Ready/Not ready

Easy enough to sneak up on Plex Moss’s very own Mr Debonair, especially now the Corn Buntings are finally starting to “sing” again.

Park up behind them, let them get comfy with you, check your camera settings and slowly drop the window before snapping.

Do not leave your vehicle.

If only I could use the same calm “moss-craft” approach all the time.

Instead when the Osprey came rowing north in front of me, just before 4.30pm this afternoon, over Station Road and Plex Moss Lane, I slammed on the brakes (no one behind me) and pointed the glass end of the P900 towards the raptor through my dusty windshield and fired.

All the while shouting “Osprey!!!” to no one in particular as you do…

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear…

Oh dear…

I should have been more prepared as Tony Conway had seen one over Seaforth earlier in the day, drifting off towards Rimrose Valley, and as it had clouded up since then I reasoned that if it (or another Osprey) was heading my way it should drop low as the cloudbase forced it down.

Always an exciting migrant, the Osprey kept plodding through and I soon lost it to view.

Hopefully there will be others and I will be ready.

Otherwise fairly quiet out on Plex this afternoon – Chiffchaffs, Jays and Marsh Marigolds in Haskayne Cutting, Lapwings and on the ditch sides Lesser Celandines shining.

Duellin’ banjos

Struck lucky at Marshside just after dawn as I pulled up and sorted out my gubbins ready for another early morning survey.

The Sandplant Cetti’s Warbler was spluttering occasionally and getting set for the day, when the bird that roams the bank from Junction Pool up to the lagoon started up too.

The Sandplant bird was not impressed.


It was time to stop chowing down on his morning Rice Krispies and sort out who the boss was, so the Sandplant Cetti’s clambered right up a willow beside my car to explode into song.

Who’s the daddy? He’s the daddy…

Shame the sun hadn’t risen enough for sharp images, but always brill to get clear sight of one of these normally secretive critters, and I enjoyed very good views before it offered me a 21 bum salute and dropped out of sight again in the brambles.

I even managed a second or two of video before it melted into cover again. Four second result here.

Chiffchaffs were singing around the Sandplant too, Goldcrest called and the Willow Warbler broke into song again deep in the bowels of the remains of the Forest of Bale on the southern slopes of the revetment.

Although I didn’t see it today, I assumed it was the same singing bird as yesterday as that had quite a feeble song too, and only sang sporadically.

Not as typically apple fresh a cadence as my first spring encounter usually brings, yet still my earliest by a week.

A male Wheatear was out on the haul road this morning, but always distant before it was spooked by a dog walker, while one of the Little Ringed Plovers displayed overhead.

Further up the closed Marine Drive, a young Merlin was contemplating breakfast as it peered out over Crossens Inner, eyeing up Mipits and Skylarks.

Up with the lark.

Marshside was playing its early spring greatest hits this morning, in calm and balmy (nine-ten degrees at 6.45am) conditions.

The continuing absence of traffic due to the Dowhigh works means many birds like this Skylark are quite happy to forage on the carriageway and pavement at first light, where they would never usually venture.

I wasn’t complaining.

Commoner waders displaying and calling away, the male Hen Harrier cruising north close in to Marine Drive in lovely light, Little Ringed Plovers scurrying around at the back of the Sandplant Lagoon and a Raven arsing about on the Outer Marsh, spooking Pink Feet with its antics and generally having a blast.

At least five singing Chiffchaffs between the Sandplant and Crossens, and the Cetti’s Warbler occasionally blasting out on the bank in the usual spot.

All wonderfully atmospheric.

After my survey I headed back down to the office at Ainsdale at 8am, but as conditions were so agreeable I stopped off on the way for a quick look at Weld Road, where plenty of Meadow Pipits were foraging in the high tide debris left by Storm Eunice, and two fine male Wheatears were rooting about too.

As I walked back to the wheels, the male Stonechat scolded me beside the track, while his mate sped off into the marram.

Whenever I see spring males, I’m always reminded of the late, great Martin Garner and the enlightening info he happily shared with me about moult in Stonechats just weeks before his death.

He was such a knowledgeable and enthusiastic man.

With temperatures soaring to 19 degrees by the afternoon I was hoping to get out into the dunes later in the day, but I had too much on.

A number of Willow Warblers have been trapped and ringed on the Isle of Man already, so I bet there was one singing in the dunes somewhere.

All to play for…


Rather tricky to get a clear view of the marvellous Belted Kingfisher at Roach Bridge this afternoon, even though it sat up for nearly 20 minutes about 200 metres upstream.

Glorious sunny afternoon, with Common Kingfishers*, Chiffchaffs, Treecreeper and Little Egret passing the time until the big lad announced his arrival with a few raucous rattles.

Lovely ‘scope views once I could get a gap through the tangle of branches you peer through down onto the River Darwen here, but it was too much to ask of the P900 to lock on with all that twiggery going on.

Like an overly complex game of blindfold Jackstraws.

Great value through the ‘scope though at the kingfisher sat up in a Willow beneath us in-between the odd Exocet dive after prey.

Best moments were when the bird barfed up a pellet (mmm…spit the fishbones outta that one) and then did a big projectile poo into the gentle swirls of the River Darwen below.

Class act.

Worst moment was when I tried to video it, despite the range… resultant blur on YouTube here.

The bird rattled off up-river, and although I gave it an hour or so, the Yankee did not reappear, so I drove home west through a Lancashire basking in spring sun mid-afternoon…

Longer views than my first encounter with it on the Ribble in November certainly, but not as close.

*Common Kingfisher in the ditch beside Sniggery Wood west of Little Crosby on Thursday, then flew off north towards Hightown while I was surveying the area.

Can’t remember seeing one there before?

(Comma and Peacock butterflies flinging themselves around the garden at Dempsey Towers now).

Ah, there you are…

Smart as fresh paint, the male Wheatear bounded about on the edge of Crossens Channel at Marshside this morning, before the sun got too high in the sky.

Conditions after a light frost looked good for more Wheatears to grace the coast today – I’m sure there were many others.

My first of the year, this one was a sight for sore eyes, especially as a moment or two before latching onto the Wheatear, the typically recalcitrant Water Pipit had dived into the obscurity of the channel as soon as it realised I was watching in the usual area.

I’ll zap the bird with my battered P900 one day…. (in my dreams).

Such a ridiculously wary thing, the pipit evaporated while Pied Wags and Mipits in the same area were happy to ignore me, even though I was peering through the cover of the trees on the bank.

Situation normal.

One, possibly two, Cetti’s Warblers spluttering around the Sandplant and lagoon, and two singing Chiffchaffs in the same area at 7am.

A nice crisp morning to be out on, when everything looked fresh in the clean, early light – Merlin, Raven, Great White Egret and up to 68 Avocets on Polly’s Pool.

Breeding waders vocal and displaying in the stillness, the traffic-free Marine Drive was a treat courtesy of the continuing Dowhigh roadworks.

A quick check on Ainsdale Local Nature Reserve later on revealed more Chiffies, Buff-tailed Bumblebees and blooming Coltsfoot.

Small parties of Meadow Pipits noticeable as they headed north.


Speed awareness

The male Hen Harrier cut south across the marsh back towards Southport as the drizzle and mist set in at Marshside this afternoon.

Yesterday morning in light that wasn’t much better, I noticed it flying alongside me over the marsh just north of Southport Pier at 6.49am as I motored towards Marshside along Marine Drive.

The bird was flying low, direct and parallel to the road, gliding along smoothly interspersing its elegant progress with “power-flaps”.

As there was no other traffic on the road at that time I dropped out of warp and tried to match my speed with the harrier.

Between the sluice and Fairways (approximately 600m) the harrier kept up a steady 27mph according to my dashboard, before veering off on a tangent and so confounding the experiment.

Excellent speed awareness in a 30mph zone buddy.

The generally mild weather of the last few winters has meant Stonechat numbers are healthy on the coast at the moment, with four at Weld Road today including a singing male.

BWP records that despite the species’ very strong pair bonding, females do most of the nest building, and I think this one was giving her singing mate a subtle hint this afternoon.

Groups of Mipits and wagtails increasing along the coast now, and more Chiffchaffs singing (I had 5 songsters north of the Sandplant at Marshside shortly after dawn this morning), but I was really hoping for a Wheatear.

Stuart Darbyshire snagged a fine male at Banks Marsh this morning, hopefully it won’t be too long before I share in his spring Wheatear joy!

Nice one Stuart.

Blurry comings and goings

Could be my turn to clean the windows again based on this poor grab of a female Blackcap that homed in on the fatballs at Dempsey Towers this afternoon.

Too gloomy for a really good view, but I thought it was interesting to see her – Blackcaps have been thin on the ground here again this winter, and although we have had a male and a female, visits have by no means been daily. Wonder if she was a new arrival?

The singing Chiffchaff on the bank at Crossens during my early morning survey today felt “migranty” too, and a few parties of Mipits moved through.

11 Whoopers rose from the sandbanks on the estuary (had they roosted there I wondered?) and plugged north towards Iceland. Just like Stephen Dunstan said.

The windchill was appropriately arctic this morning and two Barnacle Geese that winged in to the cropped turf of Crossens Outer with Pinks only added to the Spitsbergen vibe.

No sign of yesterday morning’s female Marsh Harrier, that spent her time putting the willies up the Pink Feet… but I’m sure she wasn’t far away.

Big sea

Hoping to scrawn an early Sandwich Tern in the sunshine today (one had passed Starr Gate at Blackpool early on), I ‘scoped the high tide from Ainsdale.

It has been too long.

Lovely sunshine, which lit up the pale cheeks of female Common Scoter offshore, and gave fly-by males silvery underwings, but the carpet of about 2,000 birds offshore yielded no other scoter sp – if anything the light was a little too hard, and the bay had that silty chocolatey brown cast.

At least 11 Great Crested Grebe peppering the scoter horde (quite normal at this time of year), but not a great deal else.

The dawn survey at Marshside produced a Chiffchaff in full song along the bank just to the north of Polly’s Creek – a winterer energised by the sun, or a new arrival?

Checking Southport beach for oil (a daily chore these days, but nothing coming ashore in Sefton yet) at 8am I was delighted to see the Snow Bunting flock had returned to feed at the bottom of the beach entrance slipway, and went about their business just a metre or so from me.

First time I’ve seen ’em since Tuesday last week (22.2.22).

The two brightest males are looking very fine, and all five birds appeared to be drinking out of the puddles of seawater held by the ripples in the sand – that must have been brackish at best.

Perhaps they were washing the sand off seeds stuffed into their sweetcorn kernel bills?

Camera shy

Even allowing for the murk of pre-dawn Irish Sea drizzle this morning’s visiting Raven was ridiculously wary – as they always are.

Its throaty croak sailed over the top of my wheels a second or two before the bird itself arrived, pitching down on Crossens Outer just a few metres away.

I optimistically reached for the camera, but the Raven was just playing with me, waiting until the precise moment I edged my finger towards the shutter release to laugh loud and bounce off across the turf.

Like they always do.


Even now Ravens have become a regular sight on the coast, that dirty great bill, long primaries and supercool vibe makes me smile every time I’m treated to an encounter.

These are birds that have obviously taken a left off the straight and narrow and are all the better for it.

North of 40 Avocets now roosting on Polly’s Pool, while the Common Scoter has moved its usual bed from the Sandplant Lagoon island to the back bank – the seaduck was sleeping soundly when I left at 8am today.

The Water Pipit was showing well at dawn yesterday morning beside Crossens Channel, although it was still as wary as any Raven.

I didn’t notice it this morning – probably down a muddy drain or hidden behind a sod of turf somewhere beneath the bank, although Pied and Grey Wags and Mipits were scurrying about.