Marine warfare.

The bright winter sun bouncing off the wet plumage of scoters offshore at Ainsdale yesterday created the unsettling illusion of white patches on some birds’ heads as they bobbed about halfway out over the tide.
This freaky effect was enough to get my attention, but I didn’t really have time for a prolonged look.
However the thick cloud today meant there was no danger of a repeat Solar Surfie MacGuffin and I gave the flock a good ‘scoping over the lunchtime high tide.
Everything was reassuringly solid black, and largely dozing on the bumpy swell.
Situation normal.
Not much else out there, with the wind making observation tricky – squadrons of Cormorants and a single Red Breasted Merg passed as I shivered on a dune, while Sanderling and Grey Plover looked miserable on the tideline.
I did notice a few GBBs flying slowly over the waves in the same menacing way they do at Marshside when they “dread” the wildfowl, but in general this behaviour didn’t seem to faze the scoters.
Presumably a GBB could handle a sick or injured Common Scoter – I’ve seen ’em knock down a few Wigeon on the marsh over the years – but the seaducks stuck resolutely to the sea.
Were the GBBs trying to flush the scoter?
Did the black puddings know they were safe as long as they stayed on the water?
Why didn’t they dive?
Later three of the brutes plunged into the pack, but I couldn’t make out what they were after as everything was a good distance out.
The gulls could just as easily have been picking on an unfortunate auk that was hidden in the troughs, but it was impossible to pick out in the murk.
Still so many questions…
Just after 1pm about 500 of the scoter took to the air in one of those seemingly pointless bursts of activity inbetween snoozing offshore and flapped south.
No white wing flashes there today – time to head back to the office.



By the time I’d managed to get the stupid suction thingy for the SatNav attached to the windscreen this morning, I had used up my full December quota of expletives and profanities – just stick why don’t ya !@!**!! arrghhhh!!!
The air was blue. Roger Mellie would have been proud.
It wasn’t as if I was setting off on a major twitch or anything, I only wanted to get to Winery Lane in Walton-le-Dale without getting lost in the Preston traffic system – was that too much to ask?
Initially I’d thought about checking the tideline between Ainsdale and Birkdale for Snow Buntings (there were two there in the week, but I didn’t see them), however the tide was kinda high, and walking along there with the water right in just spooks all the birds.
Another time perhaps – so Winery Lane and the infuriating SatNav suction cup fiasco it was.

I should point out at this stage that while there is no winery there (something of a downer), there is a fine sewage farm and I wanted to call in for several reasons – I’ve never been to Walton-le-Dale and it sounds a bit “Robin Hood” doesn’t it?, Winery Lane has “wine” in it of course, and most importantly, I like Firecrests.
An hour later and there was just one or two folk about as I walked to the end of Winery Lane and scanned the trees and bushes around the entrance to the sewage works – there were plenty of Goldcrests, Chiffchaffs and Grey Wags, zipping about after the hordes of midges that sites like this inevitably attract.

After a few minutes of scanning the branches the wintering Firecrest popped up, darting around the trees making the Goldcrests look decidedly shabby.
It would hurtle about, hovering and flycatching just off the public footpath, before melting away into the trees again.

A lovely little thing.
I spent an hour or so on and off with the bird – when it was out of sight, the Goldcrests and Chiffies provided great entertainment, gorging on midges just inches away…
I could have stayed there all day, but I had to get the @!!*!!/* SatNav off the windscreen.

Monday morning…

I negotiated a canine-created minefield in the lush, flooded grass around Crosby Marine Lake this morning inbetween the icy deluges.
A day off meant some quality Snow Bunting time, whatever the weather or volume of festering barkers’ eggs.
The male Snow Bunting was at the seaward end of the small boating lake and was being watched by Sue and Stuart/Stewart (hi Sue and Stuart/Stewart), so I walked round to the back of them and enjoyed it trundling around the water’s edge until it flew off, trilling away to join a feeding flock of Starlings away down the lake.
As we headed towards the area, three Corn Buntings dropped in to drink from puddles on the footpath between the two lakes – I love seeing these things here, I think it’s such an interesting historical wintering population, so out of context with the rest of our local birds.

With the bird extinct as a breeder in North Wales, I often wonder if they come in from the South West Lancs mosslands via Rimrose Valley during the autumn and move back to the hinterland in spring – but if that’s the case, why don’t more of them do it?
You don’t tend to encounter them in many places elsewhere on the coastal strip in winter.
Yup, I lurvve a good Corn Bunting, even if they won’t let you get close enough for a decent pic on a wet, dark blustery November morning.
Also of interest was a colour-ringed Skylark – red over metal (left leg), yellow over green (right leg) one of Ian Wolfenden’s study birds no doubt.

There was no sign of the male Snow Bunt though, so I went back up to the top of the boating lake, settled down by a low embryo dune and waited.
Buntings, larks and finches tend to like this sheltered spot, and it wasn’t long before the Snow Bunting came back in again with a few Skylarks, all flickering snow-flake wings.
I watched it for 45 minutes or so as it grabbed grass stems to strip them of seeds just a few feet from where I was sitting.
(Fieldcraft is not walking slowly up to a Snow Bunting until it flies. No, that doesn’t count. If there’s one around just hunker down and let the bird come to you, it’s far more rewarding).

After a time the larks were spooked by a swooping gull and they rose into the wind and out over the dunes towards the beach, taking the Snow Bunting with them.
Game over.
Time to go home and get warm via a Great Crested Grebe on the main marine lake, and Water Rail and Goldcrest up at Sands Lake, Ainsdale.

Small mercies

A whistle-stop around the bird fair at Martin Mere was as good a way to catch up with a few old friends as any this morning, but it did use up a fair bit of valuable bright winter sun.
A walk round Hesketh Out Marsh afterwards was time well spent, once the crack of salvoes from the clay pigeon shoot behind had petered out and it got a bit more peaceful.
There were at least 11 female-type Goosanders forming a classy flotilla right down at the west end, with two Goldeneye and the long-staying two Great Crested Grebes.

A family party of ten Whoopers sailed about on the back pools.
Tree Sparrows, Linnets, Goldfinches, Long Tailed Tits, Robin, Goldcrest, Blackbirds, Redwing, Song Thrush and Chaffinches in the hawthorns, while Wigeon numbers began to swell out on the water.

A Great White Egret flew through, long black legs trailing behind it forever, heading out down the estuary towards Marshside, and there were up to five Marsh Harriers, Peregrine and two Common Buzzards.
Single Spotted Redshank and Greenshank, eight Dunlin and two Blackwits, but distant on the rear pools.
Nothing you wouldn’t expect to find at HoM at this time of year, but pleasant walking the bank anyway, avoiding the sheep-poop landmines.
Another look at the finch flock around the car park just before I left revealed a bright white bum in the darkening branches, betraying a Brambling.

It was dropping down into the paddocks to feed, but always kept deep in the willow branches when it flew back up.
Brambling is a bonus locally of course, but I hope the next one is a bit more obliging…

Absolutely November.

The raw cold and stillness as always comes as a bit of a surprise after autumn.
Little Owl in the usual place on the way out to Mere Sands today, with Bullfinch, Siskin, Greater ‘Pecker and Nuthatch there.
Plenty of Teal on the open water.
And at Martin Mere, Redwings, Bullfinch, two Cetti’s Warblers, Marsh Harrier, Common Buzzards and clamouring Pink Feet and Whoopers of course.
Clusters of Fieldfares, Mistle Thrushes and Blackbirds across the mosses.
They say April is the cruellest month, but it’s not, it’s November.
Absolutely November.

Stacks of Starlings

There were loads of ’em.
Two swarms of a few hundred each on the outer marsh and numerous smaller groups comprising of 20-50 birds commuting between Marshside Two and the outer marsh, as I trundled north from the sandplant this afternoon.
The November-appropriate windchill, brisk north westerly, bright sun and Starling buffet made for good hunting conditions for Sprawks, Merlin and Kestrel, and a Common Buzzard cruised above.
Murmuration time.

A Great White Egret was way out off the old wildlfowler’s car park, and Pinkies were scattered about in the vegetation, and getting used to passing cars, cyclists and birders.
Likewise the two Stonechats were showing off around the Sandplant lagoon.

Four Cattle Egrets were doing their cow thing as usual north of Marshside Road, but although Nels was busy, busy, busy, there were relatively few birds off here when I was there – the geese, Blackwits and Ruff were at the back of the marsh, only a few gulls were about and no smaller waders were visible, apart from squelchy Snipe.

Shouldn’t it be easier with less leaves?

Despite the Sycamores shedding most of their leaves down Range Lane, the feeding flocks down there were still paying hard to get.
Long Tailed Tits weren’t bothered, flitting about in the sun, but the Blackbirds, Goldcrests, other titmice and finches were playing hard to to get, preferring to lurk in the shadows at the back of the bushes and trees as I made way down to Cabin Hill.
Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush and a single Fieldfare were among the Blackbirds stuffing their faces with hawthorn berries hidden from the hard November sun by the tangle of branches.

Quiet otherwise though – up to 20 Skylarks in Marsh Farm’s fields and about 70 Pink Feet there, and the resident corvids giving the resident Common Buzzards the usual neighbourly hassle.
Stonechat and Linnets in the gorse clumps.
Over at Lunt Meadows, parties of 8-12 Common Snipe were dropping in fairly frequently (I counted at least 60 birds), and thousands of Pink Feet rose on the horizon from the mosslands before heading out to roost on the Alt estuary.
I left before it got too cold, before the Shorties stirred and before the shutters really started clattering.
On the upside I stopped to enjoy a covey of nine Grey Partridges in the ploughed fields north of the reserve entrance – don’t see them so much now, whether the trees have leaves on or not.

3pm: Lights out

In spite (or perhaps, because) of the shooters out on Plex this afternoon, busy atomising the Red Legged Partridge/Pheasant biomass, all the thrushes had congregated in the tall trees around Plex Brow Farm.
Chacking and sighing, 40-50 Fieldfare, 20+ Redwing and a few Mistle Thrushes and Blackbirds were hidden in the branches as the light went out of the day shortly after 3pm.
It happens every year, but the realisation that someone has pinched the day by mid-afternoon once the clocks go back, always comes as a bit of a shock.

The winter thrushes were as alert as ever as I watched them for a few minutes before heading off. Great birds.
Much brighter yesterday, when I spent a few hours at the Hesketh Road platform at Marshside – Goldcrests watched me through the hawthorn twiggery, Cetti’s Warbler and Water Rail called from the SSSI ditch, and despite a young Marsh Harrier patrolling Marshside One, a Greenshank dozed away amongst the Blackwits.

Siskins, titmice, two Whooper Swans, Chaffinches, thrushes, 3 Greater ‘Peckers and wagtails through as I listened out for arresting calls overhead – but Wigeon impersonators was the best I could do…
Not today John.
Marsh Harrier hunting and plenty of Ruff at Martin Mere in front of the In Focus hide today and yesterday (the light was better yesterday though) as Andy Bunting plotted patch birding world domination.

As good as place as any to pick up the 2016 Lancs Bird Report – have you got yours yet?


A fine, crisp clear morning down at Marshside today, with a nippy northerly blowing, a Cetti’s Warbler spluttering and a Water Rail shrieking from the SSSI ditch as I settled down at the Hesketh Road platform.
Pinkies dropping onto Marshside One, amongst the Ruff, Lapwings and Blackwits, while the local Buzzards got serious Magpie hassle.
Small groups of Starlings were heading north, and a Migrant Hawker was still just below the platform.
All felt well.
Things got much better though at 10.45am when I heard a sharp call and got my bins on six big pale brown fat lumps heading north in the sun just to our left – bull heads, dirty great bills, a pale flash at the base of dark primaries and stumpy rear ends as they bounded north and away – HAWFINCHES!
Come back!!!
Luckily I got Big Hairy Dave and the splendid Colette (you can see someone about those dragonfly dreams you know) onto them before they disappeared over the willows of the SSSI ditch and out of sight.
A loud sharp call had alerted me to them (the blog entry header is the best way I can describe it), but they uttered another call too, which was hard to describe, kind of like a muted Crossbill if that makes sense.
I’d certainly not heard Hawfinches do that before.
I checked the Collins Guide on my phone… the call was related as “the sound made by jabbing a spike into solid granite”.
This was undeniably colourful, but as I lacked a spike or a block of granite, it wasn’t much use.
The current national influx of this superb finch is one of the biggest and most mahoosive ever apparently, but I wish I could have seen these beauties perched up.
I put the news out (Tropical Thomason had three Hawfinches over the golf course a short time later) and headed up to Nels Hide, where a scabby male Goldeneye was diving away and one of the Long Billed Dowitchers was snoozing, preening and then snoozing again.

Good ‘scope views, but too far away for me to get anything other than a baaad blobby picture – as these shots prove only too well.
The Cattle Egrets (I saw at least five today) were messing about up in the corner by Marshside Road, and a Little Stint popped up as the air warmed with the vision of a flock of 100+ Golden Plover coming in to rest in the hard sun.
There were a few Goldcrests around the Sandplant and small groups of Pied Wags were on the move.
Two flocks of small bouncy finches jerked about over the beach north of the pier and a short while later off Weld Rd, at about 1.30pm, and may have been Twite back in for the winter, but I was trundling along in the Sunday pm traffic by this time, heading back to Dempsey Towers for a spot of autumnal slash and burn…. I’ll get back to them during the shorter days to come I’m sure.

Red Breasted Fly on the doorstep

Andrew Spottiswood’s voice sounded a bit trembly when he called me just before work this morning…
“I’ve got a Red Breasted Flycatcher by Gate 13 at Ainsdale”, was all that he needed to say.
I was out of the office door and covering the two hundred yards from the office to the area in licketysplit time, stumbling through the drenched Creeping Willow.
I know RBFlys are regular east coast autumn visitors, but in Sefton they are rarer than Unicorn Bacon.
Got to the area to find Andrew watching a patch of willows where the RBFly was zipping about as only they can do, black and white tail flashing in the gloom.
Pauses between sallies around the willows showed no red on the throat (obs) and plenty of white at the base of the tail.
Too dark for a pic after the rains, but I set the ‘scope up for digiscoping expecting it to come closer, or at least sit out in the open for long enough for me to get a record shot – but it just melted away and that was it – no sign after 0940.
First time I’ve seen one on the Sefton coast and a great reward for Andrew who covers this patch south of Ainsdale Discovery Centre day in and day out.
His previous finds here down the years include Red Backed Shrike and Wryneck. His rewards are hard-earned and richly deserved.
Classic patch birding, well done Andy and thanks!
If you come looking, follow the fenceline south of Ainsdale Discovery Centre, the bird may just be lying low, or it could have moved on – the dune system has plenty of places to hide as regulars know only too well!!!!