Relativity

The wintering Red Kite was still sailing around between the Withins and Lydiate Station this afternoon, a Raven was messing about on Engine Lane and a Little Egret flapped through.
How bird populations/ranges change – imagine that 30 years ago around here…
The panicked bunching of Woodpigeons and Lapwings betrayed the kite everytime it left the coverts for a sortie – presumably they’re still not used to the raptor’s slo-mo shape gliding across the landscape yet.
Everything seems to just ignore them dahn sarf of course, but then they are abundant from Stokenchurch to Staines and back.

Eight Common Buzzards perched up in the February gloom and a Barnacle Geese was with about 1,000 Pink Feet on Altcar Moss.

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The armchair problem.

The difficulty with the smug, beaming armchair ticks of the future, is that you have to do the groundwork first, especially if friends have beaten the path before you.
Following the well-trodden trail down to Staines Reservoir in the shadow of Heathrow’s constant aviation conveyor was a pleasure today though, as I was in the company of Mike Stocker, June Watt and Pete Allen.
A reasonably early start saw us rolling up dahn sarf by about 9.30am, before walking along the fenced causeway that bisects the reservoir in flat calm, mild sunny conditions.

Something unsettlingly infinite about this place (I bet Ishiguro’s Unconsoled bird here), with Coot, Tufties, Pochard, Great Crested Grebes and two Black Necked Grebes on the water, although they were largely thrown into silhouette by the morning sun.

Lovely summer plumage on one of the Black Neckeds though.
Mipits and what sounded like a Water Pipit (I didn’t see it) bounded ahead as we walked along the causeway, until Mike picked up the American Horned Lark, flying in to pitch down on the bank just ahead of us.

We watched the lark for about an hour as it strutted along the reservoir side, in and out of the vegetation, rooting around for invertebrates often only a few metres away.
Clearly it was odd for a bog standard (if such a thing exists) Shorelark – big white supercilium, only the palest of lemon yellow on its throat and nowhere else, and a streaky chest under a reduced black bib.
Big boy birders reckon it to be one of the North American races – hoyti, alpestris or pratincola (ta Niall) and it could be split as a separate species from Shorelark one fine day.
Then we’ll be smug and happy in our armchairs (now that we’ve taken the insurance out by seeing it).
Splitting is great when it works in a birder’s favour, but the less said about the fate of Hudsonian Whimbrel and Thayer’s Gull, the better.
Whatever happens, strolling beside London’s water supply was preferable to crowding onto a South Yorks tow path trying to will a phantom Rubythroat onto a canal boat bird table.
The lark was a whole lot colder and greyer, especially on the undercrackers, than a Shorelark, although when it took to the air, it looked frosty white below in the hard sun.
Its undertail didn’t look as black as a Shorelark’s when it was on the deck, but was sooty in flight, with big white outers.
The call in flight was startling – an urgent semi-trill, reminiscent of a Common Sandpiper (!), loud and obvious, and as it stuttered through the air, it looked big and long winged.

All in all an interesting bird, until it flapped off, calling away to the distant far bank of the reservoir and out of sight.
With mission accomplished June took us back (thanks for the driving June!) onto the M25 car park and we trundled down to Berkshire for a long shot try for the Parrot Crossbills at Wishmoor Bottom.
They didn’t show, but it was a lovely piece of lowland dry and wet heath habitat with Redpolls and croaking Ravens.
You could almost feel the Adders starting to stir in the balmy conditions, before we headed north back home through the mazy lazy flight of the south east’s splendidly burgeoning Red Kite population.

“A burst on me banjo”

Funny, 26 years since he died and my dad can still make me laugh out loud.
The dual carriageway was empty in the bright February sun as the lights changed from red to green, my foot hit the accelerator and just kept pressing on down while the guages went off to the right.
He used to do the same, until reined in by the world and responsibilities.
He always justified succumbing to the gods of speed by explaining he was “just having a burst on me banjo”.
Officer.
True, dad was never going to go any faster than 50mph in a Morris Minor full of wife, three kids and associated paraphernalia, but the joy of life and unfailing principle of disobedience was always there, bubbling under – and he used to love letting it out.
I was reminded of his driving as I headed back from Crosby yesterday, cruising slightly faster than 50mph after a meeting at the marine park.
I checked out the water before I left.
Tufties and two Goldeneyes were blown around on the small boating lake, while the Skylarks and Snow Bunting, though present, were keeping a low profile in the strong winds and eye-shredding sandstorm at the top end of the lake.

Plenty of Blackwits (well, 30+) sheltering on the damp grasslands, with Oystercatchers and common gull sp.
Calmer today of course, with a few alba wags, mipits and small parties of Goldfinch passing the tower at Ainsdale, and flowering Common Whitlow Grass.
Later on, there were still five Bewick’s Swans feeding on the water off Nels Hide at Marshside.

I wanted to catch up with the Bewick’s as they are so scarce here now, but clearly not so badly that I was prepared to get any closer than the Hesketh Rd platform, where I zapped the swans full zoom in the gathering gloom at 5pm-ish.
A flock of 17 Fieldfares dropped into the tallest trees of the SSSI ditch, presumably to roost as I pulled away into the Friday evening commuting traffic – no chance of a burst on me banjo there then.

Snowhailsun

Dramatic skies, but Marshside seemed fairly quiet when I called in this afternoon, compared to recent visits.
Hardly surprising as I arrived so late in the day.
Fewer Pink Feet on the inner marshes anyway, and the channels off Sandgrounders weren’t that busy either – a few groups of Wigeon and Teal sheltering out of the wind, although Lapwings, Golden Plover and Dunlin were still trying to feed in the blustery conditions.

Down at Nels a high-flying Peregrine spooked just about everything, apart from the Tufties, Pochard and young male Scaup which continued dozing off the reeds just to the north of the hide.

Penance.

Over a thousand gulls were roosting and washing on the fields west of Haskayne Cutting on Plex Moss Lane this afternoon; after all that lovely international birding the least I could do was check through them.
All I could pull out was the usual common species, but the adult Herring Gulls were looking spiffing.
Just as I was getting into it they were flushed by a Peregrine, so I was spared further gull pain.
Merlin, Common Buzzards and Kestrel out on Plex too, with 14+ Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer around the cutting, and in the distance, calling Whoopers.
One or two Fieldfare with Starlings on Station Road, and five Rooks adding a touch of elegance to the corvid flock further out on the moss.
About the most you can hope for on Plex in February, but back at Dempsey Towers a Nuthatch was feeding in the big Sycamore – just the third time in 20 odd years I’ve seen one here.
Looking closely at the lousy record shot though, it’s certainly the first one I’ve had levitating.

More ropey photography through the back window and through the branches in the failing light followed, then it was time to do a bit more blogging about our recent Gambia trip – that blog is nearly done now, please give it a look if you get a chance…and let me know what you think.

Catching the sun

With a few spare hours, a sky free from cloud and a decidedly pants forecast for tomorrow, I nipped down to Sands Lake at Ainsdale to have another look at the Goosanders.
There were three drakes visible this afternoon, although they generally fed apart and spent a fair amount of time hiding under the overhanging branches.
Pretty wary, every time they saw a person on the boardwalk they headed in the opposite direction fast, although after a time they sailed in quite close.
The coyness was in stark contrast to reports from Jack Taylor, of one taking bread there recently!

Once they’d sailed regally behind the island I drove up to Marshside for the last of the afternoon – beautiful light and stacks of Pink Feet on Marshside Two, with a Great White Egret stalking the drains behind Polly’s Creek.

Two Common Buzzards and thousands of Pinks on the outer marsh (the majority of geese were up around Crossens Outer), Rock Pipit calling (just about) over the noise of the traffic and two Marsh Harriers, including the wing-tagged Norfolk bird.
I watched the harriers on and off until they turned to silhouettes against the sinking sun and flapped back up the estuary.

Northern Exposure

So let me see if I’ve got this straight; it’s cold, grey and windy and you need a head torch on at midday.
The birds are largely distant, buff, brown and grey and hunkered down, and scowling into the wind looking like hypothermia is just a wingbeat away.
They do not appear happy.
The roar of traffic from the coast road is constant.
Winter Ribble birding is simply NOT the same as swanning around watching West African species so colourful you need shades on just to think about ’em.
For more on that, why not give Birdblog Gambia 2018 a read? It’s filling up a bit now…

On the upside, Marshside Two was carpetted with Lapwings and Golden Plover, with Dunlin scurrying around them and glacial Little Egrets wading about this afternoon.
Pinkies commuted from the outer marsh, where Merlin and Common Buzzard were hunting, and occasionally the whole lot were spooked and rose into the air, the dread caused by a GBB, Merlin or just nerves in a cold climate.
Four drake Pochard on Sands Lake at Ainsdale when I called in on the way home, but the light was fading fast by then.
Soon this will become the norm again.

A splash of colour

What a week!
Just back from a superb trip to Gambia, organised by Neill Hunt, who dragged myself, Paul and John Thomason, Barry McCarthy, Tony Owen and Chris Kehoe along to revel in the stunning birdlife of sub-Saharan Africa.
Thanks to all for the laughs and birding.
Upriver, down river, through rice paddies, on the beach and in the forest we managed just shy of 300 species, nearly 200 of which were lifers for me.

I’ve started blogging the whole thing and you can read it at Birdblog Gambia.
Only one installment so far, but more to come over the next week or so.
Looking at the rain sluicing down the window at the moment, I know where I’d rather be…

Time for an update…?

Been away for a week or so (more on that later), so it’s time for the usual appeal to readers – what’s about?
What have I missed?
Please let me know via the comments thingy – many thanks.

Shameless.

Shameless use of a press release while I am otherwise engaged… over to Kate Jones of the RSPB:

“Thousands of people across Merseyside are expected to watch and count their garden birds for the upcoming RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2018.
The world’s largest garden wildlife survey, now in its 39th year, takes place on 27, 28 and 29 January 2018. The public are asked to spend just one hour watching and recording the birds in their garden or local green space, then send their results to the RSPB.
Close to half-a-million people joined in the world’s largest garden wildlife survey in 2017, including almost 6000 in Merseyside, counting more than eight million birds and providing valuable information about the wildlife using our gardens in winter. The house sparrow remained top of the Big Garden Birdwatch rankings in the county, with blackbird and starling rounding off the top three.
To help prepare for Big Garden Birdwatch 2018, there are events on offer around Liverpool this January – from discovering how to attract more wildlife into your garden to gaining tips on how to identify the creatures that live on your doorstep.
Meet the RSPB Liverpool Local Group in the Palm House at Sefton Park, Liverpool on Sunday 21 January. Volunteers will be on hand from 12-4pm with information about taking part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, assisting with bird identification and advising on how to attract garden wildlife.
The RSPB will be at Otterspool Park in Liverpool on Sunday 28 January to provide information on Big Garden Birdwatch as well as advice on helping garden wildlife and identifying birds. Drop-in from 10am-3pm.
Daniel Hayhow, RSPB Conservation Scientist said: “The birds we see in our garden are often the first experience we have with nature – whether it’s a flock of starlings at the feeder, a robin perched on the fence or some house sparrows splashing in the bird bath. But it may come as a surprise to know that some of our most-loved species are in desperate need of our help as their numbers have dropped dramatically.
Species such as starlings and greenfinches have seen their numbers visiting gardens decline by 79 and 59 per cent retrospectively since the first Birdwatch in 1979.
Daniel added: “The Big Garden Birdwatch is a great opportunity to get involved with helping our garden wildlife. By counting the birds that visit your outdoor space, you’ll be joining a team of over half-a-million people across the UK who are making a difference for nature. It only takes an hour so grab a cuppa, sit back and see who makes a flying visit to your garden.”
As well as counting birds, the RSPB is once again asking participants to log some of the other wildlife they have seen throughout the year. This year, people are being asked to look out for badger, fox, grey squirrel, red squirrel, muntjac deer, roe deer, frog and toad.
To take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch 2018, participants should watch the birds in the garden or local park for one hour at some point over the three days. Only the birds that land in the garden or local park should be counted, not those flying over. The highest number of each type of bird seen at any one time then needs to be sent to the RSPB.
The parallel event, Big Schools’ Birdwatch takes place during the first half of spring term next year, 2 January-23 February 2018. Further information can be found at rspb.org.uk/schoolswatch
For a free Big Garden Birdwatch pack, which includes a bird identification chart, plus RSPB shop voucher and advice to help attract garden wildlife, text BIRD to 70030 or visit rspb.org.uk/birdwatch ”