You’ve gotta be kidding…

In happier days the late, great Eric Hardy would refer to Martin Mere in print and on the wireless (anyone remember the “wireless”?), using not-so-shorthand as “Janet Kear’s duck brothel”.

Hardy would have had a wry smile on his face today then as a Whistling Duck (probably Fulvous, but not quite right with those oh-so-pale undercrackers), rocked up at Nels at Marshside to join the ranks of ignominy alongside the Cruddy Shelduck, Golden Pheasant and the Little White Goose (among others).

M’learned friends inform me there were three at Frodsham recently, so someone’s obviously left a gate open somewhere…
I didn’t see the whistler fly for most of the two hours I was at Nels in the scorchio today, but judging by those ridiculous blue splitty-splatties it could easily have walked in – thanks to Bazzo for the tip-off, if that’s the right term in relation to such a surreal arrival at the marsh.
To be fair, the bird did fly a short distance later on, and looked quite bewildered by the experience, otherwise it slept a lot, then went feeding in the shallows like a deranged submarine Shoveler, it’s neck underwater diver-stylee as it thrashed about in the gloop with its bill.
Mad as a lorry.

Far more sensible observations today included two winter plumage Knot amongst the Black Tailed Godwits from Nels, eight Dunlin and a Golden Plover.
Sprawk and Common Buzzards sparked a few dreads and a surprise Painted Lady butterfly tottered south past the hide as I digested my latest helping of plastic.

Big owls and beautiful blurs

Plenty of giggles padded out the hours when spring Spurn fever failed to kick in today after Neill picked up myself, Andy and Jason and raced over to the east coast.
Drizzle and cloud giving way to bright, warm sun in May – surely the old place would come up with the goods?
We overtook a hunting Barn Owl out near the Broom’s Cross road, before slipping into warp and were pulling up near Sunk Island for 9am.
After a bit of soil scouring, a gorgeous trip of seven Dotterels gave themselves up as Skylarks, Cuckoo and Whitethroats sang. Brilliant.
As ever, despite the lovely colours, the Dotterels could melt into the soil of the field remarkably well, their presence betrayed only by their dark bellies and shocking white supers, that met in a stunning “v” on their napes.
What birds!
Superb scope views as they fed, but too far away for anything but blurry long range zoom pictures of one of my favourite birds…it was a relief to see them as another season of checking Plex on an almost daily basis comes to a close again without Dotterel joy on this side of the Pennines.

At least two full adult females in the trip, it was so good to see ’em again, who cares if they were too far off for the camera?
Moving round to Sammy’s Point it was quiet – a few Brent Geese on the Humber, Whitethroats, Sedgies etc, although two ringtail Hen Harriers circling south raised hopes for a raptor day.
A dirty great Short Eared Owl hunting the bank opposite Kilnsea Wetlands also hinted stuff was on the move, a joy to watch as it patrolled in the bright sun.

But after that the wheels fell off a tad – Beacon Lane had Lesser Whitethroat, Brimstone, Wall Brown and Orange Tip butterflies, and a few Wheatears were around a traumatically gussied up Canal Zone car park.
Little Terns scooted out to sea from Beacon Ponds and another Cuckoo was calling but other than that it was quietening down, apart from a steady hirundine movement south, so we pulled out and headed into the desolate, perplexing and altogether daunting massif of Thorne Moors on the way home.
Bad call.
The sound of duelling banjos is still echoing in me head.
Three hours after arriving we were still trying to find the location of a male Red Footed Falcon there, but other than close hunting Marsh Harriers, this vast vast vast area simply mocked our woeful lack of gen, chewed us up and spat us out onto the M62 for the ride home with The King (if you haven’t got a copy of “Gravelands” you don’t know what you’re missing…)
Chin chin to Neill, Andy and Jase – see you all soon…

Unnecessarily zippy

Couldn’t let all that lovely drizzly rain go to waste, so I went for a quick walk around Sands Lake at Ainsdale after work this evening.
Willow Warblers, Chiffies and Blackcaps still singing away and a Common Sandpiper whirring around the edges (but there’s been one there for a week or so now) in the humid conditions.
A darting shape in the canopy up at the top end revealed what I was hoping for – a fine Spotted Flycatcher.
I know Spot Flys are meant to be zippy by trade, but even by flycatcher standards this one was particularly hyperactive – every second or two it set off on circular forays above the trees, I could barely keep me bins on it!
It was a good ten minutes before the bird had one of those “still periods” flycatchers seem to enjoy, as if they’re pondering how much energy they expend just to get tea.

I managed to get a few point and press shots of it through the branches before it zoomed off through the leaves again.
This just left me time for inevitable Spotfly nostalgia for the days when they were regular local breeders, before heading home…

Spoilt for choice

Today is a bit like that sequence in “Goodfellas” just before the DEA/ATF come crashing through Ray Liotta’s door (except without all the naughty stuff of course) – I had to check a party of visiting archaeolgists were safely ensconsed on the coast, get the missus to a concert she’s playing in this afternoon, then pick up Mrs D’s folks and my mum and get them to the concert, find somewhere to park in Southport on the hottest day of the year, pick up some shopping, …and there’s two singing Wood Warblers at Marshside on the golf course (and naturally there’s a golf tournament on).

Thanks to Playful Pete Allen and Alan Wright sending updates I was able to detour to the marsh and catch up with one of the lemon sherbet heads as it spluttered away by the public footpath along the bank.
Glorious. Just glorious.
As Shaun Ankers and I tried to get glimpses of the Wood Warbler in the shade of the sun-blasted canopy, a Lesser Whitethroat started cranking up behind me, so close I could almost hear it draw breath between rattles – where to look?
Lovely to be spoilt for choice on the marsh, and the Wood Sand was still on Fairclough’s Pool.
Right back to concert taxi duties – you know it’s getting busy when you try to open the fridge using your car key fob…hmmmmmmm!!!!

Doragon Sake

Bit worried Mrs D was about to go all Yakuza on my ass when she dispatched me to go and find a bottle of sake today – we’d only been watching “Kill Bill Vol 1” last night, and she might have been getting ideas…
Luckily the boss was just after making a sweet n’sour, so off I went.
Naturally I took a circuitous route to the Kwik-E-Mart, heading to Marshside for an hour or two.
“Mr Orange” was on the lagoon off Nels still, best observed from distance from Hesketh Road, so eliminating the need to look at incongruous detail close up, and the Swallow with the reddish wash to his undercrackers was whizzing about around the platform, perching up in the brambles occasionally.

Way too zippy for me to get a proper piccy with rice wine on my mind.
Much more restful was the Wood Sandpiper which fed along the water’s edge the whole time – a class act.

Lots of Swifts through, and blasts of the Cetti’s from the SSSI ditch too.
Time to head to the check-out.

Duck day afternoon.

A pleasing hour or two on the platform at Hesketh Road today, scanning Marshside and enjoying a light, but steady bit of spring passage in the weakening south easterly with a shady gathering of ne’er-do-wells.
The lure that brought us all down was dodgy long distance year ticking of a Ruddy Shelduck, which was off Nels, but ‘scopable from the platform.
These things, as with all wildfowl, are best viewed from a distance, but as we talked nonsense for an hour or so, some good birds went through – a heavy movement of hirundines and small parties of Swifts were arcing along ahead of the clouds, and a Hobby came steaming up from the south, before gaining height over Marshside and appearing to zoom off towards the Fylde empty-taloned.
Gropper, Whitethroat, Cetti’s Warbler, Blackcap, Reed and Sedgies plus Willow Warbler and Chiffy were all singing and overhead Tree Pipit and Yellow Wagtail called on the way north, as did four trilling Whimbrels.
All very convivial.
A Brimstone butterfly tottered through (I had Orange Tip, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell too) as Swallows gathered mud for nests beneath the platform.
I wanted a better view of the Ruddy Shelduck and headed up to Nels, which was probably not the smartest of ideas – the bird came pretty close, and while I don’t have much experience with Ruddy Shelduck, it’s head looked very white, and it didn’t look quite right – a shame as there are only a handful of records for the marsh.
Could be a young bird I suppose, but even that shouldn’t look this white and what’s with the grey crown markings?

What do other people think (go on, break the habit of a lifetime and leave a comment)?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it often doesn’t do to look at wildfowl too closely.
As I grilled the duck from Nels, Chris Fyles arrived and pointed out a Spoonbill to the north of us which I hadn’t noticed.
It didn’t appear to have an apricot breast-band, although it was a good way away – a new bird or just a trick of the light?

Small parties of Dunlin and Ringed Plover were on the move, the Ruff were looking flashy, Wheatears were bounding about and the marsh felt like it was buzzing.
A Little Gull was feeding at the back of Marshside Two as I walked back to the car, and as I loaded my junk into the boot, a Cuckoo came speeding along low and purposeful, before disappearing behind the sandplant shrubbery.

Actually YEAH!!

Sardined into Alan Wright’s wheels, with Neill Hunt, Mike Stocker and David Nickeas, we headed up to the hills this morning and set off on the walk that everyone else has been doing for the past few days (best foot forward chaps!).
One member of the party had just stepped off a night shift and may have been a tad over-tired, but at least the loonball gabbling of the sleep-deprived made the journey up to the Pennines go that bit quicker.
The five of us trudged up from Dunsop Bridge to Whitendale for a breathtaking hour or two with the male Pallid Harrier that has set up shop there.
Now we all know that this part of the world is probably just about the dumbest place in Britain for a harrier to pitch up in, but the Pallid was a wonderful bird, and was floating over the heather for pretty much the whole morning.

This thing is a bit of a show-off – it sky-danced, it yo-yoed, it chased a Cuckoo, it perched up, it chattered above our heads, soared, circled and generally had a party.
The harrier was as bright and shiny as the bloke with the rifle strapped across his back as he rumbled by on a quad, was dark and sullen.
I was lucky enough to see the adult male Pallid about 100 years ago on the Kent marshes, but today’s bird was much more exciting as it floated above and around us, riding updrafts with the lightest of touches.
Against the hillside it was as white as a gull, against the sky it was light and kite-like.

The march up and down the valley also brought us Crossbills, Grey Wags, Common Sandpipers, Raven, Pied Flycatcher, Dipper, Redpolls and Siskins etc, but the splendour was tarnished after the news of the sad passing of Andy Roadhouse filtered through to the fells.
The great man would have loved this morning.
Cheerio Andy – we’ll all miss you.

Too late and too early

Too late to connect with this morning’s Wood Warbler at Marshside – I’d been out staring at empty soil on Plex for the umpteenth time this last fortnight, and the bird had long finished spluttering when I arrived.
At least the Cetti’s Warbler on the SSSI ditch was in good voice.
Out on the mosses five Golden Plovers had to turn to show their true colours as they fed in distant shimmering furrows, but they certainly got the pulse racing for a nanosecond or two.
A lot more Whitethroats in and singing out on Plex this morning, otherwise situation normal (Yellowhammers, Corn Buntings, Red Legs, Lapwings, Red Legs, Buzzards etc).
Later I went to say “howdy” to a single Green Winged Orchid (above) at a site away from the traditional colony at Altcar Rifle Range.
The orchid was blooming away, which was impressive a full three weeks ahead of their usual flowering period on the Sefton coast.
Good news to see this spectacular plant at a new site, bad news as our annual organised walk at the rifle range to admire the huge colony there on May 23rd may be a bit of an anti-climax if these showy plants have gone over long before they should…
Funny old climate these days ain’t it?

Where there’s no sense, there’s no feeling

The high tide at Ainsdale looked quite nice in the sun today – but the camera lies…I’d lost all feeling south of me belly-button long before I took this pic on today’s brrrrracing seawatch.
Managed an hour and a half, didn’t get a great deal apart from my first skua of the year, a fine Arctic Skua heading south and high at a rate of knots at 1055.
Everything else was battling north in the pitiless, bitter north/north westerly.
Swallows struggled along the tideline framed by the snow dusted Welsh hills across the water, and terns were on the move, but mostly too far out on the wibbly wobbly horizon to identify.

Ainsdale, 25/4/17, 1000-1130:

Tern sp 30-50 distant north
Sandwich Tern 17 north
Common Scoter 8 south
Gannet 15 north
Med Gull 1 sub-adult north
Arctic Skua 1 dark phase south
Kittiwake 4 north

+ Common Gull, Cormorants, waders etc

Time to defrost.

Well, how did I get here?

The Hooded Crow checked my pass at the Fairways roundabout this morning and I headed on up to Marshside – the Hoodie is a fine fellow, one of the best birds on the block at the moment in my opinion.
I left him showing off on top of a lamp post.
Despite the continuing cool westerly (to paraphrase the wonderful Mr Byrne, this is not my beautiful spring…), there seemed to be loadsa warblers singing this morning, with Grasshopper Warbler, Sedge, Reed, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff all audible from the Hesketh Rd platform.
The Gropper was reeling away from the buckthorn by the platform and as I walked past it zipped out for a quick blast in the short vegetation by the roadside – great views!
Loadsa warblers and loadsa birders too – Bazzo, Trops, Andy Pryce, Clarko, Pete Allen etc etc…plenty of eyes to the skies today.
Wheatears around the Sandplant and Crossens Outer (where there were still 15+ White Wags), and many hirundines forcing their way north.
2-4 Med Gulls from Sandgrounders and a fine near adult Little Gull hawking over Polly’s Pool.

Still at least 2,000 Pink Feet on the outer marsh – I wonder when/if these non-breeders will bother to go north?
Ruff (20-ish), Dunlins and Ringed Plovers from Nels amongst the breathtaking summer plumage Golden Plover, suggesting wader passage may start picking up any day now.