but it was a bit too far away to make out whether it was the pale or dark mantled one.

Three Common Buzzards were perched up, a Marsh Harrier drifted down the estuary and at least six Barnacle Geese were with the distant Pinks.

An immobile white blob far away out at the back of Banks Marsh in the decaying afternoon light may just have been the Snow Goose – but it could also have been a white shopping bag or plastic bucket.

Sometimes they’re just too far away.

Quality murk

Same as it ever was, yet always different – I snatched a few hours scanning the Ribble winter murk from the Sandplant at Marshside this afternoon.

It has been so long since I was last down that it took me an hour to realise someone had pinched the big golf ball at BAE Systems, Warton – which goes some way towards explaining why my directions may have been a bit confusing for fellow observers at first.

Peregrine, Common Buzzard and Merlin virtually torpid as they perched on posts and tide dumped timber, before one of the latter put a bit of fizz in the afternoon, speeding over the vegetation in the gloom.

Much further out the Snow Goose flew in at about 1.45pm with a couple of Pinks, its black wingtips just visible, before landing at interstellar range out on the furthest reaches of Banks Marsh.

Even at 60x mag, it was a white goose-shaped blob that disappeared down dips and hollows frequently, and came no closer than the moons of Jupiter.

One of the Short Eared Owls was cruising over the bleached grasses at the edge of Crossens Outer, but it was nearer 2.30pm before the first male Hen Harrier appeared.

Within 30 minutes there were three – two males and a ringtail – up and crowding the same ‘scope view as two dashing Merlins that were doing their best to hammer the Mipit population.

Stunning to watch the five raptors tumbling and twisting in the air.

Couldn’t make much out on the ringtail harrier, but one of the males was brighter and cleaner than the other, which had a clearly darker mantle.

“Clean” and “dirty” (per Ken Morrison) or “pale” and “dark” (Graham Clarkson) – just fine to chat to you both again this afternoon chaps.

A Great White Egret out on Crossens Outer as visibility melted into wishful thinking at 3.30pm.