Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Seaforth and Marshside

We timed our trip up north perfectly, arriving about five hours after Britain's fifth White-tailed Plover was last seen at Seaforth. By the time we entered the reserve, the plover was being enjoyed by Dutch birders after an epic 325-mile overnight flight from Merseyside to Nationaal Park Zuid-Kennemerland. Also, it was raining. A lot.

None of that bothered Rob or I unduly. The purpose of our trip was for me to buy a D300 and Rob to borrow a Sigma 300-800mm lens (aka 'Sigmonster') from our chum and photographic maestro Steve Young, and we accomplished both of those things without any problems. Steve escorted us past the security guards into the heavily guarded Seaforth reserve (it's right in the port and access is strictly limited) and we settled into the hide, overlooking a nice big lake with rafts, islands and well-vegetated margins.

Common Terns dominated the scene. It would be very easy to while away hours and hours and hours photographing them as they went to and fro, chasing each other, displaying, passing fish to their partners and having little dust-ups over whose turn it was to sit on the wooden railing. The light today though was awful.

Rob slowly got to grips with the immense Sigmonster lens. It is twice as long and much wider at the business end than the Bigmos. Handholding is a physical impossibility and Rob's Manfrotto tripod only just up to the job of supporting it. Panning around after moving birds is going to take some serious practice.

Seaforth was great, despite the lousy weather. Besides the terns, we saw a few gulls including a first-summer Med, a lovely group of sum-plum Dunlins, Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers, a lone Knot, masses of Swifts, House Martins and Swallows, a phalanx of dozy Oystercatchers and a passing Peregrine which sent all the terns into a hysterical panic.

Having had no breakfast, we moved on quite quickly to search for food and then on to RSPB Marshside, a tad north of Southport. The weather was still horrid. From the first viewscreen we saw two young Avocet chicks skittering about, but by the time Rob had unpacked the Sigmonster from its coffin-like case, they had skittered off. We opted to continue to Nel's hide, where at least we would be sheltered. The hide overlooks a big area of mud with some pools and creeks, and it held a small but pleasing selection of birds.

I thought at first glance that this Lapwing cowering on the mud didn't look entirely healthy - wings hanging down and plumage fluffed up. On closer inspection I saw a possible reason for this - it had 10 legs.

After a while, a fluffy backside shuffled out from under the mother Lapwing's chest, and one by one four very young and utterly adorable babies emerged and trotted off to do some foraging.

The chicks could only have been a few days old at most. They were absurdly top-heavy to look at, but those big feet and long legs kept them clear of the mud as they tottered around, picking up tiny somethings from the ground. After about 10 minutes of this, they obviously got chilly and hurried back to mum, who stopped what she was doing and assumed the wings-drooped brooding pose to let them stuff themselves underneath once again.

Other birds out enjoying the mud and rain included several Redshanks, as well as Avocets (no chicks here though) and Shelducks. A couple of Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails called in, as did a single gorgeous Black-tailed Godwit, a couple of Ringed Plovers and a very distant tiny possible Little Stint.

With better weather promised for tomorrow, we decided we'd take the Sigmonster north to Leighton Moss and the surrounding area. But for today the light (lack of) and rain (surfeit of) meant an early finish.

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