Failing to out-lazy a Cattle Egret

With Herculean effort the Cattle Egret grabbed at the air, rising above the Sandplant lagoon, then suddenly it got tired and dropped down onto the Junction Pool.
It was a quiet, hot sunny day at Marshside, so what else was I gonna watch?
I strolled down to the flaps and ‘scoped the beast for awhile.
Commendably inactive in the heat, the egret sat motionless on one of the islands for 30 minutes before strolling into the water, where it sat for another 20 minutes, the wheels in its head moving even slower than those in mine.
Then it strolled back to the island for more deep thought/inactivity.
No fishing/water-snail hunting for me, no-sirree-Bob.

After two hours of this high octane entertainment it flapped off a short distance into the long grass and coos and the lazy stand-off was over.
Earlier a check of Polly’s revealed a few Dunlin in with the Blackwits (approx 150 there) and a Brown Hawker, with two Ruff amongst the flocking young Lapwing on the Sandplant Pool.
Three Buzzards and Peregrine overhead, but what’s left of the Sandplant was quiet, apart from Gatekeepers, Linnets and Goldfinches.
Back at Dempsey Towers, Fly Agaric is starting to sprout up under the birches, so the exciting stuff can’t be too far away now.
At precisely the second I finished mowing the grass, the rain started – it was almost as if Big Baby J was horticultural director at the towers, which is vaguely, if hypocritically, reassuring ‘cos I ain’t got a clue what I’m doing out there.

Sharing a sea fret or two

Penetrating drizzle for most of the morning, but Reed and Willow Warblers still ferrying food to broods around the Hesketh Road platform, and a Grey Wagtail over.
Golf course quiet-ish, or rather, busy with most of the Pringle Tribe inspired no doubt by The Open, to spoil a good walk.
I left Marshside and popped up to HOM (this type of weather should have been good for a wader or two), where the adult Arctic Terns were occasionally displaying high above, drifting in slow, graceful formation circles, calling away.

Occasionally they fell to earth.
A few Dunlin, Curlew, Avocet, Oycs, Lapwing and Redshanks, with the Yellow Wagtails too. A Greenshank was calling and feeding in the rain just a bit too far away to try for a pic.

A young Peregrine spooked everything, tried for a Redshank and gave up to move away north, while three Ravens went cronking south.

Ravens, Greenshank, Peregrine, Arctic Tern – Donald Watson or Nethersole-Thompson would have felt right at home.

A scolding

South of Ainsdale yesterday planning out a guided walk* when I heard a loud, high pitched “tik…tik..tik” call.
It threw me for a moment or two, then I saw the sun bouncing off the undercrackers of a Grasshopper Warbler nearby – clearly I was too near its territory, so after a quick digi-bin (the eye cups are held on by Sellotape on my standard issue bins now, so the pics were inevitably ropier than usual) I moved on.

Dark Green Frits, Graylings and Dune Helleborines, and a family of Kestrels learning to hunt over the dune ridges.
Good news for the falcons, bad news for the Sand Lizards.
A lunchtime seawatch on Tuesday yielded 5 distant Manx Shearwaters, 7 Gannets, 80 odd Common Scoter (numbers picking up again now) and 15 Great Crested Grebes. Plus the local tern traffic.
Must do better.
*Guided walk booking details, should you want to attend at:


After arguably a little too much nectar in the Legless Arms last night, I headed down to Pinfold Meadow on Ainsdale NNR this morning to see how the insects were handling their liquor as they gorged on the last patches of blooming Ragwort.
Plenty of Foresters in the northern section clambering all over the yellow flowerheads – glittering metallic beasts when the sun hits ’em.

A female (or maybe a young male?) Emperor Dragonfly was patrolling the taller vegetation although I thought it was a bit strong when it started hunting and eating Small Skipper butterflies…
It gobbled ’em down, once it had shredded them with contempt for their fragile beauty.

There maybe stacks of the skippers on the meadow, but they don’t deserve that fate.
Ouch, that’s gotta smart.

I strolled down to the firebreak and back, enjoying Dark Green Frits, Speckled Woods, Meadow Browns, Gatekeeper and Red Admirals, but I didn’t bump into any Ringlets today, although it was too sunny and hot an afternoon to be looking too hard.
Back at the meadow a fair few Small Coppers were nectaring on the Ragwort too.
Winners of the “Best Butterfly of the Year” Award for the last 20 years (in my book anyway), they are gorgeous insects…

Good job the Emperor didn’t spot them – I may have needed counselling if I saw the brute tearing the wings off one of the Coppers.

How quickly slow becomes fast…

More hot, but the Spotted Redshank was still feeding away on Fairclough’s Pool at Marshside today from Hesketh Road, while two small roosts of Blackwits dozed and Lapwings got freaked by passing, well, everything.
Yellow Wags up past Banks were a pleasure in the heat and a fine change from the insect deluge of high summer, but just when you sit back to enjoy the dusk, it goes crazy, all eyes turn to Porthgwarra and the i-phone goes bananas.
Buzz…buzz…buzz…and the adrenalin kicks in, even though I’ve a few more shifts before I hit the tarmac.
Why do the megas always have to be so far away????

Sneaky varmints

A Hobby scorching through the blue above Dempsey Towers this morning was almost enough to pull me out of a sunny Sunday summer nosedive. Almost.
At least it was enough to get me down to Formby where I went for a wander down Range Lane to admire the new Ringlet colony Phil Smith discovered a week or so back (see comment on previous entry).
I’ve not heard of any from the firebreak at Ainsdale NNR yet this year (great discovery by Andy Spottiswood in 2016), and I wanted to say “howdy” again to the Sefton coast’s newest butterfly so off I went.
I counted at least nine Ringlets this afternoon – but what a bunch of sneaky varmints, tottering around the coarse grassland and brambles.
They rarely settled in the strong westerly breeze making it very difficult to get good views of them.
Their aimless flight and smaller size made them easy to separate from the bigger, more deliberate Meadow Browns on the wing, but last year’s colony at Ainsdale NNR were much easier to get close to if memory serves.
Crept up on one male and managed a few shots as it rested in the brambles and grasses, otherwise all my view were of the critters flying weakly about the grasses, usually just a few inches off the ground and hardly ever high above the rank vegetation.
Plenty of Small Skipper and Meadow Browns, Blackcap, Chiffy and Whitethroat still singing and Common Buzzards overhead.
Pyramidal Orchids flowering and centaury gearing up to be splendid.

“Just keep walking”

Sound advice from one of the greats in search of megas on Shetland a year or two back…that and “the biggy always travels alone” are good mantras to keep you looking at this, one of the quieter times of the year.
This is where the blackest of birding black dogs live, and even though it arrives every year at this time, the lull still packs a punch.
But when you start photographing broods of Gadwall from Sandgrounders, you know you’re in trouble…

Odd to think of the time when they were scarce, and the frenzy of texting that would have been sparked by the eight strong brood, them and the successful Tufty families on the marsh of course.
How the world turns, how the world changes.
Two reasonably large gatherings of Swifts over Marine Drive this afternoon, but squinting for white bits amongst the dark missiles ripping through the blue ain’t really conducive to keeping the wheels on the bouncy bouncy tarmac.
And since when did all the Chiffies start singing full blast again?
Best head back to the dunes and ogle rare plants.

And stare in wonder at startingly early Field Gentians (these things usually bloom at the end of August).


Climb up and over the revetment and drop down into the dunes and after just a few metres you can’t hear the beach or smell the burger van.
Pyramidal Orchids everywhere, uneffected by the heat.
The dunes were inevitably quiet at Ainsdale but I fancied a spot of dragonflying so headed up to Slack 47 at lunchtime.
No fewer than four Emperor Dragonflies were absolutely owning the airspace there, while Four Spot Chasers and Southern Hawkers kept a low profile.

A family of Willow Warblers were vocal around the pool, but Reed Bunts and Whitethroats were hardly bothering. Marsh Helleborine flowering all over the place, with Dune Helleborines only days away.

Quite a few Red Admirals fluttering past – part of a Europe-wide movement in the heat plume and Sands Lake had five Black Tailed Skimmers, but I couldn’t see the two Common Sands that were there yesterday – an odd date for them on the coast.

Back at Dempsey Towers a nest-jumping Blackcap youngster hid in the coils of our hosepipe until it’s mother ushered it back into cover as Magpies pretended not to be looking.

Hot hot hot.

Eyes right

Looking summery and fine out in the ever taller vegetation at Marshside, the two lingering Cattle Egrets were probably the high point of a sunny wander today, as they mooched about amongst the growing infestation of feral geeses and clamouring fledged BHGs.
Earlier I called in at Mere Sands, still oddly devoid of any lasting monument to Trops’ recent klutziness there, but there was a good variety of dragonflies and damselflies on the wing and a few Southern Marsh Orchids blooming.
Several Chiffchaffs were still singing fit to burst, with Willow Warblers more feeble, and just the one singing Blackcap.
Corn Bunts jangling in the nearby fields, but not much else – gonna have to work harder for stuff over the coming weeks…

An elegant solution

The invertebrate and plant-heavy lull of June is best medicated against by a spot of down and dirty filthy twitching – step on up then the Pagham Harbour Elegant Tern which was today’s object of feathery desire.
Mike Stocker and June Watt collected me at an ungodly hour, and June stoically motored us all the way down the tarmac and through the Oxfordshire Red Kite rush hour (and all the way back too, god bless her), so that we were walking out to survey Pagham’s tern island in West Sussex by 0730 today.
A good crowd was already there, scanning the distant island, a clamour of Med Gulls (100+), Sarnie and Little Terns.

Although the Elegant Tern flew into the island colony at about 0815 after a few hours fishing offshore it promptly disappeared into the vegetation where the terns and gulls were raising young but I kept my eye locked to the ‘scope in the area it had been seen and at 0845 I was rewarded as the big long-winged tern rose out of the weeds to drift through my lens, it’s long thin yellow bill startlingly obvious.
The bill is undoubtedly the bird in this case, but colour rings (even visible in some of my lousy long distance pix) reveal it to be an adult male, first ringed down in France, possibly as long ago as 2003.
Stat-boy Stocker informs me this individual has made it down as far as South Africa twice since then, and although it usually prefers to spend its summers in the Gironde, its pervy interest in a Sandwich Tern at Pagham suggests it’ll be holidaying on this side of the channel this season.
Not bad for a bird that’s meant to be in the Pacific.

After an hour or so of “hide and seek” in the vegetation, as the Elegant Tern occasionally rose for a few tantalising seconds before dropping back out of sight, it finally flew out to bathe on a channel with the Sarnies, dwarfing Little Terns, as Cuckoo and Green Woodpecker called at our backs, and Little Ringed and Ringed Plover scudded about.
The adult male Elegant looked huge in flight, but not so much so on the deck, but then its shaggy crest and daft bill made it easy to pick up.
Its bendy bill looked longer, more obvious in flight than it did when the bird was on the mud if that makes sense, but it was clearly not as heavy at the beezer on last year’s Royal in Kerry, which had much darker primaries…there were some darker grey primary feathers on today’s Elegant too, but generally it looked long-winged and very white, with pearly grey uppers and a snow white rump and tail.
Tickety tick tick.
We detoured to the New Forest on the way back north for a civilised, if windy hour or so at a well-known watch point where we picked up two Goshawks, a displaying Woodlark, Stonechats, Hobby and numerous Common Buzzards – no Honeys though, but this wasn’t such a surprise in the cloudy, windy conditions.