Are you sure this is Aberdeen Neill?

The best laid plans of mice and men and all that, but when you’re presented by a peep sporting straw-coloured legs there’s only three ways things can go.

With bags packed at 10pm for a holiday the next morning, fate will always dictate the peep will become a Long-toed Stint, and the most flexibility you can get out of elastic old Father Time is 90 mins on a site the size of a small continent but mercifully only 2 hours away.

So I picked up Neill and Duncan at 2.30am on Saturday, and headed east around wayward Ferrari’s and the never to be forgotten sight of a black Merc screaming past with its bonnet up in the fast lane, illuminated only by its hazards and the luck of a thousand stars.

By 4.45am we were the first car pulling up in St Aidan’s RSPB car park at Swillington Ings on Saturday. Time for a doze then a big yomp into the big country.

Stomping into the mist at 7am we had little time at our disposal as Snipe squelched overhead and the ferals, Water Rails and Cetti’s woke up.

Mercifully with five minutes left of a self-imposed 0840 deadline the Long-toed Stint was relocated and along with a hyperventilating crowd we enjoyed great views of the wee mega.

Thank you yet again Sweet Baby J and all the saints.

A midget gem, dark cap, split super, remarkably ordered scallops on the mantle, stupid feet and bags of charisma.

Loved it when the mega decided to compare splitting-splatteys with a passing Moorhen, king of the geeks.

Magnificent.

Still can’t believe we managed to see it, and certainly can’t work out how to upload the video of this wonderful wader on an island set in northern seas, where sea frets are stronger than WiFi.

Will post it later if anyone shows an interest.

Route marched back to the wheels by 9.10am.

Then all I had to do was deliver us to Aberdeen by 3.30pm to catch the ferry to Lerwick, aided only by the odd Red Kite, Fox’s glacier mint and the encouragement of my companions…..

Seems the loonball Merc driver wasn’t the only one relying on the luck of a thousand stars…

Buckle up.

Balmy

Nectaring Red Admirals on the asters and the gauge reading 23 degrees – balmy conditions indeed for October.

An hour ‘scoping Crossens Outer was fun with about 1,000 Pink feet, 200 Golden Plover, 50+ Grey Plover, Blackwits, Ruffs, Lapwings, Dunlin and Curlew over the tide.

At least two Marsh Harriers were quartering the outer marsh and a Merlin occasionally spooked everything.

Scanning on full zoom to the north revealed large concentrations of birds on Banks Marsh – waders and geese, but it was too far away to get too much detail in the heat haze generated by the unseasonal temperatures.

Stuart Darbyshire’s Snow Goose and Todd’s Canada will have to wait for another day.

Suitably balmy/barmy the long-staying Swan Goose was grazing with the Canada horde just under the road.

Grey Wagtails overhead and earlier in the day, Chaffinches, Pied Wagtail and Skylarks on the move.

Nah…

Some of those squalls were positively indecent today, and not surprisingly most sensible critters were taking cover as the rain ricocheted off the water, driven by a brisk south westerly.

There’s always the odd wash-out, but just think how many incredible migrants will have been grounded by the stormy conditions – just gotta find ’em, it’s what autumn is all about.

That said Marshside was fairly quiet today, apart from the huge numbers of Canadas – a breathtaking carpet of feral that almost covered Polly’s Pool.

A Common Buzzard flapped through but barely got above three feet off the ground in the tough conditions.

Swallows hawked amongst the cattle on Crossens Outer and more were in the lee of the trees on Dib Road.

A bracing stroll up at Hesketh Out Marsh blew the cobwebs away, with at least 8 Avocet still, 33 Golden Plover with the Lapwings, a Grey Plover, Great White Egret, Wheatear and about 20 Dunlin, but most sensible waders were tucked in under the banks.

A couple of thousand Pinks dropped onto Banks Marsh.

A seawatch from the dunes on Friday afternoon was uneventful and difficult, but a snoozing male Grey Seal on the beach at Ainsdale needed a check-up courtesy of British Divers (thanks for the prompt response Chris).

Underweight and tired after a breeding season of scrapping with other males, once he had a clean bill of health we left him snoring on the tideline (the seal that is, not Chris).

The fate of storm-battered Razorbills and Common Scoter in the surf and on the sands was more certain – especially with GBBs in close attendance… everyone’s gotta eat.

Saltation blues.

The rain flattened things out today, but frustratingly the wind dropped back too, so that the wild south westerly of yesterday had disappeared, even if the tide was still a constant white noise rumble at Ainsdale.

Wind great for Leach’s yesterday, but the whole beach was running in the dry conditions, and the coast was bleached white with racing sand.

While Leach’s are tough customers, I’ve never seen them tracking over the shore when the sand is running like this – they just don’t like it up ’em, and stay out in the swell.

On the upside this is precisely what the coast needs to create embryo dunes, and keep the habitat suitable for any range of rare and protected species – and it looks great too.

Salty saltation YouTube vid here. Can you not hear your inner Viking call?

Wetter today, which stopped the sand running and allowed waders to forage in the exciting new embryos beside the beach car park at Ainsdale*.

20+ Ringed Plovers, 4-5 Dunlin and one Little Stint.

The wind was still strong enough to blow the Little Stint sideways, but to its credit, even while other waders sheltered behind what little cover there was in the wind and rain, it kept scampering about.

So small it looked like a mere speck in the eye of the growing numbers of BHGs and Common Gulls.

Skylarks on the move now too, with birds “chirrupping” overhead this morning at Queen’s Jubilee Nature Trail and later over Ainsdale beach, and a few Wheatears still trickling through, including this camera-obliging critter in the Blitz Beach rubble on the Alt earlier in the week.

Click click click.

*The car parking area on Ainsdale beach closed for the season this evening and will open again next spring – time to give the SSSI shoreline a rest.

All the birds of the air

Sutton’s Marsh and Crossens Inner was rammed with Pink Feet yesterday, with more skeins arriving, dropping in from the north west all the time.

Many new arrivals immediately pitched down around Rainford’s lagoon for a drink – flying down from Iceland is thirsty work – yet as Chris Kehoe pointed out, there are probably more pleasant patches of water to sip from other than one that has been brim full with dusty, pooping Pink Feet for the last few days.

They don’t wash their feet first you know, although bizarrely many form an orderly line to walk down to the water.

There were thousands upon thousands of them there yesterday.

How many? – have a count on the flypast video I grabbed on YouTube here.

Don’t know who or what spooked ’em up at Crossens.

Merlin watching it all from the fenceposts, three Barnacle Geese and a manky hybrid thing, hordes of Canadas with smaller numbers of Greylags, Migrant Hawkers and two Cattle Egrets at the back of the pool.

Didn’t get out today (creosoting the shed and anything else that didn’t move fast enough), but three Goldcrests and a Chiffchaff at Dempsey Towers, a few Jays and Grey Wags over, and commuting Pinks getting more frequent.

Leach’s

Delightful to see a Leach’s Petrel cruising south about 100m behind the surf over the tide at Ainsdale at 1.50pm today.

The Stormbat (copywrite Rich Steel) was a beaut – moving into the wind with a confidence and elegance that made even the very best of the kitesurfers closer in look like pissed-up elephants on roller skates.

I knew there was an outside chance of a Leach’s today, with a few going past Wirral yesterday, but the wind was stronger and more westerly then, and today’s warm, force 3-4 south westerly didn’t promise much until the petrel winged by late into the seawatch, stalling and sailing into the slightest change of air currents over the brown and grey swell.

It more than justified the one hour lunchtime scan from the dunes behind the office, and although it was otherwise fairly quiet, there was always something to look at from the thousands of Common Scoter off shore to distant Gannets and a few mergs and grebes.

Ainsdale, 24.9.21, 1300-1400, SWly f4, sunny spells and cloud, warm:

Leach’s Petrel 1

Gannet 47

Razorbill/auk sp 7

Sandwich Tern 8

Red Breasted Merg 4

Common Scoter approx 2,000+

Great Crested Grebe 2

The SWly meant the scoters frequently took to the air in small groups, meaning it was easy to check those that were reasonably close in, and while the sun gave an eye-catching silvery impression to many of their underwings, there were only Commons out there that I could see.

Impossible to accurately gauge numbers as they were scattered right across the bay.

Apologies to everyone around the globe for the relative silence on the blog for the last week or so (thanks for continuing to look in) it has been a busy old time with guided walks and community projects from Netherton to Ainsdale filling my days.

It’s time to reboot the autumn account…

Seriously peeky Knot, migrant Wheatears and the leucistic Starling now feeding on Ainsdale beach meant it hasn’t entirely been a bird desert though, and thousands of Pinks are now dropping in at Marshside.

Ravens and Med Gulls at Crosby.

Moonwalking with calidris

I had a little squint at the Little Stint feeding on the shore off the Green Beach at Ainsdale during an overcast lunch break today.

At least two birds still out there, and apparently favouring the edges of the shallow channels where worm casts were most obvious, about 1 km up the beach from Shore Road, on the rising tide, such as it was.

Even though the light was poor, that scallopy juv fresh plumage was smashing, all tramlines and split supers.

I’ve checked my BWP but I can find no mention of calidris moonwalking, yet this tiny wader was – you can see it at the beginning and end of this short video clip on YouTube.

If that’s not worth a letter to BB, I don’t know what is…

Ringed Plover, approx 80 Knot, Dunlin, Sanderling, Oycs, Barwits and Grey Plover out there too but flighty as the channels slowly filled with the incoming tide, young Peregrine sitting on the banks and a few Common Scoter offshore.

Green Day

The wind was blasting through the willows like a tsunami through a kelp forest, but the sheltered hollow and crab apple tree therein came up with the goods as the Green Warbler flicked through the leaves in the sun.

I saw the images of a cramped tideline of stressed out fleeces, gore tex and baseball caps crowding around the netting ride and bushes at Buckton after this mega was trapped and ringed on Thursday and I must admit it didn’t fire me up with enthusiasm, but things were much better this morning.

Having motored over at 6am, and stomped down the cliffs at Bempton to the bushes, there were about 70 people at the twitch when I arrived, all sensibly spread over the slope above the site – plenty of space in a socially distanced world, so I set up my ‘scope and trained it on the crab apple the mega-phyllosc seems to favour next to the Buckton heligoland trap.

About 30 minutes later this gorgeous little warbler filled my lens – apple fresh green with a bright yellow supercilium, face and chest, creamy undercrackers and a very neat, crisp wingbar, a lovely critter.

It zipped about in my scope twice during the morning – tick number seven for 2021, but too hyperactive to risk trying to take rubbish pictures – the bird disappears for long periods of time, so any views were to be savoured.

At one point it paused for second or two to display it’s natty plumage.

Luckily I had a picture of a Green Warbler I prepared earlier, well during a marvellous trip to Goa in 2018 actually, where these wonderful little warblers are common in winter…. I know, it’s cheating, but what can you do???

I scanned the scrub until midday, and by then the number of birders had swelled to about 150, but folk still had plenty of space to look down into the area, waiting for the Green Warbler to show again.

The warbler was superb, but I had bigger fish to fry and headed back down the cliffs for my fourth audience with the Bempton Black-browed Albatross this summer.

Incidentally, if like me you arrive without change (a legacy of lockdown) you can still donate to the twitch charity, the Yorkshire Air Ambulance, on a Go Fund page here

Excellent stuff by Mark Thomas.

You know it makes sense.

Anyway, after a short wait at the Staple Newk platform the big lad came in off the sea for a prolonged series of languid yet remarkably fast looping flypasts beneath me over the dark shallows and the sunbathing Gannets of the Newk- brilliant!

Given that these things are supposed to be the embodiment of the souls of poor sailors lost at sea, I can only assume that the spirit of the dead mariner this one carries about must have had the biggest pinkest feet on the seven seas…

I left the albatross chilling back on the cliff face on the west side of Staple Newk and pulled out of Bempton at 2pm – for the final phase of “Operation Porridge”.

The big birds safely under the belt, my next task was to safely deliver a box of bags of gluten-free porridge oats to the in-laws south of the Humber before heading back west.

At least that nice Mrs Escobar said it was gluten-free porridge as I loaded it into the wheels last night, and I didn’t think to check the box…

One minute happy cross-country twitcher, the next international cereal mule.

Reappeared

The leucistic/albino Starling was back amongst the horde on the Ainsdale Discovery Centre roof again today – the first time I have seen it in over a month.

I’d assumed it had gone for good after Paul Richardson told us about an albino he’d seen at Leasowe on August 11th, but the bird was sticking out like a rather classy sore thumb again today.

YouTube video here.

How it has avoided predation I do not know.

I scampered out of the office onto a high dune when Tony Baker picked up a Honey Buzzard over Marshside (excellent Tony) in the hope it would drift down the coast past me despite the mist and heat, but as with the previous three Honey Buzzards I’ve had the good fortune to see at Marshside over the years, this one was another cowardy custard – one glimpse of the mighty Ribble estuary, Mersey and Liverpool Bay and it circled back inland like they usually do.

They really don’t like open water – you can’t see ’em all!

While I waited in vain for the Honey Buzzard I watched as the hirundine gathering swelled to over 100 birds around the office, mainly Swallows, but a few House Martins too – Hobby bait for sure, just a matter of time…

Lurvve the House Martin’s feathery troosers, and the theory it has them to keep warm as it spends its winter feeding high above the Congo in the cool altitudes beloved of our Swifts too (ain’t satellite tagging marvellous???)

House Martin vid here.

Yellow Wagtail still about early doors and what sounded like a Tree Pipit going through in the misty conditions before the day went mad hot, but no sign of the bird, just call as is often the way on a blue sky morning.

Rooftop racer.

Yellow Wagtails are always worth a closer look, more so once we’re into September, so the unmistakable call coming from the roof of Ainsdale Discovery Centre had me reaching for the P900.

They do drop in around the office in autumn occasionally, dragged along by groups of more regular alba wags, although Greys show up too sometimes (generally in winter), but this afternoon’s bird was a cracker, racing along over the weathered and lichen-splashed slates in the September sun.

I enjoyed its surging runs down the slope after midges and rare photogenic pauses!

Typically jumpy, it was frequently spooked by the usual (but diminishing annually) hirundine horde which hangs around the ADC on the wires and gutters in late summer – odd as the Swallow’s alarm call isn’t that much different to the wagtail’s “swe-eeet”.

Mind you the Starlings didn’t seem to like the Yellow Wag very much either.

Also into the serious business of invertebrate smash and grab, Wheatears are on the move again and showing very well in the newest embryo dune areas at the south end of the Green Beach at Ainsdale, alongside more alba wags.

A bit more confident than the Yellow Wag, but generally dusted in sand and still wary.