Bill please

Couldn’t sleep last night, so I slipped down to the Alt Estuary at Hightown this morning arriving at about 0645.

There were two roosts of terns developing already, one just to the north of the pumping station and old navigation wall and one just across the Alt from the Blundellsands Sailing Club clubhouse.

I settled on the bench at the sailing club and waited as more and more Sandwich Terns drifted in and at about 0745 I picked up the big beezered Elegant Tern in the middle of the roost – finally.

The bird preened in good light for the next hour as more people arrived and were able to enjoy a mega on the Sefton Coast!

Plenty of colour-ringed Sarnies (about 700 by the time I left, but more were arriving) with yellow rings – Lady’s Island in Wexford?

Med Gulls, trilling Whimbrels, a first year Kittiwake in off and the majesty of the regular Swan Goose.

Fishing Gannets offshore and distant terns shining white like confetti in the warming sun over the Mersey approaches.


Shaky hand-held video of the Elegant Tern on YouTube here.

Job done.

A cracking way to start the day and back to the coalface before 9am – no one suspected a thing.

Gone fishin’

I was lucky enough to see the Pagham Harbour Elegant Tern in 2017, and too lazy (and albatross fixated) to go to Cemlyn for the summering bird last month, so a Lancs tick on Formby Beach was not to be sniffed at this afternoon when the beast relocated here.

Once Tim Vaughan had refound the Elegant Tern just before 4pm today I scooted down, however the bird had flown out into the bay by the time I strolled in from Lifeboat Road – gone fishin’.

No matter, as it was glorious ‘scoping the Albert Road roost for a few hours as birds came and went and the air was filled with harsh tern calls while the meagre high tide crept up the channels.

There’s always been a great variety of species in this roost over the years and this afternoon there were probably 2,000 terns initially with numbers dwindling as the evening went on and the sun sank.

Hard to say how many Sandwich Terns as they were so dynamic, rising and falling, fishing and bathing…

Huge numbers of Common Terns, a scattering of Arctics and up to 8 Little Gulls, with at least four gorgeous scallopy juvenile Med Gulls (several of which appeared to throw up with disconcerting regularity – what are you eating???).

Repeatedly sweeping left to right, then back again through the roost in the hope of pulling out the Elegant Tern (birds were coming and going all the time), my ‘scope rested on a superb Roseate Tern.

A ringed bird (right leg), I did wonder if it had been banded by Niall Keogh and co over the horizon – you can’t beat a good bit of Rockabilly.

The Rosy spent most of its time in the roost hidden by other birds but later came out on the north side, distant but pearly white and marvellously pallid compared to other terns to preen (it’s the left hand bird below).

A classy, black-billed beauty, but equally cool was a teeny weeny Little Tern which I picked out at the very north end of the flock an hour or so later.

My first locally this year.

No Elegant this evening, but it was still a quality few hours, with good company and a Mersey mouth boiling with terns.

Numbers are really building now with Graham Clarkson logging 4,000 Sandwich Terns off the Alt at Hightown a short distance to the south and hundreds of birds feeding offshore while we watched the Albert Road roost.

Birds seem to have deserted Ainsdale this year – a few were feeding offshore early this morning, but clearly most are between the Alt and Ravenmeols.

That can change of course, as numbers tend to peak at Ainsdale in a fortnight or so, but hopefully I’ll get another crack at the Elegant in the next few days…

Sand Eel anyone?

Long time…

Been so long since I last got out birdin’ that I’m struggling to remember which end of my binolikars to peer through.

In a way this was quite helpful today as I had a look offshore from Ainsdale for an hour at lunchtime, lured out by the drizzle and brisk force 4 W/SWly.

Everything was distant – just like looking through the wrong end of my bins.

A meagre high tide was a good two hours off, but it was pleasant enough scanning the waves and murky horizon, my mind wandering further south and west, west, west.

15 Manx Shearwaters went through south, mostly at long range and in small pulses, the largest group featuring six birds.

About 200 Common Scoter were playing hide and seek in the swell, and the waves probably concealed more of them as they rode out the Irish Sea rollercoaster in the shallows.

Numbers usually start to build up again from July.

Quiet otherwise though, and no sign of any Sandwich Terns, suggesting recent reports from Hightown do indeed appear to indicate the late summer roost has relocated to the north bank of the Alt.

On the upside hirundines are beginning to gather around the office again (absent in today’s high winds though), with 30+ Swallows and one or two Sand Martins perching up on the buildings and wires in the last week or so.

This late summer gathering didn’t happen in 2019 or 2020 and I have hopes they may tempt a marauding Hobby, which has happened a few times in years past.

No Hobbys yet though, but the Kestrels are conspicuous, gorging on summer invertebrates on the frontal dunes.

This young male was perched up on Toad Hall for a few minutes yesterday – intrigued to see it was a ringed bird.

No threat to the hirundines of course, but the long-staying albino Starling looked a tad nervous.

Local or a summer wanderer? The bracelet looked shiny and new – any thoughts from anyone in the SWLRG?

Taking the rays

At first this Swallow appeared to be sunbathing on the office roof at Ainsdale a few days ago – in fact it was doing precisely the opposite, as it fluffed up in a bid to cool down, tilting over on the hot felt.

One of the breeding pair which arrived late this year but got down to business fast, they often perch outside my window, and in this instance roll to fluff up and presumably regulate their temperature – funny I never thought of Swallows getting too hot before…

Fledged youngsters already, with another brood on the way, it was a relief to see them back after they last bred in 2018.

YouTube clippage of a “sunbathing” adult here.

….and three cheers for the albatross as it flew back onto the cliffs at Bempton again today!!!

Well, why wouldn’t you go back?

Another early start east for my second visit to Bempton’s Black Browed Albatross, which was hidden in a fold of the cliffs when I arrived this morning, but mercifully took to the skies again an hour or so later.

Magnificent – aerial alchemy as it circled the cliff face around Staple Newk beneath me, soaring over the arch and wheeling back in to repeatedly drop its big splitty splatty pink feet like a 747 lowering its landing gear as it comes in – but Gannet Air Traffic Control was having none of it, and the poor beast kept having to swing back out inshore before sweeping around to the cliffs again…

The albatross sliced through the skies with barely a movement of its wings, a giant amongst the blizzard of Bempton’s summer residents.

After a spell resting offshore it finally managed to find a space on the crowded ledges and began pulling up vegetation and moving around earth with that dirty great bill – I hope it made itself comfortable.

I left it rooting about on the ledge and headed out.

Will I be back again? You bet your sweet ass I will – what a bird!!!

Motored down the coast to Easington, where on a warming afternoon after the morning showers at Bempton, I threw myself on the kindness of strangers and scrounged a Swaroful of the meena Oriental Turtle Dove from a back bedroom window.

The dove looked like it was going to explode from a surfeit of seed – but when you’re a mega rare you’re allowed to indulge in gluttony I guess.

Flight – or at least take-off – appeared that it may pose an issue.

I’ve seen orientalis Oriental Turtle Dove in the UK before, but there’s nothing wrong with a bit of insurance in case the races ever get split (and memories of that bird are more of a blur than my “through the window” shot of today’s critter above).

Sweet Baby J & all the Saints…

Just go.

So I did, trying not to dwell on the effects of still more socially isolated twitching that range from sucking liquid Mars Bars out of overheated wrappers to that awful moment when you realise the internal conversation you’re having with yourself in the traffic jam is actually an external one and the other motorists are getting nervous.

Oh dear. Ben Gunn wth a buzz-cut.

Pulling up at Bempton Cliffs just after 1230 today (let’s not go in to when I set off) I was in time for a brisk stroll to the crowded cliff edge, a bit of ‘scope jockeying and there it was on the sea a few hundred metres away – Black Browed Albatross.

Through the ‘scope I could see the beast’s great sweep of Amy Winehouse mascara and was pondering why it was playing a yellow recorder until I realised it was its amazing bill.


More so when it occasionally unfurled its super-long thin black wings for a flap – I may have travelled in smaller planes (slight exaggeration, but y’know).

How do you fold those up again???

No matter, I’ve have waited my whole life to see you.

I ‘scoped the bird for the next three and a half hours as it preened, flapped, dozed and gently drifted further out towards Filey Brigg until my eyes burned and it was no more than a black and white speck.

Even at that range when it opened its wings it looked like someone had lost a black paraglider out there.

It held my attention so much that the jarring sounds and smells of Puffin Central barely registered.

Sadly I had to go before it returned to the cliffs in the early evening (I feel a second visit coming on), and my images barely register a pixel or two of it the range got so great, but it’s out there somewhere over towards the Brigg, so much more than a bird and completely seared into my memory…

Fortunately Neill Hunt got a stunning shot of what is presumably the same bird at Bempton last year as it sailed past him (24 hours before I dipped it), so you can see what all the fuss is about. Ta Neill.

Although given the beast is still standing proud on the cliffs as I write this I’m sure there’ll be a lot more pictures tomorrow morning!

A dark afternoon

All a bit gloomy this afternoon by the time I got to Lunt, so not the best conditions for trying to photograph the Wood Sandpiper, which was a little distant too as it fed on the Egret Pool.

Pleasing to hear so many warblers in full song still – Cetti’s, Whitethroat, Sedge and Reed Warblers were chuntering away, and although I was hoping for a Hobby in the humid conditions, I had no luck and the Black Tailed Skimmers enjoyed a stress free afternoon.

A second summer Med Gull was straightforward enough – other year two gulls on the reserve had me scratching my head a bit.

I watched the Wood Sand for 45 minutes or so as it strode about amongst the Lapwings and Ringed Plovers but it never came any closer, even when it was spooked once or twice (like everything else) by passing Marsh Harriers or Grey Herons.

Taking the whole pink thing way too far.

Typical, like everyone else I’ve been checking any groups of Starlings I come across for Rosies given the huge influx this year, but this one is taking things way beyond the pale as it were.

I can’t complain, having been treated to a fly-past by a fine adult Rose Coloured Starling at Spurn earlier in the month, but a sweep of the Starling flock around the office (Ainsdale Discovery Centre) this afternoon revealed this freak feeding in the Sea Buckthorn with the more normal 50 odd Starlings (mainly youngsters).

With the hard summer sun blasting off the bird it was hard to determine just how leucistic/albino this Common Starling was and shooting a bit of video (on YouTube here) didn’t really help.

Not surprisingly it tended to keep a low profile, generally sticking deep in the bushes, because this thing is a sitting Sprawk target!

Interesting to watch, but a bit more black on the head, wings and tail would have been appreciated…

Spotted Redshank

Present pretty much year-round at Hesketh Out Marsh, but returning crisp summer plumage birds at Marshside are the cat’s pyjamas.

They conjure up memories of floating Finnish bogs (like birding on a waterbed), j√•rvis and the high north….

Duncan Rothwell found this one today, and I spent 15 minutes watching it this evening amongst the Redshanks at the back of Junction Pool while I waited for an incoming phone call.

Too far away for pictures with my decaying SD card, and certainly too far for shaky video on YouTube….oh dear.

After a bit of a doze the Spotted Redshank fed for a time then flew off calling to the south, possibly dropping in at Nels, possibly not.

The cloudy weather brought plenty of Swifts down low, but nowt out of the ordinary.

Pyramidal and Bee Orchids in the verge.

Further adventures in the wibbly wobbly.

A trip up to Hesketh Out Marsh to see Stuart Darbyshire’s fine, if distant American Golden Plover seemed the best course of action on a warm, sunny Sunday in June.

It was either that or bugs and plants, and I imagined the dune system would be busy in the good weather.

The bird was at the back edge of the first lagoon on HOM East (right where Stuart had left it) at 1230, and while ‘scope views were okay, the heat shimmer over the water made photography ill-advised at best.

Revisiting the shape and jizz of these leggy Yankees whenever the opportunity arises is always good hygiene of course, but closer would have been better!

There are worse places to wait for a wader to perform than HOM though especially with the summer sun burning your neck and Arctic Terns dipping and swooping around the channel right in front of you….

Very peaceful (if you blot out the Sunday clay pigeon massacre blasting away in the woods behind).

Yellow Wagtail, squadrons of Avocets, a calling Siskin headed west and Blackwits, Oycs and Lapwings passed the time.

At 1345 a helium balloon (stop using these bloody things please) drifted across the site and spooked everything. Presumably on its way to choke livestock or wildlife somewhere.

All the waders including the AGP flushed and I lost it to view – the bird could have cleared out, or it could have dropped into one of the many bays and creeks obscured by the vegetation…

I checked HOM West in case it had gone there, but there was no sign, although five Eider were feeding on the first lagoon, occasionally diving, occasionally dabbling and often clashing with the Little Egrets…

Ah, a sunny afternoon at HOM in June, that fickle tickle of Horseflies on the back of your leg, before the bulldog clip pinch and there’s another chunk of your calf heading west….