Out for a duck

An hour or two with the Lesser Scaup found by Stuart Darbyshire this morning at Marshside RSPB was a Sunday sesh well spent.

The drake was dabbling for an inordinate amount of time (you’re meant to be a diving duck) at the end of the channel off Sandgrounders Hide, it was bling-free, fully-winged and as chipper as they come.

Smaller than nearby Tufties, the Lesser Scaup kept away from them generally.

I had hoped the Yankee may come closer, but although it dabbled up the channel towards the screen once or twice while I was there, it always veered back to keep a discreet distance.

Not everyday you see a Lesser Scaup with a Garganey though (two of the latter were around the lagoon and LRPs were nipping about calling).

Shot a few seconds of video of the peaky-headed dabbling/diving duck, which you can watch on YouTube here.

Stop, Look, Listen

Wise railside advice that the Eleonora’s Falcon took to heart in Kent yesterday, refusing to move from a distant sun-silhouetted roosting perch for the first five hours we watched it.

This meant that while key identification features – super long primaries, brown uppers and buffy brown streaked undercrackers, size and that striking head pattern – could be slowly pieced together, it wasn’t really living up to its full MEGA potential.

A walk over the railway crossing and into farmland beyond meant the falcon could be watched without looking into the sun, but it was still distant through a wicked heat haze.

Truly wibbly wobbly video and excellent commentary on “Mr Angry Smiley Face” on YouTube here.

While all were doubtless delighted to tick the falcon, it was obvious everyone wanted the bird to do one thing, and one thing only – FLY.

But the Eleonora’s refused to budge, even when Dover trains rattled past just metres away, or when Woodpigeons crash landed next to it, or when four Magpies indulged in a spot of predator hassle.

Hours ticked by with just a female Red-Footed Falcon, six plus Hobby hunting the Worth Marshes, Red Kite, Banded Demoiselle etc to pass the time under the Kent sun on the Pinnock Wall.

Finally, after interminable wing stretching, tail flexing and snoozing, at 10.45am the falcon transformed from a distant blob to a rakish-winged, supersonic killing machine, launching from its perch and scorching across the fields, over our heads and up over Great Wood to hunt for the smitten crowd.

A bad morning to be a dragonfly – or anything else within its prey range for that matter.

With hundreds of ‘scopes, cameras and birders lined along the Pinnock Wall I wondered at the contrast to Anthea Copleston and Ken Horton’s momentous discovery of the first Eleonora’s Falcon for the UK in 1977, just a mile or two from home at Cabin Hill, Formby.

A different age, but the buzz must have been incredible.

The Eleonora’s really was quite the most stunning hunter – plunging, stalling, hovering and ripping through the air on long dark wings, making nearby Hobbys look decidedly sluggish.

Sometimes the hard sun caught it and usually dark underwings appeared much lighter as it plummeted through the air above the wood.

After its first dazzling show it perched up for a rest, and gave us the chance to get a good clear view of its plumage – a brilliant bird of prey, that transformed from aerial killing machine to cute “Mr Angry Smiley Face” again when it landed.

A fine performance and great day (if tough drive) with Rob Pocklington, Jason Stannage and John Aitchison.

Singin’ in the rain…

Airfixmen glued to pieces of slate, clouds down to the ground, the smell of Oak leaves sluiced by persistent rain, “green” air in a dark wood, mint cake and pencils to die for.

Plus soggy Wood Warblers, drenched but still trilling away God bless ’em when I drove north to spend the morning in White Moss Wood by Rydal Water in Cumbria today.

At least two birds audible as soon as I walked over the footbridge across the river and into the oak woodland clinging to the slopes below Rydal Crags.

One bird held my attention for the next two hours, and frequently came in close to trill above my head.

Strong winds washed showers of rainwater down from the canopy, but the Wood Warbler still spluttered away, in between Chuck Berry duckwalks along favoured horizontal branches, fluttering display flights and gorgeous “tooh tooh tooh” breaks from the trilling.

Even in the dark and dire wet conditions, its throat shone yellow as my camera, pockets and boots slowly filled with water.

When the bird sang, which it did frequently, its whole body shook, long wings and tail quivering – I’m too crap with a camera to capture it, especially in today‚Äôs conditions, but it looks something like this:


To hear the song, go to the awful clip I’ve loaded onto YouTube here – forget the deluge and over exposure, just listen to the sound…

Once the rainwater pouring off the canopy began to rise and finally reach my chest I decided it was time to pull out.

The Wood Warbler didn’t look unduly concerned, so I left it to its trilling duties.

Motored down the back roads on the west side of Windermere, pausing to snatch some snap at the Osprey watchpoint at Esthwaite Water – funny how these things always choose to nest next to CCTV rigs these days…

The westerly was still blowing mad as a lorry through the Rusland Valley and Finsthwaite, so I only stopped briefly to enjoy some fresh Wood Warbler trilling and roadside Garden Warbler action before pushing on.

Leaving my bins to dry out I succumbed to botanical temptation and called into Latterbarrow, where I was treated to six species of orchid – Fly, Greater Butterfly Orchid, Common Twayblade, Early Purple Orchid, Green-Winged Orchid and Common Spotted Orchid.

Most of the Early Purps were going over, and the Common Spotteds weren’t quite in flower, but I was delighted to find a Green-Winged in reasonable condition – I’ve not been able to organise a walk into Altcar Rifle Range this spring (hopefully next year folks), so this was a bonus.

The site’s Fly Orchids were on top form – at least six flower spikes, delicate and fantastically coloured. Despite the wind they were certainly worth papping – I probably won’t see any more this year now.

No sign of any Fragrants yet though.

Brimstone butterflies galloped past while Bullfinches, Nuthatches and Blackcaps called and sang as the sun finally warmed things up and I turned the wheels to the south and home.

I wonder if the Wood Warblers have dried out yet.

Probably not.

To be or not to be. That is the pencil.

Hide and seek

Sliding from spring into summer, Plex was still pleasant enough this afternoon, although the westerly wind made things a bit tricky, especially when playing hide and seek with a Lesser Whitethroat in Haskayne Cutting’s elders and hawthorns.

This bird has been rattling away for the last week or two, but with lush vegetation it was difficult to keep track of, especially as it remained mobile, frequently completing a circuit of its territory, and often using brambles and scrub for cover.

It’s sweet scratchy warble and rattling got most intense in response to a singing Common Whitethroat, which, as usual had no inhibitions about sticking to cover…

Chiffchaff, Blackcap, and of course Yellowhammer singing away too, Water Avens blooming and a carpet of marsh orchids sprouting up.

No sign of any Large Red Damselflies today though.

With no return by the Lesser Whitethroat that held territory close to our office at Ainsdale in 2020 and 2021 so far this year, it was pleasant to listen to this bird rattling away in the sun, but it only clambered up into the upper branches once or twice.

Sneaky is as sneaky does.

Birds on the edge of a nervous breakdown

Even allowing for the migratory inconvenience of the early morning downpours, the Spotted Flycatchers at Sands Lake appeared hyper-stressed at the very least – rarely sitting still, and zooming all over the place.

Not that flycatchers are known for their relaxed approach to life. Chill for goodness sake.

With Stuart Darbyshire reporting three at Marshside and John Kelly finding one on Royal Birkdale Golf Course this morning (Chris Fyles had seen two at the Birkdale end of the Local Nature Reserve yesterday), I wasn’t overly surprised that a quick circuit of the Sands Lake at Ainsdale this morning produced two of these beauties, but it was very gloomy under the canopy in the rain and most of the time they were shadowy shapes zipping from one branch to the other.

The rain had already brought down the largest flock of hirundines I’ve seen around our office this year – 22 birds, mainly Swallows, with four Sand Martins in tow, that melted away as soon as the rains eased.

As usual the Sands had its usual healthy compliment of warblers – singing Reed, Sedge, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Blackcap, while a trilling Whimbrel headed north overhead.

As I tried to stalk the flighty flycatchers I was delighted when a Garden Warbler lumbered up out of the nettles to feed clumsily in the lower branches in the south west corner.

My first of the year, ogling me with that big staring eye. Marvellous.

It sang briefly before melting back into the depths of cover.

Sedge Warblers are finally in good voice after initially being quite thin on the ground on the LNR south of Shore Road – if ever you wanted to really hear a bird on the edge of a nervous breakdown, you could do far worse than listening to a Sedge Warbler… their insane song is all over the place, but none the worse for that.

Three pounds of poop in a two pound bag!

The resident Stonechats near the office have successfully fledged young now too, with the protective father always close at hand….

I popped back to the Sands Lake later in the day as conditions brightened up, and the two Spotted Flycatchers were still present, but ranging further through the cover – genuine “Thunderbirds” brought down by the heavy rain.

The Garden Warbler sang quietly and sweetly once or twice but remained typically invisible, and as the temperature perked up I had my first dragonfly of the year, a Four Spot Chaser, speeding over the scrub.

As I left a Common Sandpiper dropped in by the car park.


Hunkered down in the shade of a Willow and Sycamore and waited for the Spotted Sandpiper on the banks of Elton Reservoir this afternoon.

There are worse ways to while away a sunny afternoon in Bury, in the company of Bullfinches, Sedge and Willow Warblers and mercurial Swifts coming through ahead of darker rain clouds bubbling up from the south.

The sandpiper was on view distantly from strategic points around the reservoir with a ‘scope but I hoped it may scuttle past me if I hid in the rank vegetation out of sight above the muddy edges of the water (thanks for the info Austin!)

After about 40 minutes the bird obliged, running along the water’s edge and picking prey off with a chipper Little Ringed Plover in tow.

Well spotty.

The Yankee came past me twice in an hour and a half – much better than chasing it around the reservoir trying to keep ahead of dog-walkers, sailing craft and such like which habitually spooked the bird, although the sandpiper always returned to the same stretch of beach…

It has been quite a while since I last saw one of these things this side of the pond (or on the other side of the Atlantic for that matter), but with three summer plumaged birds in the north west over the weekend it was too good an opportunity to get reacquainted.

Spotty video on YouTube here.

Wood Sand etc

A little distant this afternoon, but the Wood Sandpiper was still strutting around like a clockwork toy on Crossens Inner, with Ruff, Avocet, Blackwits, LRPs, Redshank, Dunlin and Common Sandpipers nearby.

The bird was at the top end, up past Glencoyne Drive, and as I watched it, two Swifts zoomed over the sewage works (my first of the year). About time.

Yet another classy wader for Marshside this spring. Wibbly wobbly video on YouTube here.

The Pink Foot flock cleared off onto Crossens Outer before I had a chance to give it a grilling. This was vexing.

Hirundines starting to shift through in numbers, a calling Yellow Wagtail south west over Rimmer’s Marsh and a Lesser Whitethroat rattling intermittently from the Hesketh Road platform.

A few Siskins north during the day, with five Whimbrel on Plex early on, Corn Bunting, Skylark, Lapwing and Yellow Wagtail.

A simple enough equation

As sums go, it used to be a fairly straightforward, if unpredictable one:

Rain + SWlys x Spring + Plex = Dotterels.

Sadly the equation does not appear to be on the curriculum at Dotterel College anymore, and this morning drew yet another blank, despite conditions looking very good.

Such is life.

Mercifully a few other bits and bobs out there – three Golden Plover, including a lame bird, feeding in the sprouting crops, three Wheatear, two Yellow Wagtail and ten Whimbrel quietly feeding in one of the back fields.

All the precious farmland stuff on good form – Skylark, Corn Bunting (can’t beat a corkscrew shoved down your ear first thing), Lapwing, Yellowhammer, Grey Partridge etc.

Leaving the moss a gathering of Swallows, with smaller numbers of House Martins and Sand Martins, at the west end was the largest congregation I’ve seen so far this spring, but there were still no more than 85-100 birds.