Slowly but surely.

A bit subdued, but two or three Willow Warblers were still singing on the boundary between the Local Nature Reserve and National Nature Reserve at Ainsdale at lunchtime today in overcast conditions.

Give ’em a bit of sunshine and they’ll be as spring lilty as a Daffodil in an April shower.

Short video in the gloom on YouTube here.

Otherwise a fairly uneventful, yet busy week, with a good showing of Wheatears on Ainsdale beach, feasting amongst the tidal debris left by last week’s high tide cycle, and my first Swallow and Willow Warbler yesterday (about average first dates for me).

Frequent scanning failed to yield an Alpine Swift (I’m surprised the skies over Britain and Ireland haven’t fallen down with the weight of them all) or a more likely nice Osprey rowing north.

Chiffies singing all over the place now and strolling south to the sheep enclosure in the Local Nature Reserve today, a circling and cronking Raven put a smile on my face, a distant Sparrowhawk was yoyo-ing over the pine belt, and spring annuals like Early Forget-Me-Not were flowering.

A sub-adult (?) female Marsh Harrier was quartering the fixed dunes, freaking out the small numbers of gulls around the colony area, but water levels are low again, so I fear a repeat of last year’s mass failure…

It’ll all start to happen in the next few days I guess – see you out there…

Water Pipits: The truth.

A fine few hours out on the marsh this morning, bright but still crisp and cold.

Graham Clarkson and I gave Crossens Outer a thorough ‘scoping and while there were upwards of 9,000 Pinks out on the estuary (and probably more further out into the shimmer) they were mainly distant, yielding just three Barnacle Geese and one fine adult Russian Whitefront.

Fun going through them though, with two Little Ringed Plovers dropping in, Stock Dove, Raven and initially one of the Water Pipits, albeit briefly by the concrete trough.

Merlin, at least five Marsh Harriers, three Common Buzzards, Raven and a Peregrine up, with Mipit numbers steadily increasing to about 70 around the pull in and a few singing Chiffchaffs.

We wandered back up the road to find Simon Slade watching two to three Water Pipits under the pull-in.

While my bridge camera pics are as pants as ever, they cannot hide a hard truth about Water Pipits at this time of year that must be told; I know they are highly sought-after and in a few weeks time will be visions in blue grey and pink to rival a male Wheatear, but right now they are downright scruffy.

Moulty and marbled like a pipit left at the back of the cupboard for too long.

There I’ve said it – they may have an undeniably cool wagtail vibe, but ‘scoped as they strut about the mud and grass their plumage leaves a lot to be desired.

Blurry YouTube video of one of the mange-balls here. Anticipation is sometimes let down by reality.

Very much a work in progress…

Sometimes there’s just too many pictures, videos and badly scrawled notes on the crumpled pages of a well-trashed notebook to write up a trip report quickly, but for those interested, the first entries on my blog from our recent trip to Japan with Paul Thomason, Tony Owen and, ahem, Mrs Montgomery Burns, are online now.

You can visit the blog at:

I haven’t got to the albatrosses yet (but who can ever resist a big-nosed young Short-Tailed Albatross???) but if you follow the link to the page, scroll down past the small static gallery to find the first three blog entries from Tokyo and Kyushu.

Many more to come over the coming days/weeks (inbetween welcoming more spring migrants I hope) … galleries, links etc to follow.

In the blink of an eye, a year passes.

How splendid – the temperature rises a tad, the wind swings and hey presto!

Three Wheatears bounding and darting around at the top of Ainsdale beach today, before they moved off north through the frontal dunes.

The sudden showers grounded plenty of Meadow Pipits, while yesterday Marsh Harrier, seven Stonechats (extra to the local residents), Water Rail and two Cetti’s Warblers were at the southern end of the Green Beach.

Sand and Common Lizard out today too, with mucho Buff-Tailed Bumblebee action, flowering Hairy Bittercress, Coltsfoot and Common Whitlow Grass, Peacock butterfly and Common Toads behaving disgracefully – the dunes are stirring.

Always fab to see your first Wheatears of course – two males and what I took to be a spring female.

These marvellous birds change colour quickly when the clouds seep across the sun… below is the same bird just a few seconds and a bit of cloud passage apart. Females always used to turn up later in my experience until a few years ago, but for the last three years at least some appear to move as early as adult males, go figure.

Seemed appropriate

After the covering of snow greeted many this morning, it seemed appropriate to call in for a look at the long-staying Snow Bunting at Southport Beach this afternoon.

True to form she was happily trundling around the high tideline south of the pier, blending in superbly with the worm casings, shell fragments and debris, probably better camouflaged against the foreshore beneath the seawall once all the snow had melted away, which it did with predictable alacrity as the sun climbed up the sky.

Wonder how much longer it’ll hang around for? Nearly three months now…

Surveying down at Crosby earlier in the day when the snow still coated everything proved fairly uneventful, although good numbers of Bar-Tailed Godwits were roosting (300+) north of Burbo Bank and a nice group of 12 Black Tailed Godwits fed in a channel directly under the seawall.

Owl at sea

Looking decidedly lonely as it flapped in low over the grey waves, a Short Eared Owl at lunchtime at Ainsdale today couldn’t be more “in off” if it tried.

I picked it up struggling in from Lennox Rig range, where it was initially hassled by two Herring Gulls, but the owl broke away from them to head in drifting north east for the next ten minutes, before I lost it to view to my right somewhere off the Green Beach – I hope the bird made it to dry land.

A tiny speck against the vastness of the waves.

There’s always something tremendously “investing” about watching migrants fighting their way in over the swell – more power to you.

I’ve seen Shorties coasting from the dunes before, but this is the first time I’ve watched one flap in off the horizon here – presumably a refugee from cold weather and snow in North Wales, but it did remind me of watching Asios battling in off the North Sea at Spurn in the autumn (and much else besides).

Not much otherwise out there over the tide though – the Common Scoter flotilla was further out today, with 5 Great Crested Grebe, 4 RB Mergs (2 males and 2 females) and 2 Red Throated Divers closer in.

Hard light today

Snow-dusted Welsh hills across the bay, a light north westerly cold and sharp enough to flense the face off ya plus good bright conditions were enough to tempt me into a quick lunchtime seawatch off Ainsdale over the falling tide.

I enjoyed reasonable payback for a mere 45 minutes of effort.

Ainsdale 7.3.23, 1300-1345, NWly f3, bright sun, falling tide:

Common Scoter 1,000+

Velvet Scoter 1 male

Eider 2 males

Red Breasted Merg 8 – 5 males, 3 females

Great Crested Grebe 5

Red Throated Diver 1

(Common Gull, GBB, Herring Gull, Cormorant)

Always fun to discover what lurks in the scoter ribbon offshore…


Pleasant enough, but hardly warm, Plex was flexing for the imminent spring today, with 86+ Fieldfare still putting on a good show alongside large numbers of bounding Linnets on the freshly turned earth.

One Fieldfare was quietly chuntering away in sub-song, in between more typical chacking and wheezing.

About 250 Pink Feet washing in a flooded area of field, and Lapwings were getting stressed, swooping down to mob everything from Carrion Crows (understandable) to Brown Hares (hmmm…)

You’ll get better views at this time of year at Marshside, where I video-clipped this fine specimen foot-tapping before the Snipe-snarfing Merlin distracted me yesterday. Lapwing vid on YouTube here.

Common wildfowl starting to look dapper now.

A Barn Owl hunting on Carr Moss, but a bit distant on a tricky moss road to pull over on…

Faster than a speeding Snipe

Marshside was fairly quiet this afternoon as I blew away the cobwebs with a short walk, until a young Merlin whizzed through, snatched a Snipe and pitched down with its prize just to the left of the Sandgrounders Hide.

Unusually it managed to hang onto its prey, with no corvids or Magpies appearing as it tucked in, giving those in the hide spectacular views.

At first glance on the back of the P900 I assumed its prey was a Common Snipe, but from these images it is just conceivable it was a Jack Snipe – no matter, its identity was categorically dinner now.

GBBs began circling overhead, but instead of flying off the Merlin closely mantled its catch and sat motionless for long periods, (up to three minutes at a time, head down, flat to the ground) ironically almost as still as a Snipe to avoid detection on the bank. Never seen one sit so still for so long before, it never flinched.

The ploy worked, although in retrospect nothing would be as motionless as the Snipe in its talons – game over for that Marshside resident.

Shot some shaky hand-held video which you can watch on YouTube here. Excuse the sound of a hide rattling to the sound of camera shutters (you can disable the noise on most models you know), and don’t watch before eating.

Up to 23 Avocets on Polly’s Pool were my first of the year, although I’m sure they’ve been around for a while during my month-long absence, and a few small parties of Meadow Pipits moved through north.