Back to autumn

Looking forward to returning to the field for autumn now.
With a fair wind I should be back and birding any day now – thanks for everyone who has continued to follow the blog while I’ve been away, normal service will soon be resumed.
Don’t forget to let me know what I’ve been missing, hopefully the autumn biggies have lingered and I’ll be back in business before you can say “MEGA MEGA MEGA”!

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Far away

Distance makes the heart grow fonder?
Well, possibly.
Sitting on the other side of the world I’m still curious as to what’s about locally – why not let me know what you’re seeing via the comments thing.
I’m only 6,236 miles away, so could always pop back if it’s good enough…

Right wind, wrong place.

The type of westerly we’d have swapped our last pint of Guinness for at the Bridges of Ross (well, maybe), ripped over the fields at Plex making birding challenging at best in between the showers today.
Good numbers of gulls were around the tractors near Haskayne Cutting, including a winter plumage Med Gull.
A Greater ‘Pecker bounding over the fields may have been a migrant, but could easily have been local traffic too.
Reasonable numbers of young House Martins and Swallows hawked over the ripe crops, low in the wind, and I staked them out in the hope an opportunistic Hobby may take advantage.
No such luck, although a few Kestrels batted through, and I was surprised to see Painted Lady and Red Admiral on the wing despite the gusts.
At least it felt autumnal.
Don’t forget to let me know what you’re seeing on the comments thingy, or just say howdy…

Bridges of Ross, 2019: Praying to the west

Another annual visit to the cradle of western seawatching, Guinness and craic, was just dandy, despite a lack of classic conditions – something I suspect will change this weekend if forecasts hold true…
Took the boat over from Anglesey after picking up Chris Kehoe on Thursday night last week, arriving red-eyed and raggedy-tailed in Dublin at 5.45am on Friday morning.
With my foot firmly to the floor all they way west we were back among old friends on the Bridges and focussing our ‘scopes on the waves by 11am.
Good big westerlies failed to materialise, although we had a few spells of reasonable weather that produced the goods as it always does here.
I do love the Bridges (this was my ninth annual pilgrimage), but I’d rather it looked a little less picture postcard and more scary edge of the world when I was there…

As ever the social side of things were fuelled by nightly visits to Keatings in Kilbaha.
Noel, Des, Gerard, Neal, Jim, Chris, Colin, Adam, Brian, Cathal, David and Dylan, I raise a glass of the good stuff to you all, and look forward to seeing you on the cliffs again next year.
Most days the regulars flapped or swam by – Hooded Crows, Chough, Raven, Rock Pipit, smiley Bottle-nosed and Common Dolphins, Sunfish and great big Tuna are all normal Bridges fare.

23.8.19, Bridges of Ross, 11am-6pm
(south/south easterly, cloudy and warm):

Razorbill 17
Sooty Shearwater 6
Gannet many
Manx Shearwater approx 50 every 30 mins
Fulmar many
Whimbrel 17
Wheatear 2
Sandwich Tern 1
Kittiwake 11
Guillemot 6
Arctic Skua 1
Storm Petrel 1

plus Chough, Rock Dove, Swallow, Rock Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Turnstone, Oystercatcher, GBB, Herring Gull, Starling, Stonechat, Pied Wagtail and Shag

A quiet day by the lofty standards of the Bridges of Ross, hardly surprising given the wind direction.

24.8.19, Bridges of Ross, 7am-9am, 10.30am -7pm
(southerly, heavy rain, later calm and humid with some drizzle):

Osprey 1
Sooty Shearwater 9
Gannet many
Fulmar many
Bonxie 5
Kittiwake 29
Manx Shearwater approx 1,500
Razorbill 50
Guillemot 50
Common Gull 5
Sandwich Tern 53
Common Scoter 6
Storm Petrel 13
Arctic Skua 4
Whimbrel 40
Arctic Tern 1
BHG 29

The Osprey was a lovely morning surprise as it flapped out of the murk heading west over our heads at 10.30am. Worth the drenching.
At least skuas were starting to move.

25.8.19, Bridges of Ross, 6.50am-11.30am, 12.50pm-7pm
(sunny periods, west/north westerly)

Gannet many
Fulmar many
Manxies approx 1,500
Sooty Shearwater 42
Razorbill many
Guillemot many
Common Scoter 25
Kittiwake 31
Sandwich Tern 26
Bonxie 6
Sabine’s Gull 3 adults
Arctic Skua 4
diver sp 1
Leach’s Petrel 1
Storm Petrel 1
Red Throated Diver 1

plus Stonechat, Redshank, Herring Gull, LBB, Cormorant, Greenshank, Whimbrel, Curlew, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Hooded Crow, Starling, Meadow Pipit, Rock Pipit, Dunlin, Shag, Oycs, Raven (11), Herring Gull, GBB, Swallow, Rock Dove, Hen Harrier.

The sunny weather and wind creeping into the west put a spring in the step and a smile on our faces (no, one of the world’s foremost Professors of Bioinformatics didn’t trip over that tripod leg and plunge into the Atlantic).

Three sparkly adult Sabs and a very close Leach’s were a tonic after the previous day’s ordeal by ennui.
The long quiet periods allowed for some fascinating conversation though – who knew Cory’s and Scopoli’s Shearwaters smelt differently? (well, Chris did) or juve Arctic Skuas are fatter than adults?
Or most importantly that Craggy Island’s parochial house was in reality just an hour’s drive away?

26.8.19, Bridges of Ross, 8am-11.15am, 12.30pm-7.15pm
(southerly, veering south westerly, cloud and sunny spells, light showers)

Manx Shearwater approx 5,000
Gannet many
Fulmar many
Razorbill 75
Kittiwake 20
Sooty Shearwater 94
Sandwich Tern 58
Storm Petrel 38
Arctic Skua 9
Great Northern Diver 1
Bonxie 6
Grey Heron 1
Balearic Shearwater 3

Kestrel, Turnstone, Shag, Mipit, Rock Pipit, Herring Gull, Hooded Crow, Starling, Pied Wagtail, Linnet, Peregrine, Chough, Robin, Wren.

The day started fairly calmly, but good numbers of Stormies swept past the slabs (we had emerged from the shelter of the traditional bowl) and the sea started to chop up rough.

Manxies increased with two striking pulses where birds were sweeping by at a rate of 2,500 an hour, and with them came three fine Balearic Shears and increasing numbers of Sootys, some of which came close enough for me to snap…

They’re always further away than you think!
A good day to end this year’s sesh then – many thanks to Des Higgins for organising the cottage again this year.
Were it not for Des we would be shambling wrecks without a roof over our heads, and thanks once again to everyone on the cliffs for the company and hospitality.
I hope whoever makes it down to County Clare this weekend for the monster westerlies scores big time, but I’ll have to wait until next year.

Getting up at dawn on Tuesday morning I watched an Irish Hare as it lolloped down the lane past our cottage, ready for another day of shapeshifting as they do out in the wild west, before we scooted back to Dublin and got the Stena over to Anglesey.
Black Guillemot, Med Gulls and between 9 and 14 Roseate Terns were the best of it as we surged out into the Irish Sea and headed east.

Just counting

Been a bit worried about the Sandwich Tern counts on this year’s survey at Ainsdale – numbers seem relatively low, with some days even returning a blank, despite the best efforts of the ace volunteers who tally up the birds and record disturbance for the annual Green Sefton survey.
Thanks for all your help so far this year!
Perhaps weather conditions haven’t been right for them, or they’ve found an alternate roosting site (Phil Smith reported about 450 down on the Alt a few weeks ago), but it doesn’t seem like a proper autumn at Ainsdale without a tern roost.

So I was pleased to get out there this afternoon (and back in a Land Rover no less) to carry out the count, and found there were 483 birds between two roosts on the rising tide.
Flighty, although there was no human disturbance and I was generally at least 300m away, they frequently took to the air.

The first gathering of 213 birds had at least 14 youngsters in with them, but I didn’t manage to check for juves in the second group of 270 birds before a young LBB scattered them all.
Some of the youngsters were attempting to feed in the channels, without the elegance of their parents.

Pleasing to see the numbers starting to creep up – hopefully more will be joining us over the next few weeks.
Plenty of metal-ringed birds, just one colour ringed adult though – an orange ring with black lettering, which I believe is from Lady’s Island in County Wexford.
If you do happen to count any terns on the coast between now and the middle of September, please send me details via email to john.dempsey@sefton.gov.uk, or stick the data on a blog comment here.
You can never have too much information.
Muchas gracias.

Haul Road

It occurred to me that it has been about 500 years since I last walked down Rainford’s track for a high tide, and the brisk south westerly and 8.4m tide were the only excuse I needed to put that right today.
The wind certainly had seawatch potential, if a bit sunny (they can see the dunes you know, so stay out in the bay if the sun is out and the sky is blue – that’s my theory anyway), but a cursory glance at Ainsdale at noon revealed a swarm of kite surfers which put me off.
The surfers don’t disturb the birds, apart from the eejits who insist on trying to race north of Shore Road, and into the restricted area, scattering roosting and feeding waders like distressed confetti.
However I always find it messes with my “wild” seawatch vibe when a brightly-coloured kite followed by a middle-aged man with a frankly disturbing prediliction for rubber whizzes through my field of view…so the haul road it was.

Thousands of Dunlin roosting and feeding on the mud between Marshside and Southport Pier over the tide, with smaller numbers of Knot, Ringed Plover, sparkling Grey Plover etc etc.
Always an adrenalin rush when the flocks zoom past at an impressive rate of knot (velocity not species) along the edge of the marsh looking for areas to feed.
Even standing 200m or so back down the track from the tide, the views were breathtaking.
A Peregrine scored while I was out there today, and appeared to make off with its wader snackette before two GBBs could force it down.
Seconds later a Merlin scorched through and zoned in on an unfortunate Dunlin, the two birds twisting and turning north east into the Ribble and out of sight… I wonder who won that one?

Off we go…

The loud insistent whistling call is always a dead giveaway, but the Redstart made itself even more obvious by sitting out on the edge of a hawthorn just down the track.
Best bird by far during a few hours at the end of Range Lane, Formby, this afternoon, where I spent most of my time checking through elderberries and feeding flocks – Willow Warblers and Chiffies joined good numbers of titmice, and a female Blackcap popped up to gorge on blackberries.
Small numbers of Swifts were heading south, fast and low – they may have been birds skirting the latest thunderhead of black clouds rolling in off the Irish Sea, but they could just have easily been migrating, it’s time I suppose.
A cloud of 50-100 hirundines were over the fields of Marsh Farm.

The Redstart gave itself away just as I was walking off the site, and showed well until a group of walkers came through and it darted into denser cover, before flying out to the gorse in the middle of the corner field, big orangey tail flashing in the sun as it went, and I lost it.
Always a reliable site for this species in early autumn, it felt like the game was finally starting again…

Scrag end of summer

Sure, there’s plenty of time for another spell of worryingly hot temperatures, scorchers that break records in a way that TV forecasters present as a cause for celebration/excitement rather than concern (go figure), but it felt like the overblown end of summer out on Plex today.
Yellowhammers were hanging onto overhead wires like grim death in the gusting winds, and the fields were heavy with crops that looked like they were just days away from harvesting.
I was hoping for a few Marsh Harriers on the mosses (this is always a good time to look for ’em), but only managed one youngster that surfed away on the edge of the blustery conditions towards Carr Moss.
Haskayne Cutting was knee-deep in Knapweed and pretty quiet, although a few groups of young hirundines were looking suitably restless, all suggesting things are gonna get moving again soon.. don’t forget to let me know what you’re seeing!

Ruddy wind

I was busy cursing Hornsea and Pacific Swifts as I pulled up at Marshside this afternoon, so seeing three Ruddy Shelducks winging in and dropping onto the Sandplant lagoon in the stiffening warm gale was not expected.
All fully winged with no bling – I think they were elsewhere in the area recently weren’t they?
Can someone (anyone) enlighten me?

Ferals from Holland or closer to home?
The shelducks arrived at about 1.45pm, before settling down for a doze on the back island.
Three Pochard, a Tuftie and a smattering of windswept Teal too.

Blinded by the light

The sun exploded through the viewfinder and ricochetted about inside my eyeball (don’t try this at home kids), but I pressed the shutter anyway.
Answers on a postcard? Hardly.
Apart from the sunblindness, the image wasn’t helped by the fact my camera was still set for low exposure from the weekend – not the best for firing into the afternoon sun. No amount of jiggerypokery on the laptop could bring that one back…
Once the sunspots faded from my vision I was able to get the ringtail Hen Harrier (for that’s what the pic above is – honest) in my bins before it sailed along the breeze in over the waves from the west at Ainsdale at 16.20, then turned into the wind, before disappearing over the dunes at Shore Rd.
I got a marginally better long distance shot of it then – but only marginally.

Strange to see one winging in off the sea here, but I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that researchers tracking Pennine youngsters have found they often range widely from the hills in late summer on a daily basis, slipping down as far as the Dee estuary before heading back up into the Trough in the late afternoon, so maybe that was what this was doing.
After a quiet Sandwich Tern count over the tide (23 adults, two juvs), the harrier was an unexpected buzz.
The summer plumage waders were nice too – Barwits, Knot and Grey Plover etc – but please give ’em a wide berth and let ’em roost.
Right, must just go and submit my harrier images to Bird Photographer of the Year and get my acceptance speech ready….