The aroma, noise and constant activity of a cliff full of stinky auks, Gannets and Kittiwakes is always a stirring experience, so it would be churlish to get too bothered over the great big Black-browed sized hole in the Bempton Cliffs seabird spectacle today.
The absence of the albatross in the room detracted from the atmosphere somewhat, as did the solo drive over and back.
The in-car conversation just ain’t as sparkling when you’re twitching solo, but at least I get to choose the music, and it’s safer.
Either way, a closed M62 made the journey over a tad onerous early doors, and Saddleworth was invisible both ways.
Bempton was as stinky and thrilling as ever though, with the tang of the Covid edge hanging in the air more pungently than the smell of stale guano.
Even with 200 odd birders strung across the cliffs first thing social distancing was possible, as long as you avoided the viewing platforms at times.
Especially chatting to friends at a careful distance during a prolonged dip.
You know it’s not there, I know it’s not there – stop ogling that Puffin!!!!
With the added bonus of a soaking wet and seriously grumpy Long Eared Owl on the cliff-top early on, before it flopped off inland over the grasslands, I put in eight hours in the hope that yesterday’s magnificent Black Browed Albatross would materialise out of the cloud of seabirds.
Brief rubbish video of Mr Grumpy Owl on You Tube here.
Plenty of Guillemots, Razorbills, Puffins, Gannets and Fulmars to distract from the lack of the big boy, one, possibly two Bonxies offshore and the grasslands shivering with Tree Sparrows and Skylarks, plus a Siskin or two through.
There’s no show without Punch, and there’s only so long you can listen to folk praising Puffins, so I pulled out and headed home over the Yellowhammer and Corn Bunting-rich Wolds just before 3pm.
You win some, you lose some.
Catch you next time, you smug tubby little fish parrots.
The tide wasn’t really big enough to justify the schlepp out to Formby Point for an early evening seawatch in the pummelling rain, but the good strong south westerly was hard to resist.
With an hour to spare I gave Crosby Coastguards a try between 5pm and 6pm – the tide was right in here, submerging the Gormleys and mixing spray with cold rain.
The Hall Road Starlings looked particularly miserable.
It was hard to pick anything up in the rain and force 6-7 gusts, even cowering in the lee of the RNLI storage cabins.
The flickering shape of terns were visible out on the bar, their jerky flight action suggesting Common Terns out feeding from Seaforth, while big boats like the Dutch suction dredger the Lelystad trailed gulls in her wake as she headed into the river.
Best I could manage were two Manx Shearwaters scorching northwards along the edge of the wind, speeding across the estuary mouth and up the coast, then shortly afterwards an Avocet struggling south over the waves presumably towards Seaforth – an odd combo for any seawatch, much less a slow, damp Sunday evening one!
I managed to count 49 of the summering Turnstones at Marshside this afternoon as they dozed at the back of the Sandplant lagoon – there were probably a few more hidden in the vegetation and channels, but they were entertainment for an hour or so.
It’s the first time I’ve had a close (-ish) look at them since Stuart Darbyshire found this flock of non-breeders over a month ago.
Quite regular on the estuary and along the coast to Crosby of course, but I can’t remember seeing them in numbers on the inland side of the reserve before.
Turnstones are pretty site faithful (apart from cool migration periods) whether breeding or not, so why they have suddenly found the inner marsh to their liking is interesting. That said, their movements are complex and impressive.
Wibbly wobbly blurred video footage was inevitable. Results on YouTube here. Sorry.
One of those “if they were rare you’d travel miles to see one” birds.
I had to take a few runs at counting them as a young Peregrine kept ripping through on several unsuccessful sorties, trailed by screaming BHGs, but still putting the willies up everything.
More efficient was the LBB on the lagoon confronted by at least seven big fish dead in the shallows – spoilt for choice but a fish supper was certainly on the cards before the sharp showers returned.
Anyone know what type of fish lurk in the lagoon?
They were substantial alright – at least the size of ornamental Carp, but silvery grey above with white undercrackers mottled with grey. Couldn’t really make out fin colour etc.
After a week or two of silence, this Gropper was giving it the beans again at Ainsdale Local Nature Reserve in gloomy, humid conditions today.
The bird often likes to take the high ground on a dune ridge above its territory, meaning it is skylined, but it was fun to hear him reeling away again, and the increasing warmth had prompted Willow Warblers, Whitethroats and Reed Bunts back into more vigorous singing too.
I videoed the Gropper for a few seconds – you can watch the reeling silhouette on You Tube here.
Although only a short walk into the LNR today it was filled with treasure – budding Dune Helleborines (given the heat they’ll be flowering in a few days), hordes of Pyramidal Orchids and the diminutive dune carpet of Biting Stonecrop, Eyebright and Self-heal blooming alongside many Southern and Early Marsh Orchids.
Still a few Bee Orchids up.
Emperors and a few male Broad Bodied Chasers on favoured pools and Natterjack toadlets scurrying through the vegetation – watch where you stand!
Meadow Pipits seemed to be doing fine still, and I was delighted to see a Skylark carrying food, although it appeared to be clutching a bee – insect food must be short still.
A few Lapwings in the slacks too – this spring is the first I can remember them in this area throughout the breeding season. Marvellous seeing them here, one of the beneficiaries of the lockdown’s enforced reduction in disturbance.
Checked through the rolling clouds of Starlings at Marshside (nothing yet Stinky fans), before heading up to HOM in the strengthening south westerly.
The site’s Arctic Terns were in fine form – sailing with impossible grace into the wind, while gulls, waders and egrets all seemed to be struggling.
Lovely birds, I suppose the gusty conditions were nothing to where they’ll be headed in a few months time.
Luckily one bird came through to hunt over the pools just under the bank once or twice, stalling and swooping past me, streamers wafting. So elegant.
A young Peregrine spooked everything once or twice, but spent most its time hunched up on a tree trunk.
Yellow Wags calling over the fields and a great pair of Grey Partridge scuttling off the track before launching off the seawall and pitching down into a cabbage field, but it was a bit blowy to be watching wagtails and partridges and I headed back as the next shower threatened.
Thanks to David Tyler for sending me his shot below of the Red Veined Darter he found at Slack 169e in the dunes at Ainsdale yesterday.
I was there myself earlier in the week when Emperors were ovipositing, but once the wind drops and the temperatures rise again, conditions should be a lot better for dragon hunting.
Although a brief Brown Hawker in my garden yesterday was the earliest I have had.
Rain, rain, rain.
Before the spits and spots turned into a downpour there was time for a circuit around Lunt Meadows this morning, where at least one Barn Owl was hunting over the grasslands past 10am (it must be tough feeding a family at the moment), and a Gropper was reeling away with considerably more effort than I have heard for a few weeks.
I was soggier than a crash diving Great Crested Grebe by the time I’d finished, but the Cetti’s Warblers were in good voice (at least three birds singing today), alongside Reed and Sedge Warblers, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff.
The menacing clouds pushed good numbers of feeding Swifts and hirundines (mainly House Martins) down low, but this concentration of Hobby bait didn’t produce any falcons.
The Spoonbill was hunched up and snoozing away (quelle surprise) for most of the time, although it exploded into a frenetic burst of activity for at least 40 seconds before shutting down again, almost as if the rain had forced the bird into action.
It must have been exhausted with the effort of striding for all of 50 metres and attempting two feeding sweeps with its great big galooty bill.
I captured this dynamic adventure (for a Spoonbill anyway) on a wobbly video – it’s dark, and popping and crackling as the rain hits the P900 although this does make a change from a snoozing white Spoonbill-shaped blob.
You can watch the video on YouTube here.
While the bird was awake, the thought occurred to me that there are few things in nature that look as daft as a summer Spoonbill… apart from an ageing birder trying to watch one in the pouring rain.
Spoonbill, Loonbill, time to dry off.
The drowsy hum of their orangey wings as they dance over flowerheads at dusk is superb.
They are a blur that disturbs the air as if they’re moving through time and space – Hummingbird Hawk-moths are simply ace.
That distinctive movement in the border is a signal to dash outside and blatt away with the camera phone – poor results in the fading light last night, but I’m always delighted when one of these things visits the garden at Dempsey Towers.
A few blog readers have reported them recently, so hopefully it’ll be a good year for ’em.
I even shot a few seconds of blurry phone video last night before the Hummingbird Hawk helicoptered over the hedge and disappeared. You can watch it on You Tube here.
Once it was gone it was time to crank up the moth trap to see if I could lure in any other guests despite the thundery showers.
Not a great haul, but about 60 moths of 22 species when I went through it this morning, including old faithfuls Poplar Hawkmoth, Flame Shoulder and Swallowtailed Moth.
To see how it should be done, excellent naturalist Dave Bickerton has posted an informative video and pictures on facebook from his tidy and organised shed in East Lancs.
If you don’t know Dave on facebook, you can see it on the new West Lancs Nature Notes pages on fb.
Dave’s post shows order and neat, scientific recording.
By the time I’ve finished it’s more like the aftermath (aftermoth?) of a rave at Arkham Asylum.
Catch you later…
Thanks as ever to my friend Neill Hunt for these spiffing pictures of Common Swift zooming about through local skies.
My request for the images was prompted by two reasons, firstly at least three are showing an interest in nesting just two or three doors down from Dempsey Towers this year – and watching them scorching and screaming over the garden is just, well, fabulous.
Numbers have steadily dropped since we moved in here 20 years ago from 18 pairs then to barely one in the immediate locale last year, so seeing Swifts around our house again has been brilliant.
My trusty bridge camera is no match for a Swift of course, and after a P900 card full of dodgy small images it was time to call Neill, who duly obliged with his latest bit of whizzbang camera kit – well, what else are you gonna spend your hard-earned on these days???
Thanks for the splendid images buddy.
The other reason for using them is to see if anyone can help Bethan Nowell.
Bethan is an Msc student hoping to do her dissertation on Swift nest boxes.
“I am looking for sites with Swift nest boxes (preferably internal) which I can survey next month”, Bethan explains.
If anyone can help Bethan, please contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Away from the marvellous Devil Birds, Plex Moss was its usual Corn Bunt/Skylark/Yellowhammer self this afternoon, but quiet otherwise as towering thunderclouds built above the fields.
Discretion was the better part of valour, and after checking through one or two small groups of Starlings for some stinky action, I headed for home before the storm hit.
The breeze was a bit brisk, but the long hot sunny spells were enough to justify a five mile round trip stroll through Ainsdale NNR today.
No surprises birdwise under the canopy – Treecreeper, Nuthatch, Buzzard, Sprawk, one Redpoll, two Siskin, singing Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Blackcap – but wandering down the sun-drenched firebreaks and seeking out sheltered corners revealed a few Dark Green Fritillary butterflies on the wing, with Meadow Browns, Speckled Woods and Large Whites.
Always a treat to find a sheltered slope and watch the frits feeding, when they weren’t tussling with Meadow Browns.
Short video from today of the big orange one on You Tube here.
They seem in such a rush as they clamber over Blackberry flowerheads in search of food.
Roe Deer prints in the sand out past the firebreaks and five Common Wintergreen flowering in light shade, not a plant I encounter on the Local Nature Reserve next door.
Perhaps a bit blowy for other butterfly sp, but walking through the hot sweet aroma of the baking pines in the summer is always a treat.
They don’t look much like “Stinky Pinks” but each Starling prompts a second look in the light of the exciting western movement of Rose-coloureds this spring.
Most of the Stinkies I’ve seen over the years tend to have been solitary, but they do crop up in Starling flocks and some lovely adult birds have already appeared on Fylde, so you never know, you may get lucky – keep an eye on the garden!
More on the hopes for a “Stinky Invasion” here on Birdguides.
Meanwhile in the dunes at Ainsdale things are a bit quieter, now we’ve tackled most of the tsunami of crap left behind by those who descended on the coast in the heatwave – until the next time the temperatures rise that is.
While good numbers of Mipits seem to be carrying food (and at least two broods of Stonechats have fledged near the office) Skylark numbers have dropped down again, and I haven’t seen any carrying food, even if they do remain hyper-alert on territories…
Whitethroats still singing, and Linnets giving it the odd burst, otherwise summer looms.