Lost in a haze

After a quick check at Marshside (young Avocets and LRPs, Blackwits on the lagoon etc) I headed to Martin Mere as the hard June sun began to melt the horizon.

A change is as good as a rest as they say, and the mere wasn’t particularly busy, so it was the perfect opportunity to watch the Marsh Harriers from the Ron Barker hide.

The well-marked male was busy hunting and occasionally bringing in food to a fledged youngster hidden in the reeds and it often passed close to the hide in the wibbly-wobbly heat shimmer.

After a time the larger female type came in with prey items which she dropped to the youngster.

Common Terns wafted through as the Marsh Harriers quartered the reserve.

Summer slow.

Another female Marsh Harrier drifted over the Tarleton by-pass.

Arable, with Magpie hassle

Wasn’t expecting too much, and I wasn’t disappointed, during an evening spin around the mosses.

Magpies were giving one of the local Little Owls serious hassle as it tried to hunt for food running along a track.

It’s tough work feeding two young when the ground is baked hard by the long drought and worms became even more difficult to come by as the three Magpies swooped and mobbed the owl.

Not surprisingly the owl gave up hunting and perched on a nearby gutter, scowling until the Magpies had cleared off.

Corn Buntings were delivering their greatest hit (YouTube snippet here), and Yellowhammers were singing too, although a bit subdued as grey skies sapped their solar charge.

Distant, but interesting…

Many thanks to dedicated and expert wader counter Peter Knight, for sending me these images taken on the shore between Ainsdale and Birkdale over the tide yesterday.

Peter’s images highlight the frustration of heat shimmer and range that is frequently a factor along the shore, but as he says the blurry images he managed to get do point towards American Golden Plover…

Peter explains: “At the Birkdale roost today was an odd-looking Golden Plover with the 2CY Grey Plovers. Unfortunately it was some way off and heat shimmer had started.

“Looked small and sleek and the back was strikingly dark with very prominent white on head and sides of neck.

“Attached are some snips from a record digiscoped video. It looks like a breeding plumage AGP to me, but is it just a ‘regular’ Golden Plover?”

Any thoughts folks???

Catching Flys

What with lockdowns and everything, it’s been a few years since I last got up to Moor Piece. I put that right today.

Certainly fewer trees in some parts this morning (the result of winter storms or the tree-killing fungus Phytophthera ramorum which has hit the site?), but as peaceful woodlands go, Moor Piece in Lancashire’s far east, still takes some beating.

Renowned for its Pied Flycatchers, this Lancs Wildlife Trust reserve also held Spotted Flycatcher, and a good selection of commoner woodland birds too today, although it took a little while before at least two male Pied Flycatchers tuned up with their sweet “squeaky wheel” song.

YouTube snippet here. Sorry.

Five or six birds as I strolled around, but there were probably more.

One pair sat for a time on their territory allowing me to try to get some pictures of them in the gloom from the road, while Blackcaps, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs were singing away.

Quite lost track of time as I walked the road through the trees and out the other side, where a Red Kite skimmed over the canopy and Curlew called away on open fields.

With the sun bursting through I took the long circuitous way home through the Trough of Bowland, which wasn’t that busy, surprising on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

A young Dipper was just downstream of Langden Beck – a treat as I don’t know about you, but I don’t see this plumage that often.

Footage of the tubby snorkeller on YouTube here.

Further down the Trough Grey Wagtails singing from Larches (as you do), Redpoll, Siskin and more Pied Flys.

Common Sandpiper, seven more calling Curlews, although I couldn’t find any Redstarts which was annoying – perhaps it was too windy, as the SE’ly was really funnelling through the Trough by this time…

And for those who would ask me “Wasn’t this excursion into the eastern woods just an exercise in bunting dodging?”, I fear I would have to answer with another question:

“Do Pied Flycatchers sing in the woods?”

Out for a duck

An hour or two with the Lesser Scaup found by Stuart Darbyshire this morning at Marshside RSPB was a Sunday sesh well spent.

The drake was dabbling for an inordinate amount of time (you’re meant to be a diving duck) at the end of the channel off Sandgrounders Hide, it was bling-free, fully-winged and as chipper as they come.

Smaller than nearby Tufties, the Lesser Scaup kept away from them generally.

I had hoped the Yankee may come closer, but although it dabbled up the channel towards the screen once or twice while I was there, it always veered back to keep a discreet distance.

Not everyday you see a Lesser Scaup with a Garganey though (two of the latter were around the lagoon and LRPs were nipping about calling).

Shot a few seconds of video of the peaky-headed dabbling/diving duck, which you can watch on YouTube here.

Stop, Look, Listen

Wise railside advice that the Eleonora’s Falcon took to heart in Kent yesterday, refusing to move from a distant sun-silhouetted roosting perch for the first five hours we watched it.

This meant that while key identification features – super long primaries, brown uppers and buffy brown streaked undercrackers, size and that striking head pattern – could be slowly pieced together, it wasn’t really living up to its full MEGA potential.

A walk over the railway crossing and into farmland beyond meant the falcon could be watched without looking into the sun, but it was still distant through a wicked heat haze.

Truly wibbly wobbly video and excellent commentary on “Mr Angry Smiley Face” on YouTube here.

While all were doubtless delighted to tick the falcon, it was obvious everyone wanted the bird to do one thing, and one thing only – FLY.

But the Eleonora’s refused to budge, even when Dover trains rattled past just metres away, or when Woodpigeons crash landed next to it, or when four Magpies indulged in a spot of predator hassle.

Hours ticked by with just a female Red-Footed Falcon, six plus Hobby hunting the Worth Marshes, Red Kite, Banded Demoiselle etc to pass the time under the Kent sun on the Pinnock Wall.

Finally, after interminable wing stretching, tail flexing and snoozing, at 10.45am the falcon transformed from a distant blob to a rakish-winged, supersonic killing machine, launching from its perch and scorching across the fields, over our heads and up over Great Wood to hunt for the smitten crowd.

A bad morning to be a dragonfly – or anything else within its prey range for that matter.

With hundreds of ‘scopes, cameras and birders lined along the Pinnock Wall I wondered at the contrast to Anthea Copleston and Ken Horton’s momentous discovery of the first Eleonora’s Falcon for the UK in 1977, just a mile or two from home at Cabin Hill, Formby.

A different age, but the buzz must have been incredible.

The Eleonora’s really was quite the most stunning hunter – plunging, stalling, hovering and ripping through the air on long dark wings, making nearby Hobbys look decidedly sluggish.

Sometimes the hard sun caught it and usually dark underwings appeared much lighter as it plummeted through the air above the wood.

After its first dazzling show it perched up for a rest, and gave us the chance to get a good clear view of its plumage – a brilliant bird of prey, that transformed from aerial killing machine to cute “Mr Angry Smiley Face” again when it landed.

A fine performance and great day (if tough drive) with Rob Pocklington, Jason Stannage and John Aitchison.

Singin’ in the rain…

Airfixmen glued to pieces of slate, clouds down to the ground, the smell of Oak leaves sluiced by persistent rain, “green” air in a dark wood, mint cake and pencils to die for.

Plus soggy Wood Warblers, drenched but still trilling away God bless ’em when I drove north to spend the morning in White Moss Wood by Rydal Water in Cumbria today.

At least two birds audible as soon as I walked over the footbridge across the river and into the oak woodland clinging to the slopes below Rydal Crags.

One bird held my attention for the next two hours, and frequently came in close to trill above my head.

Strong winds washed showers of rainwater down from the canopy, but the Wood Warbler still spluttered away, in between Chuck Berry duckwalks along favoured horizontal branches, fluttering display flights and gorgeous “tooh tooh tooh” breaks from the trilling.

Even in the dark and dire wet conditions, its throat shone yellow as my camera, pockets and boots slowly filled with water.

When the bird sang, which it did frequently, its whole body shook, long wings and tail quivering – I’m too crap with a camera to capture it, especially in today’s conditions, but it looks something like this:

Marvellous.

To hear the song, go to the awful clip I’ve loaded onto YouTube here – forget the deluge and over exposure, just listen to the sound…

Once the rainwater pouring off the canopy began to rise and finally reach my chest I decided it was time to pull out.

The Wood Warbler didn’t look unduly concerned, so I left it to its trilling duties.

Motored down the back roads on the west side of Windermere, pausing to snatch some snap at the Osprey watchpoint at Esthwaite Water – funny how these things always choose to nest next to CCTV rigs these days…

The westerly was still blowing mad as a lorry through the Rusland Valley and Finsthwaite, so I only stopped briefly to enjoy some fresh Wood Warbler trilling and roadside Garden Warbler action before pushing on.

Leaving my bins to dry out I succumbed to botanical temptation and called into Latterbarrow, where I was treated to six species of orchid – Fly, Greater Butterfly Orchid, Common Twayblade, Early Purple Orchid, Green-Winged Orchid and Common Spotted Orchid.

Most of the Early Purps were going over, and the Common Spotteds weren’t quite in flower, but I was delighted to find a Green-Winged in reasonable condition – I’ve not been able to organise a walk into Altcar Rifle Range this spring (hopefully next year folks), so this was a bonus.

The site’s Fly Orchids were on top form – at least six flower spikes, delicate and fantastically coloured. Despite the wind they were certainly worth papping – I probably won’t see any more this year now.

No sign of any Fragrants yet though.

Brimstone butterflies galloped past while Bullfinches, Nuthatches and Blackcaps called and sang as the sun finally warmed things up and I turned the wheels to the south and home.

I wonder if the Wood Warblers have dried out yet.

Probably not.

To be or not to be. That is the pencil.

Hide and seek

Sliding from spring into summer, Plex was still pleasant enough this afternoon, although the westerly wind made things a bit tricky, especially when playing hide and seek with a Lesser Whitethroat in Haskayne Cutting’s elders and hawthorns.

This bird has been rattling away for the last week or two, but with lush vegetation it was difficult to keep track of, especially as it remained mobile, frequently completing a circuit of its territory, and often using brambles and scrub for cover.

It’s sweet scratchy warble and rattling got most intense in response to a singing Common Whitethroat, which, as usual had no inhibitions about sticking to cover…

Chiffchaff, Blackcap, and of course Yellowhammer singing away too, Water Avens blooming and a carpet of marsh orchids sprouting up.

No sign of any Large Red Damselflies today though.

With no return by the Lesser Whitethroat that held territory close to our office at Ainsdale in 2020 and 2021 so far this year, it was pleasant to listen to this bird rattling away in the sun, but it only clambered up into the upper branches once or twice.

Sneaky is as sneaky does.

Birds on the edge of a nervous breakdown

Even allowing for the migratory inconvenience of the early morning downpours, the Spotted Flycatchers at Sands Lake appeared hyper-stressed at the very least – rarely sitting still, and zooming all over the place.

Not that flycatchers are known for their relaxed approach to life. Chill for goodness sake.

With Stuart Darbyshire reporting three at Marshside and John Kelly finding one on Royal Birkdale Golf Course this morning (Chris Fyles had seen two at the Birkdale end of the Local Nature Reserve yesterday), I wasn’t overly surprised that a quick circuit of the Sands Lake at Ainsdale this morning produced two of these beauties, but it was very gloomy under the canopy in the rain and most of the time they were shadowy shapes zipping from one branch to the other.

The rain had already brought down the largest flock of hirundines I’ve seen around our office this year – 22 birds, mainly Swallows, with four Sand Martins in tow, that melted away as soon as the rains eased.

As usual the Sands had its usual healthy compliment of warblers – singing Reed, Sedge, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Blackcap, while a trilling Whimbrel headed north overhead.

As I tried to stalk the flighty flycatchers I was delighted when a Garden Warbler lumbered up out of the nettles to feed clumsily in the lower branches in the south west corner.

My first of the year, ogling me with that big staring eye. Marvellous.

It sang briefly before melting back into the depths of cover.

Sedge Warblers are finally in good voice after initially being quite thin on the ground on the LNR south of Shore Road – if ever you wanted to really hear a bird on the edge of a nervous breakdown, you could do far worse than listening to a Sedge Warbler… their insane song is all over the place, but none the worse for that.

Three pounds of poop in a two pound bag!

The resident Stonechats near the office have successfully fledged young now too, with the protective father always close at hand….

I popped back to the Sands Lake later in the day as conditions brightened up, and the two Spotted Flycatchers were still present, but ranging further through the cover – genuine “Thunderbirds” brought down by the heavy rain.

The Garden Warbler sang quietly and sweetly once or twice but remained typically invisible, and as the temperature perked up I had my first dragonfly of the year, a Four Spot Chaser, speeding over the scrub.

As I left a Common Sandpiper dropped in by the car park.

Spot…spot…Spotty

Hunkered down in the shade of a Willow and Sycamore and waited for the Spotted Sandpiper on the banks of Elton Reservoir this afternoon.

There are worse ways to while away a sunny afternoon in Bury, in the company of Bullfinches, Sedge and Willow Warblers and mercurial Swifts coming through ahead of darker rain clouds bubbling up from the south.

The sandpiper was on view distantly from strategic points around the reservoir with a ‘scope but I hoped it may scuttle past me if I hid in the rank vegetation out of sight above the muddy edges of the water (thanks for the info Austin!)

After about 40 minutes the bird obliged, running along the water’s edge and picking prey off with a chipper Little Ringed Plover in tow.

Well spotty.

The Yankee came past me twice in an hour and a half – much better than chasing it around the reservoir trying to keep ahead of dog-walkers, sailing craft and such like which habitually spooked the bird, although the sandpiper always returned to the same stretch of beach…

It has been quite a while since I last saw one of these things this side of the pond (or on the other side of the Atlantic for that matter), but with three summer plumaged birds in the north west over the weekend it was too good an opportunity to get reacquainted.

Spotty video on YouTube here.