Snowy Sunrise, Starr Gate

December seems to have continued just where November left off with a seemingly endless conveyor-belt of low pressure systems barrelling in from the North Atlantic. Some of the storms have been named and at the time of writing we are up to named storm Gerrit (apparently a male Dutch name) which makes it seven named storms so far this winter – you have to wonder if we’ll have enough letters in the alphabet at this rate.

Whilst an occasional winter storm can bring its fair share of rewards in terms of rare birds such as Petrels or push birds more often found in more northerly latitudes into Morecambe and Liverpool bays, birds such as Little Auk, you have to be able to get outside long enough and have visibility sufficiently good to be able to observe them – it is that latter part that has proven the biggest challenge in December with many sea watching sessions blighted by low cloud, poor light, sea-spray and relentless rain that blurs your optics.

However, as poor as the conditions have been, the rewards have been there and the month got off to a flying start with 2nd December being the highlight. Below is the sightings report from that day which brought us winds, snow and a beautiful sunrise. In winter, it is usually wildfowl that provide the variety and on this particular day we had great views of a male Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula), equally good views of a male Goosander (Mergus merganser) and the highlight of the month for most of us was a Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis) observed sat on the water just off the promenade. This was likely a female / immature bird and was the second bird on the Fylde Coast this month with one taking up residence at Marton Mere for a couple of weeks from the end of November. I’ll include a few record shots from the Mere as reference but the links above will show you the birds in all their glory.

A selection of December sea watching images to follow :-

Most of the rest of the months sea watching sessions have produced the usual birds with Common Scoter (Melanitta nigra), Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), wildfowl including Pink-footed Goose (Anser brachyrhynchus), Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna), Eurasian Wigeon (Mareca penelope) and Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca) and our regular Great-crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) and Red-throated Diver (Gavia stellata) in varying numbers. Wading birds have been few and far between with no real movement of any note with a mixed bag of Plover, Dunlin, Sanderling, Redshank, Turnstone and Oystercatcher mainly being local birds that have been moved by the tides.

I’m not a great photographer and use my ‘digiscope’ attachment on my telescope so infrequently as to be quite useless at getting any decent images from it. A point in case is what can only be best described as a ‘record shot’ in its truest sense of a Great Bittern (Botaurus stellaris) that I managed to observe at the edge of the reed-bed at Marton Mere when watching the aforementioned Long-tailed Duck. In my defence, the bird was around 350m away from me and was in the reeds, but as you will see below, it won’t be winning any photographic competitions anytime soon 🙂

Bittern, Marton Mere

The Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) took place as normal during the month and Sunday the 17th was the designated date; the tide was of a decent height but not sufficient to inundate the marsh at Fluke Hall / Pilling Lane Ends and therefore any birds roosting in the marsh would not be flushed off and on a high tide, Marsh Harrier, Short-eared Owl, Snipe and Jack Snipe can all be expected.
A birding friend David Nuttall undertook the St Annes WeBS for me and as the sun was out, homo-sapiens and canines were the most common animal and little room was left for birds – the full count was as below:-

The counts at Fluke Hall and Pilling Lane Ends were a little more productive but as I was carrying out the count a day later (Monday 18th), I was not blessed with good weather but instead had three hours of steady, heavy rain and visibility was very poor. The counts for both locations are listed below:-

Fluke Hall WeBS
Lane Ends WeBS

There was one rather unusual element to the WeBS Count at Lane Ends and not one that I was expecting. I try and get into position next to the sluice gate around 60 minutes before high tide and with the wind and rain, I made sure I was as sheltered as I could be. Around 15 minutes after getting into position, I heard quite a lot of people crossing the land to my rear which is a hatchery for mainly Mallard but also some Partridge which are all bred fed to the point where flight becomes difficult and makes them easier to be shot. There was a shoot on today and once around a dozen guns were in place both on the land to my rear and four on the marsh to my left, a horn sounded and the slaughter commenced. I have to admit that the proximity of the guns did make me slightly nervous and on at least half a dozen occasions I was peppered with falling shot – an unusual experience to say the least. To follow is a short video which shows how close some of the guns were but also gives an idea at just how bad the conditions were.

WeBS Lane Ends

So, a relatively quiet month all told and there will be few opportunities to add to my ‘Yearlist’ total for the Fylde Coast which currently stands at 175 species. This was my first year of submitting a list and the only bird in this list I have intentionally travelled to see (Twitched) was the American Ringed Plover that was found on the Marsh up at Glasson – Everything else has been observed during regular birding / walks around the Fylde Coast sites or through Sea watching at Starr Gate. I’m really happy with this and my UK list for the year is 196 which is just below the magic 200….there’s always next year and at the time of writing I still have 3 days to go…

Thanks again for taking the time to read through some of my musings and I hope you continue to find them of interest – I certainly enjoy writing them. I’m threatening to start doing a podcast in the New Year and I’ll keep you posted as to any progress on this front.

Hopefully the wind and rain will abate some time soon and we can have a more settled period of weather where we can all get out and enjoy the outdoors.

We did have a Christmas Walk over at Marton Mere on the 27th and again the weather was atrocious – If I get chance I will write up the walk before New Year, but if I don’t get chance, I’d like to wish a very Happy New Year to you all and hope to provide you with some interesting posts in 2024.

December Update – Winter Storms Continue – Will They Ever End!

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