Born & brought up in Marshside, I started birding there in the mid 1970s & made my first birding trip to Martin Mere in 1977. I've lived, worked & birdied in Abu Dhabi, Northern Ireland & Gloucestershire & I've spent time working in Kazakhstan & Madagascar. I enjoy birding my various West Lancashire patches, making frequent birding visits throughout the north-west of England and North Wales. I stray elsewhere in the UK & enjoy birding abroad from time to time. I'm particularly interested in wildfowl (especially pink-footed geese) with an interest in waders & raptors, bird counts & surveys & conservation. I'm trying to get the hang of photography & digiscoping - I'll get there eventually.
My degree from Edge Hill University is in conservation biology. I've guided on numerous birding days out & trips & guided birding holidays to Lesvos, Andalucia, Extremedura, Majorca, Camargue, Hungary, Finland & Florida. I enjoy showing people birds & habitats & helping them learn more about birds & enjoy birding. I'm currently involved with the Birdwatching and Beyond course at Edge Hill and a brand new venture; Skein Birding.
As well as birding I'm interested in captive breeding & reintroduction projects & zoos, how they're managed & how they contribute to conservation. I'm a proud Lancastrian & love the Lancashire countryside & landscapes. I'm an Evertonian & also keep up with what's happening at Southport, PNE & Bristol Rovers. Gardening, dogs (I have a Labrador & a Tibetan Terrier) and keeping chickens (especially Marsh Daisys & Scots Dumpy Bantams). Ruth & I have two marvellous boys who both love nature too. I hope you find the blog and subjects covered interesting; please feel free to leave a comment.
I visited the Ribble NNR & RSPB Hesketh Out Marsh on Tuesday evening in beautiful weather. Highlights on the NNR (from the seawall at Old Hollow farm) were; 1 juv Curlew Sand, 1 juv Little Stint (in the heavily poached mud front left), 3 juv Ruff, 3 Avocet, 2 LRP, numerous Dunlin & Ringed Plover, 362 Golden Plover, 760 Teal, 275 Wigeon, 9 Gadwall, 10 Shoveler, 4 Pintail and a juv Merlin. At RSPB Hesketh Out Marsh were; 2 Spotted Redshank (one on Scaup pool briefly then flew towards Banks, the other calling opposite the car park at dusk), 4 Greenshank, 36 Redshank, 8 Curlew, 1 juvenile male Ruff, 12 Golden Plover, 4 Wheatear, juv Marsh Harrier, 3 Kestrel, 1 Buzzard, 2 Little Egret and a Barn Owl hunting around the car park at dusk. A very pleasant couple of hours spent local, patch birding. I recommend it.
Bank holiday Monday was typically wet and I'd found all manner of things to do before eventually deciding to go birding in the rain to Martin Mere at 4p.m. It's not a long journey for me to the mere; all of 1.5 miles, a three minute drive!
I headed to the Ron Barker hide and the rain had battered down large numbers of hirudines, c.180 Swallows and c.80 House Martins, who kep two Swifts company. With little else to look at I countd the Teal, 440 on Vinsons and Sunleys (I ended up with a total of 850 after I'd counted other areas). Also on Vinsons were five Black-tailed Godwits, c.30 Snipe, an eclipse drake Pintail and two Shoveler. During a brief dry spell a little raptor activity erupted; a Kestrel hovering, a juv Marsh Harrier drifitng and best of all a juv Hobby chasing Starlings on the farmland beyond Lord's Mere.
A vist to the Harrier hide produced 31 Gadwall and an adult female Red-crested Pochard (photo below) was busily feeding with Mallard and Gadwall on the Buttonweed infested peninsulas. One can only speculate regarding it's origins. Certainly not from Martin Mere, the staff rigorously implemtn a ringing and no escapre policy. It was fulll-winged and unringed, perhaps the same bird, in the same place as earlier in the year? The rain didn't stop and I headed home before the car park was locked.
I’ve never really been a big fan of seawatching, given some
bad experiences in the early 80s, primarily down to poor optics, sand, spray, poor preparation and
the bad attitude of some other local birders; it almost put me off for life! But, I’d been nagging WWT colleagues Paul
Marshall (Marshy) and Martin McGill to give me a shout if they were planning a
Cornish seawatch. On Thursday things started to come together given the predicted
strong westerlies. I spoke to Martin and he said a decision would be made by
Friday dinner. A text from Martin on Friday afternoon, “let’s do it”, was
probably influenced by Mark Thomas (a former RSPB colleague of mine) finding a
Fea’s Petrel at Pendeen! So I set off Friday evening and stayed with Martin in
Whitminster (Glos). We headed off in Martin’s Previa at 4a.m. picking up Paul,
Richard, Colin, Jean and Ruth in Whitminster.
The weather on the way was pretty grim and we arrived at
Marazion marsh at 7.15a.m to look for a Spotted Crake that some of the car were
keen to see. Despite the torrential rain excellent and prolonged views were
enjoyed (see below). We arrived at Pendeen lighthouse at 8 a.m. and Mark was there
(had he slept there?...), along with Marshy and twenty or so hardy souls, who had already seen an impressive array of
seabirds. We immediately saw Ravens and a Peregrine, and the seabird action got
going straight away; a couple of Balearic Shearwaters picked out amongst
numerous travelling Manx Shearwaters (these were a feature all day, drifting
through in regular pulses). Gannets were also a feature and an often useful guide
to pinpointing other seabirds that were being called out. A few Great Skuas and
Arctic Skuas passed through, giving decent views and eventually a couple of
large shearwaters were seen and identified as Greats, I didn’t see them despite
my best efforts. Eventually torrential rain forced Martin, some of our group
and I to seek shelter against the side wall of the lighthouse.
The wall proved to be an effective barrier to the worst of
the weather and the birds kept on coming, with a couple of Cory’s Shearwaters, a
Great Shearwater, and four Sooty Shearwaters eventually seen cruising past; I’d missed others
of all of these scarce species earlier in the day, so I was very happy with my haul! A juvenile Long-tailed Skua that suddenly appeared and was unidentified
disappeared beneath the cliff top and reappeared 100 metres to the left to
cries of “it’s a Long-tailed “(barred under-tail, little white in the wings and
blunt central tail feather tips) , a nice bonus bird. The birds were fantastic
but it was also great to experience some of the Atlantic’s other biodiversity
with several Ocean Sunfish and two Harbour Porpoises on show ,and up to six (including three
feeding together) Basking Sharks cruising around the channel between Pendeen
watch and the Wra all day. The Basking Sharks really were spectacular, worth the journeey and effort just to see those, nevermind the superb seawatching. My totals for the day (8a.m. – 3p.m.) were;
A really enjoyable, if very long, and often very wet day ( we got back to
Whitminster at about 7.45p.m.). All credit to Martin for driving and to all the
other seawatchers (especially Marshy) for calling out passing birds.
Intrepid or barking mad?
The Wra (or Three Stone Oar). Most seabirds pass behind here - a really useful reference point.
One of the six Basking Sharks on show (photo MJM)
Your's truly erasing 30 years of seawatching pain (photo MJM)
Spotted Crake showing well in the rain at Marazion marsh (photo MJM)
Spent 11-18 August with the family holidaying on Mull. Despite it not really being a birding jolly I inevitably I took my bins, scope and camera. We'd never been to Mull before and were all impressed with the spectacular mountain and coastal scenery. The kids loved the clean, sandy beaches and crystal clear sea water.
Despite it not being a birding jolly we still managed to see White-tailed Eagles; a family of four at Loch Na Keal everyday, including both of the adults from the Mull Charters boat, and single adults at Eorsa, Salen and Ardmore Bay, and Golden Eagles; singles at Pennyghael, feeding on a hillside near Knock, Bloody Bay and pairs near Glen Aros at Sron Na Moine and along moutain tops south of Loch Na Keal. Otters were seen at Ulva Ferry and along Loch Na Keal.
White-tailed eagles, Mull, August 2012
As well as the Eagles other raptors seen were numerous Buzzards (including seven together near Tobermory) and Kestrels, male and female Hen Harriers, and single Sparrowhawk and Merlin. Other birds of note were large rafts of Manx Shearwaters from boat trips in the sound of Mull and north of Ardmore point, Great Skua in Loch Na Keal, Arctic Skua in the Sound of Iona harassing 370 Kittiwakes. Adult Razorbills were watched feeding young off Duart point, where Black Guillemots were present and a small pod of Porposies was seen. Widespread coastal birds included Guillemot, Gannet, Shag (numerous), Cormorant (small numebers), Greylag Goose, Arctic tern, Common Tern. Oystercatcher, Common Gull, Herring Gull and Eider. Rock Pipits and Linnets were widespread along the coast, Hooded Crows everywhere, peak count of 62 Ravens coming into roost near Tobermory was great to watch. Common Seals were seen near Tobermory and near Ulva Ferry. Red and Fallow Deer seen near Salen. A Sand Martin colony was still active near Calgary Bay and Swallows and House Martin were everywhere, a single Swift was seen on Iona, where a flock of 96 House Sparrows was counted. A flock of 30 House Sparrows was noted at Salen, good to see them doing well there! Wilow Warblers were still singing in most small woods and Wheatears regularly seen along roadsides. Northern migrants included three Wigeon on Loch Na Keal and a Greenshank on Loch Scridain. Jays are apparently scarce on Mull, I heard a pair twice, both times mobbing White-tailed Eagles at Loch Na Keal. Six Rock Dove types feeding togehter on Iona might of been pure?Peak count of 32 Canada Geese near Craignure.
Golden Eagle, near Knock, Mull.12/08/12
Shag, Salen Pier, Mull.14/08/12
Common Seal, near Tobermory Harbour, Mull. 16/08/12
Sunset over Loch Scridain. Mull. 14/08/12
Loch Na Keal, Eorsa and the hills
Surpeb beaches and scenery on Iona
Get the kids birding! Jacob scoping White-tailed Eagles at Loch Na Keal
Nipped out to Banks late afternoon to check the pools in front of Old Hollow. Lots of bird there; 275 Teal, 186 Wigeon, 4 Avocets (2 ads, 2 juvs), 170 Golden Plover, 1510 Canada Geese, 3 Barnacle Geese, juv Marsh Harrier, Merlin, Peregrine, 4 Kestrel. Numerous Lapwings, Dunlin and Ringed Plover on ther pools but I didn't count them. I heard but didn't see Raven, Greenshank and Yellow Wagtail. Inspired bu Banaks I headed to Marshisde.
At Marshside I could see clouds of waders gathering out on the tideline beyond the sandworks, but my attention was taken with Little Egrets on Sutton's marsh, I counted eight, with another eleven on the saltmarsh across the road, where three Greenshanks flew over. A big white, immobile lump on Polly's pool proved to be a Spoonbill. Presumably the bird Colin and Ron have seen recently on Banks marsh.
Spoonbill., Polly's pool, RSPB Marshside. 23/08/12
From the sandworks numberous waders were roosting, I counted; 2100 Knot, 1650 Dunlin, 420 Grey Plover, 1 Bar-tailed Godwit, 175 Curlew, 160 Ringed Plover, 1670 Oystercatcher, 64 Cormorant and 560 Shelducks. Out on the river a raft of 23 Eiders sailed past. A Merlin and two adult Peregrines occupied well known perching posts out on the saltmarsh.
At junction pool a Garganey dabbled amongst the Shovelers (74 on Rimmer's), nine Wigeon, three Gadwall and c.200 Teal were also on Rimmer's.
A flock of 1560 Black-tailed Godwits were roosting in front of Nels' hide, closer inspection revelealed three colour-ringed birds, which I'll submit details of in due course. Two Ruff and c.50 Snipe were the only other waders of note present.
One of today's colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwits; a typical view.
An intersting one this, ringed on The Wash in 2002 and on the Ribble nine years later. Read on;
Very many thanks for reporting these sightings, and apologies for the delay
in getting some of the details back to you. These sightings are extremely
valuable to us, but I am afraid it is not always possible to reply as quickly as
we would like. One of the birds that you reported is from my scheme - the
details are below (with the ringing information on the first line):
the Wash estuary, Lincolnshire, E England 18.12.03 Dee estuary, Cheshire, NW
England 19.03.04 Cley, Norfolk, E
England 23.03.04 Cley, Norfolk, E
England 24.03.04 Cley, Norfolk, E
England 25.03.04 Cley, Norfolk, E
England 26.03.04 Cley, Norfolk, E
England 28.03.04 Cley, Norfolk, E
England 25.11.04 Marshside, Ribble estuary,
Lancashire, NW England 31.01.05 Marshside, Ribble estuary,
Lancashire, NW England 24.04.05 Colne estuary, Essex, E
England 29.05.05 Cley, Norfolk, E
England 30.05.05 Cley, Norfolk, E
England 04.06.05 Cley, Norfolk, E
England 08.06.05 Cley, Norfolk, E
England 09.06.05 Cley, Norfolk, E
England 12.06.05 Cley, Norfolk, E
England 14.06.05 Cley, Norfolk, E
England 20.06.05 Cley, Norfolk, E
England 21.06.05 Cley, Norfolk, E
England 22.06.05 Cley, Norfolk, E
England 30.10.05 Marshside, Ribble estuary,
Lancashire, NW England 23.11.05 Dee estuary, Cheshire, NW
England 03.11.06 Dee estuary, Cheshire, NW
England 10.03.07 Stour estuary, Essex, E
England 11.03.07 Stour estuary, Essex, E
England 12.11.07 Dee estuary, Cheshire, NW
England 14.11.07 Dee estuary, Cheshire, NW
England 22.12.07 Dee estuary, Cheshire, NW
England 23.03.08 Dee estuary, Cheshire, NW
England 19.09.11 Marshside, Ribble estuary,
Lancashire, NW England
Dr Jennifer Gill
School of Biological Sciences
of East Anglia
WeBS on the Ribble estuary today. I currently cover the beach between Southport Pier and Ainsdale (including Sands Lake), it's a two or three person job and today I was helped by Colin Bushell. I was really grateful for Colin's help, it made the job so much easier. Colin's account of his section and some nice bits of video can be found on his blog http://www.ribbletoamazon.com/
Bumped into Jacko late this afternoon who'd had a look from Nel's hide and mentioned seeing nothing more than a couple of Ruff. I thought it worth having a look anyway, so I did. Things intially looked fairly uneventful with four Ruff (two males, two juvs), a juv Dunlin, a Ringed Plover and about 20 Snipe on show. While inspecting the Ruff a small yellow-legged wader ambled along, which on closer inspection turned out to be a Pectroal Sandpiper - bonus! I texted several locals and stuck the news on the Ribble Estaury Nature facebook page and Tony Baker, Playful Pete, Jacko, Neill Hunt, Colin Bushell and Jonny Platt all turned up and had views of the birds (I'm sure Neill and Colin will have got better pics than my poor effort below - have a look on Colin's excellent Ribble to Amazon blog). A nice end to a sunny Marshside afternoon.
Picked up a Hesketh Out Marsh tick in the shape of a female Goshawk this morning. She was along way off, sat on a post and in heat haze. But no doubt about her ID; size of a Buzzard and a big, flaring white super. She briefly flew towards Tony and I but then disappeared over the seawall and presumably headed inland - we couldn't find her again. Maybe a migrant, an escape, a falconer's bird? Who knows? I'll leave that to the commitee. Regardless of her origins a nice bird to pick up on a visit to HOM. Other stuff at HOM; 76 Goldfinch and two Whitethroats in the hedge, juv Marsh Harrier, two Buzzards, four Kestrels; four Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, three Little Egrets, 40 Teal, three Wigeon and three Common Terns over the river.
At Old Hollow farm from the sewall I saw my first local Golden Plover of the 'autumn', along with two Barnacle Geese (with Canadas), 81 juv Shelduck with six adult female minders, nine Wigeon, two Yellow Wagtails and a distant juv Marsh Harrier towards Crossens outer marsh.
At Marshside no sign of Garganey but a flock of c.450 Black-tailed Godwits, included three juveniles (first of the year). Also two moulting male Ruff (see photo below), female Tufted Duck with six young ducklings and the usual scattering of Gadwall, Shoveler, Teal and single Pintail and Wigeon. Three Reed Warblers were frustrating the lensmen as they scurried in the reeds in front of Nel's hide.
This afternoon was bright, warm and sunny, in contrast to the cool, wet morning. By tea time I'd had enough of being cooped up indoors and headed up Curlew Lane for Mere Sands Wood. Didn't see the juv Cuckoo that has been seen regularly from Marshall hide recently so I headed for the Rufford hide, where Kingfishers have apparently been showing well. No apparently about it - a lensman in the hide, who'd been there all day, told me that both male and female birds had been fishing in front of the hide for several hours. I managed to get a couple of shots of the male (above). If you want to see a real life Kingfisher (instead of my dodgy scoped pics) get yourself down to Rufford hide at Mere Sands Wood as soon as you can. You won't be disappointed!
After the joy of Kingfisher I went to have a look at one of the local urban Peregrine hang outs (undisclosed I'm afraid). Great to see two fully fledged young flying around the place - one of them obligingly perched for a while (below). Magnificent birds that a making a great comeback. Let's hope it stays that way.
Juvenile Peregrine, undisclosed site North-west England
Had a meeting at Martin Mere late this afternoon, so took the oppurtunity to do some post meetng birding. 94 Black-tailed Godwits (one of them colour ringed - I shall forward details to the colour ringing folk) and ten Ruff on Vinson's marsh and two Green Sandpipers on the top mere scrape were the pick of the waders. A Barn Owl on the roof of United Utilities hide and a fly past Cuckoo were the other highlights. Other has seen Kingfishers and Marsh Hariers but not during my brief stay.
Green Sandpiper on top mere scrape, Martin Mere. 06/08/12.
First bit of birding today was unintentional. My eldest son, Jacob, and I cycled down Meadow Lane near Burscough and counted eight singing Corn Buntings and two singing Yellowhammers. Jacob's seven and not really a birder but he knows both these songs well.
Post lunch I headed to Hesketh Out Marsh for the high tide. It was worth it as I immediately picked up three juvenile Marsh Harriers perched in the dead trees that run along the edge of the large eastern creek, they headed of hunting; two onto Crane field, the other out onto the NNR. Twelve Greenshanks, 45 Redshanks, two Wigeon, twelve Teal, five Grey Herons and seven Little Egrets were pushed into lagoons by the tide. All good stuff but nothing to hold me there so I headed for the seawall at Old Hollow Farm near Banks. The splashes on the NNR from Old Hollow sea wall were full of birds; c.6600 Dunlin, c.800 Ringed Plover, 85 Grey Plover, 130 Teal, 275 Shelduck; the waders were just too far out to consider picking out any goodies. On the saltmarsh 1090 Canada Geese, 212 Greylags and nine Grey Herons lazed in the sunshine. 380 Swallows were flying around the seawall and twelve Sand Martins with them, other passerines in the area including three Yellow Wagtails, 18 Pied Wagtails, 45 Linnets, eight Tree Sparrows and c.350 Starlings. All of the passerines were bound to attract a predator and a female Merlin obliged by blasting low over the seawall, much to the distress of the scattering hirundines! The waders scatttered too and that was that. Next stop Marshside.
Had a feeling some good stuff would be at Marshside. I nipped into the hide to say hello and Shelagh Parsons (volunteer on duty) had seen a Kingfisher and a Spoonbill had been reported on the saltmarsh. I checked the saltmarsh and picked up nine Little Egrets and numerous Black-tailed Godwits. A walk across the sandworks (Obs garden in Bannon-speak) produced a male Blackbird, a Whitethroat and a juv Wheatear. Plenty of Small Skippers, Gatekeepers, Meadow Browns, Small Tortoiseshells and a magnificent looking Peacock were on show there too. Down at Nel's I picked up three Ruff (two males and a juv) with 229 Redshanks. 22 Gadwall, 13 Shoveler, a Pintail, a Wigeon, four Teal, a female Tufted Duck with two well grown chicks were all on show and scanning through groups I picked up a distant female Garganey that had the good manners to sail past Nel's allowing me to get some reasonable record shots - well worth nipping out for a couple of hours! A couple of Reed Warblers in front of Nel's and c.80 Black-tailed Godwits, plenty of Lapwings and c.10 Snipe there.
Living in West Lancashire you can get used to wildlife spectacles! Whether it's the Whooper Swans and Pink-footed Geese during the winter at Martin Mere, the Marshside Black-tailed Godwits or the Banks Wigeon it's all great to see and I feel lucky to be able to experience it all so easily. One of the possibly overlooked spectacles on the Ribble estuary is the huge assemblages of shorebirds on the beach between Birkdale and Ainsdale during the summer months. This is a superb section of the Lancashire coastline. Yesterday Frank Whitney and I walked south down the beach from Weld Road car park and enjoyed a wonderful shorebird spectacle - the best the Ribble estuary can offer. 14,000 birds swirling around in huge cloulds and landing on the wet sand and scurrying off and probing to find food certainly is a spectacle worth making the effort to see. I recommend it. Do it while it's warm and the birds are still in there breeding finery.You won't regret it. Frank and I reckoned the most numerous waders were Dunlin (c.7000), then followed by Knot (c.3000), Sanderling (c.1500), Ringed Plover (c.1000) with 100's each of Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit and Grey Plover. Other birds noted included c.230 Sandwich Terns, 9 Common Terns, c.10 Gannets, adult Peregrine, female Kestrel, 48 Swifts (heading south) and a juv Wheatear (my first on the coast of the ornithological autumn). Two Grey Seals bobbing about offshore are always a pleasure to see and topped off a smashing beach walk.
Nipped to Martin Mere last night for a couple of hours, well worth it, had a potter around the reedbed walk and hedgerow path and saw two Barn Owls hunting. Nice to hear Yellowhammer singing just off the rerserve and at least eight Pochards and two Green sandpipers on the reedbed pools. Also lots of Gatekeepers, Meadow Brown, Common Darters and Blue-tailed Dameselflies. Nice to see a Broad-bodied Chase too.
Had a meeting this morning at the mere and managed an hour in the hides at lunctime with birding pal Nick Godden, who I hadn't seen for a bit, given that he's currently doing an internship with RSPB in Staffordshire. Nick had seen two Marsh Harriers and Raven before I arrived and together we saw nine Ruff, c. 70 Black-tailed Godwits, Green Sandpiper, 115 Teal and 140 Swifts. Lapwing numbers building up nicely on the reserve. A probable Osprey over Scarisbrick Hall but very distant and we were scopeless. Oh well.
Common Darters. Martin Mere 02/08/12
Broad-bodied Chaser (left) and Blue-tailed Damselfly (right). Martin Mere 02/08/12
Meadow Bown (above) and Gatekeeper (below). Martin Mere 02/08/12