The living daylight

Clear dawn skies and a westerly barely measuring force three today at Marshside felt like a real respite after nearly a fortnight of hooleys, snow, hail and rain.

True to form the Common Scoter was still asleep on the island on the Sandplant Lagoon – he snoozes on there each night, but it was bright enough to see the yellow on his bill by 7am today.

This felt like a treat after weeks of counting in the gloom!

At the other end of the site the Water Pipit was just waking up, perching up on a tussock on the cattle-poached muddy area about 50 metres west of the concrete trough beside Crossens Channel.

Supersexy bit of tail pumping, but not enough light for a picture – that will change in the coming weeks hopefully.

Also beyond camera range was the Snow Goose with about 1,000 Pinks out from Crossens Outer – a good start to the day, but oil checks on Southport beach have been without Snow Buntings since Tuesday and then there was just a male and first winter bird at the slipway in damp conditions.

They’ve probably just moved to another part of the coast, as most of the tidal debris has been washed up onto the sea wall here, so foraging for seeds would be harder.

Yesterday’s survey at Crosby beach was surprisingly difficult, with a brutal windchill, snow, hail and a force 7 westerly – the toughest conditions of the last few days, with a mean sand blow to boot.

An adult Kittiwake graced proceedings over the tide.

All forgotten in the spring-like weather today though as I checked farmland west of Little Crosby – it may sound corny, but the sound of tumbling Lapwings, paired up and Skylarks in full song in the bright sun were just the cat’s pyjamas.

Even if numbers are markedly lower than they used to be.

Fieldfares, Stock Doves and Pinks dropping onto the fields.

Up to six Brown Hares getting frisky, with males hurtling after females over the greening earth.

Heavens to Murgatroyd!

Light in an otherwise dark world.

You want it darker…

Top marks for attempting to stand up to Storm Franklin as he threw his weight around at Marshside just before sun up today, on nothing more than long, slender blue legs.

My first Avocet of the year at the site looked decidedly uncomfortable in the gloom as Franklin smashed the coast with the strongest winds I have experienced in this week’s trilogy of storms.

The Avocet couldn’t hack the onslaught for long though and disappeared into the shelter of a drain beside the exposed banks of Polly’s Pool.

You know conditions are wild when even the four Snow Buntings at Southport beach entrance are sheltering from the vicious blasts beneath the slipway pavement…

Really must get out in daylight again sometime soon…

Pushing against the dawn

As first light edges back past 7.30am, there’s a little more visibility during daily dawn surveys at Marshside, which means I can actually see some things before Dowhigh get the go-ahead to start working on the Marine Drive.

In the gloom I had to double take and eliminate white shopping bag, obscured and sleeping Mute Swan, pissed snowman (unlikely) and egret corpse as identification pitfalls for the white blob in my bins, before the Snow Goose woke up amongst the roosting Pinks on Crossens Inner and took on form.

About 1,500 birds dozing there this morning, blasted off Banks Marsh by Storm Dudley presumably, they began stirring and flying back out onto the Ribble as they do between 7.05am and 7.30am.

The daily commute I’m lucky enough to witness each day, gussied up by the little white one…. set the camera to “moon setting”, push up the exposure and press “hope” as the pre-dawn blue light slowly began to take on colours.

Cetti’s Warbler singing at Polly’s Creek this morning too.

Survey done, the next job of the day was to check Southport beach in case any tar balls had washed up – we’ve been lucky on the Sefton coast so far in that none have appeared here yet (despite social media hoohah to the contrary), although I don’t want to think about the potential ecological effect offshore of 60 tonnes of oil leaking into Liverpool Bay when it’s stuffed to the gunnels with wintering Common Scoters and Red-Throated Divers.

Tar balls of oil have already washed up at Blackpool, so our patrols and those of contractors are going to be necessary for quite some time.

Southport beach got the all clear, although four Snow Buntings were looking a bit bedraggled after going a few rounds with Storm Dudley.

The brightest male is starting to look more dapper by the day though.

The Twite were still bouncing about south of the beach entrance and good numbers of Dunlin, Grey Plover, Oycs and gulls were all hunkered down on the shore, pleasingly oil-free so far.

And all before the sun stuck its head above the duvet.

The very worst kind of seawatch

It was murky as hell on the falling tide and the chop, which will only get worse in the coming days, as Dudley and Eunice come calling, was building off Ainsdale.

A thin line of Common Scoter were strung along the coast, perhaps 1,000+ birds, bobbing about in the shallows and thousands of gulls and waders were on the sands north as far as the mist allowed.

I was looking for oiled birds as a spillage off the North Wales coast threatens to dump tar balls along our coast in the next few hours.

Mercifully no signs yet.

If we’re lucky, the spill may miss us, but it will wash up somewhere.

The pipe the stuff came out of has been repaired by ENI UK Ltd.

If you do come across any tar balls on the coast, please do not try to clean them up yourself – there are trained professionals on hand to tackle the problem – rather call us at Green Sefton on 0151 934 2961 and leave details of any discoveries.

More details on the Sefton Council webpages here.

Thanks all.


Interesting e-mail conversation with Phil Smith about the Rooks on Plex Moss this week.

Phil had encountered a flock of about 160 birds, and over 100 were still out there this afternoon, wheeling over the fields in the high winds, completely at ease in the gusts.

I have been seeing flocks on Plex for the last seven years at least, although the largest numbers up till now have tended to be post-breeding, with many youngsters in multi-species autumn corvid flocks, probing the rich black soil or rummaging in the stubble.

Small numbers (ones and twos) pass along the coast each year during spring migration.

I have always assumed the Plex Rooks to be birds from the rookery opposite the Morris Dancers at Scarisbrick, although when I passed there this week it seemed deserted (hopefully an exception to a wonderful cawing rule).

Others were in the trees around Lydiate last year.

A few were actually prospecting in the taller trees in the covert off Gorsey Lane today, but closer inspection revealed them to be almost exclusively youngsters (lacking in experience when it comes to setting up colonies?), while the adults spent their time feeding in the fields alongside Jackdaws and Stock Doves.

Not a lot else out there this afternoon, unsurprising in the high winds, apart from a couple of hundred Pink Feet, Common Buzzard, and in the stubble, a few of the wintering Fieldfare flock developing brighter yellow bills and blacker masks as spring approaches.

The distinctive conk of a male Common Scoter on the Sandplant Lagoon at Marshside betrayed it in the pre-dawn gloom on Friday morning as I headed out surveying – presumably the bird that has been hanging around Southport Marine Lake this winter…

What’s in a name?

Yanks call their Northern Harrier males “grey ghosts”, but it’s not a descriptive for European Hen Harriers that feels appropriate.

Birds this side of the pond are way too elegant to think of flapping around under white sheets going “WhoooooHoooo”…

Watching them sail through the air, stalling and changing direction with the barest tilt of their wings it’s obvious you’d never find one making a noise in the next room just so some z-list wonder can scream “what’s that noise???? omigod omigod” on TV’s latest most spooky celebrity haunted doodah.

Luckily it was a good Hen Harrier day for me today, with two males south of the Sandplant at Marshside at 8am (I always thought of Hen Harriers as liking a lie in, but the usual two birds were up bright and early) heading north, another male drifting south over my van on the A565 towards Gravel Lane at Banks at just after 1pm and shortly after that the dark-mantled male was hovering and riding the wind quite close to Marine Drive north of the Sandplant.

Not “ghosts” then, they should be called something more refined, as while they may lack the elastic buoyancy of a Montys in flight, they are still a supremely classy raptor.

Shame “Kite” is already taken.

I had only discussed the problem of naming a few hours earlier with Andy Bunting up at In Focus at Brockholes as we pondered a suitable new moniker for Siberian Chiffchaff given the subspecies’ fondness for sewage farms.

We agreed we couldn’t see the BOU going for “Sh*tChaff” any time soon, and the Sibes themselves probably wouldn’t be too impressed.

Ah well, back to the drawing board.

Later the five Snow Buntings (now there’s an appropriate name) were still at point-blank range on the seawall opposite Pleasureland at Southport beach and a short distance to the south the flock of 40-ish Twite was still bouncing about.