Sixes and sevens

The air was gin clear and visibility was just peachy after a frost today, so spending an hour or two ‘scoping the outer marsh from the northern slopes of the Sandplant at Marshside seemed sensible.
Two Common Buzzards, three Marsh Harriers, two Kestrels, at least three Merlin, one Peregrine and a fine adult male Hen Harrier justified frozen toes, but where, oh where was my Sprawk???
Missed the requisite “Marshside Seven” for the want of the common accipiter, so had to make do with six species of raptor before the cold started to creep in again after 2pm.
Couple of Ravens out there, hassling the buzzards, plenty of Pink Feet, egrets and chirrupping Skylarks.
Most of the raptors kept their distance, but there will be other winter days for them to come closer…

Stealing the last of the light

A text from Pete Allen about 11 Snow Buntings on Ainsdale Beach was enough to snap me out of my November dreich gloom this afternoon.
Pete and Chris Fyles had found the birds while diligently conducting their WeBS count, and with an hour or so of light left I hauled on me twitching troosers (unfortunately not waterproof) and headed up the beach north of Shore Road.
Thanks for the heads up fellas.
The flock was feeding along the tideline about 400m north of the beach entrance, off the Green Beach, but ranged around.

I was delighted to see two sootier young birds with them – the first time I’ve encountered this plumage in a long time on our coast, and in the fading afternoon light these two birds really stood out from the rest of the group.
At least three males and possibly six females, but I’d like to have another look at them in better light conditions assuming they stick around.
I walked 50 metres ahead of the birds on the tideline after relocating them, then crouched down so they could trundle on past me.
This meant they were not disturbed, and I could get great views and thoroughly soaked kecks – the beach is a bit cold and damp in winter, who knew???
In between the lovely typical Snow Bunting trilling calls of this enchanting species, they uttered a few sharp single note calls – not sure I’ve heard them do that before (you can just about hear it on the second of my two short videos)…
Several shaky videos and a host of ropey pictures later I left the birds feeding along the tideline just before 4pm.
You can watch the vids here and here

The flock melted into the tideline thanks to their perfect camouflage, but moved out onto the open beach once or twice when walkers got a bit close (thanks to the dog walkers who diverted around the birds when they saw what I was doing),
They quickly returned to the high tide strandline at the top of the beach once folk passed by.

It’s the biggest flock I can remember seeing on our coastline in quite awhile – funny we were only talking about hopes for a Snow Bunting season during my Green Sefton presentation at Martin Mere yesterday.
With four seen at Hightown, two at Cabin Hill, one at Lifeboat Rd and two at Birkdale so far this winter, then this group (plenty of room for overlap of course), it may be a good year for them…

Drying out

Clear blue skies and gently warming sun were welcome after the recent November dreich, but it did mean the Scaup on the Junction Pool was little more than a dozing bubble-headed silhouette.
It seemed happy enough bobbing about amongst the Tufties, occasionally waking up to reveal its big white forehead, even with the sun behind it on a crisp Marshside morning, and a dusting of snow on the Lakeland peaks off to the north west.

A stroll around the Sandplant revealed two or three Goldcrests, Robins, Wrens and a Song Thrush, while a bit further out a Merlin was drying out its drenched plumage in the morning sun on a favoured perch.
I watched it for an hour or so, when it took flight once or twice, mainly to chase off another Merlin, but it always came back to its perch – lovely scope views, if a bit distant.
I tried videoing it, but it was too far away really. I am however very proud of capturing the typical Marshside motoring soundtrack… You can watch and hear the risible results here.
Nice bird though – it’s always good when you can count the number of tail bars…

Between 3 and 5 Marsh Harriers up over the outer marsh, with Buzzards, Sprawk and Kestrel, but I was so engrossed in the Merlin I failed to connect with the Hen Harrier(s?) and Peregrine out there today.
Cattle Egret amongst the coos as usual, and Crossens Outer had a good roost of Golden Plover, with Lapwing, Wigeon, harassing Marsh Harrier and what sounded like a Rock Pipit above the traffic.

Context

For all their high northern glamour and wild, haunting calls, Whoopers are fairly easy to connect with in our neck of the woods (or rather marshes and farmland) at this time of year.
They can still be impressive though, and that was the case today as Ian Wolfenden and I watched four coming in on high from the west, dropping over Liverpool Bay to sweep majestically into Crosby Coastal Park.
I wonder how long ago they left Iceland?
I don’t think I’ve ever encountered Whoopers here before, but Ian saw seven last week too.
We were both surprised when these wildest of swans planed onto the small boating lake, albeit briefly, before taking to the air again, flapping to gain height as they headed over us calling away, like a quartet of albino Lancaster bombers.

Against the relatively urban backdrop, out of context, their calls sounded all the wilder. Great birds.

As I checked an area to the north of the marine lake for a potential winter management project, 5-6 Corn Buntings “tic tic tic-ed” past a few times, back for the winter, and 3-5 Stonechats were in the low dunes.
The colder weather today saw more finches arriving on the coast – groups of Chaffinches were dropping into the dunes at Ainsdale, and called overhead at Crosby.
One of the local Ravens was getting hassle from Carrion Crows and Starling numbers were increasing on the open grassland.
A few of Ian’s Skylarks were still feeding on Sea Holly seeds, but when they are doing this they can be as difficult to spot and skulky as Jack Snipe, as they creep about low to the petrified remains of the plants, before chirrupping up into the cold air.

Slippery customer

Finally got some good views of the Common Seal that has been hanging around the Alt estuary at Hightown for over a year during my lunch-break yesterday.
The beastie was fishing at the mouth of the Alt, steering into the current over the high tide, and I was able to watch it fairly closely as I used the reeds at the edge of the Alt for cover.

I’ve only seen two on the Sefton coast before, but given that they show up in the haul out at Hilbre amongst the Atlantic Greys sometimes, I do wonder if they are overlooked here.
Perhaps not every blob bobbing about offshore is a Grey…
Wonder where this one came from originally?
Christened “Slippy” by locals (it hauls out on the sailing club slipway sometimes), it seems happy enough, but the nearest breeding sites appear to be over at Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland and Scotland…

The Birds of Darbyshire.

Before you ask – yes, this pale blob is the best picture I could get of Stuart Darbyshire’s White Rumped Sandpiper at Banks Marsh today. It was MILES away!!!
But given the great man had achieved the not inconsiderable feat of finding three Yankees on the Ribble estuary over the last few days (the sandpiper, American Golden Plover and American Wigeon), the least I could do was go out and have a look for them once I got a free day.
Truly excellent work Stuart.
It was a glorious morning – Crossens Outer Marsh was stacked to the gunnels with waders over the high tide – Golden and Grey Plovers, Lapwings, Knot, Dunlin, Redshank – while three Marsh Harriers quartered the estuary further out and Whooper Swans winged in, calling in the crisp, cool air.
Mark Nightingale and Pete Kinsella were already scanning the spectacle as I arrived.
Nine Cattle Egrets flapped off towards Banks, and I followed them.
I paused to admire two Greenland Whitefronts in with Whoopers on the track down to Old Hollow, before ‘scoping the marsh for the next few hours.

The whitefronts dropped onto the marsh for a bathe before heading back out onto the fields with the swans, and Peregrine and Merlin were keeping everyone on their toes.
Up to 30 Fieldfares were around the farm, and 19-20 Twite wheezed in to perch on the fenceline.

The sandpiper kept a low profile for an hour or two before finally popping up in the company of a Dunlin almost at the back of the splashes.
The bird was so far away I used Blackpool Tower as a marker to get folk onto it.
Serious peep pain.
It seemed a bit smaller than the Dunlin, but would have been impossible without good light and the ‘scope on full zoom.
Mercifully the bird flicked across a channel twice while feeding, showing off its white arse, and while I strained my eyes to follow it, occasionally I could just make out its shorter bill, and more attentuated appearance.
Just.
A shame it didn’t come closer – it has behaved better at other times apparently.
A flock of 12 seedy-looking Egyptian Geese here were a surreal surprise – how long have they been around???

They kept their distance, loafing about near a herd of Canadas for most of the session.
Shady, but it’s the first time I can remember seeing this species on the estuary.
Two Great White Egrets, five Goosander and two more Marsh Harriers added to this most agreeable scene.
The birds are often distant at Banks, but there is always plenty to see…

Wary

Small numbers of Redwings were sighing and circling around Ainsdale this morning, and with birds heading north, south and west it had the feel of a classic thrush overshoot.
So I was surprised when I didn’t pick any more up along the coast in the bright sunshine – Skylarks and finches moving, but no thrushes.
Marshside was a bit nippy, but the hard light that often accompanies a northerly wind, revealed a few dozing Golden Plover on Crossens Outer, amongst the Wigeon, Teal and Lapwing.
I called into Martin Mere to pick up a copy of the Lancs Bird Report and say howdy to Andy at In Focus, but the hides were frankly quite noisy and I didn’t stay long.
Plenty of Pinkies about though, Marsh Harriers and at least three shivering Avocets.

A detour to Haskayne Cutting was just what the doctor ordered – at least 15 Redwings, 10+ Fieldfare, 2 Song Thrushes and 10+ Blackbirds were gorging on hawthorn berries as they do, but the wintering thrushes were remarkably skittish.
Up to 12 Corn Buntings and two Yellowhammers watched me from the overhead wires as I tried to get close to the migrants, but in the end the best strategy was to hunker down and let the birds come to me.
More Fieldfares and Redwings were swooping in over the fields from the east.
Goldcrests and Robins made the wait a whole lot easier, and huge skeins of Pinks appeared to be dropping onto Carr Moss to the north.

Getting close to these nervous birds is always a privilege of course.
Back at Dempsey Towers, Redwings began sweeping into the trees to roost in the late afternoon, so I guess that’s probably where the birds had come from first thing too…

On call

After yesterday morning’s fluke Hawfinch heading south over Ainsdale Discovery Centre (great bird), I was anxious to get a bit of time out on the dunes at lunchtime and see what else I could pick up on call – it is autumn after all.
Earlier, Stonechats were as inquisitive as ever at Hightown, while Chaffinches, Skylarks, Mipits and Blackbirds were heading through (hiya Adrian).

Up at Ainsdale a Sprawk was spooking the flocks of Goldfinches in the frontals, and a young Swallow was perched up on the wires next to the office in the showery conditions – the first one I’ve seen around here in a while.
Fortified by a packet of pickled onion Space Invaders and two ginger biscuits (the lunch of champions) I took a stroll round Sands Lake in the drizzle, but it was quiet bar feeding flocks of Long Tailed Tits with a Goldcrest or two.
At the waterside, two Little Egrets were resting in the Sea Buckthorn, Hazel and Alders. They looked most comfortable.

I know it’s the wrong season, but the habitat isn’t that different from the Marine Lake roost and nest site and about the same height – so you never know next year…

Advertising standards

Finally got completely hacked off with the constant adverts for dodgy financial schemes, holidays or weight-loss campaigns (what are they trying to say??? everyone knows Satterthwaites count as one of your “five-a-day”) obliterating the blog.
The more people read the thing the more feckin’ adverts pop up.
Thanks though to the 70,000+ of you around the globe who visit (it would be nice to hear from one or two of you occasionally), but it’s time to upgrade – so no more ads!
I’ll play around a bit with new design templates a bit over the next few weeks too (let me know what you think) – a dozing Common Nighthawk is certainly easier on the eye than that old image of me up on the Norwegian fjells as a header for starters.
Birding wise the bump back to reality is always a tough one after a great few weeks bouncing around the autumn, and strolls in the dunes have provided little other than Chiffchaffs, Goldcrests and titmice flocks – but you’ve gotta keep looking and walking.
Skylarks and Mipits are heading south in a light but steady passage most mornings at Ainsdale, with the odd Grey Wag thrown in.

Recent heavy rain hasn’t changed the dune water table that much, but it did force this young Sprawk to hunt on the deck at Dempsey Towers on Sunday – running about on long knitting-needle legs before it saw me and flew up to perch and scowl in the rain…

Thanks for hanging around

Detoured from fuelling up this morning for a quick look at John Wright’s excellent Kentish Plover at Southport Beach.
Given it has been 27 years since I last saw one in Lancs up at Rossall Point, and that this one has politely stayed put since the weekend while I gallivanted all over the country, I figured going to say “howdy” was the least I could do.

The Kentish was roosting with about 50 Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Grey Plover at the edge of the vegetation just off the main beach slipway, largely dozing and hunkering down in the teeth of the strong winds and squalls.

At about 10.25am they all flew off to feed to the south out on the shore between Pleasureland roundabout and Weld Road, but I’m sure it returned to the roosting area later on…
Nice bird.