Let’s ride this baby to Mexico!

Amazing what you find down the back of the digital sofa.
I’m not a great fan of nostalgia, but even I have to accept if you can’t go out, you can at least go back, so I’ve had a trawl through the trip reports from my old birdblog (2002-2014) and came upon this jaunt Barry McCarthy, Paul Thomason, Neill Hunt and I took to Mexico back in 2010.
From Yucatan to Chiapas and back in a Nissan X-Trail. What could possibly go wrong?

It was a great adventure, with many laughs, birds and beer.
If you want to have a read, you can see it here or visit via the links list on the right.
Sadly Barry is no longer with us, but stripping the old html and links then trying to clean up my woeful digi-scoped images have passed a few hours of another Covid screwed weekend and made me smile.

We ended up driving over 3,700km, through coastal scrub, secondary woodland, marshes, mountains and rainforest.
And while I fear many sites will have inevitably changed in the 11 years since we were there, there are few places as thrilling as Mexico.
Apologies for subjecting you to holiday snaps over a decade old then, there’s always the Blackbirds in the garden to count instead.
Good news is I won’t add any more to the Mexico blog, bad news is I’ve also found the files for Costa Rica, Thailand, Morocco, Norway/Finland and Israel.
Viva Don Muchos!

Up the hooter and down the lake

The latest Lateral Flow Test at Splashworld was as good a reason as any for a stroll at the top end of Southport Marine Lake this afternoon.
I think it was Oscar Wilde who said “Gulling is the last refuge of the scoundrel”, so I checked through small numbers of young Herring Gulls, GBB and BHGs below the Lakeside Inn and up at the shelter, while I waited for the negative result text to ping through.

As Ron Jackson rightly points out it was Samuel Johnson, not Wilde ( and of course he was talking about patriotism, not gulls).

Anyway, gull wise, nothing out of the ordinary, but the walk cleared the tubes after my weekly swabbing…

Six Goldeneye (four ducks, two drakes) between the islands and eight Pochard (two groups of six and two) were tight against the lower island.
On the northern island a Buzzard was perched up – can’t remember seeing one here before, it was probably ratting, or attempting to, until 22 Magpie and 3 Carrion Crows ganged up on it.
More than 70 Cormorant sheltering in the lee of the island behind the theatre and the Great Crested Grebe was there too.
Usual Little Grebes bobbing about in the swell.

A few Twite were bouncing around over the seawall between the West Lancs Yacht Club and the sluice.

Snow Finch, Snow Geese…sorta

The tense territorial dispute as we tussled for work-at-home space at Dempsey Towers was high stakes stuff. Bigly.
Who knew we’d ever need more than one table?
How will we make the crayons go round?
Just where exactly is the water cooler (and as someone who usually works in the dunes, what is a water cooler???)?
With the wisdom of Solomon, Mrs D decided hot-desking was the answer and before you knew it I was overlooking the feeders from the back bedroom window and tap-tappity-tapping away today.
As the white hell of two or three tiny snowflakes floated down, a male Blackcap came in (the first I have noticed at home this winter – strange as they seem widespread on the coast) and this odd part albino Goldfinch, which has popped by several times since November, appeared again.
Blurry and through the window, it’s the first time I’ve got a camera near it, but it almost constitutes a “snow finch” especially when it has its back to you showing off its white bum.
Pushing the tenuous “snow” theme still further Mrs D recorded the Pinks heading out to roost on the coast on her phone this evening as the no-show big snow flickered down over Ainsdale.
You can watch that on YouTube here.
The closest I’ll be getting to Snow Geese this winter I fear.
What are you seeing in your back garden/shared workspace war-zone?

Cold feet

Even with the toastiest knitted Norwegian Christmas socks on, two hours standing in the shadows of the Sandplant’s northern slopes is enough to guarantee numb feet.
Fairly quiet birdwise too today – presumably recent frosts have made it harder for the apex predators to hunt with one of the male Hen Harriers quartering the outer marsh in a distinctly half-hearted fashion, pitching down to rest in the vegetation all too frequently.
You won’t catch anything behaving like that.
A few zippy 90 degree mid-air swerves after Skylarks and pipits led to nothing, but were impressive to watch nonetheless.
Two Merlins, a Sprawk, two Ravens, two Buzzards, a Kestrel and 4-5 Marsh Harriers were out there too, with Rock Pipits calling overhead and 3-4 Great White Egrets (one almost close, the others so far away they were in a different tier.)

Off we go again

Mud and ice and quite a lot of visitors stretching their legs along the Alt, but Lunt Meadows was as good a place to start as any.
Two Barn Owls at least (one patrolling to the south, the other up at the north end, where it hunted from the fenceposts), Water Rails squealing from cover, but wildfowl numbers were down because of the freeze up I guess, with Mallard and Teal, four Pochard and a scattering of Gadwall crowded around the few areas of open water.
At least three Common Buzzards up (of various hues), Kestrel and on the narrow strip of clear water on the north pool, three Goosanders (a male and two redheads) with a further redhead type flying down the Alt.

After admiring the Barn Owl up on the north end, a movement caught my eye in the dense brambles and rank vegetation below the bank and a tubby Cetti’s Warbler appeared, bog snorkelling through the rotting grasses before melting away again.
When you see them well, those greys and warm browns are really attractive – must get a proper pic one day.
The Cetti’s called a few times before it headed off into cover just to the north of the pumphouse.
A Raven croaked through and a single Golden Plover was overhead.
Despite the ice several group of Snipe were still on site and a Woodcock piled into the woodland disappearing into the branches.
I detoured to North Moss Lane on the way home, where three of Trops’ Cattle Egrets were still following the Aberdeen Angus, although with the herd two fields back, the birds were distant.
The others had probably already headed off to roost.
I took the hint.

Socks and Books and Rock and Roll

The spray cascaded onto the young Herring Gulls on the breakwater as Storm Bella’s first gusts swept over Southport Marine Lake.
Sail surfers, or whatever they are, whizzed over the northern end, and meant there wasn’t much else on the water apart from the usual Mute Swans, Little Grebes, Coot and Gadwall.
A bubble-headed female Goldeneye was distant between the two islands as I scanned from the shelter at the top before heading to Marshside.

The strengthening wind saw most things hunkering down, but the raptors were as reliable as ever on the outer marsh – a fine male Hen Harrier, hassling a dozing Common Buzzard before sailing off north towards Banks, two Common Buzzard, two Merlin, Kestrel and two Peregrines dancing about above the sewage works.
Two Great White Egrets – one on Crossens Outer and one further out on the saltmarsh, but geese were thin on the ground, apart from the ever-growing infestation of Canada Geese beyond Crossens Outer.
700+ Golden Plover, and at least 500 Lapwing on Crossens Inner, leaning into the chilly wind, but it was cold and the light was failing.
Grey as this most awful of periods of the year between Christmas and New Year often is….nature abhors a vaccuum.

You can’t take pictures with a bow-saw.

After a morning cutting Sea Buckthorn out on the frontal dunes at Ainsdale, the appearance of two Short Eared Owls just before lunchtime today was superb.
The two have been around for a week or so in the dunes, but it’s the first time I’ve seen them just south of Ainsdale Discovery Centre where they hunted behind the frontals west of Slack 170 – the first big open area of water as you walk in past the office.

One of the birds has particularly pale primary bases giving it the appearance of a giant nightjar (Great Eared Nightjar eat yer heart out) – cool.
As I was working I had no bins or camera, but it was enough to watch the two birds gliding and flapping over the marram for five minutes or so and I even attempted some misguided phone grabs.
Less said about these pics the better, and as for the video on YouTube, well…
Stonechat, Mipits, Robins and finches as usual.
Chiffchaff calling away there today too and moving through the skeletons of elder scrub, but nothing particularly tristis about it.
Andy Spottiswood had his Dusky Warbler again, but I’ll save another hunt for that critter until the next bright morning when it will hopefully be still roaming around its huge circuit at the top of the National Nature Reserve.

Something beginning with “g”

Snatched an hour before night fell at 2pm today for a scan from the Sandplant, sheltered from the light showers and breeze by the bank.
Pink feet were scattered over the outer marsh, with 3+ Marsh Harrier, 2-3 Peregrines (including a youngster attempting to flush Pinks – someone really should have a word), 3 Merlin and a male Hen Harrier.
The hunting male Hen Harrier was fine as they always are, but dropped into the vegetation at 2pm.
A bit early to be going off to bed, although it was getting dark.
A redhead Goosander rose from the narrow splash of water behind the reedbed just off the Sandplant and flapped off north towards HOM on stiff wings – not unprecedented, but not a bird you see every day at Marshside either.
Rock Pipit calling.

The wrong direction

A south easterly is almost always pants when it comes to seawatching from the Sefton coast, especially in the depths of winter.
So it takes a special type of eejit to venture out for a session ‘scoping a low high tide from Ainsdale.
There was some method in my madness today though as south easterlies tend to flatten out the sea, sending small waves breaking back out against the swell.
This means that any Common Scoters out there, rather than dozing with the current at their backs, are awake and alert, cresting into the waves, and crucially showing their heads – just the job when you’re looking for interesting bits of white plumage…
The downside of a south easterly is that it does disperse the scoter and numbers fall – presumably many move off to the north towards Shell Flats, but they’ll be back again.
Unseasonably mild with a few sharp showers, I gave it an hour from 1245 to 1345.

Ainsdale, 1245-1345, SEly f4, cloud, showers:

Common Scoter 250
Red Breasted Merganser 7 (5m 2f)
Scaup 5 (4m 1f)
Red Throated Diver 1
GBBs 11

Admittedly as cunning plans go, it wasn’t overly successful, with scoters scattered over the sea, largely distant and in low numbers, but 5 Scaup were good and mergs are always welcome.
There are worse ways to spend a lunch hour.

Chats and cows

Stonechats in the dunes as to be expected today, but the sun was a brief relief from the murk.
A morning cutting out Sea Buckthorn at Ainsdale revealed the usual winter flyovers, while this afternoon I was out checking on the cows.
This year we have Belted Galloways and Shorthorns on the dunes at Ainsdale and Birkdale – these are the heifers that were grazing at Lunt over the summer.
Docile, but dog walkers are reminded to keep their pets well away from them and under control, as you would anywhere in the countryside where livestock are grazing.

A few Snipe in the slacks as I searched for the beasts (small cows, big nature reserve), with two Redpolls at least still in the birches of the sheep enclosure and best of all a plump Woodcock batting along over the dune ridges before dropping into cover again.
Several Fieldfare, Song Thrush and the usual daily Common Buzzard around our skipyard behind Pontins at dawn and dusk.
Up to seven Skylarks foraging in the tideline north of Shore Road, but I haven’t seen Jack Taylor’s Snow Bunting, which he found late afternoon last Wednesday… it may still be around as Snow Bunts have a habit of trundling off into the frontal dunes and out of sight quite often at Ainsdale.
Here’s hoping.