Morning trouser dance

Couldn’t believe the young male Sprawk didn’t fly as I lurched past the window early morning today during the daily trouser dance – bilstons easy, socks no problemo, balancing on one leg to get my strides on…always a tricky proposition.
Damn you gravity.
I gave up on the sartorial stuff, grabbed my camera and blatted the Sparrowhawk through the window as it sat hunched up in the drizzle, staring at the deserted feeders.
A cracking way to start the day.

I looked away for a second, looked back and it was gone.
At the other end of the day the rain had stopped and the sun came out, warming the garden and a flush of Small Coppers suddenly appeared – one of the last bits of summer colour before things get more interesting…


Grey peas and plover

Deep in the depths of yam yam land, wizards (should that be wizzards?) schooled in the dark arts and fuelled only by Pot Noodle and old Slade albums, create one of Mrs D’s favourite dishes in gloomy cellars, before it changes hands in pub car parks under the cover of night.
It genuinely worries me that trays of frozen grey peas can be distributed with such impunity.
Bags of the stuff are secreted in the backs of cars and spirited around the country, in the same clandestine way proper Irish snorkers or black pudding appear out of nowhere if you’re really lucky.
Over the years I have tried hard to embrace the boss’s Midlands heritage, but I have to draw the line at grey peas.
Some things are just not right, and I was reminded of this over the high tide today, as the sea at Ainsdale turned the colour of grey peas.

It sent a shiver down my spine and sent me scurrying back to the office after a 20 minute seawatch – it was quiet offshore anyways, with just one Red Throated Diver and approximately 1,500 Common Scoter scattered across the grey green swell.
A few Sarnies were feeding over the bay and approximately 200 were in the roost north of Shore Road.
Fortunately Stuart Darbyshire found an American Golden Plover on Crossens Outer in the high tide roost during the afternoon, so after work I drove up to see if was still about in typically dude-ish fashion.

The outer marsh was looking gorgeous in the sharp evening sun, and was peppered with feeding Dunlin, Blackwits, Lapwings and Ruff – it just felt rare.
Unfortunately the Golden Plover flock took to the air a minute or so after I arrived, scattered by an invisible raptor.
I walked back down the coast road to the area where some of the flock had landed again, but there was no sign of the American Golden Plover there.
I checked a few other small groups without joy, but luckily when I walked back to the pull-in, Graham Clarkson (in his new favourite birding jacket), was ‘scoping the yankee in a group of distant goldies by Crossens channel at about 6.30pm.
Graham got me onto the bird and I was able to watch it for a short time and even take long distance 60x zoom digi-scoped rubbish like the image at the top of this entry.
The AGP is the plover on the extreme left of the image, between the two Dunlin smudges, although you’d struggle to know it as the birds faced head on to us in the hard light.
At least that lightning strike super was obvious through the scope.
Yankee panted, I sped home in time for the chicken enchiladas of the gods, courtesy of Mrs D.
Far better than a tray of frozen grey peas anytime, but don’t tell her that…

Teal show

Managed to time my post high tide visit to Hesketh Out Marsh today with an outbreak of persistent autumn drizzle – the high water had moved most of the waders off anyway.
Still a flock of Avocets at the south end and two Great White Egrets were unfazed by the rising waters thanks to those long legs.
Squadrons of Little Egrets croaked past them as they carried on hunting.

A distant Marsh Harrier over the outer marsh and plenty of Swallows moving through, with calling Greenshank somewhere in the creeks.
Marshside was super quiet, and I found myself watching the growing number of Teal in the channel in front of Sandgrounders (it was either that or the Migrant Hawkers).
Some were quite dapper despite the state of their plumage – others were very much a work in progress…


Still humid, but with a bit of drizzle early afternoon, and I wondered if it might bring something down, so called in at the marsh.
It was very quiet, apart from the Cattle Egret still happily living up to all its cultural stereotypes with the coos just under the Hesketh Rd platform.

I was thinking about what an engaging character it is as it strutted amongst the herd, until it grabbed hold of either a toad or frog (I suspect the former).
Whatever, the amphibian is pure egret energy now – although watching it gag the thing down was quite enough to put a chap off his afternoon Staropramen.

And did the egret really need to look quite so smug afterwards as its throat jiggled away to the still thrashing frog chorus????

Looking west, thinking east.

I squeezed an hour or two in at Cabin Hill this afternoon, dark, humid and grey, but despite that, it was not too bad for a west coast afternoon.
Three Whinchats alongside a family party of five Stonechat, Whitethroat, grotty, featureless juve Reed Buntings, and groups of Starlings, Goldfinch and Chaffinch were in the grazed corner field at the end of Range Lane.
All were frequently spooked by local Kestrels, which also sent a mixed flock of Swallows and House Martins into apoplexy.

Yesterday a meeting at the neighbouring Altcar Rifle Range produced a fine Short Eared Owl and stacks of Painted Ladies around the coastal thistles, so I was feeling autumnally inspired and ready for action today.

I was hoping to see a few Whinchats this afternoon – they’re pretty much guaranteed, but distant, at Cabin Hill in autumn, albeit in small numbers.
They remind me of the days when big counts were recorded on passage on our coast, and they were very much an indicator “carrier species”, rather than the target bird they are now.
The first scarce bird I found – a Wryneck – was lurking amongst 100+ plus Whinchats around 40 years ago (!!!) at Hightown as I left the area following a morning’s ringing with my uncle, Dave Low.
I remember bouncing along in his car and testing out my new Boots Pacer binoculars as we drove off site.
“Whinchat…Whinchat…Whinchat…Wryneck…Whinchat – woah!!!”
The Wryneck disappeared as soon as we stopped of course, dropping into the Sea Buckthorn, and it took a few hours before it was refound and any doubts over a youngster’s id call evaporated.

Whinchats used to breed at Hightown, but they, like my uncle, are long gone…
Chiffchaffs, Goldcrests and titmice were in the scrub at Cabin Hill today, and Phil Smith was heading off for some willowy business in the Devil’s Hole.
A Spotted Fly was sallying out from the wires by Range High School, but two afternoon walkers, loudly sharing their life experiences, spooked it before I could get close enough for a clear picture.

“Blah blah BLAH” – bye bye Spot Fly.

Bridges of Ross 2018: Maritime infallibility

I had high hopes that the big guy in the red socks could pop over to the Bridges during his visit to Ireland and join us for a spot of seawatching, but sadly Frankie never made it as far as the western extremities of County Clare this year.
This was a shame as I figure papal infallibility could prove pretty handy when scouring the waves for quality seabirds.
Just imagine: “ex cathedra, that’s a Yelkouan comin’ in over the slabs boys”, or “ex cathedra White Faced Petrel on the horizon”.
Maybe next year (although I always thought those records of Red Billed Tropicbird over St Peter’s Square were a bit iffy).
Even without his holiness, we had a cracking time – I picked up Bazzo and Tony Owen on Thursday last week and took the night boat over from Liverpool to Dublin, pulling up at the Bridges for my annual four day seawatching session with all our wonderful Irish friends on Friday morning.

(picture by Vittorio Caschera)

Westerlies, rain and the appearance of a Barolo Shear the day before ensured there was a great turnout – superb to see you all again Noel, Des, Ger, Neal, Vic, Killian, Jim, Brian, Swampy, Aidan, Mark, Jimmy, Lorraine etc etc.
Brill to see so many young faces ‘scoping the waves too – the future of Irish birding…
Special thanks must go to Des Higgins for sorting out digs for us all yet again, and of course, sharing his theories on the DNA challenges of gene-splicing and how to develop an Elephant x Great Auk x Fred Astaire hybrid, which would not only boast a top hat and be the biggest alcid the world has ever seen, but may also prove a mean tap dancer too.
Of course, this would be a strictly ecumenical matter Ted.
Ahem, on with the seawatching… (my daily counts not a combined total).

Bridges of Ross, 24.8.18:
10am-6pm, west/south westerly, overcast, frequent showers, some heavy.

Manx Shearwater 1,750+
Sooty Shearwater 62
Gannet loads
Fulmar loads
Storm Petrel 2
Razorbill 38
Guillemot 22
Arctic Tern 6
Bonxie 12
Arctic Skua 1
Long Tailed Skua 1 juve
Grey Phalarope 1
Kittiwake loads
Leach’s Petrel 4
Common Scoter 5
Teal 1
Whimbrel 6

Star of the show was a lovely juve Long Tailed Skua which swept in the bay with a dark phase Arctic Skua, then landed just offshore and spent an hour or so with us – such a delicate bird, tern-like in the way it hung over the waves, dipping and stalling.
At the other end of the skua spectrum the Bonxie fest which characterised this year’s visit was just starting…

Bridges of Ross, 25.8.18:
7.20am-11.30am, 1.30pm-7pm, calm, hot sunshine.

Sooty Shearwater 12
Manx Shearwater 150
Kittiwake 49
Gannet 72
Fulmar loads
Common Scoter 10
Bonxie 1
Sandwich Tern 14

Lousy conditions for seawatching at the Bridges – superb conditions for a doze in the hot sun with the Atlantic murmuring below you and Choughs calling overhead.

You know you’re in trouble here when you find yourself checking out the local Rock Dove gang and have time to photograph passing Wheatears and Golden Plover, then admire Rock Samphire clinging to the cliffs.

All hands to Keatings.

Bridges of Ross, 26.8.18:
7.50am-7pm, mist, drizzle, rain, SWly, then f4-5 W.

Manx Shearwater 3,500+
Sooty Shearwater 80+
Arctic Tern 43
Gannet loads
Fulmar loads
Kittiwake loads
Sabine’s Gull 2 adults
Common Scoter 5
Arctic Skua 26
Bonxie 16
Pomarine Skua 1 adult
Black Tern 3
Storm Petrel 2
Leach’s Petrel 8
Grey Phalarope 2
Common Tern 1
Great Northern Diver 1
plus Bottle Nosed and Common Dolphin, Tuna, Chough, Razorbill, Guillemot, Dunlin, Rock Pipit etc.

Much more like it – plenty of Sooty Shears and two breathtaking adult Sabs Gulls that lingered offshore for most of the afternoon.

Leach’s Petrels pattering through and a bruiser of a Pom Skua, powerful and menacing as it moved west, with full spoonage, courtesy of Killian Mullarney.
The conditions attracted a great crowd of seawatchers to the bowl/hollow, all doubtless praying their brollies and folding chairs would withstand the buffeting and wild Atlantic squalls.
Can you say a novena for an umbrella I wonder?

(picture by Des Higgins)

Good numbers of Arctic Skuas coming through too, almost all of them dark phase birds.
A great session.

Bridges of Ross, 27.8.18:
7.30am-6pm, westerly f4-5 dropping, showers.

Sooty Shearwater 15
Manx Shearwater 500
Leach’s Petrel 8
Common Scoter 17
Bonxie 19
Arctic Skua 2
Arctic Tern 8
Sandwich Tern 16
Gannet, Fulmar, Kittiwake, Whimbrel, Common Dolphin etc.

Great weather conditions, but few birds.
Even the Bridges can go quiet I suppose.
Late in the day Bonxfest began, with a stream of the bad boys coming past, including a group of five birds looking for any trouble that came their way.

Drove back over to Dublin yesterday morning and caught the 3pm boat to Liverpool taking in at least 11 Roseate Terns on their feeding grounds between Rockabill and the Kish Bank, and small numbers of Manxies, an Arctic Skua plus the usual auks and Med Gulls, as we headed out, before descending below decks for the superslow voyage home.
Thanks to everyone for another fine break at the Bridges – Des if you can sort out the digs again for next year, I’ll email the Vatican and see if we can find a window in Frankie’s diary for 2019.
See you all next time you langers…

Open. Read. Reply. Forward. Delete.

If you’re waiting for autumn – don’t. It’s already here.
Finches and Mipits overhead and parties of hirundines speeding around the office at Ainsdale, perching on wires and jostling in the air with the swelling flock of largely juve Starlings – congregations like this are just screaming for raptor strikes.
Despite a tsunami of emails and tasks that kept me largely locked to the desk today, there were glimmers of hope every time I looked roofwards.

Small numbers of Wheatears and Pied Wags were resting first thing, before indulging in flycatching as the day warmed up – and there were certainly more migrants further into the dunes if a brief meeting with Andrew Spottiswood was anything to go by.
Even after work there was a sense of anticipation as willow and rosa rugosa branches twitched and shook around Sands Lake.

Okay, only raggedy-assed Chiffchaffs, Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Blue Tits emerged, but who knows what will come out tomorrow?

Red Necked Far-larope

After a morning of meandering round the maze of stands at the Birdfair at Rutland, I naturally gravitated to the beer tent, via a few Green Sands and Snipes, Chiffchaffs, Little Egrets and a calling Gropper (or was that on a BTO tape lure?).
It’s far too dangerous once refreshed to go anywhere near the optical stands of course -or anywhere else where money can change hands for that matter – so I went birding in the afternoon instead.
A brisk walk around the waterside trails brought me to the Goldeneye hide, and a distant, but fun, Red Necked Phalarope.

Without a ‘scope or proper camera, watching options were severely curtailed, and most of the time it was a busy little dot in the distance.
Luckily a kind soul let me digiscope the phalarope at range through their Leica as it wandered along the waterside, or went off swimming amongst the flocks of decidedly unsavoury moulting Egyptian Geese – muchas gracias.
Good bird – I wonder where it will end up in a few weeks time – off to the Pacific perhaps?
Away to the Arabian Sea?
Ain’t migration grand?
(and thanks to Duncan and Elizabeth Rothwell for the lift down….)

More tern time

Sandwich Tern surveying both days this weekend at Ainsdale, and predictably with the combination of highish tides and reasonable weather, the roosting waders, terns and gulls suffered much disturbance.
Hard to get an accurate count today, but Common Tern numbers started to pick up yesterday and today two Little Terns – an adult and a juv – dropped in to join
the dozing Dunlin, Sanderling and Ringed Plover and Sarnies (700+ now).
Better still was a pure white/leucistic Sandwich Tern which swept past south, presumably the bird ringed as a nestling at Sands of Forvie in Aberdeenshire last year which spent a week or two at Ainsdale and on Fylde in 2017.
I didn’t connect with it last year, so today’s brief flight view was much appreciated – if this can make it over from Aberdeenshire, what other considerably rarer terns may make the same journey I wonder (okay okay Sooty fans, but you’ve got to dream…and the Cemlyn bird seems so long ago now).
I did manage a terrible exposure disaster image of it as it flew away from me, but I’m sure folk will get better pictures if it hangs around…

It’s the smudge in the middle.
Through the bins it seemed to have the same pale yellowy bill as last year’s freak, but I didn’t get it on the deck to check for the colour ring.
Finally bagged last year’s great white whale Ahab.

The Sandwich Terns barely settled as dog walkers etc wandered through them as if they weren’t there – although most understood when I explained about disturbance, and resolved to avoid roosts in future.
You just gotta keep explaining….
As the tide fell back waders began feeding again, including some fine summer plumage Turnstones – I know they’re regular here now, but they are stonking birds…

I’ll just leave this here…

Still little time for birding (that’ll change), but Med numbers are picking up on Ainsdale beach with at least three there a few days back, while the autumn Sandwich Tern roost continues to grow.
Another cycle of counts for our third annual survey kicks in in a day or so, but there were 354 on Friday evening.
Some Common Gulls looking chipper (is that one wearing eye-liner?), but the Meds are heading towards winter…

Down at Ravenmeols a good sit by my favourite elder patch revealed a few Chiffies, Goldcrests and titmice, while a Hobby picked up major Starling hassle by the office at Ainsdale yesterday.